Engaging the Cultures and Serving the Cities Through Music

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An amazing thing happened in Acts 15. Scholars call it the “Jerusalem Compromise.” In what is most likely the first all-church council, the young church wrestled with the likely prospect of merely becoming another sect of Judaism. But the apostles, with much encouragement from Paul and his followers, no doubt, spurned that option and the council instructed the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:23b) to abstain only from food sacrificed to idols, blood, meat from strangled animals and sexual immorality. This permitted the church to worship God in not one, but many different ways.

Some of my colleagues and friends have suggested that this also paved the way for many different kinds of music to be part of worship, and, indeed, Ephesians 5:18b-20 confirms this as it mentions three different forms of music with which to praise the Lord: “Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18b-20).

Could the Jerusalem Compromise even have influenced the very nature of that music? Its very texture? The history of music from Western Europe and North America, often called Western music, suggests this. At first, about 1,000 years ago, most music was monophonic, consisting only of a melody. These melodies, sung in worship, were known as Gregorian chants after Pope Gregory’s efforts to notate them and gather them into collections. Then, in the 13th century, composers began to add one or two other parts and polyphonic (“many-voiced”) texture was born. The Reformation inaugurated “the priesthood of all believers” in having the congregation sing hymns featuring a melody and less-important lower parts in the same rhythm to emphasize the words; thus, homorhythmic texture was established. In the 17th century, composers began to write melody and accompaniment, creating homophonic texture.

Thus, out of one melody a plethora of different melodies and textures came forth to create what we call Western music, both art and popular. This mirrors what began to take place in the Church in Acts 15. Perhaps we could better recognize this explosion of melodies and textures by noting that many non-Western forms of music are in monophonic texture to this day.

Because of the amazing diversity of Western music, music departments of universities such as Fresno Pacific must teach many things to our students. We must give students private lessons in at least one instrument and as many as four. We need to bring students into ensembles so they learn to make music together. We must teach them to read a symbolic notation that has been evolving over the last 5,000 years and even longer. We need to teach them how to write in that notation. We must educate them in the history of music and music performance, so they can share music appropriately with others. And we must familiarize them with music around the world, not just Western music, so that our music students are truly world citizens.

We take pride in doing that, and pleasure in seeing our students enrich the Central Valley and the world with their music-making and teaching in schools, churches, theaters and studios. But now we are challenged by Dr. Joe to engage the cultures and serve the cities. How can we do this?

The Holy Spirit has led us in two new directions:

  1. To create a Community Music School that reaches out to elementary-, middle- and high school- students in our richly diverse yet economically impoverished neighborhood.
  2. To engage these neighboring students and students from all around the world in the serious study of music through the Fresno Pacific University Summer Music Camp, now in its eleventh season.

Led by Erik Leung, D.M.A., music department chair, and staffed by music majors serving as volunteers, the Community Music School has started an orchestra that has been rehearsing on Sunday afternoons. It will be joined shortly by a choral ensemble and we are looking into ways to offer piano instruction as well.

Thanks to substantial grants by the Bonner Family Foundation and McDonald’s, the Fresno Pacific University Summer Music Camp (by the way, applications are due June 1—see fresno.edu/musiccamp) is working harder than ever before to identify and enroll students in southeast Fresno and other disadvantaged areas. It is most encouraging to see the rainbow of students portraying Fresno at its best, forming community, nay family, as we learn to worship and serve the Lord of Lords and to love and serve one another as sisters and brothers in him through his great gift of music.