Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skilful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.’ So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.’ One of the young men answered, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skilful in playing, a man of valour, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him.’ So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, ‘Send me your son David who is with the sheep.’ Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them by his son David to Saul. And David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armour-bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, ‘Let David remain in my service, for he has found favour in my sight.’ And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
“If music be the food of love, play on” opines Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, attesting to the power of music: soothing; enraging; stirring; calming. It is difficult to suggest that, as humans, we can be indifferent to the power of music.
Some musical moments remain with us for a long time. I well remember a haunting a capella solo of the 23rd Psalm sung in Iona Abbey. A sublime moment on a peaceful summer evening.
On the other hand, musical instruments have been classified as weapons of war (specifically the Great Highland Bagpipe) because of their power to fire up men to fight.
Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish virtuoso percussionist, has been profoundly deaf since the age of 11 but anyone who has heard her perform can attest that even deafness does not stand in the way of powerful music making.
So when one correspondent to a national newspaper recently suggested that the fundamental purpose of music was to entertain, the response came swiftly: “it is an attempt to communicate how it feels to be human, in a language beyond words”.
It is therefore no surprise to read that the wily boy David soon learned that by playing his lyre, Saul could be calmed down when an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Sweet music calms the savage breast.
When it comes to music in worship, it behoves us to remember that power. When those of us who lead worship choose hymns or worship songs, we usually pay great attention to the words, but perhaps less so to the music, leaving that to the organist, keyboard player, worship group or whoever drives the digital machine. Often, that works well, but if God is to be truly glorified, music, words and intent must cohere to communicate how it feels to be a child of God, in a language beyond words.
When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried, Hallelujah!
How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound Hallelujah!
(Fred Pratt Green, Rejoice & Sing 414)
So be it! Amen
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC