WHAT WAS MUSIC LIKE
IN THE DAYS OF THE BIBLE?
One of the benefits I hope to derive from this blogging experience is learning things I didn’t know before. It would be great if people came forth to share knowledge I don’t possess — which, if it were to happen, could provide an endless font of material, since there’s all kindsof knowledge I don’t possess.
Let’s start with music, a lifelong passion of mine…
Reading the morning prayers for Palm Sunday (note to non-Catholics: Google Liturgy of the Hours), I was struck by how musical some passages in Psalms 118 and 150 felt to me, with their repetitions of certain phrases suggesting something like the structures of modern songs. The canticle reading as well (Daniel 3:52-57) had an almost contemporary feel.
I realize that, in biblical times, psalms were sung or chanted. But it’s hard to sense any sort of rhythm in them, mostly due to the difficulties of translation, I suppose. Psalms generally contain lines or verses that are structured in different ways (sometimes wildly so) and don’t seem like they belong together.
There are exceptions. Take Psalm 150:
Praise God in his holy place,
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his powerful deeds,
Praise his surpassing greatness.
The lyrics may not exactly flow (again those translation issues), but you almost get the sense of an old gospel song…
Now there were three children from the land of Israel
Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
They took a little trip to the land of Babylon
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego!
I’d be most interested in hearing from somebody who might be able to tell me what Jewish music was like back in the day. I’m sure it wasn’t “Sunrise, Sunset.” But was it like “Kol Nidre” or the other prayers one hears cantors singing in modern synagogues, or is that liturgical style a more recent innovation? Have any original psalm melodies survived?
If you know anything about all of this, please use the Contact page to email me.
In the meantime, check YouTube for a great little film clip of Louis Armstrong doing a jazzy version of “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” that segues into “When the Saints Go Marching In” and some other Dixieland snippets. It’s fun…