To even summarize the development and history of singing the word of God is daunting at best. This summary will provide an encouraging look at some of the earlier developments, with a focus on the first 500 years A.D.
Both Eastern and Occidental cultures infer and assert that music is of divine origin. Jubal (whose name means music and jubilee), the seventh generation from Cain, was "the father of all such as handle the lyre and pipe" (Genesis 4:17-21). The book of Psalms contains songs of Moses as well as King David c. 1000 B.C. It should be no great revelation that music and singing were given to man by the Lord God. The singing of Psalms with instruments dates back thousands of years.
Psalm 137, pictured here, shows little marks that appear both above and below the words correspond to melodic formulas or symbols knows as tašamim. The word trope refers to the notes or tunes that are used to sing the words of the Torah, the Prophets, and the books of Psalms, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther in the synagogue. The Hebrew word for these tunes is ta'amim. These symbols may have served as a model for some of the earliest notation of church chants. The scroll this psalm was found on is at least 3000 years old.
Early Church Fathers
Some scholars attribute the lack of extant primary source material for Roman music to be in some measure due to the activities of the early Christian church in its zeal to exterminate all that it considered pagan. But to state that the early Christians were against music would be to give a false impression. Certainly the church fathers appreciated music; they wished merely to channel its use in the proper direction and to guard the Christian church against the intrusion of any semblance of the orgiastic rites and music of the pagan cults. The writings of great theologians such as St. Basil of Caesarea (c.330-378), St. John Chrysostom (345-407), and Aurelius Augustinus (St. Augustine, 345-430) reveal that they assigned to music a special place in the life of the church. Like Pythagoros of Samos and other ancient Greeks, these church fathers expressed a belief in the existence of a music of the universe, created by the Holy Spirit and imbued with certain supernatural powers that enabled it to rout demons, summon angelic aid, heal the sick, strengthen moral character, and in numerous other ways contribute to the harmonious order of the world.
Psalms were especially favored for they were inspired by God and singing them provided both pleasure and help. Religious chant, too, fulfilled the special purpose of uplifting the mind as well as offering praise to God. St. John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, wrote that he considered as churches those assemblies at which there were prayers, psalms, dances of prophe5ts, and singers with pious intentions. St. Jerome (340-420), who spent most of his life in Jerusalem, also advocated singing psalms, for they affected "the seat of the ethos" and determined a personšs moral conscience. The Latin version of the Bible (the Vulgate) prepared by St. Jerome in the fourth century became the authorized version of the Scriptures used in the Roman Catholic Church. Notice this King attended by worshipers for service.
Nor did these saints reject all musical instruments. According to St. Basil, the psaltery, a kind of plucked stringed instrument with a resonator at the top, was particularly acceptable because it alone, of all musical instruments, has the source of its sound above. This, he wrote, was an indication that persons should seek those things which are on high (Colossians 3:1-3) and not be led by pleasant melody to pursue carnal passions.
St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, realized that he was moved by the sung words, not the music itself. He stated that he approved the use of singing in the church as a means of strengthening weak minds and developing greater religious devotion. Notice this Queen attended by worshipers for service.
St. Gregory I (the Great)
St. Gregory I (the Great) (ca. 540-604) alternately listens to the dove (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) revealing the chants to him and dictates them to a scribe. The scribe, puzzled by the intermittent pauses in the Popešs dictation as he listens to the Holy Spirit, has lowered his slate and is peeking from behind the screen. He was pope from 590-604. Today, there are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs given by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 3:16).
Chant melodies from the ninth century are preserved in hundreds of manuscripts written at different times and in widely separated areas. Very often the same melody is found in many different manuscripts; and it is remarkable that these manuscripts record the melody in almost identical form! How could this be at a time when communication was difficult and delayed? One possibility is that the melodies came from one source, and were transmitted purely by oral means. No specimens of an early notation method exist for written transmission to be a possibility. Scholars have been slightly puzzled by these facts. It may be said that God gave the new melodies to His church throughout Europe.
Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Throughout the ages, music and worship with the word of God has been a priority in church life and service. We do well to continue in these foundations, and to make worship a daily part of our times with the Lord. The Worship@Work album facilitates singing the scriptures over our lives, and I do hope you will take the time to know the beauty of His presence in this album. God bless you! - Adam
Source material and selections from: Norton anthology of western music / edited by Claude V. Palisca. 2nd ed. New York : W.W. Norton, c1988. and The development of western music : a history / K. Marie Stolba. 1st ed., Boston, Mass. : McGraw Hill, c1990.