The Origins Of The Choir

This all began to change with the rise of the clergy and the advent of the Christian choir, which dates back to the fourth century. Shortly after the Edict of Milan (AD 313), the persecution of Christians ceased. During Constantine's reign, choirs were developed and trained to help celebrate the Eucharist. The practice was borrowed from Roman custom, which began its imperial ceremonies with processional music. Special schools were established, and choir singers were given the status of a second-string clergy.2

The roots of the choir are found in the pagan Greek temples

Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16. Note the words "speaking to yourselves" and one another" in these passages. ! Liemohn, The Organ and Choir in Protestant Worship, 8.

and Greek dramas.' Will Durant states it beautifully: "In the Middle Ages, as in ancient Greece, the main fountainhead of drama was in religious liturgy. The Mass itself was a dramatic spectacle; the sanctuary a sacred stage; the celebrants wore symbolic costumes; priest and acolytes engaged in dialogue; and the antiphonal responses of priest and choir, and of choir to choir, suggested precisely that same evolution of drama from dialogue that had generated the sacred Dionysian play."'

With the advent of the choir in the Christian church, singing was no longer done by all of God's people but by clerical staff composed of trained singers.' This shift was partly due to the fact that heretical doctrines were spread through hymn singing. The clergy felt that if the singing of hymns was in their control, it would curb the spread of heresy.' But it was also rooted in the ever-growing power of the clergy as the main performers in the Christian drama.'

By AD 367, congregational singing was altogether banned. It was replaced by music from the trained choirs.' Thus was born the trained professional singer in the church. Singing in Christian worship was now the domain of the clergy and choir.

Ambrose is credited for creating the first postapostolic Christian hymns.' These hymns were modeled on the old Greek modes and

The Greeks had trained choirs to accompany their pagan worship (H. W. Parke, The Oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor [London: Croom Helm, 1985], 102-103). Greek plays, both tragedy and comedy, were accompanied by orchestras (Marion Bauer and Ethel Peyser, How Music Grew [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1939], 36, 45; Elizabeth Rogers, Music through the Ages [New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 1967], 87; Carl Shaulk, Key Words in Church Music [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978], 64; Quasten, Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Ant/quity, 76; Alfred Sendrey, Music in the Social and Religious Life of Antiquity [Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 19741, 327, 412). There were typically between fifteen and twenty-four people in the Greek choirs (Claude Cala me, Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece [Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 20011, 21). Some have tried to argue that the Christians borrowed choirs and chanting from the Jewish synagogue. But this is highly unlikely as the third- and fourth-century Christians borrowed little to nothing from the Jews. Instead, they drew heavily from their surrounding Greco-Roman culture. (nterestingly, Greek music had its genesis in the Orient and Asia Minor (Rogers. Music through the Ages, 95). Durant, Age of Faith, 1027.

Liemohn, Organ and Choir in Protestant Worship, 8-9. Up until the fourth century, congregational singing was a characteristic feature of Christian worship.

Edward Dickinson, The Study of the History of Music (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), 16,24. Bauer and Peyser, How Music Grew, 71-72.

Rogers, Music through the Ages, 108. The Council of Laodicea (AD ca. 367) forbade all others to sing in church besides the canonical singers. This act was to ensure that the quality of singing could be more homogeneous and controllable by those directing the worship (Davies, The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy, 131; Arthur Mees, Choirs and Choral Music [New York: Greenwood Press, 1969], 25-26).

Ambrose's hymns were orthodox. The Arians used hymns plentifully to promote their heretical teachings about Jesus. (Arians believed that Jesus was a creature created by God.)

called by Greek names.' Ambrose also created a collection of liturgical chants that are still used today in some Catholic churches." The liturgical chant is the direct descendant of the pagan Roman chant, which goes back to the ancient Sumarian cities."

Papal choirs began in the fifth century." When Gregory the Great became pope near the end of the sixth century, he reorganized the Schola Cantorum (school of singing) in Rome. (This school was founded by Pope Sylvester, who died in AD 335.)t4

With this school, Gregory established professional singers who trained Christian choirs all throughout the Roman Empire. The singers trained for nine years. They had to memorize every song that they sang—including the famous Gregorian chant." Gregory wiped out the last vestiges of congregational singing, believing music was a clerical function and the exclusive right of trained singers.

Trained choirs, trained singers, and the end of congregational singing all reflected the cultural mind-set of the Greeks. Much like oratory (professional speaking), the Greek culture was built around an audience-performer dynamic. Tragically, this trait was carried over from the temples of Diana and the Greek dramas straight into the Christian church. The congregation of God's people became spectators not only in spoken ministry, but in singing as well.' Regrettably, the spirit of Greek spectatorship still lives in the contemporary church.

Christian boys' choirs also go back to the days of Constantine. Some still exist. Most were created from orphanages." The Vienna

Bauer and Peyser, How Music Grew, 71. "The Greek musical system was the precursor of that of the early Christian church, and the line of descent is unbroken from Greece, through Rome, to the Middle Ages and modern times" (Dickinson, The Study of the History of Music, 9). Actually, the earliest full text we have of a Christian hymn is dated around AD 200. Ambrose simply brought hymn writing to a common peak in the church. Christian music at this time drew from popular Greek idioms. Barry Leisch, The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996). 35. Rogers, Music through the Ages, 106.

Bauer and Peyser, How Music Grew, 70; Rogers, Music through the Ages, 61. "From words which have survived we know that each [Sumerian] temple practiced well-organized liturgies chanted in the techniques of solo and response (between priest and choir) and antiphony (choir to choir)." See also Dickinson, The Study of the History of Music, 25. Dickinson, Study of the History of Music, 18.

Rogers, Music through the Ages, 109; Andrew Wilson-Dickson, The Story of Christian Music (Oxford: Lion Publications, 1992), 43; Appleby, History of Church Music, 28.

Bauer and Peyser, How Music Grew, 73-75; Rogers, Music through the Ages, 109. All singing at this time was without musical instruments.

Dickinson, Study of the History of Music, 14.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, S.V. "Choir," http://www.newadventorg/cathen/03693b.htm ; Shaulk, Key Words in Church Music, 64-65. (ris V. Cully and Kendig Brubaker Gully, eds., Harper's Encyclopedia of Religious Education, s.v. "Choir" (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971).

Boys Choir, for example, was founded in Vienna, Austria, in 1498. The choir sang exclusively for the court, at Mass, and at private concerts and state events." The first boys' choirs were actually established by pagans who worshipped Greco-Roman gods." These pagans believed that the voice of young boys possessed special powers.""

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