Before we explore the development of polyphonic music in the Christian traditions, we would do well to explore the role of chant and its history in the Middle East among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the unique contributions and characteristics of each, and their similarities and differences. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions for an exploration of similarities and differences between those religions and the unique reliance of each upon their inheritance from Abraham.
I welcome this opportunity partly because there is so little painting or sculpture in either Judaism or Islam, because of the biblical prohibition specifically against idolatry and generally against graven images; and more so because, given the strife in the predominantly developed portions of the world between these three religions, we tend to forget that we all share the same planet, and that each of our faiths claim that all humanity is “made in the image of God.” Despite our differences, we are family. Indeed, we are told that God not only promised Abraham descendents greater than the number of the stars, but that he would become the father of many nations. The first born son was Ishmael, the second was Isaac, and he had six other sons with his wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1).
Acknowledging that the biblical Abraham is claimed by each of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as its own father, we will explore the liturgical traditions of each and any interconnection that they may have either in history or in form and practice. We will explore them in the chronological order in which they first appeared. The difficulty that we face in doing so is that there are no extant recordings of the liturgical musical performances of the music of any of the three religions; nor was there in place at that time a precise system for notating the chant. By the first century the Jews had hand signs to generally indicate the contour of the melody but it was hardly sufficient to provide an adequate experience of the music-making that then existed. Contemporaneous historical records may describe the chant or the manner of its performance and the effect it had upon its audience, but even those are limited.
I will offer in the next several posts the worshipful chants of each of these religions. The arts, particularly music, enable us to access the emotional and aesthetic experiences of others and to join them socially, musically and spiritually in the rich life that we can have together.
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