The importance of music in different religions can be found across many many different faiths including Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Since ancient times, religious ceremonies and worship have always involved music and this has been evidenced by traditions across different cultures and geographic regions. Religions have undergone through significant changes since its founding and its associated musical traditions are emblematic of the diverse musical practices originating from religion.
Bronze instruments from Indonesia are used in Hindu meditative music, while Christian music incorporates musical elements of the Gregorian chants, Russian Orthodox choir, rock band music and so much more. Even across the same religious traditions, there are divergent cultural practices from different regions around the world. However, one commonality is the presence and importance of music in religion. But what makes music so important in these religions? What purpose does music serve in religion?
Religious music is a way for people to express their feelings. It creates a safe space for people to connect with their deeper thoughts in a way that words may not be able to. People in Zimbabwe make use of music to show gratitude towards their God and to engage in worship activities thanking their religious deity for providing a great harvest season or hunting season. During colonial times in Africa, many Western musical instruments were being introduced to Zimbabweans. They started to express themselves in churches with the use of foreign musical instruments, and not just limited to using traditional African musical instruments. Ruth Pushee (1937) has argued that the purpose of religious music is to heighten the emotions and effects of words and lyrics that are being sung.
When churchgoers sign in a group such as a choir, lyrics being sung are perceived to be more powerful as there is a group effort into conveying the message behind the song. There is a significant emotional dimension to churchgoing music as it often facilitates an outpouring of emotions by worshipers. Religious music can also be seen as a form of proselytization where potential worshipers are attracted via music to join existing worshipers.
Edward Dickinson (2013) discusses music in the Western Church tradition at length in his book and concludes that religious music has a psychological effect on worshippers by eliciting various emotions and thought patterns. Dickinson described Hebrew music as not harmonic, but rather “coarse and noisy”. While poetic recitations and dances were more harmonic than Hebrew music, it is still an essential part of Judaism that can excite the senses and improve the religious experience. A more recent study indicates that some religious music like gospel music sends the “message of hope and optimism” (Bradshaw et al, 2014).
As a result, this research suggests that the more frequent people listen to religious music, the less anxious one feels about death; they are also more satisfied with their lives and enhance their self-esteem. Bradshaw opines that gospel music or other religious music enables people to stay spiritually connected even though they could not physically attend masses or worship conferences.
Religious music serves the purpose of unifying people. Group solidarity is evident in group behaviors and mentalities. Nathan Myrick (2017) has made some observations about worshippers, where he noticed that when religious music is performed, the audience began to physically engage with the music by swaying side to side. Myrick described such engagement to be stronger over time in the way that the swaying was more synchronized and unified; even those who did not move started to sway along eventually. In another example, both music and dance are a crucial part of Christian churches (Pewa, 1997).
Music to them is key to them as it builds solidarity in their group to facilitate harmony in the church. Religious music is culturally diverse due to the introduction of foreign instruments to local cultures during the colonial era.. In modern times, people of cultural backgrounds who share the same religious beliefs may come together to worship in the same church. Research has shown that music used in their churches make them feel welcomed in this community and boost a sense of belonging (Marti, 2012). It is through religious music that people with different ethnic backgrounds feel connected and included; once again, to build solidarity in churches.
With Sound Infusion, an online educational tool that allows them to compose music with musical instruments around the world, students can try to incorporate new musical instruments into religious music. Sound Infusion encourages students to be creative by composing their own original music. There are no rules and boundaries when it comes to music composition. While students can freely explore all sorts of musical instruments, they can gain more knowledge about those musical instruments by using the map provided. It provides great educational value as it gives them a better idea of exactly what instruments they are using including their origins and cultural information. Music in religion is constantly evolving in terms of harmony, complexity and diversity. Students can make use of Sound Infusion to add their own twist and ideas to religious music.