NOTEworthy May 16

Cantate Domino

Claudio Monteverdi

O sing unto the Lord a new song,
Sing and speak well of His name,
For He has done wonderful things.

Sing and exult and rejoice.
Rejoice with the lyre and the voice of psalmody;
For He has done wonderful things.
Psalm 96:1-2; 98:5-6

In the world of choral music, there are many seemingly ubiquitous types of texts that get set to music. Almost all great composers since Mozart have written a Requiem or a Mass setting. Many iconic pieces of music are connected to a place, like Finlandia (the tune we use for “Be Still, My Soul”), “Danny Boy,” or Ljube’s “I’ll Go Out to the Fields” (Most people won’t have heard that last one, but it is so good I had to link it HERE). There are songs of human beauty, earthly beauty – the list goes on and on.

But the most meta of the popular choral texts has to be the songs about singing, and of that genre of texts, “Cantate Domino” is perhaps the most popular.

Songs about singing have always felt a bit uncomfortable to me. I mean, if I love singing and God calls us to sing, shouldn’t I just….sing? Why do I have to sing about singing?

I think this comes from some cultural belief that I have picked up along the line that when something deep is really real – like joy, love, respect – it doesn’t need to be said. It should be implied by our actions.

A quirky illustration – my mom tells a story of how she knew a girl in college who was embarrassed by her laugh, and so when someone would tell a funny joke, she would smile and say “I’m laughing,” rather than actually laugh. Saying that you are laughing is definitely different than the natural reaction of laughing. There is an extra step in the process. If something were truly hilarious, you couldn’t keep yourself from laughing, right?

Sometimes it is easier in our life following after Christ to talk the talk than to walk the walk. It’s easier to sing “Be Still, My Soul” than to take the time to be still. Easier to sing “For Everyone Born” than to make their place at the table. Simpler to pray “Thy will be done” than to trust it will be.

So as we journey closer towards an in-person experience of worshiping together, praying together, singing together – take the time to think about how these creeds and hymns and prayers look in the real world, how God is inviting us to sing new songs, and praise in new ways.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:18

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Matthew 21:28-32

Andy Eaton
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church