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Contemporary Adventist Music: Facing the Challenge – Adriana Perera

Date: October 21, 2017

Speaker & Title: Adriana Perera, Chair of Music Department, Andrews University

Topic: Contemporary Adventist Music:  Facing the Challenge

Number of Attendees: 53



Professor Perera began by discussing Martin Luther’s enormous contribution to church music. Christian music expresses its theology and conveys our concept of God.  Luther’s reformation thus was in both worship and music. He said “My love for music…is abundant and overflowing,” and “Theology and music are most tightly connected.”  He wrote biblical stories as songs and composed spiritual children’s songs, seeing music as the most powerful teaching tool for children.  He translated old hymns into the vernacular, incorporated popular melodies into sacred music, harmonized for four-part harmony, accepted musical instruments, and invited everyone to sing Christ-centered lyrics, all as a way to teach justification by faith.  This was in contrast to the Council of Laodicea (363-64 A.D.), which had banned congregational singing, the use of instruments, and borrowing secular music – prohibitions which lasted for over 1,000 years.

In terms of whether music is inspiring, Perera asked “What do the music and the lyrics convey?”  She compared a bouncy lyric of “Holy, Holy…” with a Gregorian chant conveying an image of a solemn and majestic, but distant, God.  She read Psalm 150 aloud with emphasis, described psalms and spiritual songs of Israel, Greece, Rome, and the African/Arab tradition, and played a hymn from 200 B.C. that had been inscribed on a gravestone using Greek notation.

Bach, Isaac Watts, William Booth, John Wesley, and the Apostle Paul (Colossians 3:16) all made important sacred music contributions.  All were criticized – Watts for using his own words in hymns rather than quoting Scripture.  Adventists also need more Christ-centered music. George Knight wrote that the tragedy of Adventism is that we have made the pre-advent judgment a fearful thing built upon a less than biblical understanding of sin, law, perfection, and even the judgment itself.  Lack of biblical assurance results.  Adventist music has reflected this.

Perera also discussed the influence of culture – the traditions, costumes, attitudes, and behaviors that distinguish a social group, nation, or country. Some react negatively, saying that our worship must not include cultural influences.  Even Jesus, however, lived within His culture including in his language (Aramaic, Greek, maybe Egyptian); his food, clothing, and occupation (carpenter); and his use of contemporary literature, both secular and sacred, in his parables. The Adventist guideline regarding music recognizes the contribution of different cultures in worshiping God: “Musical forms and instruments vary greatly in the worldwide SDA family and music drawn from one culture may sound strange to someone from a different culture.”  The goal of Christian music is worship, not entertainment; and it should reflect Jesus’ character.

Good sacred music is characterized by quality, balance, appropriateness, and authenticity.  There should be quality, not mediocrity!  There was a history of musical innovation and work in the early Adventist Church, including the publication of 23 hymnal compilations from 1849-1900.  We seem to have lost some of that tradition of creativity, at least here in the United States.  Perera gave examples of excellent church music innovations abroad, including in Brazil, Germany, and Spain where musical outreach, musical “clubs,” productions, and hymnals are strengthening the church.  We should continue working on theology of worship through music.

As for the music of the Heritage Singers, she asked “Is music not also entertainment?”  some may be uplifting, some trivializing, and some relate to individual concepts of what is sacred.  Spiritual people will discern spirituality.  E.G. White preferred melodies as simple as the songs of birds.   It is hard to define specific lines for all, as worship is a spiritual act.

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