Friday, October 1, 2010

Make Joyful Noise: The Sound of Language

At first, the people of the whole world
had only one language and used the same words.
Genesis 11:1

The sound of languages has always fascinated me, from the mellifluous tones of French to the guttural sounds of German, from the dark lilting tones of the Scandinavian languages to the musicality of the Chinese tones.  That last example is often cited as a reason that perfect pitch is more common among the population of China (and other Asian cultures that share the language's emphasis on pitch and tone to provide meaning).

When I was in Montreal a couple of years back, I spent Sunday morning walking from church to church to hear the range of language and music in some of the city's most beautiful churches.  I heard the same Bible verses read that day in English, French, and Latin.  My French was nowhere good enough for me to translate, but it was a unique experience to know the gist of the text and enjoy the language as a musical interpretation of it.

I know that a sizable portion of our congregation prefers us to stick to English (and it is part of our church's name, after all).  But I can't help thinking that we're missing out on part of the musical experience if we don't get to hear other languages on occasion.  In some religions, to read a text actually means to sing.  One highlight of a bar mitzvah is the chanting of a Torah verse, and the Koran is often sung as well.  We often do the same when we chant the Psalms.  The challenge of comprehension can be part of the fun when we travel, and it can broaden our minds with a new perspective.  Then the sound of our native language can be a joyful noise when we return home.


  1. augustine knew the close relationship of prayer and song. every congregation develops its own rhythms of the creed and our father that make them musical language.

  2. I'm a lapsed/reformed/guilty catholic, who honestly does miss the old latin mass. It had mystery and poetry that disappeared around the same time when the gutiars showed up to lead camp songs.

  3. This is one reason why I would love to offer a worship service that uses the "old" red hymnal settings, hymns, and scriptures from the King James Version of the Bible. There is just something about the melody and poetry of those words from my childhood that is sorely lacking in the "newer" services. Unfortunately, whenever I've raised the idea, not too many people seem to share my desire, so we've stuck with the LBW/ELW services. I do like that Tom has been using some of the Introits from the SBH. Now if we can re-introduce the Gloria Patri, that would be wonderful.

  4. I remember as a child going to Christmas Eve services and singing "Silent Night" in German and "I Am so Glad" in Norwegian. Our pronounciations were porbably not good, but it was meaningful to connect with what our grandparents probably sang.

    "Mitakuyepi, anpetu waste" (friends, have a good day in Dakota)