Praise the Lord with sound-waves – Ian Sharp

Elizabeth Cosnett (1936 - )
Elizabeth Cosnett: Praise the Lord with sound-waves
© Copyright 1989 Stainer & Bell Ltd, 23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ, Used by permission.

Ian Sharp

Music, Praise and Silence

Amid all the disconcerting news about the coronavirus it came as a shock to hear that communal singing would be banned. No hymns, no hymn books, and all places of worship to be firmly closed. How were we to sing the Lord's song? ‘O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the whole earth’ (Ps 96), but how? Whatever happened to ‘Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord’ (Ps 150)? No exceptions - not for young men and maidens, for old men and children (Ps 148), even for members of the Hymn Society! And our July 2020 Conference was cancelled.

What a challenge, but also an opportunity for us to re-think the nature of praise and of our physical participation in worship. We have glibly sung 'the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away' without giving much thought to the manner in which this can take place. Now, we are forced to develop creative ways of singing God’s praises, through video recordings, interactive worship and the like. New ways of praising are springing up, and our communities are greatly enlivened by these strategies. And amid all these developments the singing of hymns and sacred songs is flourishing.

Which leads me to our hymn, a hymn on Music and Praise. Written by Elizabeth Cosnett, a former Executive President of our Society, its theme is music, its sounds and its SILENCES.

How refreshing to find a hymn which mentions this important element, silence! It was Mozart who wisely remarked that ‘the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between’, and one of our seminal texts on music education is entitled Sound and Silence. (John Paynter and Peter Aston, CUP, 1970) Silence is the framework on which voices and instruments weave their patterns of organised sound. We can hear God speaking to us, not only in pitch and rhythm but also in the silences which punctuate the tapestry of sonic craft and artistry.

At the present time we are acutely aware of the need to listen, and to interpret the messages which come not only from noise but also from its absence. Yes, we can praise by singing and making music together, but there is also prayer and praise which is stimulated by silence, and this dimension of praise is one which, in our busyness, we have sometimes lost. Our hymn reminds us that we can, indeed, ‘praise as well with silence which completes the whole.’

Music and praise

Praise the Lord with sound-waves,
   Praise with open ears,
Praise with lungs and larynx,
   Feelings and ideas.
Praise with pitch and rhythm,
   Balance and control.
Praise as well with silence
   Which completes the whole.

David danced the praises
   Words could not contain,
Used his harp for healing
   Saul's disordered brain.
Dance in David's city,
   Then at Calvary
Hang your harp in silence
   On a gallows tree.

Praise the God of nature
   For the gift of grace,
Amplify the gospel
   To the human race.
Sing with understanding,
   Play with heart and soul
For a God whose silence
   Makes our music whole.

Text: Elizabeth Cosnett (1936 - )

© Copyright 1989 Stainer & Bell Ltd, 23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ, Used by permission.

Tune: SOUND-WAVES 65 65D, Ian Sharp (1943 - )

(No. 12 in New Songs of Praise 4 (OUP/BBC Publications, 1988); and also in Elizabeth Cosnett: Hymns for Everyday Saints (Stainer and Bell, 2001, pp. 34-5.)

Elizabeth is very happy for her text to be quoted in this reflection, and to be reminded about what she wrote all those years ago! She sends her very best wishes to all her friends in the Hymn Society. Fr Crispin Pailing, her Rector at Liverpool Parish Church, is helping to publicise our Hymn for the Day reflections.

A Prayer

May God the Creator inspire us;
May Christ the Redeemer liberate us;
May the Spirit the Sustainer energise us;
And may the silent music of the Holy and Undivided Trinity
bless us and fill us with love and joy and peace. Amen.

Adapted from Gordon Giles, Praying Thrice (HSGBI 2012)

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