from the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Reflections magazine.
Russell Jackson, Director of Music at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, was Director of Music at All Saints’ Church, Northampton, England from 1988 to 1993. All Saints’ has had a Choir of Men & Boys since 1388. “The music is what you would expect to hear in any English Cathedral, and the elevated choir stalls are surrounded by history, art, and gilding,” says Jackson, “but despite its wonderful dome it has pretty dry acoustics.”
Acoustics, like height, space, and beauty, add tremendously to the experience – not just of music but to worship. “Most of us have realized babies love to cry out in church. It’s because they can hear their voices reverberating, much as we often sing in our bathrooms – they have good acoustics due to the tile and impervious surfaces which encourage our voices,” he adds.
The physical space of the music setting is one part of the entire production of an inspiring worship experience, and the purpose of Sunday-morning music, says Jackson, is to support that. “The music never wants to entertain, never wants to push itself, but always to support the liturgy.”
Jackson likens it to a good movie. “If you have a solid script, excellent actors, a brilliant director, a John Williams soundtrack, and a sensitive editor,” he says, “you will likely produce a hit. The same goes for liturgy in that each aspect supports all the others, not trying to compete but complementing each other. With such awareness we can produce liturgy which transforms us all and creates a new level of consciousness and beauty.” The music should never distract from the theme of the day, not be a feature, but should seamlessly support the liturgy.
The use of music at particular moments in the liturgy can also heighten a special moment, such as singing a motet (a short piece of sacred choral music) during communion as people are receiving, says Jackson.“ Obviously there needs to be great sensitivity so that the music enhances the action and doesn’t detract from it.” In the context of the communion, the mind is on other matters, and the music can support and heighten that moment.
Jackson is aware that church music has the power to change from inspirational to transformational. “The music can take on a sacred nature,” he says. “This changes us as beings; it moves us but it elevates us to the horizon of heaven where we can glimpse the divine.” It is, as choir trainer and organist Barry Rose once said, not only the “beauty of holiness,” but also the “Holiness of beauty.”
In great music, says Jackson, people can experience beauty without thinking about why.