Humans are social animals. Communication is an important part of our being. We communicate almost all the time, using either speech or body language. Apart from being social, we are also rational animals. We therefore have a need to communicate thoughts, feelings and emotions. In our day to day communication, words flow naturally when we need to talk to each other. However, expressing feelings and emotions is much more tricky. In fact, words might not always do the trick. This is where music comes in.
Although a form of art, music is different from other forms of art. Other arts, such as painting, sculpture and drama, can be an imitation (such as Leonardo’s famous portrait of Mona Lisa) or a representation (such as Michelangelo’s representation of The Last Judgement) of reality. This is not the case with music, which cannot be used to imitate or to represent reality as a painting or a sculpture can. Music is used to express inner feelings and emotions which are difficult to express using words. Russian author Leo Tolstoy expressed this characteristic of music when he described music as ‘the shorthand of emotion’.
We have a need to express our emotions to humans; but not just to humans. Many of us feel the need to reach out to the Transcendent Being: God. We believe in God who is alive, present and loving, therefore we feel the need to communicate to God. We do this when we pray. As with any other human communication, prayer requires moments of speech and moments of silence. As in other human relations, there are emotions which need to be expressed, but cannot be expressed fully with words. Music helps us express such emotions. Music is therefore an integral part of our prayers and our liturgies.
The use of music in our prayer can even be seen in the Bible. When Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they praised God by singing (Exodus 15, 1-18). King David is known to have prayed using songs. In fact, the Psalms, written by himself and by others, were written to be sung. They are musical prayers. Even Jesus and the Apostles sang Psalms after the Last Supper, before going to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14, 26).
When we pray, we should not hesitate to use music. Not only playing music in the background, but also actively singing with all our hearts. As it draws us closer to each other by enabling us to express our emotions, likewise music enables us to be closer to God. As the old saying attributed to Saint Augustine goes: ‘Whoever sings, prays twice’.