The Music of the Church
Part of the cultural heritage of Christianity is the variety of the music it inspired.
The Psalmist invited us to praise God "with lute and harp," with "strings and pipe," and with "loud clashing cymbals," yet the Roman Catholic Church of the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire regarded musical instruments as unfit for worship, and opted for the human voice alone. Today, some Protestant churches (a division of the Church of Christ, for example) still practice this.
The musical basis for the Roman Catholic Church became the Gregorian chant, named after Pope Gregory, who standardized the tunes used in worship. Gregorian chant, a form of plainsong, has been sung unchanged for over a thousand years. Many of the tunes are older, some originating in classical Greece or Rome, others from Jewish synagogue worship.
Plainsong has no harmony, its rhythm the rhythm of the words chanted. The tunes cover only a narrow span of notes, yet heard in the vastness of a cathedral, they sound forth magnificently.
Plainsong is widely used in the Eastern Church too, in the chants of the Byzantine, Syrian, and Armenian churches, for example.
Some chants are simple enough to be song by congregations while others, more complex, are best left for the choir. In the past, every cathedral in the Western Church had its own well-trained choir, led by a choirmaster and organist, who often was a composer as well. In the larger churches, performances became more like concerts than worship services.
Elaborate church music began to be written for parts of the mass, played in the larger churches and cathedrals. They had the feel of performances for large choirs and orchestras, such as is normally performed in concert halls by professional musicians today.
Some of the greatest musical works of art are those composed by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.
Johann Sebastian Bach excelled as an organist, and his works include many organ compositions. The bulk of his music was written for the Lutheran Church.
A Broad Appeal
Christian music isn't confined to the church. Noisy, colorful processions characterize Christian festivals in Spain and Latin America. Similar events attracted the people of the medieval world. In addition to music from choirs, religious plays were performed; at first inside of the church, but later in the marketplace. 20th century equivalents are such shows as Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.