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Asking the clergy about music and singing

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. (Psalm 98:4, KJV).

Yes, that's what Scripture says, but is that joyful noise for God's benefit or for the one making it? How exactly do singing and music affect one's spirit? This week's clergy explain.

Brian Baruch Shamash, hazzan/cantor, South Huntington Jewish Center, Melville:

The ability to sing and make music is a wonderful gift that God has given us. While birds and whales also communicate through song, it is important to recognize the uniqueness of our human ability to sing with words and offer this gift back to the Holy One through our prayers wrapped in music. Our prayers, whether spoken, whispered or even unspoken, reach out to God, but when we sing, we are inviting others to be part of something greater than ourselves -- transcending time and space -- connecting us.

Music and singing awaken emotions and thoughts that the spoken word may not. Music can open the mind to a holier path of thinking, as it connects directly to the soul, allowing us to deepen our relationship with God.

Music is a shared history. Just as the Torah gives direction, musically inspired prayer helps to lead us to love the holiness of our lives and connects us with our spiritual past. The words of the songs are passed down through the generations. The melodies embed the words into our collective memory, thereafter magnifying our heritage and our faith through the next generation. Song helps to make us and our faith eternal.

Michael Wustrow, music ministry co-director, The Parish of St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre:

When we give voice to our prayers in song, by ourselves or with other people, there is an added dimension of feeling and emotion that is not there with just the spoken word. This is true both for the singer and the listener.

Music helps us express what words cannot. Think of all the sacred texts that exist in Scripture and throughout history. It is one thing to be able to speak them, but to sing some of those powerful texts brings on a whole different dimension of feeling.

Imagine the difference between singing something and just speaking the same text. The best example I can think of is the song we sing at every birthday party when the cake is presented. If everyone just recited the words to "Happy Birthday," it would have a whole different feeling than when everyone sings it.

For many, singing is not a part of our culture like it was in the past, and some tell me they don't sing because they have a bad voice. I tell them, "Sing twice as loud to let God hear the voice you were given. The important thing is that singing helps you feel good from the heart."

There also is a community aspect to singing in church, of everyone doing it together. Some cultures have a more formalized style of singing; others are more spontaneous, but the energy can still be just as intense.

The Rev. Robert Stewart, choir director and minister of music, Calvary Tabernacle Church, Hempstead:

Music from the beginning was designed by God for us to bring intimacy and closeness to him. He uses it to connect to our spirit on a deeper level. Music, more than speaking, is a very intimate process. Every time a note is struck, it pulls us emotionally and spiritually. Through music, each individual connects with God in a very personal way. Psalm 150: 1-6 gives us instruction on how we each can praise him with music and song. He designed music as a conduit by which we can engage him.

Just as it works in the secular world when you attend a concert, music, more than speaking, touches a chord deep inside us. Gospel's roots go back to slavery, giving hope and faith to those who were suffering. It uplifts us and gives us strength. It also open us to receive things on a deeper level. It has a way of getting into the soul and lifting the listener. Gospel speaks to hope and faith, opening us to God's possibilities.

In its beginning, gospel music was there to give people hope and faith in difficult circumstances. And, that continues today. And even more important, even though there are different styles of gospel -- traditional, rap, rock, country, to name a few -- they still serve that purpose of giving hope and comfort and drawing us closer to God. He is there when you want to sing to him in joy, but also there when you want to cry to him in song.

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