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Jesus' Hymn Style Takes on Western Flavor

After persecution of Christians faded in the 4th– 5th centuries, the Church grew fast in the West. Intimate settings in houses were no longer adequate meeting places. Large buildings were constructed in which hundreds and sometimes a thousand or more people would meet and sing hymns to God. However, these hymns were not what you and I think of as a hymn today, utilizing four-part harmony and an organ.

Western music during the period of the early Church was still in its infancy. Congregational singing was in unison only, unaccompanied, and would stay this way through the so-called Dark Ages, roughly 5th–10th centuries. The terms we use today for this type of singing e.g. Gregorian chant, plainchant, Latin chant or chant, would have been interchangeable with the word hymn though this meaning would change over time. By the way, pipe organs did not begin appearing in Christian churches until around the 10th century.

Eastern hymn-singing uses the human voice in the background as a constant drone (humming tone), to keep the men on pitch. In Western Roman tradition, the pipe organ produces the drone support, and the singing is purer, without up-and-down inflection of the voice, thus more European in nature. While Western Roman chant uniquely belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox hymn-singing is closer to the “sound” Jesus would have known as someone who had lived in the Middle East.


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