Why Preludes?

Sonata Op. 13 Mv.2 L. van Beethoven (1770-1827)

I thought I might take a moment to share some thoughts about music in worship.

Plato (c.424-348 B.C.E.) said that there were three Primary Virtues: Truth, Goodness and Beauty, and all other virtues derive from these. Many philosophers and theologians since Plato have found this idea useful. ’Truth’ would apply to mathematics, philosophy and theology as well as ’mundane’ (from the Latin word ’mundus’ — ’the world’) truth like history and science. ‘Goodness’ is how we treat each other, and ‘Beauty’ is, well, Beauty. Clearly these are also primary attributes of God.

If we apply Plato’s primary virtues to church, one could say that Truth is the sermon, Sunday school and Christian education in general. Goodness is how we support each other in the vicissitudes of life (visitation, praying for each other) as well as how we serve our Neighbors near and far. As for ’Beauty’—that’s the stained glass windows, and the plants and hangings in the front of the sanctuary, and — music. God did not need to make sunsets (a new one every day, no less!) — they serve no ‘useful’ purpose. Likewise, I think there is a place for offering up Beauty in worship — just for its own sake, just because it is one of the primary attributes of God.

Having just said that Beauty need not be ’useful’, I nevertheless have a definite use in mind for the musical prelude! Which is: to help us transition from ’secular space’ to ’sacred space’ to prepare for worship proper. When we’re in secular space we’re thinking about the electric bill, the laundry, the mundane/worldly tasks of life. But in sacred space we reconnect with the Divine, with what is ultimately most important in Life. To make that transition from secular to sacred space is not always easy, and that’s where the prelude comes in — five minutes of something beautiful to help us make that transition into sacred space.