GALVESTON — Hymns were the standard for congregational music for almost two millennia. Stalwarts like Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” were penned in the 1500s.

The oldest known Christian hymn with musical notation was found in an Egyptian landfill in modern times. Known as the Oxyrhynchus hymn, it offers Trinitarian choral praise on the diatonic scale. Penned on papyrus and written in Greek, it dates to the third century.

Contemporary Christian music has often eschewed this ancient form. At many Sunday morning worship services, choruses displayed as text-only, PowerPoint slides have displaced four-part harmony and a hardback hymnal with the staff and bars musical formula can rarely be found.

Galveston’s Izola Collins is an ardent advocate for musical education in the pews — and the pulpit.

As a lifelong member, pianist and organist at Galveston’s Reedy Chapel, A.M.E. Church, Collins is passionate about musical storytelling and theological import of Christian hymns. She also has a bone to pick with pastors who might not properly value the musical education of their flocks.

She also has a few words for congregations feasting on a constant diet of light and repetitive “pop” music without any admixture of more weighty, traditional hymns.

“It is easy for young adults to crave fast foods that are not wholesome,” she said. “To learn to desire decent and wholesome music, you must be exposed to it by trained musicians. Many times our children don’t want good food, but choose fast food instead. Likewise, you need music that is good for your soul.”

Collins said that repetitive choruses, like fast food, provide less spiritual nutrition than the standards that grace most traditional hymnals. Making an analogy to the medical profession, she said good music, like good food, is good medicine for congregations, though like a balanced diet, it might require a learning curve to fully incorporate it.

“God made this (church music) my life,” Collins, 84, said. “I came out of college at Prairie View A&M with a music degree and started playing for church after I got married 60 years ago.”

The ability to read music and sing parts may be going the way of cursive writing and shorthand classes, but Collins believes that solid music, skillfully sung, is still an important asset to any church.

“I’d like to see more churches having workshops that bring in people who know music, so that people understand not only how to sing, but can get a little more musical understanding,” she said.


At a glance

Izola Collins’ favorite hymns:

1. “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”

2. “Blessed Assurance”

3. “I Trust in God”

4. “Near the Cross”

5. “(Give me) A Clean Heart”

6. “The Church’s One Foundation”

7. “It is Well With My Soul”

8. “How Great Thou Art”

9. “His Eye is on the Sparrow”

10.” I Come to the Garden Alone”


Next week

Visit a Texas City church school that is celebrating a half-century of service.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com.

(6) comments

Dwight Burns

Mrs. Collins' dedication to music education, to me, is legendary among professional
musicians who have been graced by either her teachings or her performances.

As a professional musician, I agree with Mrs. Collins on all points she made in her article. Moving forward, it's one thing to have a natural gift to play an instrument or sing. However, it's another thing if you know why you're doing what you're doing. Perfecting ones chosen craft through education, to me, legitimizes the individual.
After all, a house built on a solid foundation will last longer then one built on sand.

Thank you, Mrs. Collins for your dedication to music

sverige1
Lars Faltskog

Every type of worship music has its time and place. Some of the songs one hears from, let's say, KSBJ can mean a lot to someone who is grasping at finding faith.

A lot of that contemporary element is very moving. But, it is nice to hear about folks who adhere to the classic hymns. I was thumbing through the digital channels this morning and came across "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee". I remember that being one of the 1st church songs I latched onto as a child.

Carlos Ponce

To everything, There is a season, And a time for every purpose under heaven

As long as you give Glory and Praise to God there is a place for traditional hymns, chants, folk, mariachi, acapella, etc.
Question is, are you singing and playing to give glory to God or to show off your own vocal and instrumental talents? That's the problem I have with Elvis singing Christian songs - too much Elvis.
Personally I do not care for the overpowering rock rhythms in worship. Other cultures use such to summon demons. I do like traditional African -American spiritual music but do not care for for the screeching Aretha Franklin style of Gospel. I do like Oh Happy Day by the Edward Hawkins Singers.
My favorite Hymn - Amazing Grace - sung traditionally.

sverige1
Lars Faltskog

carlosrponce -

You have a great point in regard to singing/playing for the glory of God, as opposed to overpowering the purpose of worship. In each group I have belonged to, we have advocated and encouraged the parishoners to join in. When I was leading, I would take 10 minutes before the service to introduce a new piece to the parishoners and we would do some practice with them. If the congregation is not participating in some way (no matter what style of music), then the music ministry is not doing its job. Again, it's unfortunate that today many of the contemporary groups with frontpersons make little or no attempt to reel in the congregation and don't concern themselves of the worshippers' participation. I've never heard of "Oh Happy Day". I'll look it up.

Carlos Ponce

"Oh Happy Day" played an important part in the movie "Secretariat"(2010) and "Sister Act 2"(1993). Hard to believe you never heard of it.
1969 version-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfGDvDGE7zk
2010 version-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihGHltBuBBI
Sister Act 2 Singers with Whoopi Goldberg-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLY7yI1xV-M

sverige1
Lars Faltskog

Well, I was hoping this thread would receive more dialogue. I actually would like for carlosrponce, if you will, to consider commenting as I think you have a true grasp for the goal for an individual's desire to grow spiritually.

Unfortunate news for folks like Izola, as I mentioned, I'm the type of worshipper in the camp of gravitation toward the more "pop" selections, although I know and appreciate the classics such as "How Great Thou Art".

To my dismay, I have been looking for a church to join as a contemporary guitarist/singer, but it seems that most places are not in need, and they seem to already have in place a "frontman/frontwoman". So, carlosjponce, what are your views, preferences as far as church music? I imagine you're similar to my mom. She remembers in her youth getting 1st communion and there still was the Latin mass with the designated Priest with his back to the parishoners. She likes the Latin, their chants and/or no music at all, I like the contemporary/folk. Generation gap [wink]

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