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”
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