Christian music is music created by or adapted for the Christian church. It also includes Contemporary Christian music, in which the music explores Christian themes but is designed to be played in places other than churches.
There is record of the earliest music of the Christian church in a few New Testament books of what are probably hymns. Some of these fragments are still sung as hymns today in the Orthodox Church, including “Awake, awake O sleeper” on the occasion of someone’s baptism.
Being Jewish, Jesus and his disciples would most likely have sung the psalms from memory. However, without a centralised music industry, the repertoire of ordinary people was much greater than it is today, so they probably knew other songs too. Early Christians continued to sing the psalms much as they were sung in the synagogues in the first century.
Early Biblical References
The gospels of Matthew (26:30) and Mark (14:26) state that Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples immediately before his betrayal. The apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians (5:19) exhorted the church at Ephesus to speak to each other “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”. In the book of Colossians (3:16) he also encouraged the church at Colossae to teach and admonish each other with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.
Early Church History
Aside from hymns taken from the Bible itself, the earliest hymn still in use today is probably O Gladsome Light (Greek F?? ‘??a???, Phos Hilaron). In the fourth century, Basil the Great referred to it as already being a rather old hymn.
Some of the popularity of Arianism in the fourth century can be attributed to the catchy songs that the priest Arius composed in its support. The popularity of the songs helped increase the popularity of his teachings. Ephrem the Syrian composed a number of hymns later in the fourth century that supported what eventually came to be recognised as more orthodox doctrines.
Troparia and Kontakia are two early forms of hymns that became incorporated into the Church’s worship.
At the conclusion of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, Emperor Justinian I is reputed to have composed a hymn summarizing the council’s conclusion, Only begotten Son. That hymn was since incorporated into the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom and is still widely sung today.
Byzantine music is the music of the Byzantine Empire and by extension the music of its culture(s) as they continued in the Orthodox Christian parts of the population after the fall of the empire to the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Around the 8th to 10th centuries, Gregorian chant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied singing, developed in the Catholic church. While its roots are somewhat obscure, the chant was classified into eight modes derived from Byzantine chant. The texts that are chanted are mostly from the Bible, and mostly in Latin (there are some Greek texts such as Kyrie eleison and Hagios Theos}. Gregorian chant has gone through periods of decline and revival, most notably, the revival at Solesmes, where an official Vatican Edition of the Chant was produced. Most editions of Gregorian chant available today can be traced to the work of the Solesmes monks.
Since Vatican II, the use of liturgical Latin has declined, and with it, Gregorian chant. However, the immense popularity of the recordings of the Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in the 1990’s has suggested that there is an enthusiastic audience for chant.
The tradition of Christian hymns in the English language is closely tied to Protestantism. Protestant hymns can range from the Reformation organ pieces of J. S. Bach to the American folk hymns found in The Sacred Harp. Martin Luther composed a number of hymns in the 16th century, reportedly borrowing some of their melodies from popular tavern drinking songs of that period. Another famous hymn composer is Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley.
Some hymns, particularly Christmas carols, are widely embraced by various denominations while many hymns are restricted to certain religious traditions. In some cases this is due to doctrinal differences reflected in the words of the song but in many cases it is the result of tradition and the use of denominationally produced or approved hymnals.
The use of hymns was a factor in several historic schisms among Protestant denominations with more traditional members insisting on the use of only the psalms in the service.
Contemporary Christian Music
The most recent common form of Christian music is Contemporary Christian music, or CCM. This draws most of its influence from secular music of the late 20th century and is the most popular kind of Christian music in the Western world. Although there are many Christian music acts in the mainstream music industry, the term CCM usually refers specifically to artists within the Christian music industry that are played on Christian radio. If you look hard enough, there is a “Christian music” counterpart to nearly every popular musical style. Besides Contemporary Christian music, Black Gospel, Southern Gospel, and Christian country music are also popular in the US.
Brazilian Christian Music
While Brazilian Protestantism came to be dominated by CCM-influenced pop music, there was a period from the 1970s to the early 1990s when there was a creative movement adapting various Brazilian styles, mainly MPB, to religious meanings and even congregational singing.
While very little is left of this movement, known simply as ‘Musica Evangelica’ to contrast with the pop,
commercialised, CCM-like ‘Musica Gospel’, there are still some groups and persons continuing the creative tradition, such as Guilherme Kerr. Furthermore, there are a few individuals creating Brazilian Christian music out of any specific movement or school, the most famous one being Elomar Figueira de Mello, known for his erudite, regionalist music escaping current nihilism common in Contemporary music.
Christian Country Music
Christian Hip Hop