CJ Replay: The Origins of Sacred Music
Date: July 12, 2012
(From the Choral Journal article "Origin and Development of a Sacred Musical Heritage: The Psalter of Herod's Temple," by Mary P. Houze)
That vocal music with its inherent ability to communicate a message was held in greater esteem than instrumental music is attested to by the fact that only Levites, their kinsmen, and their sons were ever allowed to participate with the choirs and that membership in the guild was limited to Levites of thirty to fifty years in age. The instrumental music of the Temple was as extravagant as its architecture. Josephus, an ancient historian with a penchant for exaggeration claims that Solomon in preparation for the dedication of the Temple ordered construction of 40,000 stringed instruments, 200,000 trumpets, and an equal number of ceremonial dresses for the Levital choirs. The dedication of the Temple was arranged to coincide with the Feast of the Tabernacles, a joyous agricultural festival when all Israel journeyed to Jerusalem to appear before the Lord; and Carl Engel wonders how so many performers, let alone the great crowd of Pilgrims, found accommodation within the Temple, " 'The length thereof,' we read in Kings vi. 2, 'was three score cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits and the height thereof thirty cubits.'" (3) (The cubit equals about eighteen inches, being a unit of measure based on the length of a man's arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger.) The Chronicler tells us music for the Temple's dedication was provided by "all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthan, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres who stood east of the altar with a hundred and twenty priests who were trumpeters; and that it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in praise and to the (II Chronicles 5:12-13).