Music and Musical Instruments
MUSIC AND MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.
A. The Bell. (Heb. pa‘amôn). In
B. The Cymbals. (Heb. tseltselîm and metsiltayim). The only permanent percussive instrument in the temple orchestra was the cymbal. In the Holy Scriptures, the use of cymbals is solely confined to religious ceremonies—bringing back the ark from
In Psalm 150 two types of cymbals are pointed out: “Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.” The “clashing cymbals were of a larger diameter than the “resounding” cymbals, and were two-handed cymbals. The resounding cymbals were much smaller and were played by one hand—the cymbals being attached to the thumb and the middle finger.
In the time of David and Solomon, much stress was laid on the cymbal and percussive instruments. The chief singer of David, Asaph, was a cymbal player (
Although these temple instruments were definitely rhythmical in character, it is interesting to note that the rhythm of the melody was largely dependent on the innate rhythm of the words sung, for the content and the spirit of the words dominated the music. The singing and the playing of the instruments was not to perform or entertain or to elevate a lover of refined art, but rather to serve as a highly exalted form of speech. Rhythm proved important only in nonreligious music, and the Jews also made a distinction between what they called spiritual music of the highly educated and the popular music of the masses.
C. The Harp (Heb. nēbhel). In
The harp was often used at secular festivities. Isaiah the prophet complains, “They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands” (
D. The Lyre (Heb. kinnôr). Jewish historians ascribe the first use of musical instruments to the seventh generation after the creation of the world.
The kinnôr was used on joyous occasions; for instance, it is stated in
E. The Oboe (Heb. chālîl). In
F. The Pipe. (Heb. ‘ûgabh). The shepherd’s pipe (nasb, neb, rsv), flute (mlb, niv), or organ (kjv) is the other musical instrument mentioned in
G. The Psaltery (Heb. ‘āsôr, from the Hebrew word for ten). The harp (nēbhel) is often associated with the psaltery. The psaltery is mentioned twice in the Psalms in connection with the harp (
It is generally accepted that this was a ten-stringed, rectangular zither. To the early church fathers this psaltery was symbolical: the ten strings, the; and the four sides, the Gospels.
H. The Shālîsh. The word shālîsh has been the most disputed musical term of the Hebrew language. The word is clearly connected with the Hebrew word that means “three,” and it has been translated many times as triangles, triangular harps, three-stringed instruments, and three-stringed lutes (even three-stringed fiddles and a kind of pipe). Of its twenty-one OT occurrences, only once is it perhaps a musical term (
I. The Sistrum, or Rattle. (Heb. mena‘an‘im). This term occurs only in
J. The Tambourine (Heb. tōph). The tōph was a small drum made of a wooden hoop and probably two skins, without any jingling contrivance like the modern tambourine. It was a rhythm-indicator and was used for dances and joyous occasions as well as religious celebrations.
K. The Trumpet (Heb. shôphār or qeren). The only temple instrument still being used today in the synagogue is the shôphār or qeren. Originally, it was a ram’s horn without a mouthpiece. It was used chiefly as a signal instrument in religious as well as in secular ceremonies. One single incident stands out in conjunction with the blowing of the shôphār. This is recorded in
During the latter part of the period of the second temple, two types of shôphār were in use: the curved ram’s horn and the straight (female) mountain goat’s horn. The Talmudian tractate Rosh-hoshana 3:2-6 gives a detailed description of the shôphār: “All shofars are valid save that of the cow. The shofar blown in the temple at the New Year was made from the horn of the mountain goat, straight, with its mouthpiece overlaid with gold. At the sides of them that blew the shofar were two priests that blew upon the silver trumpets. The shofar blew a long note and the trumpets a short note, since the duty of the day fell on the shofar. The shofar blown on New Year’s Day was to remind God of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and especially of Isaac’s sacrifice and of the ram that was substituted for him (
“The shofars blown on days of fasting were ram’s horns, curved, with mouthpieces overlaid with silver. Between them were two priests who blew upon silver trumpets. The shofar blew a short note and the trumpets a long note, since the duty of the day fell on the trumpets. Theis like to the New Year in the blowing of the shofar. Today, the sound of the shofar is to stir the hearts of the Jewish people to awe and reverence and to remind them of their duties to God. As a matter of fact, the Shofar Song is a simple but beautiful call to worship.”
L. The Trumpet (Heb. chatzōtzerâ). “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out....When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God”' (
Both the trumpets and the shôphār were blown by the priests and not by the Levites, who were, so to speak, the professional musicians of the temple. Both these instruments served the same function of signaling.
Jewish historian Josephus has described the trumpet as a straight tube, “a little less than a cubit long,” its mouthpiece wide and its body expanding into a bell-like ending. The form of the trumpet is still preserved on the Jewish coins of the latter part of the period of the second temple. When, in a.d. 70 the Romans erected an arch for Emperor Titus after his conquest of Jerusalem, they depicted on it his triumphant return to Rome with the holy objects robbed from the temple, among them a trumpet, which corresponds exactly to the description of Josephus.
Two of these silver trumpets were the minimum requirement for the temple service; the maximum, 120.
M. Nebuchadnezzar’s Orchestral Instruments. Finally, a word about the orchestral instruments of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, as described by Daniel: “As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up” (
A. The History of Hebrew Music.
1. The Time of David. The history of Hebrew music, as well as the history of Israel’s higher civilization in general and the organization of the musical service in the temple, began with King David’s reign. To King David has been ascribed not only the creation and singing of the psalms, but also the invention of musical instruments.
King David chose the Levites to supply musicians for the holy temple. Out of the thirty thousand who were employed at this time, the impressive number of four thousand was selected for the musical service.
. Years later, when King Solomon had finished all work for the temple and brought in all the things David his father had dedicated, the priest and the congregation of Israel assembled before the ark, and the musical service was begun by the Levites.
In Solomon’s temple the choir formed a distinct body. They were furnished homes and were on salary. Ezekiel says they had chambers between the walls and windows with southern views (
There were three forms after which the Psalms and the prayers were rendered in the temple. First, the leader intoned the first half verse, whereupon the congregation repeated it. Then the leader sang each succeeding half line, the congregation always repeating the same first half line, which thus became a refrain throughout the entire psalm. Second, the leader sang a half line at a time, and the congregation repeated what he had last sung. The third form was responsive in the real sense of the word—the leader would sing the whole first line, whereupon the congregation would respond with the second line of the verse. In ancient times the people, primitive as yet, would respond with but one word as a refrain to tributes and praise. Refrains such as Amen, Halleluyah, Hoshiannah (“Oh, help!”), Anenu (“Answer us!”) were mostly used in public worship. In later times a higher musical development of the people is shown in their response with phrases rather than single words as in
3. The Second Temple. The orchestra and the choir personnel were greatly reduced in the second temple. The orchestra consisted of a minimum of two harps and a maximum of six; a minimum of nine lyres, maximum limitless; a minimum of two oboes and a maximum of twelve; and one cymbal. The second temple choir consisted of a minimum of twelve adult singers, maximum limitless. The singers, all male, were between thirty and fifty years of age. Five years of musical training was a prerequisite to membership in the second temple choir. In addition to the male adults, sons of the Levites were permitted to participate in the choir “in order to add sweetness to the song.”
4. The Time of Christ. The musical service in the temple at the time of Christ was essentially the same as that in King Solomon’s temple, with the exception of a few minor changes in certain forms of singing. There were two daily services in the temple—the morning and evening sacrifices. The morning sacrifice began with burning incense on the golden altar within the Holy Place. The offering of incense took place before daybreak, and the priest on whom the lot had fallen for the most honorable service in the daily ministry was alone in the Holy Place while burning the incense; the congregation was praying outside the gates of the temple at the time of incense offering. The morning sacrifice followed. The president would direct one of the priests to ascend some pinnacle to see if it was time to kill the daily sacrifice. If the priest reported, “The morning shineth already,” he was asked again, “Is the sky lit up as far as Hebron?” If so, the president would order the lamb, which had been kept in readiness for four days, brought in. The elders who carried the keys now gave the order to open the gates of the temple. As the last great gate opened, a signal was given to the priests to blow three blasts on their silver trumpets, calling the Levites and the representatives of the people to their duties, and announcing to the city that the morning sacrifice was about to be offered. Immediately after this the gates to the Holy Place were opened to admit the priests who were to cleanse the candlestick and the altar of incense. The opening of these great gates was actually the signal for the slaughter of the lamb without blemish. Following a prayer, the Ten Commandments were recited, and this was followed by the Jewish Creed “Shema”: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (
After the priestly benediction, found in
With the sacrificial acts over, the ‘ûgabh was sounded, which was the signal for the priests to prostrate themselves, but for the Levites it marked the beginning of the musical service. Two priests would now take their stand at the right and left of the altar and blow their silver trumpets. After this, these two priests would approach the cymbal player and take their stand beside him, one on the right and one on the left. When given a sign with a flag by the president, this Levite sounded his cymbal, and this was the sign for the Levites to begin singing a part of the daily psalm accompanied by instrumental music. Whenever they stopped singing, the priests would again blow their trumpets, and the people would prostrate themselves. Not only psalms were sung but also parts of the Pentateuch. The psalm of the day was sung in three sections and at the close of each the priests would blow three fanfares on their silver trumpets, a signal for the congregation to bow down and to worship the Lord.
With the singing of the daily psalm, the morning sacrifice came to a close. The evening sacrifice was identical to the morning sacrifice, with the exception that the incense offering followed the evening sacrifice, at sunset. Thus they began and ended the day with prayer and praise, of which the burning of incense was symbolical.
The word selâh, which is found so frequently in the Psalms, is another word that has not been satisfactorily explained. Whether it means an interlude, a pause, or a cadence, is not known. Many scholars believe it indicates a musical interlude by the temple orchestra.
C. The Dance (Heb. māchôl). Dance was considered an integral part of the religious ceremonies in ancient Israel. This Hebrew word is found in the Holy Scriptures associated with the word tōph or timbrel: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing” (