We have evidence that the Great Biblical Songbook was appreciated by Israel’s pagan neighbors thousands of years ago by at least 3 references to this appreciation – one from the Assyrian king, Sennacherib and two from the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. It seems there may have been a Royal Assyrian Orchestra and a Royal Babylonian Orchestra.
First, there is the reference in the non-biblical historical document, The Annals of Sennacherib, which tell of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, bringing conquered Hebrew musicians to entertain him in his capital city, Nineveh, after the Assyrians defeated the Judean king, Hezekiah, in 690 BC (2 Kings 18-19). We can be confident that the Hebrews weren’t in Nineveh to sing songs of worship for the Assyrians, so they must have sung songs of life.
Second, we have the reference in Psalm 137 that the Babylonians demanded “songs of Zion.” Psalm 137 refers to the Jerusalem captivity around 590 BC when the leading residents of the capital city were taken prisoner to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians may be mocking the Hebrews and their “songs of joy” since they are prisoners, after all. Still, the Babylonians enjoyed the tuneful music written and performed by the Israelites.
Third, Daniel tells us in Daniel 3 (5, 7, 10, 15) that King Nebuchadnezzar had his Royal Babylonian Orchestra do the court tooting for special occasions. The text indicates that there might have been solo playing, ensemble playing and entire orchestra playing for the entertainment of the royal court. Maybe the Babylonians were playing also the so-called “noisy songs” — to reference Ezekiel 26 — composed by the Hebrew captives.
Taken together, these 3 bits of evidence suggest that the Israelites were good at music – and not just the kind they sang at the Temple.
Temple music — or what we would call in our day Church music — is something we should know and sing. But the example of the Israelites shows us that we can sing other kinds of music to the glory of God, as well.
Turning to the American Songbook, one of the most popular dance bands of the 20th century liked to characterize its playing as “the sweetest music this side of heaven.” Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadian Orchestra lasted for more than 50 years — and had an amazing 24 number one hit songs.
Despite that success, one jazz critic has scornfully written that Lombardo is a “strong candidate for the least hip musician of the 20th century.”
Well, I think I’ll put a little more stock in the super-cool Louie Armstrong, who said the Lombardo ensemble was his favorite band.
These days, the only thing most people know about Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians is that they would ring-in the New Year on TV by playing “Auld lang syne” from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Here is their version of that song:
(“Auld lang syne” performed by Guy Lombardo) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik7ktS3PqEs
Maybe it’s not “the sweetest music this side of heaven,” but as we listen to it, let’s remember that the God of heaven who has been faithful this year, will be faithful next year, too.
And before time gets away from me, those of us at “Singing in the Shower” thank you for listening to us this year, we wish you a Happy New Year, and we’ll meet with you next week.
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”