On Creative Genius and Music as a Kind of Onomatopoeia

A few days ago we discussed whether Angels sing. My own conclusion from the discussion is that there is little or no evidence that Angels sing. About the closest reference is Job 38:7 and even there it is not perfectly clear that they sing. Perhaps the most positive way to state my point is that musical expression is a particular gift and genius of the human person. And our capacity for music is not just to make crude sounds. Rather we are possessed, at least collectively, of creative genius in this regard. The video below illustrates this genius.

Do you remember your grammar and the grammatical term Onomatopoeia? An Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the object it describes. Words like oink, meow, Wham! Sizzle, and my personal favorite:”Yackety Yak”

There are times too when music takes up a kind of onomatopoetic quality. In the video below Moses Hogan, one of the great modern arrangers of the old African American Spirituals describes his arrangement of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” He has the male and female voices in a frenetic dialogue with lots of staccato notes dominating in the male voices.  This creates the very sound of an intense battle! The song sounds like what it is describing. It’s a kind of “musical onomatopoeia.” There are other aspects of the same concept, you’ll hear the trumpet in the soprano and the battle reach climax in a moment of dissonance. And wait till you hear the walls fall at the very end in a cascade of notes! 

In this three minute video Moses Hogan describes his intent of echoing the sound of a battle and then the song is sung. Enjoy this brilliant and beautiful arrangement of the Spiritual. Admire too the wonderful discipline of the choir that is necessary to execute this spiritual flawlessly.

8 Replies to “On Creative Genius and Music as a Kind of Onomatopoeia”

    1. Tell us more about shape note singing JJ. The videos are interesting but I am not sure I understand what is happening. My ignorance has shown itself. 🙂

    1. Yes, thanks for these. I really liked the frist especially. It is a difficult theme from the OT (Ezekeil’s vision that is) which the Spiritual gives a great interpretation to

  1. Angels don’t sing??? Really Monseignor? What about the In Paradisium.”.may the choirs of angels lead you into
    Paradise? ” And doesn’t Scripture tells us how the skies of heaven were filled with choirs of angels singing praises
    to God on the night of Jesus birth in Bethlehem? Tradition has always taught us that the angels do indeed sing.
    We have the saying…”she sings like an angel!” based upon teaching of the centuries about angels. Of course
    they do many things as well to carry out our Father’s will. I have often pictured Gabriel singing to Mary the good
    news! Now you have really dis-illusioned me…and probably lots of others who have longed to hear the heavenly
    choir someday! Perhaps you conclude this because angels being pure spirit would not have the necessary
    apparatus to make music. Well, perhaps the “apparatus” required for heavenly music is just different from that
    of humans. I think if you stretch your imagination a bit you might just conclude you are being perhaps a little
    too “earth-bound” in your thinking. I am still going to believe angels sing, most gloriously, until you come up with
    evidence otherwise. …the burden of proof is upon you, not those of us who have always believed otherwise.

    1. Adele,

      In the In paradisum there is said to be a Chorus of angels but it does not say that they sing but rather that they escort the departed to heaven. As stated elsewhere in the comments “chorus” or “choir” can simply mean divisions or ranks.

      Your second comment makes me think you didn’t read the article but are just responding to the title. I clearly state in the article that the passage you cite wherein the angels gather at Bethlehem that they Say “Glory to God in the highest….”

      As for some of the popular expressions you cite, they really have no bearing on the issue since popular culture is often wrong about may many things.

      As for “disallusioning” you give me too much power and also take this article way too seriously. You may beleive as much as you want that angles. sing. I merely raise the questions as to why scripture, tradition and the Liturgy, a;smost with out except do not attest to angels singing.

      The closing tone of your response indicates to me once again that you have not actually read my article. I invite you to read it and see if your tone is still warranted.

Comments are closed.