Chapter 21 » 21.31


The acceptance of the practice of music as a legitimate activity for Friends has been difficult because of the clear views expressed by early Friends. Solomon Eccles, a professional musician from a family of musicians, tried to burn his ‘virginals, fiddles and all’ and when the crowd tried to prevent him ‘I was forced to stamp on them and break them to pieces [because I saw] a difference between the harps of God and the harps of men.’ Similarly our founder, George Fox, says in his Journal that he was ‘moved to cry also against all sorts of music … [for it] burdened the pure life, and stirred people’s minds to vanity.’ With such a strong lead it took Friends until 1978 before Ormerod Greenwood could name this attitude an apostasy. Now we can say that Friends do not merely accept music, but that composing, performing and listening to music are, for many, essential parts of their spiritual lives. Evidence for this can be found in the experience of the Leaveners. The Quaker Youth Theatre has not only delighted but challenged us; and the first performance by the Quaker Festival Orchestra and Chorus of The gates of Greenham in the Royal Festival Hall in 1985 produced the largest British Quaker gathering – musical or otherwise – this century. Acceptance of music has gone through a number of stages: firstly it became acceptable for Friends to practise it in their daily lives; secondly they felt able to practise it together; and thirdly they have felt able to include it in their worship. There are a number of meetings now which recognise that music beforehand, whether listening or singing together, can help Friends prepare their hearts and minds; and some Friends feel that to perform in worship, whether spontaneously or in a prepared way, can enable the meeting to reach the deep centre which characterises meetings held in the light. Friends now acknowledge that we can hear God’s harps being played through ‘the harps of men’.

John Sheldon, 1994

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