to the Grace of God!
In the study of music history and theory, the formal term for call-and-response is antiphon. The first time I encountered this term, I (incorrectly) assumed that this term meant something like sound (phon) in opposition (anti). But this rudimentary definition did not capture what I heard when I listened to examples of antiphonal music, like Andrea Gabrieli’s 16-part Gloria (listen here). Composing for St. Mark’s Basilica, Gabrieli took advantage of the vast space to divide the ensemble into four four-part choirs, placing each choir in a different area of the worship space along with instruments. The result is different choirs and soloists singing to one another across the space, sometimes alternating, sometimes overlapping to create a surround sound of the majestic praise of the angels who appeared to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” This is the furthest thing from “sound in opposition.” I learned that “anti-” can also mean “in return.”
Suddenly, antiphon made so much more sense! This “sound in return” music depends on the back-and-forth response of every musician to offer beautiful praise to God and declare the good news through song. Rather than the voices and instruments being in opposition to or in competition with one another, they depend on one another to receive and respond, or the music doesn’t work.
Ok, so why go down this rabbit trail into sixteenth-century sacred music?
Because too often, we imagine that God’s call is like a command instead of an invitation, meaning our response is more about obedience than bringing our full selves to respond by participating with God’s good news. But, if we think of our journey of becoming the people of God antiphonally, we recognize that both God’s call and our response are needed to build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
See you in church!