Sacred Cymbals

Drums in fireWhen I was a kid I played drums.

Well, actually, a drum would be more accurate.

I signed up for band in school and, much to my parents’ chagrin, chose the drum as my instrument. So I got one of those practice pads—a piece of rubber glued to a piece of wood—and some sticks. It would be a few years before I would get a real drum and then a few more before I would get my first drum set.  I loved my drum. My parents loved my practice pad.

When I was a kid I also went to church…a lot. I was involved in youth group and youth choir, and I was in the church for every service—which back then was a minimum of three times a week—Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night prayer meetings.  I loved my church.

Back in the 1960s music in church was pretty traditional: we had a choir, and a piano and organ accompaniment. On very rare occasions a talented adult or student who played a trumpet, clarinet or flute might be invited to play for “special music,” usually during the offering. Oddly, this invitation was never extended to a drummer. (Although I could play bongo drums at a youth retreat to accompany “Kumbaya My Lord.”)

It was stated unapologetically that drums were not a suitable instrument for church music, and certainly not appropriate for the platform. The platform—that was what non-liturgical churches like mine called the chancel area. While not liturgical, the platform was still considered a “sacred space” and the items on the platform had symbolic significance. There was a communion table, which contained the Welch’s grape juice and saltine crackers on Communion Sunday and a large super-sized Bible on the Sundays when communion was not served. There was a pulpit, where the Word of God would be proclaimed each week, and behind the pulpit was a cross on the center wall. Under that cross was the baptismal (for you non-Baptists, that is a large tub filled with water, big enough for two people.)

There were usually no musical instruments on the platform. The piano and organ flanked each side of the platform and in our church were actually on the floor, not the platform.

I’ll never forget the Sunday night that things changed. I was invited to bring my drum and a cymbal and set it up beside the piano and to play, yes play my drum, to one song. Oh, the thrill I felt. I was going to play my drum in church. It was nothing too jazzy and certainly not rock-n-roll. The song was Onward Christian Soldiers and I would tap out a march to match the military cadence of the song. I felt like the little drummer boy in the Christmas carol: pa rum pum pum pum.

My how times have changed…

Today it is rare to go in to a church and not see a drum set. Even in more liturgical churches. The church has changed, music styles have changed and the platform has changed.

Today the drums in many churches are right in the center of the platform. My theater background has taught me that center stage is the strongest area of the stage. Often the most important moments in a play will take place center stage. Yep, right about where that drum set is located. Of all instruments, drums can be the most difficult to move and reset, so it is not surprising that the drums stay put from week to week. Where it used to be a drummer would cart his drums to church, today the church may actually own the drum set…I am pretty sure this would be considered blasphemy in the church of my youth.

Because drums and drummers can be loud, many churches place the drums in a “drummer’s cage” —it consists of clear Plexiglas walls complete with a roof to muffle the sound of the drums. It is a sort of prison cell for drummers. Drummers have heard it all their lives: “you’re too loud!” The phrase “it is meant to be seen and not heard” was invented for drummers. The drummer’s cage now reinforces that.

Thinking back to the symbolism of the traditional items found on the platform, I can’t help but think there may be symbolism for many in putting the drums in a cage. You have the communion table and the sacraments, the Bible, the pulpit, the baptismal and the cross on the wall.

And under the cross is a cage containing a drum set. With so many symbols of the Christian faith on the platform it is time to complete the picture, to add another cymbal symbol and show the consequence of our sin.

A caged man, a man in bondage surrounded by drums…obviously for many this must symbolize hell.

Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Psalm 150: 5

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

4 thoughts on “Sacred Cymbals

  1. Jeff S says:

    Awesome Chuck. Love it. Now that I know you’re a drummer, that explains a lot.

    Reply
    1. Carol Taylor says:

      Ah, Neal! Wake up and smell the drumsticks! I am 70 and was raised on those same glorious hymns, but I have come to appreciate and love much of today’s best praise music. I once told my Mom we were going to visit a church where they played “praise music.” She asked, “Is that that music you’ve never heard in your life before, which they play and sing over and over and over again?” To which I replied, “Yes.” But I love it anyway and feel the richer for it! Praise Him that He created us to admire more than one style!

      Reply
  2. Neal Pirolo says:

    And with the “coming of the drums” has gone (most of) the worshipful music of the ages! I was “raised” on the “hymns of the Church”, so fortunately, when I awaken in the morning, they are the first sounds in my mind! ~~~~NEAL

    Reply
  3. John Lee Welton says:

    I heard a speaker say that society reinvents itself every ten years—the church every hundred years. Maybe the drums are just catching up.

    Reply

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