Some of the earliest religious thoughts are believed to have been expressed in song, a spiritual language that survived the ages and is heard today throughout the world.
"It's uplifting, it does something to the heart," explains Gladys Hesleph, longtime pianist at Salt Lake City's Calvary Baptist Church, where music plays an important role in every worship service."Music has a major responsibility in terms of preparing people for what is the central part of our worship service - which is the word of God," said the church's pastor, the Rev. France Davis. "It establishes a mood for worship, it involves the congregation, and it communicates a particular message."
At Calvary Baptist Church, 532 E. 700 South, the music is predominantly traditional and modern gospel, with three distinct choirs leading the congregation through carefully selected hymns and songs.
The Rev. Davis said the music must be appropriate to the particular theme of the service. He and the church's choir directors choose each week's hymns, which come from the national Baptist Hymnal, widely available sheet music and other sources. Occasionally, recordings provide the music and lyrics to some of the more contemporary songs, he said.
"Our music grew out of the experiences we have had and out of stories from the Bible," the Rev. Davis said. "During the early period of our music, the songs were mostly Negro spirituals. After that came the gospel music. Now, much of the music is more modern and speaks to the experiences people are having today."
Yet the fundamental message contained in the music - prayer and praise - has not changed, he said.
Hesleph agreed, noting, "Gospel music has a message that God has been able to deliver, a message of testimony, of how people come through trials and tribulations."
The songs have meaning for the congregation, she said. "We sing songs that people can relate to. Our music that we sing becomes a part of us, part of our daily living."
And the people attending the services often respond by adding their own voices to that of the choir, even if only to hum with the music. Hesleph said the music paves the way for the minister.
To encourage the congregation to participate, much of the music is "call-response," which establishes a dialogue between the congregation and the choir.
"Music is the primary way of making sure that the tone is appropriate to the service," Rev. Davis said. "In that respect, I guess you could say that it is somewhat thematic. Some of the songs are prayer songs and others are songs of celebration."
The church's choirs are divided up by age and musical style. One has more than 50 members, another has 32, and the third has 15. They rehearse once or twice a week for up to two hours.
Hesleph, who has been making spiritual music since she was only five years old, said the church urges very young children and teenagers to participate in the choirs.
As growing record sales will attest, the popularity of gospel music among the general population is greater than ever, which Rev. Davis attributes to the music's "powerful emotional appeal." For some it's only the beat, he concedes, but for most it's the message.
"It's uplifting to sing praises to the Lord," Hesleph said.