Ever wonder why Pope Julius II Commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel?
Well, the Catholic Church had been losing influence — and parishioners — partly due to tensions created by events leading up to the Protestant Reformation, which was sparked a few years after Julius II died. So, thought Julius, what better way to bring people back to the fold than to make his churches the most beautiful buildings you’re ever likely to see.
And then, of course, there’s the music, which matured over the next 200 years to produce such great works that we still play them today. Think our popular music will be played 300 years from now? Here’s a piece you proabably know, written about 300 years ago:
Imagine life in the early 1700s (when Bach was a church organist — 200 years after Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel). The only sounds you heard were those of nature–birds chirping, rustling leaves, whistling wind, the roar of the sea, the gentle wash of a babbling brook or running stream. Think of this as the background music of the day upon which you hear the human voice: the sigh of a maiden in love; the jealous rage of a prince betrayed; the joyful song of family gathered around a crackling fire; a newborn’s cradle gently rocking on wide pine boards to his mother’s soft candlelight serenade.
People of the day spent their lives listening to the sounds of nature augmented only by music they made themselves, the notable exception being on Sunday. Church music was an utterly exotic and extraordinary sound — and most likely the loudest sound anyone ever heard.
So, you fill the most impressive building in the city with the best art and music available anywhere on Earth and you’ve got a draw. That’s what got people to church. And it still does. Just ask Greg Bover who buys most of the organs he builds at CB Fisk.
Regardless of their religious affiliations, more people go to church during big celebrations than at any other time — and a big reason is that’s when the music and pageantry (entertainment wrapped in ceremony) are at their best. Check out this video of an Easter 2012 church service to see what I’m talking about: