I remember when I first realized that the controversies over music in the church were nothing new. I was listening for the first time through Robert Greenberg’s How to Listen to and Understand Great Music (a very engaging overview of music history from the church to the twentieth century in 48 lectures), and heard over and over how controversies in the church drove musical change.
As the old saw goes, those who do not learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them.
Calvin R. Stapert has recently published A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) (a mere $13.50 on Amazon). This is an accessible work which will bring the clean sea-breeze of the centuries to a person in the area of church music.
The volume compiles commentary from Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine, and many others on music in the church of their day. However, it is not merely a sourcebook of readings, although it is that; Stapert skillfully weaves together this patristic commentary to demonstrate overarching lines of thought in the early church in the area of church music.
You won’t agree with everything in the book; that goes without saying. But you will be exposed to what Christian thinkers from another era thought about music — particularly in relation to a pagan culture.
One summary quotation: “The church fathers’ affirmation of psalmody and hymnody is evidence that they held a high view of music, which they also showed in their rejection of much of the music of the pagan Roman society in which they lived.” (195)