David Organizes the Musicians (1 Chronicles 25) December 18
David has a particular interest in the group of Levites assigned to be musicians. He is a musician himself (see 1 Samuel 16:16-23), a maker or perhaps even inventor of musical instruments (1 Chronicles 23:5), and a prolific composer.
Twenty-four sons of the three chief musicians are chosen to head up divisions to correspond with the courses of priests. These three were originally chosen by the tribal leader to be the musicians when the ark was moved to Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 15:16-24). The sons of Asaph, of the Levitical sub-tribe of Gershom (Gershom, Kohath and Merari being the three sons of Levi), had four of the divisions. Asaph had been the chief musician assigned to minister before the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 16:4-7, 37). He, too, composed psalms, with 12 of them bearing his name (Psalms 50; 73-83). The sons of Jeduthun, of the sub-tribe of Merari, had six divisions. Jeduthun is known as Ethan in many scriptures and, along with Heman, served at the tabernacle in Gibeon while the ark was in Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 16:39-42). The sons of Heman, of the sub-tribe of Kohath, made up the remaining 14 divisions. Heman was the grandson of the prophet Samuel, and descendant of Korah. One psalm is attributed to Heman (Psalm 88), but 10 others (42; 44-49; 84-85; 87) are attributed to the sons of Korah, which would include Heman and his descendants. Additional information can be found in 1 Chronicles 6:31-48.
Note that each group of musicians is said to be "under the direction of their father" (25:2, 3, 6). The older King James Version says "under the hands of their father," a literal translation of the original Hebrew. This seems to convey the picture of a choral director leading the singers under him. But unlike modern choirs who, since the invention of the printing press and the musical notation of our day, tend to use printed musical notation, it was common for ancient choir directors to use more elaborate hand and arm gestures in a practice known as chironomy. This allowed them to convey not only the timing and volume, but even the notes the group was to sing or play.
When David and Asaph gave the singers and instrumentalists a new song, they probably did not pass out written music for everybody. Certainly the group could learn a new song through hearing someone sing it several times. But history shows that more sophisticated techniques were employed to enable these professional musicians to know what notes they were to sing or play "instantly" through the hand gestures of their father, or other musical director. That one such director may have been David can be seen in the phrase "order of the king" in verse 2actually, in the Hebrew, "hands of the king." This at least shows David's direct involvement in composing, but it perhaps also means that he occasionally led the musicians himself.
According to the research and theory of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura (author of The Music of the Bible Revealed, 1991), notation of these hand signals may actually be recorded in the accent marks (the jots and tittles) of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible.