Saturday, September 05, 2009
I lament an obvious lack of experience in music and singing in our culture. Nowhere is this lack more troubling than in our institutions of higher ed. It is shocking and appalling that college students in very good music programs read music so poorly. I sing in a college choral ensemble and our director recently commented to me on how poorly some of the students read notes.
The problem is not necessarily the fault of the singers themselves. They just simply haven't been taught to read notes. Again, the problem here is cultural. Our culture's pragmatism and desire for instant gratification have allowed the next generation of pro musicians and teachers to go without basic musicianship training. As mentioned before, part of this problem simply stems from worship. In worship we make a joyful noise unto God through song and this is something we do regularly and with purpose. Pragmatism has spoiled communal music-making in the schools, turning an exercise that in itself is worthwhile into concert preparation: "kids, we've got to learn these 8 songs for our holiday concert in December. Ready,...altos..." The kids learn their notes by rote and learn very little about personal responsibility and skill. On the other had, weekly worship is a performance before the Almighty, not a rehearsal, and the purpose and object of worship is worthy and true. So the church's music making is better than the world's, because 1. we have more "concerts" and, 2. our goal is divine.
But do we in the church think of worship as a performance, and what are we doing to prepare ourselves and our kids for hearty praise each Sunday? If nothing, we are no better than the heathen who do what they have to do prepare for the concert.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
This verse supports the medieval notion that creation is ordered much like a piece of music. The order and harmony of the earth itself sings God’s praise. In Paul’s language, God’s invisible attributes are known from the things made. Our songs then should reflect the harmony of the Godhead, the wisdom of God in creation, and strive remind us of God’s manifold attributes.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
In our church community in Moscow, Idaho we speak a lot about the importance of hearty singing in worship. The way I've said it is that in many churches singing is one of the few really active things the congregation does in the service. It thus behooves us to sing well. Yet in our culture there are many obstacles to this goal. We live in a narcissistic age when comfort, ease, and pleasure seem to be man's "chief end." To the evangelical and world-ling alike the reality of sensuous entertainment in our lives has made us a culture of spectators, a right that in past ages belonged only to those of the highest social cast. We sit around like a bunch of nobles with our courtly entertainers parading before us in sensational splendor. In a sense we have more power than they of old, because we have electronic buttons and dials. In a digital age everything is tidy: no booing is necessary.
Instantaneous entertainment has made us flabby. Robust singing in worship would have not been a stretch to our lower and middle-class forefathers because it was simply part of their culture. Singing was a form of entertainment and a way of easing the drudgery of hard labor. In our time we let others do the singing for us in our leisure time and over the radio while we paint the trim. So if we would sing well in worship, we must first sing everywhere else.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
It has been said that preaching should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Music in God's worship ideally will do a similar thing. As we sing God's praises we are reminded of the protection and Fatherly care we receive from God (Psalm 91) as well the seriousness of sin (Psalm 51) and importance of righteousness (Psalm 15). From the references in Ephesians and Colossians we know that singing is a means of teaching and correcting one another. This is consistent with the view that the book of Psalms in addition to being "the prayers of David" are a microcosm of the entire canon of scripture: we learn the Bible as we sing the psalms and therefore teach each other through singing.
Just what form this takes requires study and reflection and will inevitably lead to some liturgical reform. The fact is that the metrical psalms we sing in our Reformed churches aren't set up well for "teaching and admonishing one another," for in Hebrew poetry the natural dialogue that occurs structurally is downplayed in metrical settings. The didactic element of singing Paul talks about is likely the physical and spacial performance of the parallel phrase structure in the psalms. Early Christians would have been familiar with this method of singing from what was done in Jewish worship. In singing to each other (i.e. Dec. and Can.) we tangibly "discern the body" similarly as when taking the Supper.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Singing and Making Music
Paul S. Jones
Paul Jones’s Singing and Making Music published by P&R is a diverse collection of essays on church music. Various topics Jones considers are payment of church musicians, the role and qualifications of church musicians, church music in small churches, the role of the accompanist in worship; ascriptions in the psalms, hymn writing, congregational singing, children’s music programs, and Martin Luther and Bar songs, to name just a few. Although this book doesn’t strive to be a comprehensive theology of music it examines a lot of the practical out-workings of a solidly Biblical foundation for music.
Jones is the music director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in
In Singing and Making Music Jones writes many helpful insights into music making in the church. One such insight is found in the essay on accompanying congregational singing. Jones mentions that the pianist or organist must be careful to introduce a hymn at the speed the congregation is to sing throughout the hymn that follows. Jones recommends he not slow down too much or at all at the end of the introduction so that speed is lost and confusion ensues when the first stanza begins. Moreover, Jones encourages the organist to mind the meaning of the text being sung. Punctuation should not be ignored; registration and articulation should be explored to help the music match the meaning of the text. A congregationally-minded accompanist will pay heed to such advice. This essay alone should be read by all church accompanists, especially those new to the job. It is examples such as these that make Jones book indispensable advice for the church.
For those that are looking for an in-depth theological discussion of church music Jones’s book is likely to disappoint and certainly that sort of book was not his goal. Nevertheless, professional and volunteer church musicians, as well as pastors and elders would benefit from reading this book and considering Jones’s helpful insights.
Monday, June 16, 2008
My wife and I love to eat and frequently plan our vacations around tasting local fare. Toro Bravo in Portland receives our highest rating: 17 elephants.
Toro Bravo is a Spanish-style tapas restaurant on Russell St. just west of Martin Luther King Blvd. in Portland's NE side. Corinne and I have eaten there three times since last November and are always amazed at the delicious food. Tapas food is served family style in smallish portions. Food is usually ordered one or two dishes at a time and more dishes can be ordered when you're ready. It tends to be informal and frequently parties are seated at large tables that are shared.
Our favorite dishes at Toro Bravo are the bacon-wrapped dates, meatballs in tomato sauce featuring seasonal vegetables (carrots or asparagus), polenta with beef and melted cheese, and Spanish tortilla. A nice Rioja pairs well with any of these dishes. Also highly recommended is the fresh, marinated goat cheese as a starter. But really anything off the menu is great. We have never been disappointed, just slightly less amazed. The prices are more than reasonable (a party of four can easily eat their fill for $75 or less to under $100).
The only two drawbacks are 1. its a very popular place and regularly draws a crowd so be prepared to wait a while for a table (the Gold Rush coffee shop on the corner is a good place to kill time, we've found); and 2. because it is popular and draws a younger crowd it tends to be noisy. I'd discourage parties larger than four or five.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Another recording I recently discovered that contains selections also found in the Cantus Christi is a recording of Genevan Psalms sung in Japanese (of all things), performed by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. I just got this in the mail yesterday and my wife and I listened to this as we were drifting off to sleep last night.
It's a really great CD. It contains versions of Genevan Psalms harmonized in four parts by Goudimel, in viruostic solo settings for recorder by van Eyck, in variation settings for organ by Sweelinck, and lute settings by Vallet. Many of the psalms are sung in unison accompanied from the organ by Masaaki Suzuki, the founder and conductor of the BCJ. (Suzuki is a member of the Tokyo-oncho Reformed Church.) I presume that Suzuki provides many of these wonderful arrangements himself.
For those unfamiliar with the BCJ they are a group of the highest merit and performance quality. I have a couple of their recordings of Baroque sacred music, one of which is their recording of Messiah. Their Messiah recording has received high marks and I agree that it is wonderfully performed. The BCJ is known for its recordings of Bach's Church Cantatas on the BIS label. These are also fantastic.
High-points on the Psalm disc are the elaborate and moving exploration of Psalm 36, the rustic and energetic rendition of Psalm 47, complete with hand clapping, and the awesome variation on Psalm 118 for solo recorder. This disc is well worth the money for anyone familiar with the Genevan Psalms. The fact that the pieces are sung in Japanese should not scare anyone off. Other recordings I've mentioned are sung in French,...so?
Of the fifteen Psalms on the disc ten are also found in the Cantus Christi. Cantus singers are encouraged get copies of it.