Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ben Botkin Blog

Ben Botkin is a young film composer who has done some great work in films such as "The League of Grateful Sons", and "The Return of the Daughters". He has recently begun a new blog dedicated to "articles, analytical reviews and commentary on the theory, philosophy, theology, history, mechanics, science, technology and future of music." Follow the link to read and subscribe.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Doug Wilson's Musical Exhortation

Doug Wilson is currently running an excellent series of short posts on the topic of Musical Exhortation over at Blog and Mablog.

To whet your appetite for his thought-provoking commentary, here is a small section from his last post titled "The Devil is a Musician":

You should want everything you do in the course of the week to be helping you prepare for worship, because worship should be preparing you for everything you do in the course of the week. And keep in mind what was said earlier. It is not the case that all your music must be "church music." There are all kinds of secular music that can contribute appropriate texture to what you have to offer the Lord. But also keep in mind that we live in a confused and rebellious age, and the devil is a musician, one who will give you songs that unravel what God gives you here. Not only that, but it will unravel your heart and life as well. Flee from him.
Other posts in the series include:

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Music
The Right to an Opinion
Musical Consistency

Doug posts a new Musical Exhortation post every Sunday morning.

Michael Card deal

I've posted previously recommending one of my favorite artists, Michael Card. I received an email update from his ministry this morning with a special offer on his 6-CD set "Journey Through the Scriptures in Song", a great buy for someone wanting to be introduced to some of his best music. Here's the link.

Friday, May 08, 2009

How To Fix Country Music

I used to be an avid country music radio listener but have been listening to much less of it over the past couple years. Although I have quite a few (300+) country songs in my music library, there are only a few artists I can enjoy an entire album from anymore. The decline in the quality of songwriting and performance over the past 2-3 years has been tangible. Chet Flippo, editor of CMT.com, has some good ideas on How To Fix Country Music in his Nashville Skyline article this week.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Singing hymns with understanding

This week in the music-theory/sight-singing class I am teaching to a group of men from my church, we focused on the issue of singing with confidence before the Lord in corporate worship. Paul Jones says, "When we are aware of a hymn's substance before we sing, we are more apt to sing the text with energy and conviction than if this were simply a standard, rote activity."

How many of us fall into the habit of singing the words on the page on Sunday without understanding, meditation, or heart-felt praise? I'm afraid the answer is probably "most of us", myself often included (although I enjoy precious few opportunities to lift up my voice in corporate worship these days). As a consequence, how many of us could expound the meaning of a text we've sung only a few minutes prior? Again, likely very few of us.

We need to ask ourselves this: Is God pleased just by the words we sing to Him, or does understanding and resultant joyful expression as beneficiaries of His grace play a determining role in whether or not the praise is genuine, authentic, and pleasing? None of us (I hope) would propose that the actual words we lift up in song are of no consequence. But if God is pleased simply by the words, is the sound of a pagan choir singing a great psalm pleasing to His ears? I believe that God is pleased by the praise of His people. As His people, we ought to offer up our words of praise with loud joyful voices, yes - but joy that proceeds from an understanding of His grace, love, and mercy and a conscious understanding of what we are singing.

So how do we prepare to sing before our Lord, to gain an understanding of "a hymn's substance"? Some churches will release the weekly bulletin in advance, giving the congregants and musicians ample opportunity to review the texts before worship. In other congregations, such as WPC where I attend, the bulletin is only available to the congregation on Sunday morning when we arrive for worship. However, there is still ample time to take a seat in the sanctuary before the service begins to meditate and prepare your heart for worship - including a review of the texts to be sung that morning. In family worship, husbands and fathers should review the texts to the hymns being sung and explain them to the family as part of his instruction.

The point is that when we come to sing songs of praise before our Lord and Creator we are not merely offering mindless repetitions of words on a page but presenting a confident, authentic, joyful offering that arises out of understanding of what is being sung.

Singing and Making Music: Hymn tunes

Paul Jones has the following to say about hymn tunes, respect for the old and development of the new:

"While not judged on the basis of doctrinal content as texts are, the music of hymnody and psalmody must be judged on the basis of musical merit (melody, harmony, rhythm, form) on aesthetic grounds, and on its capacity to match and deliver the meaning of the texts it accompanies. The legacy of long-lasting hymn and psalm tunes is another link to our living spiritual history. This music part of our collective Christian repertory, irrespective of one's familiarity with them or regard for them. There is no need to reinvent such enduring mediums of our song. To do so is to diminish their strength. New tunes should be written, but excellent tunes of previous eras do not require the musical clothing of postmodernity. Each age makes its contribution to the ongoins, growing hymns repertoire, as it rightly and necessarily should. Style and sound may change somewhat, but solidity, quality, beauty, and universality are among the characteristics of any substantial music that will endure. These characteristics transcend time and speak authentically to any age." (Emphasis mine)

Particularly interesting to me is the statement that "Excellent tunes of previous eras do not require the musical clothing of postmodernity", an idea that has been thrown off by many if not most modern Christian song-writers. The group Indelible Grace comes to mind. By clothing old, well-known hymns in new tunes that are more accessible to post-modernized college students, these well-meaning musicians take the opposite approach to what Paul Jones is suggesting. Although I am not staunchly opposed to all writing of new tunes to old verses (many excellent old verses need equally excellent tunes), I believe there is a problem in our thinking when our focus is to make timeless praise to God more accessible to our "fish-that-don't-know-we're-wet" post-modernized sensibilities instead of striving to condition our minds to be able to understand and appreciate the music of our spiritual forefathers, then carry that forward with new life into the future.

We sell ourselves short if we are willing to settle for the musical sensibilities post-modernism has to offer when we write new tunes or texts of praise to our Lord. As Jones points out, we are also selling ourselves short when we are content to rest on the foundation of the music that has been written hundreds of years before us instead of embracing our responsibility of "singing a new song" in this generation, continuing to lay down solid bricks on the solid foundation we've been blessed with.

Upcoming Dickson string quartet concert

Our friends the Dickson String Quartet, who played for our wedding, will be performing a concert in Portland on May 20th at 7PM. The Dicksons are top-notch musicians and are a joy to listen to. Although I am not sure what the repertoire for the evening is, I know it will be excellent. They will be joined by some members of the Oregon Symphony. See the rest of the details by clicking on the poster below.

UPDATE: The repertoire for the evening will be the Mendelssohn Quartets Op. 13 and 80, the Dvorak Quintet Op. 97, and the Mendelssohn Octet Op. 20. Exciting!

Saturday, May 02, 2009


I apologize for the absence of new posts lately. Over the next few days, I'm going to post some new music recommendations, starting with a new discovery of mine, a group called Flook.

Flook is an Irish/folk group from England made up of four musicians: Sarah Allen (flutes), Brian Finnegan (whistles, flutes), Ed Boyd (guitars, bouzouki), and John Joe Kelly (bodhran, mandolin). They play instrumental tunes in the general Irish-Celtic-Folk-Traditional vein, one of my favorite styles. However, they put a spin on the music I haven't yet been able to define but really makes it something special. Check out the audio samples at the links below and you will be hooked. There are some great live Flook videos over at YouTube as well.

(Even if you are not "into" traditional acoustic Irish music, I guarantee your toes will be tapping to this album! "Haven" is available on CD and digital download from Amazon.com and iTunes.)

("Rubai" is available on CD and digital download, from iTunes but not Amazon.com.)

Flook: Flatfish

("Flatfish" is available in digital download from Amazon.com and iTunes but not on CD currently, unless you happen to find a used copy.)