All posts by WmMinister

Ponder Anew

Ponder: to think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.

AnewIn a new or different and typically more positive way.

Ponder Anew is the title of my latest hymn arrangement for orchestra. The title comes from the 3rd line of what is usually presented in hymnals as the 3rd or 4th stanza of the hymn, Praise to the LORD the Almighty. This line states: “ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” Using the definitions above (taken from the online English Oxford Dictionary), this line could be rephrased, “think carefully,  in a new and more positive way, about what the Almighty can do .”

To think about things in a new and more positive way is much of the point of writing new hymn arrangements. A fresh or different musical setting of a familiar text emphasizes different words and phrases or casts the words in new light. The differences may be subtle or startling but, either way, when well done a text that had become stale or threadbare can shine with a new brilliance that renews the power of the words. Admittedly, Ponder Anew is purely an instrumental work but the text and tune is so familiar that the words will spontaneously spring into the listener’s mind as the theme unwinds. Thereby, the new harmonies, rhythms, and phrasings in Ponder Anew will likely elicit from the listener a new and different way of thinking about the text. If the music achieves my intent, the listener will consider afresh the attributes and works of Almighty God when hearing this completely new setting of the tune.

A bit of background on the arrangement:

Joachim Leander’s “Praise to the LORD, the Almighty,” as translated by Catherine Winkworth, has consistently been one of the most published hymns in the English language since the mid-20th Century. Its anonymously composed tune, LOBE DEN HERREN, almost exclusively paired with this text since the 17th Century, is also much loved. Even J.S. Bach found it suitable to feature in his 137th cantata.

This arrangement for orchestra features three variations of the complete hymn tune utilizing metrical and harmonic changes to maintain focus on the tune and its text. These are bracketed via repetitions of the first five tune pitches in harmonic planing over a crescendoed pedal tone producing steadily increasing tension with unexpected resolutions of the beginning and concluding phrases.

The music in not particularly difficult and should be readily playable by high school or higher level musicians. Yet, both musicians and audience will find the work interesting and enjoyable with music that reflects the majesty and mystery of the its subject.

Listen here:

Leave a request in the comments for information on obtaining the sheet music.

SDG

Robert

The First Noel

Ah, Christmas Eve. There’s a chill in the air, the service is planned, the sanctuary is decorated, bulletins are printed, announcements have been heralded, but . . . what’s that? you’re missing a piano solo? Well, what could be better than a new take on the angelic announcement from the first Christmas, The First Noel?

​Take a listen to this compelling piano solo and see if you don’t agree it would be a wonderful addition to your Christmas Eve service or other Christmas season programming.

Available for perusal, listening, and purchase at: https://www.swirlymusic.org/music/solo-piano/robert-myers-the-first-noel-for-solo-piano/

Brass Quintet for Advent

Here’s a unique setting of HYFRYDOL for brass quintet called Long Expected Jesus that is just perfect for the Advent season. This creative arrangement is readily playable so you still have time to work it into your Advent schedule. It will work perfectly as a prelude, postlude, offertory, or devotional item. Listen, preview and purchase at https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/long-expected-jesus-digital-sheet-music/20423571. Purchase includes full score and parts for trumpet 1 and 2, horn in F, trombone, and tuba.

A Lovely Setting for a Lovely Rose

(Original posting 11/21/2017) Are you still looking for a special choral piece for this Christmas? Consider, Lo, a Rose, a fresh, intimate, and contemplative setting of the traditional German carol, ​es ist ein ros entsprungen​. Combining the English translations of Theodore Baker and Harriet Krauth, ​it mixes light piano accompaniment with a cappella sections for SATB chorus to create a hauntingly beautiful rendition of this classic Christmas carol. The intimate nature of Lo, a Rose​ works for small ensembles or quartets as well as larger choirs. It provides strong artistic rewards without requiring extreme investment of time and effort. So, yes, you still have time to work this up for your Christmas program! Lo, a Rose​ is well suited for the concert hall or the sanctuary and would make an exquisite piece for observance of Christmas Eve. View the score, listen to a demo, and purchase parts at: ​https://www.swirlymusic.org/music/choral-music/robert-myers-lo-a-rose-for-satb-choir-with-piano/

Fingal’s Fantasy

(Original posting 11/10/2017) Here’s the first live performance of my solo piano work, Fingal’s Fantasy​, as performed today by the inestimable Keji Lu, a native of Beijing, China. Thank you, Keji, for making this come to life!

soundcloud.com/wheatmyermusic/fingals-fantasy-live

​The title and the core musical material comes from Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, which is better know as Fingal’s Cave. I was first exposed to this music in the very politically incorrect Warner Brothers  1940’s cartoon series based on Inki and the myna bird. The theme was played at every appearance of the myna bird. If you listen closely to ​Fingal’s Fantasy  you might recognize a few snippets of the theme music and visualize a little bird hopping through the jungle.

Who Decides What is Beautiful?

(Original posting 10/26/2017)

A) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
or
B) Beauty has absolute standards.

 Which, if either, of these statements is true? The first is subjective, dependent on the values of the observer. The second is objective, having a source of authority. Is appreciation of beauty up to the individual or can one point to some standard? Does the Bible provide an answer?

Let’s begin with the standard the Bible uses to define beauty. Among other references to God’s beauty, Psalm 96:9 says, “Worship the LORD in the beauty (or splendor) of holiness.” This is referring to the beautiful garments the high priest was required to wear when entering the Holy of Holies once per year. It conveys the sense that God regards holiness as beautiful. We know that one of the prime attributes of God is his holiness, as in the familiar phrase from Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts.” He is three times holy! In biblical terms, triple repetition represents completion and perfection. So, if God considers holiness beautiful, and the Bible claims him to be complete and perfect in holiness, then the Bible also portrays God to be the perfection of beauty.

Additionally, the creation account encompasses the concept of beauty with the word “good.” Gen 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The world as God made it was good, meaning complete, perfect, purposeful, and yes, beautiful.  Also, in verse 26, Genesis tells us that God made man in his image.  Thus by argument from the greater to the lesser, pre-fall mankind was also beautiful in the image of God.

So, there is an objective, universal, standard of beauty. It is all the attributes of the invisible God: his splendor, majesty, glory, holiness, perfection, harmony, order, balance, righteousness, loveliness, etc. It is also the nature of visible creation prior to the curse of sin, for “his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). It is also the attributes of the incarnate, sinless son of man, Jesus Christ, who is the “radiance of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3) whom we have seen (John 1:14). It can also be perceived in our own bodies; “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps 139:14). Obviously, then, statement B above is correct. But, if this is true then statement A must be false. If beauty is not up to the beholder how may one recognize it?

First, we must recognize that  our sinful nature warps our judgment so that we are unable to reliably discern beauty from ugliness on our own; “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9); and, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa 5:20). To correct our warped judgment God’s word must be applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit; “But solid food is for the mature, for those whose power of discernment is trained by constant practice to discern evil from good” (Heb 5:14); and 2 Tim 3:16, “All scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

And what in God’s word teaches us to discern beauty from ugliness? A good place to begin is Phil 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatsoever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  This list may be arranged into three categories: truth, goodness, and beauty, which could all be summed up into beauty itself. But truth, goodness, and beauty are good categories to learn to identify. Furthermore, this is not just a list, but it is a command. Paul says, “think about these things!” For the Christian, appreciating beauty is not the optional domain of just the artist. Every believer in Jesus Christ is obligated to learn to appreciate beauty. Consider Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Beauty being one of God’s attributes, it is something we must delight in. And here in Philippians is where one begins to train his powers of discernment to distinguish beauty from ugliness. This is also the beginning of how the church can resolve its divisions over music and art, but that is another topic!

Contextualization, Evangelism, Worship

(Original posting 10/26/2017) When the Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), did he mean that anything goes in missions and worship? If not, what did he mean? Well, that’s the topic of this afternoon’s post from my music ministry philosophy exam. Read this brief overview of the topic for yourself:

What is the relevance of Acts 17:16-34 and 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 to discussions of cultural contextualization?

First of all, what is contextualization? As it relates to ministry, contextualization has a spectrum of definitions, all having to do with communicating the biblical message from its ancient context into a contemporary culture. This spectrum ranges from merely translation of the gospel into a local language, to allowing each culture to determine what its own gospel truth is. The difference in philosophy from one end of the spectrum to the other is quite striking. What can we learn from these two scripture passages to help us evaluate these positions?

Acts 17:16-34 and 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 are often used to justify radical modifications of the gospel message for the sake of contextualization. One very common application is the use of pop culture art forms, i.e., music, to make “church” more appealing. But to what degree, if any, was the Apostle Paul actually using contextualization in these passages?

The Acts 17 passage narrates Paul’s encounter with the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill. Prior to the encounter Paul had toured the innumerable altars erected across Athens and had been deeply grieved at this idolatry (v. 16) and was moved to fervently proclaim the gospel. Speaking to the philosophers, Paul notes that the Athenians practice religion actively – “are very religious” – and have many idols, including one dedicated “to the unknown god.” Some argue that Paul was commending the Athenians for their efforts to find God. They then reason from this that we should accommodate non-Christian cultures by modifying the gospel message and our worship practices. However, the impression that Paul was commending the Athenians is suspect. The meaning of the phrase translated “very religious” has been greatly debated among translators for centuries. Its meaning could range from the above, “very religious,” to “extremely superstitious,” to “devoted to demons.” Given that Paul was greatly disturbed at their idolatry it hardly seems likely that he was approving of their worship. At best, “very religious” should be taken as a neutral observation and certainly not approval. It could even be seen as polite criticism. Further, Paul’s observation that they had an altar to an unknown god likely isn’t a commendation that the Athenians were somehow close to knowing the true god. Rather, judging from Paul’s subsequent preaching, he used this to take a subject in which they had great interest and show them the ignorant emptiness of their worship practices. His charge of ignorance would have been a great challenge to the intellectual ego of the Athenians. He followed up by showing them their need for Christ, and to call them to repentance.

Thus, the Acts 17 passage certainly is an illustration of how to present the gospel to a different culture. But rather than justification for contextualizing the gospel to a culture it is an encouragement to use a common point of interest to boldly present the eternal truths of the intact gospel. Paul’s presentation of the gospel in Athens was unique to the audience but the message was the same one he preached across the Roman Empire.

1 Corinthians 9:22 contains the well-known phrase, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” This phrase is sometimes used to justify contextualization of the gospel and, in the worst case, dilute the gospel to avoid offense. However, the context of the passage clearly shows that all Paul advocates is for Christians to lay down their liberty for the sake of the lost so as to avoid unnecessary offense in the delivery while boldly proclaiming the unavoidable offense of the gospel message (“for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18).

​From these two passages we see that Christians are to use humility, compassion, wisdom, knowledge, and skill in our encounters with divergent cultures, but the gospel message is to be exactly the same as what Paul preached nearly 2,000 years ago.

Inside-out or Outside-in?

(Original posting 10/25/2017) Does the way you look at the world affect how you think about music in worship? Do you see yourself as an individual on an island in time and space, or as a link in a line extending backward and forward to generations gone by and yet to come? Those two points of view have, or at least so some scholars say, a lot to do with your attitudes toward music and life in general. As part of this continuing series of music ministry philosophy exercises, here is my synopsis of the history of church music philosophy:

How has the church’s view of music changed over its history?

Quentin Faulkner argues that the story of the church’s perception of music is one of changing world views: from what he calls a world-conscious view, where a sense of belonging and obligation to a people, or cult, is paramount, to a self-conscious worldview, where the individualism is supreme [his use of cult is not our 21st century concept of a perverted religion, but a group of people with common beliefs, ethos, and behavioral standards]. He feels that the world-conscious view was predominant in the church, and indeed in all western societies, until the Enlightenment of the 18th Century. Prior to the enlightenment, the church viewed music as essential to development of intellectual and spiritual character, an essential part of perpetuating the well-being of the cult. Since the Enlightenment music has become a vehicle for stimulation and expression of emotion, a tool to enhance the esteem of the individual.

As the church began, it inherited its musical practices from the Hebrew synagogue, which came from a people raised in an Old Testament ethos that was sympathetic to music in religious services. Synagogue music was modest, text-focused, objective, and corporate, and predominated by psalms. From what we can see in the New Testament, which is fairly neutral towards music, early church music imitated the synagogue practices, adding canticles (biblical texts outside the Psalms) and hymns to Christ.

In the centuries immediately following the New Testament, the early church fathers, with their classical training, applied and adapted Greek philosophy with a Christian perspective. They applied the Doctrine of the Ethos, which taught that certain musical modes developed good character and other modes degenerated good character. Music’s purpose was to make people noble. They saw that music could help develop good Christian character.

The Middle Ages saw the church develop an indigenous Christian style of music that affected all of Western civilization. Augustine and Boethius, writing De Musica and De Institutione Musica, respectively, helped to promote this with an extensive philosophy of music that put Greek thought into Christian terms. They established music as a science which saw beautiful music as reflecting the cosmic order created by God, thus making music of essential importance in the church.

This same era saw the rise of first, the monastic movement and then, cathedral schools. Both taught the philosophy of Augustine and Boethius. This had several effects: it integrated music philosophy into the church’s theological tradition, produced increasing church music excellence, and led to an emphasis on musical perfection and splendor so as to represent heavenly worship. Unfortunately, this latter spurred the removal of congregational singing from the church lest the congregants mar the perfection of the heavenly representation.

The Renaissance period saw a revival of the Doctrine of Ethos and continued emphasis on music as science. The 1st wave of humanism also took place, emphasizing the value of individuals as carriers of the imago dei (image of God). Much emphasis was placed on appropriately matching texts with the correct musical mode and music theory focused on music’s revelation of the divine. Music continued to be valued for its development of character rather than for pleasure. Music and architecture were seen as means to incarnate and contemplate cosmic perfection. Thus, musical splendor and complexity exploded.

Humanism’s valuation of the individual was also a catalyst for the Reformation. No radical new musical thought came out of the Reformation but it paved the way for the rise of the self-conscious worldview. Congregational singing was restored in the reformation churches but this had the adverse effect of segregating the clergy from the choirs which eventually cast church music loose from its theological influence. Music theory began to disappear from university programs soon thereafter. Lutheran churches continued to value a rich musical aesthetic but without the philosophical underpinnings and the suspicion that had been in place for over a thousand years. Other reformation churches took an ascetic approach to music, from mild to extreme, similar to the synagogue and early church practice.

The arrival of the Enlightenment, and the 2nd wave of humanism that came with it, saw the self-conscious worldview displace the world-conscious worldview. This had a profound effect on music both in and outside the church. Music’s purpose changed from developing character to stimulating the senses and expressing emotions. Individuality and originality became prestigious virtues in composition and performance. The public took the place of theologians/philosophers as the supreme judge of music quality, and an anti-intellectual attitude toward musical science prevailed.

Secular thought in music was adopted during the Enlightenment by the church such that music was robbed of any ethical dimension. A movement toward pietism (self-expression) in music replaced contemplation on the divine. The entire gamut of sacred music philosophy, composition, and performance was relegated to backwater status.

This course progressed through the 19th century to the point that church music became a theological orphan, having no coherent theological basis for its significance or function. It resulted in emotional, highly personalized church music and church music that followed secular music trends. This appeared in evangelical churches as excessively sentimental music which moved from camp meetings and revival services into Sunday worship. A reaction in Lutheran and Anglican/Catholic circles known as the Oxford movement sought to restore more reserved ancient and historical sacred music forms but it was as much driven by nostalgia as philosophy.

In the 20th and 21st centuries the condition became a muddle of worldviews about music. Church music continues to follow trends rather than set them. Its music is dominated by a consumerist attitude and an anti-art ethic that values the emotional and subjective ethos of a self-conscious worldview and rejects the transcendent philosophies of the world-conscious view. It is left without an objective qualitative system of evaluating its music.

More Excitement!

(Original posting 10/24/2017) Today’s post follows up on the previous topic of the music communication debate which I left somewhat hanging yesterday in a rather unsatisfying ending. Let’s looks a little closer at some of the theories of musical communication:

Felix Mendelssohn once said, “What music expresses is not too indefinite to put into words; on the contrary, it is too definite.” In other words, language lacks the specificity of music so that when we have trouble describing the meaning of music, it isn’t the music’s fault, it’s because we lack the words to fully define the music. Thus, music can very exquisitely describe emotion; as per Susan Langer’s contour theory, music sounds the way emotions feel. Or, as Stephen Davies describes it, music has the appearance of the characteristics of emotion. So, music has the ability to express what words can’t.

Thus, music is very powerful, and it is needful for church musicians to have some understanding of this ability because music can teach and shape our hearts. First of all, contrary to popular thought, some level of musical meaning is discernible. In similar fashion to how we can interpret body language, facial expression, and tone of voice to better grasp the meaning of a person’s words (often on a very subtle level), humans are built with the ability to discern meaning from music’s characteristics. Second, to at least some degree, musical meaning is universal to all humans. We are made with physiological, and emotional characteristics such that we respond in similar fashion to certain musical characteristics. This makes sense when we consider that without some commonality in the perception of emotions people from different cultures would find themselves unable to relate at all. It is also true that much, maybe most, of music’s meaning is derived from conventional associations (sleigh bells imply Christmastime, etc.), but we must be aware that there are also universals.

Now, what are the mechanics of how music accomplishes this? A common theory is the hypodermic model, namely, that music has a direct and irresistible physiological effect on the body. It operates outside of symbols to affect everyone in the same way. Its effect is a result of the acoustical properties of the sounds. Most scholars reject his model as it is obvious that music is not irresistible except, perhaps, at a primitive level where sounds can impact pulse, respiration, etc.

A second, more promising, theory is the semiotic model which posits that musical meaning is accomplished through audible symbols and references. It has two streams of thought: bio-acoustic signification and iconic signification.

Bio-acoustic signification proposes an analogical relationship between music and the shape of emotions, what Langer and Davies were describing above as the morphology of feelings: music sounds the way emotions feel. Here is a crude example: sad music is slow and soft as sad people are somber and quiet.  In this theory, music doesn’t stimulate emotion, it expresses its shape.

Iconic signification posits that melodic phrases, tonal progressions, rhythmic patterns, etc. are icons that the listener must interpret through culturally imprinted associations. Drum rolls and brass fanfares convey martial imagery while calliopes imply circuses.

Both means of signification have proponents who strongly argue for the preeminence of one means over the other, while many others argue for a blend of the two. But either way, current scholarly thought sees some version of the semiotic model as the best explanation of music’s emotive communication. The semiotic model can be thought of as music using emotional metaphors as its means of communication.

Job 30:31 is often proffered as a biblical argument for the bio-acoustic model. It says, “My harp is turned to mourning and my pipe to the voice of those who weep.” John Makujina argues that the language clearly leans to supporting the bio-acoustic version of semiotics. Whether this is the case or not, it is apparent that the writer of Job saw music functioning semiotically, very much like Langer and Davies’ morphology of feelings, whether that morphology is natural, conventional, or both.

Music! Passion! Excitement!

(Original posting 10/23/2017) Well, actually, no. This post is about philosophy and history, but then, you wouldn’t have read this far if I’d used that title, now would you? At least this post does discuss emotions and music, so at least there’s that much to look forward to! Anyway, this is the second in an undetermined quantity of posts where I’m using y’all as guinea pigs to practice answering the essay questions in my comprehensive exams coming up next week. Today’s topic is:

The History of the Music Communication Debate

From ancient times, music’s ability to influence our hearts and minds has been noted. This is illustrated in a story that was popular from the time of Greek amphitheaters through Italian opera, the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Orpheus employs his musical skills to charm Hades into releasing his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld. People have debated how music is able to affect the human body for nearly as long as this legend has existed.

Plato and Aristotle proposed two versions of what is now called the arousal theory. Plato said melodies contained properties, or dispositions, with the power to arouse emotions by imitating or representing speech and exclamation. Aristotle’s version was that music portrayed emotions which caused the listener’s emotions to move in sympathy with the music.

These theories were picked up again nearly two thousand year later in the late Renaissance. The Florentine Camerata, a kind of arts board formed ca. 1600, sought to revive Greek drama in a new art form called opera. The Camerata designed to employ the arousal theories of  music to affect the emotions of opera’s audiences. In 1649, Rene’ Descartes, in his “The Passions of the Soul’, proposed a physiological means of how the arousal theories work. He claimed that the human body possessed a system of vital spirits which could be stimulated by resonant types of music to align in such a way as to produce the experience of six basic emotions. Composers took up this idea to write opera music which they thought aligned with these spirits so as to stimulate desired emotions in their listeners. This came to be known as “the doctrine of the affections.”

This state of understanding lasted until the 19th century. In 1819, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote “The World as Will and Idea” in which he defined music as an art form which best represented the “cosmic will,” and thus might be as expression of human will as well. As such, he proposed that emotion moved from the listener into the music rather than vice versa. Thus, music has representational power to express emotion but has no power to arouse emotion. In other words, emotion in music is a perceived property of the music. This was a revolutionary moment, the first revolution in music philosophy, resulting in a tremendous increase in the prestige of instrumental music.

The second revolution came a few decades later with Eduard Hanslick’s. “The Beautiful in Music.” He claimed that instrumental music as an art cannot either arouse or represent basic emotions in any artistically relevant way. Rather, he proposed a cognitive theory of the emotions; for a person to experience an emotion they must have a belief that can cause such emotion. Hanslick said absolute music cannot create this belief. In support, he argued that since people don’t agree on what emotion they experience from a particular piece of music then the music doesn’t produce any emotional experience at all (argument from disagreement). Hanslick’s theory had the affect of fossilizing music philosophy for the next 100 years.

This changed in 1942 with a third revolution upon the publication of Susan Langer’s, “Philosophy in a New Key.” She proposed that music is iconically symbolic, or “isomorphic” with emotions. In other words, music sounds the way emotions feel. However, antagonists pointed out that there was no meaning convention for Langer’s icon concept, rendering it absurd. However, Langer’s writing moved the source of emotions from the listener back into the music.

A fourth revolution then followed, which was a general consensus as the twentieth century progressed that we experience emotions in music as perceptual properties of the music itself, similar to our experience of color and taste.

​So, in 2,500 years we haven’t really moved very far. Plato saw music as having properties that arouse emotional responses. 20th Century philosophers viewed music as having properties that the listener perceives as emotional in quality. The listener has moved from a passive position to an active one. Yet, still the contemporary philosophy doesn’t seem to capture how we actually experience music. Perhaps Eduard Hanslick was on to something when he said, music is a language that can’t be translated into any other language, since we seem to be unable to describe in words how music actually works.