What are Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs?

In both Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, Paul uses the phrase “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” when commanding the church to use music in its discipleship. Are these terms three different kinds of music? Synonyms meaning pretty much the same thing? Generic terms embracing all kinds of music? Well, analyzing Paul’s use of Greek is beyond my abilities but I know someone, Dr. Scott Aniol, who has tackled this subject and addresses these questions in this article. There are a lot of opinions on this topic but most of them approach it from the perspective of projecting today’s aesthetics back into the 1st Century. Dr. Aniol looks at it from the perspective of the 1st Century church and the Greek and Hebrew traditions into which Paul was writing. You may or may not agree with him but, having sat through more than one of his lectures on the topic, I can assure you that the research behind his opinions is impeccable, and you should find his commentary intriguing, at the least. Enjoy!

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Well, I’ll leave you to look up the Blazing Saddles reference yourself if it’s not familiar to you, but, while you’re here, I do have some questions for you to consider:

Where do music ministers, often called worship leaders, come from? How do they become caretakers of your church’s music? What training should they have? What skills are needed? Is theological/ministerial training important? Does a music minister need a badge (degree)?

Before I refer you to a lead on answering these questions, I should mention that I hold that the true worship leader of a church is its pastor/shepherd/elder who is ultimately responsible for all elements of a service and for leading the church body in worship. Aspects of a service, such as the music, might be delegated, both to allow the Holy Spirit to utilize all the gifts He has distributed and to allow the pastor more focus on teaching and shepherding the flock. But, unfortunately, a service’s music leadership is all too often assigned on musical ability alone rather than pastoral calling and training. David de Bruyn says this “is like delegating the planning of the Lord’s Supper to the kitchen staff.” (And may God bless those who emulate servant leadership in our kitchens!) In most churches, as much or more time is spent on music as on preaching, scripture reading, and praying combined. This is formative time for feeding the flock, thus those planning the musical ‘menu’ need to understand how to feed the flock biblical nourishment.

But, I digress. Back to that lead I mentioned. Please read this article from Ed Steele, Professor of Music, Leavell College (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), titled “Why Skill-Based Music Study is Needed in the Seminary Setting.” He tackles these questions and raises an urgent call for churches to engage and discuss these vital topics.

NotePerformer & Finale

NotePerformer & Finale

I finally jumped off the bridge and installed NotePerformer 3.2 this week as my virtual instrument library on my 25.4 version of Finale. Here is my initial, and highly premature, reaction to this shiny new toy.

First off, what is NotePerformer? It is a software library, produced by Wallander Instruments,  of most orchestral and band instruments coupled with an audio player that converts the notes on the page from your notation software (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico) into an audible facsimile of real instruments. It was originally written as a highly successful plug-in for Sibelius. The joy Sibelius users experienced with it produced a clamor to make it available for Finale (like me) and Dorico users. Wallander finally produced a beta version for Finale and Dorico last year (2018) and late last year released supported versions of the software (albeit with some caveats) for both notation programs.

The attraction of NotePerformer is its purported ability to use artificial intelligence to produce “realistic” sounding music from within notation software with very little manual intervention, and do it at a ridiculously low price of $129. It is aimed at composers who need plausible demonstration tracks or just some realistic feedback of their ideas but have neither the time nor the budget to invest in high end digital audio workstations (DAW). These, although capable of producing nearly perfect simulations, require thousands of dollars to purchase and require hours and hours of tweaking to get the sound right. For Finale users in particular, there has been a long-held and deep-seated frustration with the quality of sound that come out of Finale’s default instrument library, Garritan Instruments for Finale (hereinafter GIfF). GIfF is capable of producing fairly OK simulations but often only with lots of tweaking and hours spent under the hood of Finale to get it to do what one needs. Thus, if the promise of NotePerformer is true, it would be a real boon for Finale users.

So what did I find out? First, there was some trepidation whether the current version of NotePerfomer (3.2) was compatible with my 25.4 version of Finale (introduced in 2017). The NotePerformer website states that only Finale v26 is supported. However, based on trying out the free demo last year and some forums that indicated others were using it, I gave it a go. Result? No compatibility problems! It installed flawlessly and integrated with Finale just as the user manual says. Now, what about those caveats? There is a well-known functionality issue (plainly explained on NotePerfomer’s user guide for Finale) that delays playback sound by about a second. This occurs both when entering notes on a staff and during playback (the delay on note entry has been eliminated for Finale v26). It’s an annoyance, but one you can live with. I’ve experience two other buggy items (further explained below), but other than that, NotePerformer gets along well with my Finale v25.4.

Now, what about the main issue, the sound? Well, to quote Tony the Tiger, it’s grrrrreat! OK, maybe that’s a little over the top, but it’s waaaay better than what I was getting from GIfF. The “out of the box” clarity, blending, and balance are all superior to GIfF. The expressiveness is far more realistic and human-like than GIfF’s “human playback.” And, the best part, it just works! It makes nice simulations on its own without me having to correct all its misinterpretations. The artificial intelligence does it job! Perfect? No. Usable? Yes! Below are the pros and cons I’ve noticed along with my contrasting evaluation of the pros and cons of GIfF. But first, so you can year for yourself, are two audio tracks of a short trombone quartet I’ve arranged produced from the exact same Finale file. The first, made with GIfF, with a good bit of manual tweaking involved. The second, made with NotePerformer, with no manual intervention whatsoever. It’s just what NotePerformer made right out of the box.

Oh, Shenandoah – Trombone Quartet with GIfF
Oh, Shenandoah – Trombone Quartet with NotePerformer 3.2

A comparison of the pros and cons of GIfF and NotePerformer 3.2.

Garritan Instruments for Finale

  • More individual instrument choices
  • Overall better quality individual instrument patches, but some are pretty bad (e.g., bass trombone)
  • Groups don’t play well together. Some instruments stick out, others hide, very poor clarity when multiple instruments are playing – just a big mush of sound.
  • Terrible balancing problems: base volume levels of instruments little reflect their natural relationships. You may find yourself jumping through hoops trying to keep the clarinets from covering up the snare drum and many other frustrations.
  • Takes a lot of manual tweaking and balancing to get a fair facsimile of an ensemble.
  • GIfF does a better job on certain solo instruments, particularly piano, as their sound patches are just richer and more realistic. But, as more instruments are added, this advantage gets weaker.

NotePerformer

  • Simplicity but less flexibility
  • Individual patches are ordinary
  • Groups play very well together. The blend just works and clarity is pretty good. Different lines and voices can be clearly heard even in tutti passages.
  • The balance just works. The results are natural and intuitive.
  • Here are a couple of buggy things that I need to submit to tech support:
    • When exporting to audio file there is a tendency to clip off the last ¼ second or so of the music. Depending on how the music ends, this can be a big wart or of little consequence.
    • With NotePerformer active and after exiting Finale, Finale will sometimes spontaneously restart. It doesn’t seem to happen every time, but it is frequent.

Bottom line: this isn’t yet a match made in heaven but the relationship shows a lot of promise. So much so that I plan to stick with NotePerformer to make my demo tracks going forward while eagerly awaiting more improvements and elimination of the little bugs.

Just to be clear, I have no affiliation or relationship with NotePerfomer, Wallander Instruments, or any of its officers or employees. I’m an independent composer sharing my own opinion and experience. With that being said, to learn more, download the demo, or purchase your own NotePerformer license visit this site: https://www.noteperformer.com/

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

In 1861, the sight of Northern troops assembling in Washington, D.C., inspired Julia Ward Howe to pen the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which begins, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Although originally intended to stimulate patriotic fervor, the text’s potent depiction of biblical themes – God’s certain and final defeat of evil, the looming eternal judgment of all souls, Christ’s atonement on our behalf, and a clear call to sacrificial evangelism – the work became prominent in many American hymnals. As summer approaches with the major American holidays of Memorial and Independence Days you may be seeking appropriate music to use in recognition of God’s providence and sovereignty. Here is one option for you, my arrangement of Ward’s hymn titled Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, set for trombone/low brass quartet. It’s a short piece, suitable for prelude, offertory, postlude, or other moments in your service, and accessible for intermediate and higher level musicians. With rich harmonies and shifting colors, a twist on the traditional meter, and variations in tempo, it is a delight to the ears that underscores the implications of the unvoiced lyrics.

Listen below or view and purchase the score here.

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory for Trombone Quartet
Summer Solutions?

Summer Solutions?

Holy Week is behind us with a mixture of relief and fulfillment as we bask in the afterglow of remembering the resurrection. But the music minister has no time to relax with summer rapidly approaching. Putting together the summer program is perhaps less intense than the Easter and Christmas seasons but has its own set of challenges. Your choir may take the season off and vacation schedules make a shambles of organizing large ensembles. What is one to do? Well, how about using your student or adult instrumentalists to add some variety and artistry to your summer music schedule? Check out these hymn arrangements for solo and small instrumental ensembles, including some uncommon solo instruments. They could help your instrumentalists stay in shape for the fall and they just might resolve your summer dilemma! (Click the Titles to listen and preview sheet music)

  • Fairest Friend: Flute and Horn (or Trombone) Duet with Piano and Optional Rhythm, What a Friend We Have in Jesus with Fairest Lord Jesus
Americana Miniatures

Americana Miniatures

WheatMyer Music is excited to introduce the first two pieces of music meant to recognize and celebrate traditional American folk song in both sacred and secular genres. We’re calling this series Americana Miniatures to reflect the unique American nature of the songs and the intent to produce short musical settings of each selection. These first two works are “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and “Oh, Shenandoah.” Both are set for trombone or low brass quartet. See our product page on each piece below to learn more and hear their unique sound.

“Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” for Trombone Quartet

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory for Trombone Quartet

“Oh, Shenandoah” for Trombone Quartet

Oh, Shenandoah for Trombone Quartet
Storms, and Anchors, and Veils, Oh My!

Storms, and Anchors, and Veils, Oh My!

In yesterday’s services one of our hymns was The Solid Rock (My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less) with text written by Edward Mote (1834). It’s a wonderful hymn of the believer’s eternal assurance in Christ containing allusions to the parable of the wise and foolish builder (Matt 7:24-27), and Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41), among others.

One of the lines, using nautical metaphors, states: “In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.”  Being a nerd when it comes to the history and theology of hymns, plus having a tendency to play grammar cop, the word “veil” caught my eye as the text ran across our display screens yesterday.  This word didn’t make sense to me in the context of searfaring as a veil is something that covers or obscures and certainly has nothing to do with anchors. I suspected then that this was a typo and should have been spelled “vale,” meaning valley or hollow, which Mote would have meant as a synonym for “harbor.” That made all the sense in the world to me to draw a parallel between the believer’s security in Christ with a ship being safely at anchorage in a harbor amid a storm.

So, I mentioned to our audio-visual guru between services that there was a misspelled word in our lyrics. A few minutes later he responded that the text matched up with the published text in the hymnal. Hmmm, that was curious. How could that have gotten through the editors? How could it have gone unnoticed for years? Perplexed, I decided to dig a little.

Turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong about what Edward Mote meant to convey and “veil” is absolutely the right word! This line of poetry actually derives directly from Hebrews 6:19: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (ESV). The “veil” in question refers to the curtain in the Jerusalem Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant resided, representing the throne of God. Further, the writer of Hebrews uses this Temple imagery to point out that Christ has superseded the old covenant and its rituals and now ministers for us not in the earthly Temple, which is but a “copy and a shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5), but in the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb 9:11), that is, heaven itself.

So, when Mote writes, “In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil,” he says, “through every trial and tribulation Christ holds our hope secure in the very presence of God the Father.” And now you know why Mote used “veil” instead of “vale!”

Real World Church Composition

Real World Church Composition

All composers would love to have a full professional orchestra/ensemble/choir standing in anticipation of our latest work, and a very precious few have that luxury, but most of us have to either hunt for a group willing to play our music or, as for most church music, write for the group the Lord has placed at hand. Such is the case for a just completed project. At our church we have a string section consisting of players who have just started a year or two ago, one or two who make their living as musicians, and every experience level in between. Our orchestra director approached me recently to write something new that would be suitable for these folks: interesting for the advanced players while still being readily playable by the new students.  The result is this arrangement of, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

The hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” may have origins as far back as the 4th Century church, being long used both as a Christmas hymn and to focus worshippers on the mystery of the incarnation and the Eucharist. Thus, this piece is well-suited for Advent, Christmas, or any observance of communion. The tune, PICARDY, comes from a 1680 French song book.

This arrangement maintains the original melody in three contrasting settings bookended between rich sequences of tonal clusters. Solo violin makes the first statement of the melody in silvery harmonics over static chords. Lead violin and cello take the second statement in a contrapuntal fashion over homophonic harmonies. The third statement changes tempo and style to reflect the heavenly adoration of the Lamb portrayed in the text. Here the melody is taken by ensemble violins while solo violin adds countermelody and low strings provide a rhythmic pulse.

So, without further adieu, here is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Sheet music is available at: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.