This addresses a topic I explored earlier in Who Decides What Is Beautiful?
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.
Excited to announce that my arrangement of Ponder Anew, an arrangement of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” [LOBE DEN HERREN] will be debuted by the First Baptist Church of Keller Orchestra at their Spring concert! The concert will occur on May 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM in the First Baptist Church Keller sanctuary. The orchestra is under the direction of Mrs. Laura Vickers and the Worship and Creative Arts ministry is under the supervision of Mr. Matt Perkinson. Mrs. Vickers has even agreed to let me conduct the piece!
Listen to a preview of Ponder Anew below:
My original post introducing Ponder Anew is here.
Other than my own family members, the news of Billy Graham’s passing from this Earth moved me more than most any other. Hardly any American over the age of 20 has failed to interact in some way with Dr. Graham, so the news of his death, at age 99, was felt far and wide. Many have shared this quotation attributed to Dr. Graham:
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Billy Graham actually adapted that quote from his hero, D. L. Moody, who made it in 1900. This quote reflects an anthem text that our choir at FBC Keller just began preparing this week. Called It Is Not Death to Die, it was written in 1832 by César Malan and translated into English by George W. Bethune in 1847. The text reads as follows:
It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And ‘midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.
It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake in glorious repose
To spend eternal years.
It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.
It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust,
And rise, on strong, exulting wing,
To live among the just.
Jesus, Thou Prince of life!
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife,
To reign with Thee on high.
This text so beautifully captures the message and faith that Billy Graham expressed in his quote, just as D. L. Moody before him. This message is at the very core of the Christian faith, that we have hope in eternal life in Jesus Christ. Without this hope, our faith is futile.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Cor 15:16-18 ESV
But Christ has been raised. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 15:51-57 ESV
Rejoice, Christian. Indeed, “It Is Not Death to Die.”
(Original posting 10/26/2017)
A) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
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!
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Original posting 10/13/2017) I’m currently preparing for comprehensive exams to complete my Master of Music in Church Music degree. Part of that is being prepared to answer a number of questions on worship and music philosophy. So, in preparation for that portion of the exams I’m going to inflict, . . . I mean share, some of my practice answers to those questions with you! So the first topic is, “what role should Scripture play in developing a worship and music philosophy?”
I’ll use Scripture to make the case for defining its own role. All references are to the ESV translation unless otherwise noted.
Hebrews 12:28b says, “offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” The word acceptable clearly implies that God has criteria for what pleases Him in worship. Also, there must be means of worship that are unacceptable to Him or else there would be no point for the above instruction. But this raises the obvious question, what determines acceptable worship?
In Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Israelites their final instructions before crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. Chapter 12 contains instructions on the proper worship of God and verse 8 says, “You shall not do according to all we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” Thus, God determines what acceptable worship is, and our own intellect and feelings will only lead us astray. We must turn to God to know what is acceptable in His eyes. But again, we have an obvious question: where do we find these criteria?
First we see in Matthew 4:4 that we must turn to the word of God, as when Jesus quotes Deuteronomy to Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Further, in 2 Timothy 3:16-18, “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.”
So here we have the principle that Scripture is our sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, known since the Reformation as the principle of Sola Scriptura. Thus, Scripture must be our guide in developing our worship and music philosophy. But how, then, are we to apply the Scriptures today? The Old Testament gave the what, when, and how of all the particulars of Tabernacle and Temple worship. But, although the New Testament gives the content of Christian worship, it provides very little to go on for the means and methods of worship in the assembled body of Christ.
The approach of finding chapter and verse for the direct answer to every question, as could be done for Tabernacle and Temple worship, is called the Encyclopedic View of scripture. One just looks up the answer. Since we don’t have those direct answers in the New Testament we must approach Scripture using what is called the Encompassing View. This is what Paul was talking about in 2 Timothy about being “trained for every good work.” We use Scripture to train our discernment. The writer of Hebrews explains in chapter 5, verse 14, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
An example of this can be found in Galatians 5 where Paul provides two lists, one of the works of the flesh, which are to be avoided, and one of the fruits of the Spirit, which are to be developed. In the first list He appends, “and things like these,” and to the second, “against such things there is no law.” The words like and such show that these lists are not exhaustive but that the trained Christian is to use their trained powers of discernment to know how to apply these lists to their own life experiences. Thus, Scripture provides boundaries and objectives for the Christian walk but leaves many details up to our trained powers of discernment.
Applying all this to the role of Scripture in developing a worship and music philosophy goes back to where we started: “offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” Reverence and awe are examples of the boundaries and objectives that Scripture sets for worship. Our worship must contain these two characteristics plus any others prescribed in Scripture, such as John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” In applying the freedom of discernment, Galatians 5:13 instructs, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Thus the answer to, what role should Scripture play in developing a philosophy of worship and music, is: Scripture must be the sole guide in all matters of faith and practice within which we may apply the freedom of discernment trained by the word of God.
(Original posting 4/10-2017) Today brought a complete surprise. In my music ministry philosophy class last Spring one of our assignments was to write a review of a recently published book on Christian worship. Well, I had mostly forgotten about even reading the book, let alone writing the review, when the announcement came through that my review had been published in Artistic Theologian, the annual journal of the School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. The book in question is J. Daniel Day’s Seeking the Face of God: Evangelical Worship Reconceived. Re-reading the forgotten review was a bit of an out-of-body experience as it felt a lot like reading someone else’s writing. But I’m glad to have read it again as it reminded me of what an important book it is, one that has played no small role in developing my own philosophy. I won’t go into a description here (a link to the full review is shown below) but merely recommend it highly to everyone in vocational worship ministry as well as anyone with a healthy curiosity about what Christian worship is all about.