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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.

The Geneology of Jesus

(Original posting 10/20/20147) One wouldn’t normally think of the genealogy of Jesus in Luke chapter 3 as an inspirational text for choral music. Turning all the “begats” into compelling music is not a challenge most composers would undertake. However, it was not too much for the singular genius of Latvian composer Arvo Part. Although written nearly 20 years ago, I had not heard “Which was the son of . . . ” before today, which shames me, as Part is one of my favorite composers. Take a listen, you’ll never think of the biblical genealogies the same way. (warning: you may encounter one of those annoying YouTube commercials. Just skip over it at the first chance.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSadmO0VHOs

What is Scripture’s role in regulating worship?

(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.

Next Step

(Original posting 9/19/2017) Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding is going to my first reader tomorrow for preliminary approval. Hooray, big step! To refresh your memory on what this is about, here are the director’s notes:

Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding is an oratorio-style Passion setting presenting significant events in the eight-day period ending with Christ’s resurrection. The music is inspired by Christ’s single-minded determination to fulfill His mission, fully cognizant of the coming ordeal, as illustrated in Matthew 20:18-19:

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and will hand him over to the Gentiles to mock, to scourge, and to crucify; and the third day he will be raised up.” (WEB)

Thus, this Passion setting purposely takes a somewhat darker tone than is often used in Easter musicals. The crucifixion was ever in Jesus’s mind in the months he circuited Galilee and Judah on the way to the cross. It is obvious from the Gospel accounts that the weight of that destiny grew on him as he neared Jerusalem. So, Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding is set in such a way as to allow the listener to experience some degree of the emotions Christ must have felt as he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows to Calvary, and thus better know the exhilaration and joy that comes with witnessing his resurrection. Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding makes it plain that the crucifixion wasn’t a detour, but was the essential purpose behind Christ’s incarnation.

Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding may be presented in three different formats. It may stand with the music alone, as a sacred oratorio, for the concert hall or the sanctuary. With the optional drama and narration, it may be presented as a seasonal pageant. Or, in its most excellent function, it may be combined with the Lord’s Supper Observance and Gospel Presentation, as a Holy Week musical worship service.

Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding‘s most unique feature is the intentional inclusion of room for the Lord’s Supper observance. The Last Supper Suite section is designed to readily facilitate communion.  Musical interludes and optional repeats are strategically located to accommodate the presentation, distribution, and consumption of the bread and cup, while the music and optional drama compellingly portray the events in the upper room.

Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding is written to gently stretch the ears of sacred music listeners through expanded musical idioms, which are artistic but approachable. The musical language is sufficiently clear and beautiful for use in  the sanctuary, and sufficiently artistic for the concert hall.

The score is also intended to be engaging and rewarding for the musicians. With the strategic use of soloists and choir, the quantity of music to be learned by the singers is kept manageable. So, even though some of the music is a bit challenging,  the amount to learn is small enough to be mastered in once-a-week Easter season rehearsals. The soloists have the more ambitious parts, but, again, the quantity is small. Only the baritone, singing the role of Jesus, has a large set to sing. More difficult vocal passages are frequently doubled in the accompaniment. The instrumental charts are interesting for each player and readily readable by advanced high school or higher musicians. Each instrument is given an opportunity to shine. The chamber orchestra ensemble keeps the instrumentation within the reach of modest music programs. However, the parts can easily be doubled, especially the strings, to encompass larger ensembles as well.

The suggested narration and drama display the Passion story in a series of set-piece living dioramas (tableaux vivant). This staging is adaptable for both small, simple productions as well as the large and elaborate. The roles may be easily played by ordinary people.

May your experience with Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding reveal the beauty in the Passion story.
Robert Myers
S.D.G.

Major Milestone!

(Original posting 7/11/2017) Although much work remains, the first draft of my Easter cantata,  Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding, is now complete! This is a significant milestone towards completing this cantata, submitting my master’s thesis, and graduation. It’s been a seven-month journey so far and I’m only a couple of weeks behind my planned schedule. So praise God for His faithfulness!

The piece just completed is a resurrection setting called, “Why?”. The title derives from the angel’s question to the women who were first to view the empty tomb in Luke 24:5, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”. The question is set as soprano solo over a high B pedal tone with eerie accompaniment from pitched percussion and woodwinds in a nebulous key center with some biting dissonance. Full chorus and orchestra then joins in a major key to proclaim, “He is not here, He is risen!”. I think the piece works, but it’s hard to be objective. Nevertheless, I pray that this piece does justice to this foundational story of Christianity.

So, the first 90% of the work is done and all that’s left is the second 90% of the work (That’s an old project management joke, folks), like proofreading, editing, second-guessing, lots of listening and tweaking, etc. etc. etc.) The plan is to have all this finished by the end of August for submission to my advisor. Then SWBTS will let me take comprehensive exams in October and I’ll finally have this degree completed!

And you know, keep in mind that I’d like to program a performance of this work in 2018. So . . . if anyone is intrigued by the thought of presenting this cantata then let that seed sprout, keep watching here for news updates, and get in touch.

John Ness Beck Choral Composers’ Workshop

(Original posting 6/19/2017) Last week was spent in Greenville, S.C. at the John Ness Beck Choral Composers’ Workshop, sponsored by Beckenhorst Press and hosted at the gorgeous First Presbyterian Church of Greenville. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (well, maybe twice!) that was a blessing to experience. As I was contemplating writing a synopsis of the week a news item came across my screen from one of my colleagues and new friend from the workshop, Joel Snyder, who beat me to the punch. Can’t do a better job than Joel did, so here is his recap of the week’s events:
https://solfasounds.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/my-recap-of-the-composers-workshop-2/

Keep up with Joel on his blog at: https://solfasounds.wordpress.com/