Who Decides What is Beautiful?
Blog , Ministry , Personal , Worship / November 25, 2017

(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…

Contextualization, Evangelism, Worship
Blog , Ministry , Personal / November 25, 2017

(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…

Inside-out or Outside-in?
Blog , Ministry , Personal , Worship / November 25, 2017

(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…

More Excitement!
Blog , Ministry , Personal / November 25, 2017

(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…

Music! Passion! Excitement!
Blog , Personal / November 25, 2017

(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….

The Geneology of Jesus
Blog , Personal / November 25, 2017

(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?
Blog , Ministry , Worship / November 25, 2017

(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…

Next Step
Uncategorized / November 25, 2017

(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…

Major Milestone!
Blog , New Music , Personal / November 24, 2017

(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),…

John Ness Beck Choral Composers’ Workshop
Blog , Personal / November 24, 2017

(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/