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.

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
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!”

There are not many tuba solos out there!

There are not many tuba solos out there!

Tuba players get no respect. Relegated to oom-pah-pah’s and whole notes by most composers, a melodic line for a tuba is less common than a blue moon. And don’t even think about tuba solos! er, . . . unless you have to, that is. That’s just the situation I found myself in a few days ago! We are blessed to have a very talented and faithful tubist in our church orchestra who is one of our best musicians (is a tubist a musician or someone who floats down lazy rivers with completely inappropriate quantities of alcohol?). Anyway, just recently, I endeavored to find a solo tuba hymn arrangement for this person to play. How hard could it be, right? Well, when they don’t exist, they’re pretty hard to find! Having already stoked our tubist’s enthusiasm, I couldn’t very well go back and say, “Sorry, there’s just nothing available.” So, sort of like the old commercial tag line, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one!” I went out and wrote a new tuba solo. Fortunately, the whole process just took a few days. The first hymn to come to mind was the traditional spiritual, “Were You There?”, and

since it seemed to be the perfect vehicle for the deep, mellow tones of the tuba there was no need to search farther. Also, I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. So, I began to experiment with some polytonality (multiple keys at the same time) and the result seemed to fit perfectly with the ugliness and irony of the first stanza crucifixion setting. Next, I added on major and minor key settings of the succeeding stanzas and left the ending unresolved. That seemed to do it! I now have a solo tuba hymn arrangement and my tubist is a very happy person! Check out the result for yourself in this preview. (Hope to have a live performance recording this summer!) Sheet music available at Were You There?

A Lovely Setting for a Lovely Rose

A Lovely Setting for a Lovely Rose

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

Who Decides What is Beautiful?

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!

Inside-out or Outside-in?

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.