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/

Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding Update – June 1

(Original posting 6/1/2017) Progress, yes!  First draft of the crucifixion setting (Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding) is complete. Some of it I really like and some I’m not so sure about. Here’s a brief sample of the orchestral opening https://soundcloud.com/wheatmyermusic/wounded-bleeding-still-proceeding-orchestra-opening-clip. Listen for “borrowed” harmonies from Rachmaninoff. Time to set this on the back burner to let those uncertainties simmer while work begins on the one remaining movement, the resurrection! I plan to call this movement, “Why?” It will be based on the angel’s question in Luke 24:5, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” I plan to utilize a strong contrast between a dissonantly vague key center section set against a strong major key declaration of “He is risen!” to portray the astonishing news that Jesus Christ is no longer dead!

It’s almost summer, and you know what that means, right?

(Original posting 5/25/2017)  Well, here comes Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer, and a long, long, summer it will be here in Texas. It’s time for bare feet, cook outs, baseball, tank tops, road trips, and all that goes with hot weather! Of course, Memorial Day is far more important than that and this website is a great spot to catch up on the somber significance of the day. But the beginning of summer also means it’s time to select your music for the coming Advent and Christmas season. You have started thinking about your Christmas music, haven’t you? May I offer a few suggestions? Here are four new and distinct options for four different forces that would fit well in your service and concert programming.

Lo, a Rose – for SATB chorus and piano. A somber and contemplative setting of the traditional carol, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. You’ll find this a lovely treatment of the tune and text that won’t tax your rehearsal time. This arrangement is moderately easy but allows good musicianship to shine. The light and delicate accompaniment, with hauntingly beautiful harmonies, directs the focus onto the text while providing just the right amount of color and interest. Thus, “Lo, a Rose,” allows a choir to demonstrate artistic merit without enduring exhaustive preparations. The setting portrays that the light and salvation brought to us by the Rose was achieved via a bitter and sorrowful path.
Listen and purchase on Swirly music here.

The FIrst Noel – for solo piano. This setting of the beloved Christmas carol applies fresh and distinctive harmonies to the traditional melody. A haunting, and slightly dissonant, introduction sets a contemplative mood that heralds a unique approach to the carol. The A sections contain lush harmonies and delicate lyrical phrases which contrast with the syncopated and ornamented melody of the up tempo B section. The work is within the grasp of the intermediate to advanced pianist without extensive rehearsal but still contains sufficient challenge to provide a rewarding experience for performer and listener alike. THE FIRST NOEL is an excellent piece for offertory, instrumental praise, candlelight service, or any occasion reflecting on the miracle of Christ’s incarnation during the Christmas season.
Listen and purchase on Swirly music here.

Long Expected Jesus – for brass quintet. This fresh setting of the Welsh tune, HYFYRDOL, works perfectly for an offertory, prelude, or devotional function. Although written for the Advent season, the multiple familiar hymns set with this tune make the piece suitable throughout the church year. It is readily performed by high school or higher musicians yet still contains sufficient variety and artistic expression to be rewarding for even advanced performers. The familiar melody is stated clearly throughout and accompanied with interesting and sonorous harmonies so as to be accessible to all audiences.
Listen and purchase on Sheet Music Plus here.

Divinum Mysterium – for full orchestra. DIVINUM MYSTERIUM is the tune name we know by the hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” In this arrangement for full orchestra, the tune is woven together with CANTIQUE DE NOEL, or, “O, Holy Night,” in a compelling tapestry that captures the transcendence and the imminence of Christ’s birth. It would make a compelling addition to an orchestral Christmas program. Suitable for high school, college, or advanced church orchestras.
Listen on Sound Cloud here. Send me a note under CONTACT or in the comments below if you’re interesting in purchasing the score and parts or if you have questions.

Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding Update

(Original posting 5/21/2017) Well, with the finale (He Became Like Me) completed it’s time to move back to the two remaining unwritten movements in my Easter cantata. These will be the settings of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. Of course, these are the two most daunting movements. It’s not the music that is intimidating, as I already know what I want to do, but the gravity of the subject matter as the two most important events in Christianity weighs heavily as a duty to set them well. First up will be the crucifixion setting, which will also include the Garden of Gethsemane and the trial, and will be called, Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding. It will feature tenor solo with SATB chorus. The harmonies selected for this piece are inspired by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s setting of Simeon’s Song, the “Nïne otpushchayeshi” from his All Night Vigil. Although somewhat camouflaged, the strings introduce Wounded, Bleeding, Still Proceeding with “Nïne otpushchayeshi’s” opening swaying chords and the rocking motion carries on as underlying accompaniment to the melody. We shall see how it turns out!

On the Nature of Worship

(Original posting 5/18/2017) Just what is worship? Experience? Intense emotion? Exuberant physical expression? Eh, . . . not so much, at least not according to how the Bible portrays it, nor according to the meaning of the biblical words we translate into the English, worship. But let’s let Paul Clark, Jr. take a stab at explaining all that in this article, Hope for True Worship Rooted in the Living God. Plus, it’s worth reading for the wonderful 1829 baptismal hymn he quotes at the end! It would make a worthwhile project for someone to set to new music. I wonder who could do that, hmmm?

He Became Like Me

(Original posting 5/17/2017) In my last post I had just begun work on the final movement of my Easter cantata, which is a traditional choir anthem about substitutionary atonement and Christ’s call to discipleship titled, He Became Like Me. Well, while still preserving the right to make further editorial changes, I’m glad to announce that this piece is now complete! It is set for SATB chorus with piano and optional orchestral accompaniment. Although He Became Like Me is part of a full Passion setting, I plan to offer it as a standalone choral anthem as well in the near future. Click the link below for a MIDI sample of the orchestral accompaniment. Enjoy!
https://soundcloud.com/wheatmyermusic/he-became-like-me-orchestra