Traveling Music (ReMix)

Here is yet another iteration of a “re-run” post from a different venue several years ago, engendered this time by scanning old iPod tracks on the ever-more-repetitious journey down I-65 from Chicago to Indianapolis.  It is likely just babel/babble to anyone but me.  FWIW.

Mumford and Sons – Babel – ROCKS!

But it also engenders reservations, similar to their first album, about which I posted the following on 21 January 2011.

In an earlier post I mentioned listening to the musical group, Mumford & Sons while driving near the end of long trip.  Due to some questions, I took it down, lest anyone think I condone the use of profanity on that CD (Sigh No More).  I do not.  Here’s a response of sorts to some of the questions:

Presumably most people understand that mentioning a group, person, or work of art does not imply endorsement of everything in, on, or about it.  The track Timshel, referencing Genesis 4 and resonating Steinbeck’s East of Eden, does not imply endorsement of Steinbeck or all that is in the book.  Quoting a commentary on Genesis 4 does not mean accepting or recommending everything in it.  This is, one hopes, elementary for anyone willing to think about it.

I’m a sucker for clever lyrics, especially those with religious implications – even cryptic ones (especially when married to great harmonious melodies).  Who could not like the opening lines of the first track: “Serve God, love me, and mend – this is not the end…Sigh no more, no more.  One foot in sea and  one on shore.  My heart was never pure – You know me.”   Or, “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won” (from “I Gave You All”).

Or this:  “You told me that I would find a hole Within the fragile substance of my soul, And I have filled this void with things unreal And all the while my character it steals”  — followed by, “It seems all my bridges have been burned, But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works – It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, But the welcome I receive with the restart” (Roll Away Your Stone).

However, admixed with admirable thoughts expressed with dexterity are others of a baser sort…of infidelity and betrayal, doubt and denial.  Of course, many people, even those of strong faith, have experienced such thoughts and possibly even behaviors, as we succumb to various temptations to one degree or another.

Most vexing and disturbing is the gratuitous use (in Little Lion Man, CD track 7) of a common vulgarism meant to describe one of the most divinely pleasurable of human experiences – made into a cheap swear-word.  That is, of course the nature of profanity – taking something which is a should be special or limited to particular circumstances and profaning it by making it common or ordinary.  As several before me have noticed, if one wished to express extreme displeasure, one could at least use something REALLY unpleasant, like “Audit you, buddy!”

I realize one can hear such vulgarities at the mall or at a high school sporting event (to say nothing or college or pro games).  But it pains me to spend money to download or rip such junk.  One man’s opinion.

Other issues raised by such questions include how those who find such things objectionable should react.  Bury head in sand and ignore?  Boycott?  Draw up the bridge and retreat behind the moat?  Or recognize and engage when possible?  Do we read only that which has no objectionable material?  Hard to come by.  Can we be “fans” only of athletes, teams, or artists without flaw?  Good luck.

Late night thoughts from a fried brain at the end of a long day. Anybody want to sound off on this?  No obligation.

(A closing thought:  It is sobering, when contemplating passing an 18-wheeler in snow, to hear lyrics like, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die…for you were made to meet your maker.”  Hmmmmm)

 

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Mind Your Music – by Doy Moyer

Mind Your Music – by Doy Moyer

Worth reading at

http://www.mindyourfaith.com/mind-your-music.html

 

Outline:

I. A Case for Mindful Singing
A. The Message of our Music
B. Music as a Communication Tool
II. A Brief Religious Musical History
A. What about Instruments?
B. What about women?
III. Fundamentals of Music
A. Role of the Song Leader vs the Role of the Congregation
B. Pitch
C. Rhythm
D. Expression
IV. Final Thoughts

Passages for reference:

Ecclesiastes 5:2-7
Romans 15:1-11
1 Corinthians 14
Ephesians 5:15-21
Colossians 3:12-17; 4:2-6
James 5:13

 

 

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

Matt Bassford on Writing “Exalted”

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

— 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)

I can’t find my writer’s notebook from the late 1990s, but if memory serves, I wrote “Exalted” in April 1999, which makes this the 15th anniversary-ish of my having done so.  At the time, I had no inkling that it would make its way into the repertoire of the Lord’s church; indeed, to this day, its success leaves me both thankful and bemused.  Hopefully, my account of its creation will prove of interest.

In April 1999, I had no idea how to write hymns.  I had been through two sessions of Craig Roberts’ Hymninar; I could analyze hymns according to the technical trinity of rhythm, rhyme, and meter; but my own ability to duplicate what I had studied was negligible.  Writing an “Abide with Me” or “In the Hour of Trial” was as far beyond me as playing in the NBA.

That was a problem, because I had something I wanted to say.  It too came from Craig, from a sermon that he had preached for the Sunday-morning assembly of R.J. Stevens’ 1998 singing school.  It was entitled “The Glory and the Shame”, and it was a study of the contrast between Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His crucifixion less than a week later.

I became fascinated with the rich irony of the Biblical account.  I said to myself, “I should write a hymn about that.”  I set pen to paper, gave it my valiant all. . . and failed ignominiously.  This was not a, “It’s not THAT bad, Matt” kind of failure.  It was more like, “Matt, are you sure that English was your first language?”  I am notoriously incapable of determining when something I’ve written is bad, but this time I could tell.  It was bad enough to set stray dogs to howling.

Like the builder of Swamp Castle, I tried again a few months later.  Also like the builder of Swamp Castle, I failed again.  The result looked sort of like a hymn, with rhymes and lines of the appropriate length.  However, it had all the elegance and grace of a cinder block.  Whatever one needed in order to capture the ironies of the crucifixion in rhyme and meter, I did not possess.

Fine.  I couldn’t write hymns.  So what?  I was still going to write THIS hymn!  In the depths of my frustration, I hit upon the expedient of structuring the hymn around parallels, like the Hebrew poets did, rather than using rhyme.  Once I made that mental switch, the rest was easy.  I banged out the first draft of “Exalted” in about half an hour, and that first draft was substantially what is sung today.

However, my work created another problem.  If some determined 20-year-old handed me “Exalted” today, I would tell him it couldn’t work as a hymn because the verse-to-verse structure is bad.  As most of our hymns do, “Exalted” has three verses, each intended to be sung to the same tune.   That same tune, then, must match the emotional feel of all three verses.  In most good hymns, all the verses have the same mood or at least reside in the same general part of the emotional spectrum.  This allows the composer to craft a joyful tune that matches the joyful mood of “Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah!” or a rich, sorrowful tune that matches the sorrow of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.

Those hymns have excellent verse-to-verse structure.  The verse-to-verse structure of “Exalted” is terrible.  It has one grand verse about the glories of Christ the King, one ironic verse about the vicious way He was received by His people, and one half-and-half verse about the different ways He is received today.

A hymn like that pulls a composer in two.  He can’t write a grand tune to match the first verse, because then it won’t match the second.  He can’t write an ironic tune to match the second verse, because then it won’t match the first.  All he can do is compose a neutral tune that kind-of matches the tone of the entire hymn, but neutral is boring is not sung is a failed hymn.

This is not a hypothetical.  I spent years writing hymns that failed because of bad verse-to-verse structure.  It still gives me more trouble than any other aspect of hymnwriting.  “Exalted” should have ended up on the dust heap with all of those other failed hymns.  It didn’t because I, having no idea what I was doing, asked Charli Couchman to write the music.

Charli is a phenomenally talented composer, but “Exalted” may remain her finest work.  She’s written plenty of good tunes to good hymns, but in “Exalted” she found a hymn that was destined to die and gave it life.  The flawed verse-to-verse structure meant that she could not write an interesting melody, because an interesting melody would be a mismatch to one or more verses.  Instead, she wrote a boring, flat melody and made it interesting, even unique, by passing it back and forth between parts.  The result is unlike anything I’m familiar with in the tradition of English hymnody, yet simple enough that a congregation with moderate musical gifts can pick it up.

Charli’s success was not apparent at first.  If you’ve ever heard a MIDI recording of “Exalted”, it’s terribly boring, and 15 years ago, the MIDI was all we had to go on.  However, when the hymn is sung, its chords swell and come to life, infusing both the glory and the suffering of Christ with grandeur.  It is quite an achievement.

By profession, I am inclined to supply morals to any story, so here are three.  First, it highlights the utility of good old-fashioned stubbornness.  Even a brick wall may cave in if you bang your head against it long enough.  Second, it helps to have friends who will rescue you from yourself and make you look good!

Finally, though, and most of all, I am reminded that when it comes to the gospel, the talents of the messenger are nothing next to the power of the message.  God is perfectly capable of taking a 20-year-old kid in central Missouri, a kid who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t know how to do anything, and using that kid to glorify Him.  If there are lines in “Exalted” that confuse you, that’s not because I was particularly profound in 1999.  It’s because I wasn’t a very good writer.

And yet, despite the warts, despite the flaws, despite all the things that I yearn to go back and red-pen, the majesty of the story of Jesus shines through.  That’s not only all that I can hope for from my hymns.  It’s also all I can hope for from me.

Posted by M. W. Bassford at 7:28 AM, Monday 14 April 2014

NOTE: EXALTED is #198 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Read more, including comments, at http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/2014/04/writing-exalted.html

A HYMN FOR TODAY – Let Us, With a Gladsome Mind

A HYMN FOR TODAY

Let us, with a gladsome mind,
Praise the LORD, for He is kind.
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Let us blaze His name abroad,
For of gods He is the God.
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

He with all commanding might
Filled the new-made world with light.
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

All things living He doth feed;
His full hand supplies their need.
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

Let us then, with gladsome mind,
Praise the LORD, for He is kind.
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.

7.7.7.7 – John Milton, 1623

From Psalm 136:1-9, 25-26

Tune: MONKLAND – Monk’s Parish Choir, 1850 (alt. 2011)

#12 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, 2012

TIME: Singing Changes Your Brain

TIME: Singing Changes Your Brain

Singing Changes Your Brain – Excerpts 

Group singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins

By  @StacyHorn — Aug. 16, 2013
When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony. So it’s not surprising that group singing is on the rise. According to Chorus America, 32.5 million adults sing in choirs, up by almost 10 million over the past six years. Many people think  of church music when you bring up group singing, but there are over 270,000 choruses across the country and they include gospel groups to show choirs like the ones depicted in Glee to strictly amateur groups …

As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure.  Or it might be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness….

The benefits of singing regularly seem to be cumulative. In one study, singers were found to have lower levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress.  A very preliminary investigation suggesting that our heart rates may sync up during group singing could also explain why singing together sometimes feels like a guided group meditation.  Study after study has found that singing relieves anxiety and contributes to quality of life. Dr. Julene K. Johnson, a researcher who has focused on older singers, recently began a five year study to examine group singing as an affordable method to improve the health and well-being of older adults.

It turns out you don’t even have to be a good singer to reap the rewards.  According to one 2005 study, group singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”

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Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/#ixzz2cC9WrqxS

Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus

Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus

Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus

Is our response to music hard-wired or culturally determined? Is the reaction to rhythm and melody universal or influenced by environment? John Schaefer, scientist Daniel Levitin, and musical artist Bobby McFerrin engage in live performances and cross-cultural demonstrations to illustrate music’s noteworthy interaction with the brain and our emotions

Bob Dylan, Doc Watson and the White Pilgrim, or Restoration History Shows Up in Unexpected Places

Restoration History in Odd Places – from McGarvey Ice

eScriptorium

These liner notes, available here, give the gist of it.   Nice articles are available here and here. I can’t find Dylan’s version on YouTube; no matter though as Doc Watson below, either one…pick one…can’t likely be improved upon. 🙂

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