Luther’s bar tunes

Luther used bar tunes in his hymns, right?  So we too can use the pop music of the entertainment industry for our church songs, right?  Once again, as I have explained before, a “bar tune” in music history is NOT a song that was sung in our kind of “bars”!  Peter Berg explain:

Luther did not use bar songs but rather his own creations and the musical heritage of the church catholic. The term bar refers to the type of staff notation used in medieval musical composing.  . . .

The musical notation was simply a repeat sign, known in Luther’s day as a “bar”. Yes, believe it or not, some wacky American Lutherans saw Luther’s reference to “barred music” in German and changed the repeat sign into a pub!  Why did Luther write positively about “bar(red) music”?  Because it describes the musical form A A B.  He thought that the repetition of the music of the first phrase would help in learning, and then the B phrase would give the balance of variety.  Hence, many chorales are written in this way.  The reason “bars” were used for notating this form was  used to save ink & paper.  Today we simply call these “repeat signs”.  You see this even in 19th and early 20th-century hymnals: the music for the first line ends with a repeat sign, and then the second verse of the first stanza is written in.


First line of music (A)

Salvation unto us has come, by God’s free grace and favor (repeat sign)

Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.

SECOND line of music (B)

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Did Luther Endorse “Bar” Music for the Church? by Phillip Magness.

Preachers and singers fighting for wireless mics

The Federal Communication Commission is planning to release more broadcast channels, but the prospect of improved cell phone reception and WiFi on steroids has provoked opposition from preachers, singers, and others dependent on wireless mics:

Two decades ago, the FCC released similar airwaves to the public, but no one thought doing so would have much impact for consumers. They were wrong: That band of short-range radio waves spawned baby monitors, garage-door openers and thousands of WiFi hot spots at Starbucks, New York’s Times Square and homes across the nation.

Now, the FCC is betting that another batch of unlicensed and better-quality airwaves will enable engineers to turn those frequencies into WiFi networks on steroids. The airwaves would connect longer distances and penetrate through concrete walls – allowing for stronger connections.

For a start, the regulatory move, generally supported by all five commissioners, could help alleviate pressure on overburdened mobile networks that have frustrated some smartphone users who deal with dropped calls and slow Web connections. . . .

Details of the proposed regulatory order haven’t been disclosed, and the move faces some opposition from broadcasters, Broadway performers and ministers. Those critics, who have filed suit against the FCC to prevent the release of white spaces, say users of that spectrum could interfere with television channels and would throw off wireless microphones that operate on those frequencies. . . .

Genachowski’s proposal would reserve two television channels in each local market for wireless microphones. News and sports broadcasters, church ministers and singer Dolly Parton have argued to the FCC that they need some spectrum reserved for their wireless microphones.

via FCC considers release of unused TV channels.

Is this referring to those Garth-Brooks flesh colored mics (pronounced “mikes”) that  hook around the ear and have that long bendable piece of plastic that sticks out in front of your mouth?  I hate those!  I’ve had to wear them when speaking, and I hate them!  And, for some reason, I don’t like  to see other people wearing them!  Or does this relate also to those battery-powered mics that you clip onto your tie or shirt, putting the main unit in your pocket with the antenna hanging out?  I don’t mind those so much.  But maybe squeezing out the bandwith of wireless microphones would be a boon to both church and culture.

Dolly, you know I’m a big fan, but you and your fellow singers do too much dancin’, putting on too big of a show.  Just stand in front of a microphone on a stand, preferably with a bulbous top, like Patsy Cline did and just sing.

Preachers, preach from the pulpit rather than roaming around.  The reason we have pulpits is that it’s easier for the congregation to see you.  It also provides a place for your manuscript or your notes.  Please use a manuscript or notes.  Those wireless mics make it possible for you to stalk around and even go into the congregation, which turns  your sermon into something your are rambling off the top of your head.  Please don’t go into the congregation.

I suppose the leaders of liturgical worship like wireless microphones with all of the turning and moving they have to do outside of the altar.  OK.  But can’t we rig mics at the altar and around the chancel?  What did ministers do before electronic speakers were invented?  I believe that was the original purpose of chanting, to enable the voice to carry farther.

At any rate, I think we should sacrifice wireless mics on the altar of better cell phone reception and wireless internet access.

A classical musician on heavy-metal singers

Claudia Friedlander is a classical musician and voice teacher.  She was asked her opinion of five different male heavy metal singers.  (The link also plays samples of the music that she was analyzing.)  Notice that classical aesthetics contains principles that apply to every kind of music, without necessarily demolishing the more popular genres:

On Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden:

I have nothing but admiration for this singer. Listen how he starts off with a soft growl, then moves seamlessly into a well-supported, sustained high full-voice sound that then evolves into an effortless long scream! His diction is easily intelligible, regardless of the range he’s singing in or the effect he’s going for. He achieves an intensely rhythmic delivery of the lyrics without losing legato and musical momentum, something a lot of classical singers struggle with, especially when interpreting the many staccato and accent markings that crowd scores by Bellini, Donizetti, etc.

On Ozzy Osbourne:

This is a singer with decent diction and good musical instincts but no command of vocal technique. He is massively over-adducting his vocal folds while driving enough air through them to get them to speak, but his throat is so tight that there is no flow or resonance. His rhythmic punctuation of the lyrics is very distracting, in contrast with Singer #1 [Dickinson] who delivered his text with rhythmic accents that served, rather than detracted from the flow of music and poetry. It hurt my throat so much to listen to him that I was tempted to ask Cosmo how long his career lasted before he either washed out or needed surgery. The entire range of his singing is contained within a single octave – with the exception of the moment when he yells “Oh Lord!” a little higher, in my opinion the only quasi-free vocal sound on the entire track.

HT:  Webmonk

The savior of country music?

As many of you know, I’m a fan of country music. I’ve even written a now out of print book about it. But lately, I’ve stopped listening to it. What’s on the radio is too painful for me to handle. Maybe I am missing some good songs and artists. If so, let me know, since, as I have said, I have basically stopped following the genre. I’m not alone in lamenting the state of country music. There is a website devoted to the subject entitled Saving Country Music.

But the guy running it, Kyle ‘The Triggerman’ Coroneos, has identified a new savior of country music. And it’s Ruby Jane, the classically-Christian-educated home schooled 15 year old who is one of my daughter’s prize on-line Latin student! (Remember? I blogged about her.) Here is part of the Triggerman’s review of one of her live performances, which he illustrates with videos (including one of her singing by herself):

I’m convinced. Ruby Jane was sent to earth by God to save country music.

All accolades I lapped on the 15-year-old fiddle-playing fenom when I said You Need Ruby Jane In Your Life were validated, if not proved to be too tempered after seeing her live at Dallas’s historic Kessler Theater on Friday.

Really, I don’t know what to say. There are no words to express Ruby Jane’s talent level, because it is nothing like I have ever seen before, in a musician of any age. And I’m not just talking about her fiddle playing, I’m talking about all of it: songwriting, showmanship, singing, even her guitar playing. And overriding all of this effusive talent is a passion for the music second to none.

Ruby Jane is filled with the Holy Ghost of country music my friends. Its the only explanation. This is evidenced by Ruby’s tendency to shout out wildly on stage. Her music mixes jazz elements with country, giving it a very Western Swing feel, and these shouts work similar to the sighs and such you hear on old Bob Wills recordings. I’d seen Ruby do this in videos, but watching her live, you catch on that these shouts are involuntary, not a stage bit to emphasize the music. Something bigger is at play in her when she plays, and her shouting is an ecstatic reflex to her euphoria for the vibrations that create sound to the human ear.

Ruby Jane makes hokey songs cool, like Willie Nelson’s “Valentine.” She makes heady songs accessible, like Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing.” Her music is transcendent. Put a 10-year-old girl, or an 80-year-old man, a pop country devotee or a gutter punk in a Ruby Jane show, and they will all be mesmerized.

Recently Ruby has added a new wrinkle to her show, which is just taking the acoustic guitar and singing alone. If her other attributes weren’t enough, she’s added a unique, beautiful, vintage, and heartbreakingly soulful singing style.

Ruby Jane is a fighter. When she slung her guitar behind her back and grabbed her fiddle to take a blazing solo, she looked like a warrior. She’s fearless. Anything she wants to do, she does. I’d hate to be in a position to have to say “no” to her about anything. She’s principled, and refreshingly straightforward and honest. She’s hardworking. What I’m saying is Ruby Jane has character, keeping watch over this ridiculous amount of talent.

I truly am speechless about this girl. I’m tongue tied and vacant for eloquent ways to explain how I feel about her music. But I will say this: And if you’re reading this with one eye or have the TV on in the background, stop whatever else your doing, I need you’re undivided attention.

Ruby Jane needs us, and we need Ruby Jane. I am not asking you, I am not pleading with you. I am ordering you to rise up in support of this young girl. We are the grass roots. The shattered pieces of the heart of country music are sheltered in each one of our souls, waiting for the day when the pieces can be united again as one. It is a long fall from the top of the high-rises on Music Row. But where the grass grows there’s a strong foundation, that weathers the fads of popular culture, and nurtures artists from the bottom up.

This is one of those instances when the situation transcends silly arguments about preference in music style, and it becomes about life, and about the principles we all hold dear. Ruby Jane is 15-years-old, with young fans. As adults, we look our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews straight in the eyes and tell them that they can be whatever they want to be with talent and hard work, and that heartfelt genuineness is rewarded.

But in the music world, mediocrity is rewarded more often than not. Imagine a world where the worst scientists were rewarded just because they were the most physically attractive, or where a middle-of-the-road football team was given the Super Bowl trophy because they were the most popular. This is the world of music these days. But the tide is turning.

But we can’t let this happen to Ruby Jane, and all the other top talents that we are so blessed with. So tell a friend. And then tell another about Ruby Jane. They may have the radio and the record labels, but we have each other.

In the long term, I like our odds.

But really, watch and listen to this video, as well as the others posted at the link. What she is doing is fusing jazz and country music, to the benefit of both. Jazz can be abstract and cerebral; country music can bring it down to earth and keep it melodic. Country music can be simplistic and cornpone; jazz can make it complex and sophisticated. Bringing these two genres together is a strikingly good combination. At any rate, the girl can just play:

HT: Joanna Hensley

Lady Gaga vs. Madonna

Mark Judge is a conservative who argues that most conservatives don’t understand pop music, completely missing or misconstruing its meaning.  He offers a reading of two music videos, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” which he says is a positive treatment of Christian imagery, and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” which he says is fascist.

Lady Gaga is no Madonna. That some conservatives are conflating the two performers is yet another sign of the pop culture (and even religious) illiteracy of the right. I myself am a conservative, and it always demoralizes me when people on the right fumble the ball on popular culture, particularly in the field of pop music.

Robert Bork once referred to the industrial gloom freaks Nine Inch Nails as rap. Reagan-era Interior Secretary James Watt attempted to postpone the Beach Boys Fourth of July concert, thinking that the somnolent surfers would cause trouble. And, despite how much I’ve begged and pleaded, the Weekly Standard and National Review will not cover pop music, which I consider a beautiful form of spiritual art.

Now, taking a lead from Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, everyone is comparing Gaga to Madonna. To me Madonna will always be a mediocre talent, but one of her better songs is “Like a Prayer,” which came out in 1986. Many conservative culture warriors wrongly considered the video for “Like a Prayer” blasphemous, and are now juxtaposing it with a new video by pop star Lady Gaga. In the video for her song “Alejandro,” Gaga is dressed in a red latex nun costume. She swallows a rosary, and is depicted in scenes of sadomasochistic sex and Nazi marching troops. As night follows day, conservatives went nuts. Donohue called Lady Gaga a “Madonna wannabe.” The rest of the right wing photosphere fell into place.

They will miss a crucial fact: Madonna’s video for “Like a Prayer” is an intelligent and even devout meditation on grace, love and conscience. Lady Gaga's is lazy trash.

As I will explore in my forthcoming book “A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Madonna’s video is actually a powerful depiction of the vitality of the Catholic saints and their ability to intercede in our lives and give us gifts of courage. In the video, Madonna witnesses a black man falsely accused of a crime. Terrified of the racists in the town, she flees into a church, where she prays to St. Martin de Porres, a black saint. She falls asleep and in her dream the statue of the saint actually comes to life, becoming her lover. She wakes up filled with a new bravery. She fingers the real criminals, and ends the video jubilantly dancing with a gospel choir.

When “Like a Prayer” was released, it was completely misunderstood by conservatives. A bishop condemned it. So did Donohue. On the other side, liberals mindlessly defended Madonna without understanding the message of the video. The only truly coherent analysis came from Fr. Andrew Greeley, a liberal Catholic priest. “Like a Prayer” was blasphemous, wrote Greeley in America magazine, “only for the prurient and the sick who come to the video determined to read their own twisted sexual hang-ups into it. Only for those who think that sexual passion is an inappropriate metaphor for divine passion (and thus are pretty hard on Hosea, Jesus, Saint Paul, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Teresa of Avila).”

Lada Gaga’s video for “Alejandro” is not just slightly dissimilar to “Like a Prayer” – it’s like a fascistic antipode. There is no moral story, no call to conscience. The very language of the bodies is different. In “Like a Prayer,” Madonna and the gospel choir dance with freedom and individual joy. They are powered with the power of the Holy Spirit, which gave Madonna grace the courage to fully respond the call from her conscience. In “Alejandro” the dancing is militaristic, joyless. The scenes of sadomasochism are cold and dehumanizing; they reek of fascism. The entire thing is cold.

We’ve gotten to a point in our culture where we expect the “avant-garde” left to embrace absolutely anything that gives them the delicious frisson of transgression — no matter how tired and, well, conservative their tropes have become. Pop singer Katy Perry was right when she said “Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

But I want better from my conservative friends. I became a conservative because of the ideas of the movement. Irving Kristol, Thomas Sowell, and Midge Decter are people who rely on facts, common sense, and age-old wisdom about the nature of the human person to come to conclusions about politics. But they are like the worst knee-jerk lefty when it comes to pop culture. I fear most of them have not listened to a record since Pat Boone was a star.

via Guest Voices: Lady Gaga is no Madonna – On Faith at

Talk about Madonna and Lady Gaga if you want, but what about his claim that conservatives don’t understand pop culture?  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  I agree that there is quite a bit of fascism in pop culture–not to mention all kinds of free-floating violence, racism, and sexism–which the left seems to gobble up indiscrimately.  Maybe the left doesn’t understand it either, while still embracing it.  Can you think of other pop culture artifacts that, while seeming rebellious, actually have a conservative subtext?

American Idol final two

Usually, my “American Idol” favorites never make it all that far.  This year, though, the two performers that I have been pulling for and voting for all along are the two finalists!   Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze.

Of the two, I’m not sure who I want, since I like them both a lot.  Lee is a kind of diffident, shy guy, the sort who doesn’t make eye-contact when he talks, but he is a really fine contemporary singer.  Crystal is an alternative, bluesey Bonnie-Rait-type singer with amazing chops.  She never watched the show before, and she considered pulling out several times earlier.  Neither come across as egotistic divas, nor as pop star stereotypes.  Both are down-to-earth, non-assuming, and genuine musical artists.  Critics have said this year’s contestants are bland, but I’m tired of the Idol big voiced over-projections and I appreciate these two in particular.

Who deserves to win?  I’ll listen carefully to the final show next week.  I’d have to give the talent edge  to Crystal.  But I’d be glad to have Lee win it.

Any opinions?

DeWyze, Bowersox left to duel on ‘Idol’ finale.