From playing music to collecting records

I remember when I was little–this would have been the late 1950s when television sets were still novelties–my parents would have friends over for dinner.  Afterwards, the adults would all gather around the piano, with my mother playing, and they would all sing.  I recall going through the mountain of sheet music that my mother had bought over the years.   Lots of big band and what are now labeled “standards,” but also boogie-woogie, jazz, and blues.  I should have  realized how cool she was.

Readers of old books will notice how people way back then entertained themselves home-grown concerts in the parlor.  And Patrick O’Brian
got the period detail just right, as he usually did, when he has Captain Jack Aubrey playing the violin with Stephen Maturin on cello as a way to relax before a big sea battle.  In the 19th century, people would go to concerts, but they would often take a copy of the score with them.  Through the first half of the 20th century, songwriters made most of their money not from recording royalties but from sales of sheet music, such as my mother would buy.

Charles Rosen, in Freedom and the Arts: Essays on Music and Literature, points out that most classical music was written for people to play, not just to hear.   In a review, book critic Michael Dirda makes his point:

In several essays Rosen emphasizes how much of our older serious music was never meant to be presented in a concert hall. Most of the early keyboard repertoire was intended for private or semi-private delectation. “Only two of Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas were played in Vienna in public during his lifetime.” Similarly, “Few members of the musical public today know that if we wish to experience Schubert’s song cycles as Schubert’s contemporaries would have heard them, we must imagine them as being sung to a few friends.” Certainly the deepest pleasure of music derives from an engagement with its making, by working through a printed score. One might argue that Bach’s “Art of Fugue” gives more satisfaction to those who play it than to those who hear it.

As Rosen stresses, up until the 20th century, many people in a concert audience would have learned a musical instrument, usually the piano, and thus might have already played the program on their own. Even symphonies were widely available in piano reductions for four hands. Such listeners were consequently grounded in an active understanding of the score. Alas, “learning to sing and learning to play the piano have been supplanted today by collecting records.” In short, a once-informed audience has gradually been displaced by those who fetishize virtuoso performances but don’t actually understand or fully appreciate the music.

via Charles Rosen, ever refining our approach to the arts of the past – The Washington Post.

I judge the superhero movies

Well, to celebrate our anniversary and to catch up with our fast-disappearing summer, my wife and I constructed a “double feature” (anyone remember those?) by seeing BOTH Spiderman and Batman:  The Dark Knight Rises on a single Saturday, with a late lunch in between.   We had a good time despite the Batman movie.

The Dark Knight Rises is pretentious, ponderous, ludicrous, and lugubrious.  It makes me miss what I thought I was tired of–namely, irony.  The movie was so serious, so full of itself, even while its main characters were putting on silly costumes.  A super-hero movie can be philosophical or angst-ridden, but it needs to have at least some element of fun.

As the Spiderman movie shows.   (Normally, one waits several weeks or months between superhero movies, so seeing them side-by-side makes the comparisons stand out.)  The best part of that movie was the part I didn’t expect to like, yet another version of the origin story.  But this time the origin made much more sense even than in the comic book (I write and criticize as a fan), picking up on the motif of interspecies genetic engineering.  What the movie did especially well was in showing high school nerd Peter Parker gradually learning about his new superpowers.  What science fiction and fantasy can do at their best is give us a sense of wonder.  Juxtaposing the spidey powers (super strength, agility, ability to climb and hang upside down and swing on webs, sticky hands and feet) with the ordinary routines of school and family life was an effective way to stimulate the imagination.  Later we get to the obligatory and conventional friend-turned-monster, but that’s all right, given the genre.

So what about any political themes in the Batman movie, as we discussed on this blog?  It does pick up on the Occupy Wallstreet threat of an uprising against the wealthy and privileged, such as millionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne living in stately Wayne Manor (to use the comic book language).  And it comes out decisively against the mob.  (The best scene was the sight of thousands of police officers coming out of the ground to restore social order.)  So the movie managed to be pro-rich, while still blaming the wealthy for  economic and social disintegration.  It presents the point of view of the wealthy-but-guilt-ridden-over-their-wealth.  That is, the new base of the Democratic party.

(That’s not why I disliked the movie.  That’s a perfectly defensible position and appropriate in many cases.  I disliked the movie for the reasons given in the second paragraph.)

The St. Ambrose Hymn Writing Contest

Who says conservative Lutherans don’t like contemporary Christian music in church?  We do.  It’s just that we want the contemporary Christian music to be, you know, hymns, as opposed to pop ditties.  And we do need new hymns.  Towards addressing that need, I am happy to announce that some twenty-somethings in our congregation, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, have organized a major hymn-writing competition.  They have raised a $1,000 prize and have arranged for publication.  For details and for just learning about what the big deal is about hymns, check out the website:  St. Ambrose Hymn Writing Contest.

Here are the parameters of the contest:

The Challenge:

Many of the Gospel readings throughout the historic Church Year lack hymns which properly exposit their true sense. It is the purpose of this contest to provide profound and artistic hymns for such unaddressed pericopes (that is, a set of readings given for a certain day). Therefore, the challange of this contest is as follows: to compose a hymn which discerns and declares the meaning of the chosen lectionary texts and properly expresses the congregational response to the work of our Lord in the Word.

The Texts:

The hymn should concern itself with the following texts, with a focus on the gospel reading:

Zephaniah 1:7-16
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

The Prize:

The winner of the contest shall be awarded $1,000. The winning hymn will be publised by Liturgy Solutions, which will be granted first right-of-refusal to the hymn upon acceptance of the prize money.   The author/composer royalty to be paid by Liturgy Solutions will be 50% of all receipts from sales and any other profitable uses of the hymn (public performance for profit, radio broadcast, etc.).”

So the texts the hymn is supposed to elucidate deal with the Day of the Lord, Jesus coming back like a thief in the night, and the Parable of the Talents.

Yes, I have been asked to be one of the judges, but I will show no favoritism to the tunes of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, or other artists that I can go on and on about on this blog.  (Well, if Bob Dylan enters the contest with a lectionary hymn, he might have an edge with me.)

But, seriously, you can use an existing hymn tune, if you like, or you can compose your own.  The words will be key.  You know those numbers at the bottom of each page in a hymnbook?  7.7.7., 8.6.8.6, 10.10.10.10.  Those are the number of syllables in each line.  That’s important to know in writing words to go with a particular tune.

Anyway, enter!  Try it.  You need not be Lutheran to win.  There is a thousand dollar prize!  The deadline is December 1.  Maybe your hymn too will be sung in future centuries.

On the road again

I leave today for two weeks, in which time I will have three speaking engagements, attend a conference, and visit relatives in Oklahoma.  I won’t be in the big woods, though, this time, and I do plan to keep my blog up the best I can, this being a hobby I enjoy, rather than work.  I might not be able to put up quite as many posts per day as I usually do.  And there may be days when I can’t put up anything new, so don’t worry if that happens.  I won’t.

I may have some help in the event of news emergencies (for example, if Mitt Romney announces his vice presidential running mate).   In any event, thank you for following this blog and I hope you keep up the habit!

John the Baptist and us

We had another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite on the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29).  A sampling:

John the Baptist never was at home in this world. He was an interloper. A stranger. A misfit.

It began with his birth which was not the usual way. He was born miraculously to a couple who could not have children because they were too old and she was barren.

He was given the wrong name (in the opinion of all who were there when he was born). Everybody wanted him named Zechariah, after his father. That was how it was done; that was the tradition – to name the first born son after the father. But no. His name would be John.

He didn’t wear what everyone else was wearing. If he was around today, he’d be one of those people you notice walking down the street that everyone points to and snickers and says “really?” A camel’s hair shirt with a leather belt around your waste?

Then there was his diet. John went primal before it became a fad diet! Locusts and wild honey.

He did his preaching out in the wilderness. And he didn’t pander to the crowd – he was a fiery preacher of repentance. And if you got into his crosshairs, he wouldn’t let you out. He didn’t care who you were – Pharisee, Sadducee, Scribe, King. And he’d keep after you, even from prison . . . he didn’t care. He just didn’t care.

John was like a bizarre visitor from another place and time. The world was not his home. It never would be. . . .

Truth is, Christians do have a little John in them; a little bit of weird in them. Because like John, we have a whole lot of Jesus in us.

Think about it. Like John, you too were miraculously born – born from above by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.

Like John, you too wear different clothes – the robe of righteousness given to you by Christ.

Like John, you too eat strange food – the Body and Blood of the Lord in His Supper here.

Like John, your thinking and values and loves are different.

And so as a Christian, like John, you’re never quite at home in this world and life. Just a bit out of step.

Then again, we are also like Herod:

King Herod, on the other hand, was a man of the world. He lived large. He saw what he wanted and took it. And he made no apologies for it. Yet even so, though Herod gets what he wants, he never seems to get what he wants. He’s never satisfied. Never at peace. But that’s the way of the world. That’s the way of it with sin. It never leaves you satisfied, but always wanting more. It enslaves in that way.

And it enslaved Herod on his birthday. A lustful king made a foolish promised and an angry wife took advantage of the situation. And Herod, who didn’t want to disappoint his guests or look out of step with the world, is trapped. Sin isn’t as harmless as it looks. A dancing girl, a little lust, what’s the harm?  . . .  But Herod’s hand is forced. He’s not as free as he thinks. So he sadly gives the order, and John loses his head. . .
To confess that we’ve played the Herod and played the Herodias and listen to John, who though he was beheaded so many years ago is still preaching to us today. Preaching to us to repent – but not only that! But even more, preaching us to the cross. To behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

To see Jesus there on the cross as the one who became enslaved for you and bound to the cross with the chains of your sin, in order to set you free. For that’s what forgiveness is. The word for forgiveness in the Greek is the same word for being released, for being set free. And so forgiveness is to be set free from your sin, from your slavery to sin, from the condemnation of sin – free to be a child of God. And that is what you are. In Jesus. . . .

And so Jesus, in your place, enters the prison of sin, death, and the grave. He puts His neck on the chopping block for your foolishness, your lusts, your murder and anger and pride and hate and rebellion . . . and as the blade is coming down says: Father, forgive them. Set them free. And He does. And you are.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 7 Sermon.

A youth group’s Bible-reading project

I was driving down Main Street and saw a tent pitched outside of a residence that was next to the downtown business district.  A bunch of teenagers were milling about.  There was a podium, and it looked like someone was reading from it.  A sign said, “I ate them.com.”

Of course that aroused my curiosity, so I went to the site and saw that the reference was to Jeremiah 15:16, about “eating” the Word of God.  What was going on downtown was a Bible reading marathon!

The website, designed I assume by the group, featured a video, produced I assume by the group, which gave two different perspectives on the Bible from atheists as well as believers, and then challenged people to read the Bible for themselves to form their own opinion.

The site also included evangelistic and apologetic material, with links to other sites on these topics, as well as Bible-reading resources.

In a day of stupid youth group tricks, I thought, this was an ingenious, fun, and meaningful project!

Imagine my surprise yesterday to learn that the inspiration came from this blog!   Rich Shipe, pastor of Blue Ridge Bible Church and frequent commenter here, wrote me yesterday saying he got the idea from this post.

Rich said it took them 70 hours and 34 minutes to read the whole Bible.  They were able to share the Gospel with about a dozen passersby.  And reading the Bible in shifts was a devotional experience.  He said he himself realized how helpful it is to read the Bible in big chunks, so as to get the contexts and continuity, as opposed to the verse sampling that has become more common.  They went on to make a time-lapse video of the three-day event (see below).

So I salute those of you who participated in the “I ate them” project.  (Rich invites other churches to do the same and said that they could use their website.)

iatethem.com | Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart -Jer. 15:16.

I ATE THEM Promo Video from Kylene Arnold on Vimeo.

i ate them 2012 from Rich Shipe on Vimeo.