And now, the worship DJ

Trying to be “contemporary,” as in contemporary worship, requires hitting a moving target, since, by definition, what is up to the minute changes every minute.  This is especially true when it comes to pop culture, which depends for its commercial success on spinning out fashions that rapidly go in and out of style.  And what is “out” becomes looked down upon even more than it was considered cool a few months ago.  (In contrast, what is “classic” never goes out of style.)

So what are churches that want to feature contemporary music supposed to do? Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post writes about a congregation that has gotten rid of its praise band and brought in a DJ.  Read about it after the jump, but here is the killer quote:

And to people younger than 30, the drums and electric guitars of the contemporary rock that dominates much of American Christianity are not only not edgy, “but for them, it’s like singing hymns,” [DJ Hans] Daniels said. “Why does the music you worship to and jam out to have to be completely separate?”

How would you answer that question?

And let’s test the premise:  Those of you who go to dance clubs, do you really want that same kind of music in church?  Wouldn’t you find that embarrassing? [Read more...]

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.

The Devil’s interval

by Jimmy Veith

Have you ever been freaked out by a piece of music that sounded evil? Have you heard combinations of notes that were so dissonant that it made you tense and restless, but yet was strangely alluring? Well, you may have been placed under the spell of the Devil’s interval, known in music theory as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th.

Let me explain. Remember when Maria, the good Nun from “The Sound of Music”, taught the children how to sing, with the Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do song? That was the major scale on which most Western music is based. In the key of C, it would be all the white keys on the piano; ie, C, D, E, F, G, A B and C. Each note of the scale is assigned a number. In the key of C, C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6 and B is 7.

For some mysterious reason, the major scale is not symmetrical in its intervals. There are whole steps between C, D, and E, but a half step from E to F. There are whole steps between F, G, A and B, but a half step from B to C. Now, let’s create a more sinister sounding scale by eliminating the half steps and playing only whole steps. If you start with middle C, you would play C, D, E, F# (G flat), G# (A flat), A# (B flat), then C again. You have just played a scale based on the tri-tones, which is a scale of six different notes in equal intervals as opposed to seven notes found in the major scale.

Now this is where it gets freaky. Play the C and F# (or G flat) together. This is the interval known as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th. Play this over and over again. How does it make you feel? Now play C and G flat in alternating order, over and over again, one second apart. Do you recognize the opening guitar riff in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”? Play it some more. Have you summoned the devil yet? Ok, that’s enough, Quit Now! Quit Now! Quit Now I say, before it’s too late!

OK. I may be exaggerating. However, this interval has been used by composers when they want to create an atmosphere of evil or dread. It is used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, and classical compositions such as Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, Beethoven’s Fidelio. Also, it is found in modern compositions such as West Side Story, and the theme song of the Simpson’s.

It has been said that this interval was banned in the middle ages by the clergy. This may be more mythology than fact. Are there any musicologists out there who could shed some light on this issue?

I don’t mean to suggest that artists that use this interval are by any means evil. Great music involves interplay between tension and release, and the use of this interval is one of many tools that a skillful composer can and should use to create tension.

Now here is something for you Lutherans. Consider the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” by Martin Luther himself. The third line of the first verse reads: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” The third line of the third verse reads: “The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him. ” The two lines where Luther refers to the Devil in the text of the hymn, also happens to be when the “devil’s interval” is found in the melody line. Just a coincidence? Or genius?

Big Brother Butts In:  I would add one more thing that Jimmy pointed out to me when he was explaining all of this over the piano.  I had always wondered why it is that musical scales have to have those half-steps.  Wouldn’t it be easier and more consistent and more orderly for a scale to have all whole steps? It would, but now I know that a scale with all whole steps is actually discordant.  Not only that, it has the Devil’s Interval!   Which teaches us that perfect regularity is neither beautiful nor good.   True beauty–whether of music or art or literature or a person–needs its quirks, its inconsistencies, its surprises, even its flaws. Philosophies and ideologies that demand utterly consistent regularity–think of Marxism–become inhuman, tyrannical, and demonic.  As do people when they try to fit their neighbors into some regular pattern of whole notes.  And God, who Himself is unutterably complex and confounding to human reason, designed things this way.  (And if you think such connection between music and other kinds of cosmic order is just made up, the old music theorists, such as Bach–anyone know if he used the Devil’s Interval?–thought and made music in these terms.

What an organist learned

Lynette Tedlund, a.k.a. the commenter on this blog known as  ”Booklover,” wrote a piece for her local newspaper on the topic “My First Job.”  Her first job, along with her sisters, was organist for her church.  Here is what she learned from that experience:

Aside from forming in us an idea of what truly beautiful sacred music and hymnody is, the Lutheran liturgy that we played and participated in formed the very fiber of the women that we became.

One will never think too highly of oneself when one has repeated weekly, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee.”

Regular singing and playing of “Beautiful Saviour, King of Creation” undoubtedly prevented each of us from looking to a mere mortal man to be the perfect Prince Charming husband or, heaven forbid, to a future political figure to be a savior.

The weekly congregational reciting of the creed: “We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” built in us a firm belief that there is truth and that it can be held in community.

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever, Amen,” the weekly chanting of the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, led us to know, in the very core of our being, that there was more to reality than our daily temporal existence.

The “Te Deum Laudamus,” which begins, “We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting,” helped us to look outside of our own own provincial sphere.

As we played and sang, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” we instinctively knew that we would never fall prey to the false theology that we had now arrived and needed no further Help from above.

All of these truths I still know today.

via Spirit of job refreshes soul.

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.

Example:

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.

Death of a church musician

Church musician Paul Manz died on October 28. An organ virtuoso and respected choral composer, Manz’s best known work is “E’en so Lord Jesus Quickly Come.” It was composed while his 3 year-old son lay dying, it was supposed, though he recovered from his illness, something Manz attributed to prayer. Here is a haunting performance of that piece, with the backdrop of Luther’s church in Wittenberg.

HT: Rev. Edward Bryant