March 31, 2021

Sometimes words are not enough – especially when we contemplate the great mysteries of our faith, like Christ’s crucifixion. That’s when we need music. As we commemorate Good Friday, I offer my choral work Tenebrae factae sunt.  It is a dark and dissonant musical setting of some Jesus’s final words from the cross. It’s not an easy piece to listen to. But then again, its words are not either. Last year I wrote about this piece in an article for… Read more

March 9, 2021

A full-voiced choir. Trumpets, cymbals, and drums. THIS is the kind of music best suited for the Almighty King. Except…is it? Psalm 19 begins: The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the wonders of his work display the firmament. The most famous musical setting of these lines appears in Franz Josef Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” from 1798.  It’s a blazing and glorious piece that has become a standard church anthem: Take a listen:   The Bible often describes… Read more

December 18, 2020

Hark! These bells bring peace and joy – but something else as well. They call us to contemplate the Incarnation. The “Carol of the Bells” is a song you definitely know, even though you might not know its name.  Written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914 and given lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky, it is a remarkable composition. (It also has an extraordinary backstory, including a political assassination…) Unlike most joyous songs of the season, it is in a minor… Read more

December 10, 2020

Join me on a musical exploration of Mary’s great song of praise. It might just change your view of this extraordinary poem. The “Magnificat” is the name given to the poem we find in Luke 1:46-55.(“Magnificat” is simply the Latin translation of the beginning of the first line.) It is Mary’s response, spoken when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, to the news she has received from Gabriel: that she would bear the Son of God. The Magnificat is a traditional… Read more

December 4, 2020

Handel’s masterwork isn’t just great music. It can also help us grow in faith this Advent season – but only if we know how to listen to it. Advent is hard.  It’s a time in which we are called to ponder the darkness of the world, waiting in sober yet joyful expectation for the coming of Jesus. But that’s really difficult when your neighbor’s house is flashing red and green like the runway at LaGuardia. Our whole culture skips over Advent… Read more

November 29, 2020

Doom. Darkness. Tyranny. Misery. Ransom. Exile. Gloomy clouds. Dark shadows. The grave. Hell. Satan.  All are words that appear in the great Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. If you are looking for a song to get you ready for Christmas, you can’t do much better than the 12th-century Latin hymn “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”, known to most of us in the 1851 English version by J.M. Neale (who also wrote “Good King Wenceslas”, by the way.) It’s dark. Heavy metal… Read more

November 25, 2020

As professional musician and scholar, I’d like to address some of the problems in a recent posts about worship music from the Ponder Anew blog. Its author, Jonathan Aigner, is passionate about his topic. And I’m glad that he provokes others to think intentionally about music and worship. I agree with many of his points. But on many we differ. And while I find his method of argument to be based too often on generalizations, my real problem is the… Read more

November 18, 2020

Sometimes our desire to praise is simply too great for words… I created this musical response to Psalm 150 for flutist Elizabeth Ostling from the world-renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra. There is no singer in this musical composition, and the words of the psalm do not appear. Yet the music, accompanied by nature images, still brings the Scripture to life. Read the psalm below, then the note I have written about the composition. You can then watch a video of the piece. If… Read more

November 13, 2020

From “Jesus Walks” to “Dropkick Me, Jesus,” popular musicians in every genre have written songs about Jesus.  I’ve analyzed over 500 of these songs.  The results are fascinating. This is the first in a series of articles based on my findings. (You can read a summary of my research in this recent issue of Sojourners, and an academic version of my work will be appearing in a book appearing in 2021.) A NEW PHENOMENON Musicians have been writing songs about… Read more

October 27, 2020

If we listen carefully, Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” has much to teach us about race in America. And it even gives us hope. This article is a continuation of my piece “The Problem with Ebony and Ivory.” If you haven’t read that yet, please do. I’ll wait. Welcome back. The song proposes the piano as a metaphor for the possibility of racial reconciliation. Just look at all those rows of alternating black and white notes, side-by-side, “living in perfect… Read more

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