1Samuel 14-15: exegetical points

20161022_075424.jpgMoving beyond a teacher’s theological misstep (detailed and decried on my other blog here), I would like to speak to a couple of important findings in the text of 1Samuel.  I myself am not very experienced in OT narrative, but I’m growing more experienced with ancient texts and with literary interpretation in general, so I will hazard a couple of guesses here.  Consider this some fairly advised speculation (read I’m not not as sure of myself as I was in this post on Philippians or this one on 1Cor 11 or this one on 1Corinthians 16).

One:  hints at irony within the narrative
In 1Sam 14:49, an interesting name appears.  I had not noticed it before.  One of King Saul’s sons was Malchishua.  Separated, that is Malchi-shua.  Look familiar?  If you know of Melchizedek, the “king of righteousness” who appears in Genesis and is referred to in Hebrews, you might see a phonetic resemblance.  And you’d be onto something there.  Malachi/Melchi/Malchi . . . surely they are all variants of the same “king” name.  And what about the second half?  Doesn’t “shua” look like the second part of “Yeshua” (a Hebrew form of Joshua)?  I couldn’t find much support for my hunch here, but at least one site did corroborate my suspicion that Malchi-shua roughly means “the king helps” or “the king delivers.”  Joshua and Yeshua (and, later, Jesus), of course, are names that roughly mean “God delivers” or “God rescues/saves.”

Now, the upshot:  assuming for the moment that I’m on target, I would say there is some historical irony present in this account.  Just as King Saul is on the decline, his son, named “The King Helps,” is by his very name pointing up that no human king has much power to help after all!

Two:  syntactical emphases
In another 1Samuel spot, the word order caught my eye.  Here’s the text of 1Sam 15:14-15 in the NET Bible version:

14 Samuel replied, “If that is the case, then what is this sound of sheep in my ears and the sound of cattle that I hear? 15 Saul said, “They were brought from the Amalekites; the army spared the best of the flocks and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord our God. But everything else we slaughtered.”

The typically careful, relatively responsible teacher (referred to on my other blog) tried briefly to make a point based on the word order of v15.  This time, I’d say the overall point was a valid one—namely, that Saul’s leading pronoun revealed a basic human issue:  pointing the finger at others by saying “they” did it.  The problem with this is that the word order in both the Hebrew and the Greek (Septuagint) has the Amalekites first, not the pronoun “They,” which refers to the Israelite people.  Actually, in the original, Saul’s response starts out like this:

15 And Saul said, “Out of Amalek they’ve brought the things. . . .”

And you know what’s interesting?  The only two English translations (of the dozen I looked at) that do that syntax any justice are at opposite ends of the translation spectrum:  Young’s Literal and The Message.  The ASV, the NRSV, the ESV, the NLT, the NASB, the HCSB, and a few others paid no attention to this textual feature.  Not that word order is everything, but I found it interesting that YLT and MSG have the “Amalek” part up front, as it was in the original:

And Saul saith, `From Amalek they have brought them, because the people had pity on the best of the flock, and of the herd, in order to sacrifice to Jehovah thy God, and the remnant we have devoted.’ (YLT)

15 “Only some Amalekite loot,” said Saul. “The soldiers saved back a few of the choice cattle and sheep to offer up in sacrifice to God. But everything else we destroyed under the holy ban.”  (MSG)

What difference could this make?  Well, if Saul were emphasizing that he didn’t do it, but that the army men did it, it comes out the typical English-Bible way.  On the other hand, if he were emphasizing to Samuel that “those nasty Amalekites whose stuff we took had it coming,” it would seem to be a more substantial excuse because, after all, the Amalekites were Israel’s mortal enemies.  I think this latter reading is more likely.

Four eyes

eyeSometimes I see unexpected things at inopportune times.

A few nights ago during a long, multi-measure rest in a concert, for reasons I can’t completely remember at this point, I thought of four eyes.  I quickly moved from the childish eyeglasses taunt to things more substantive.

Eye No. 1:  The One that Communicates (with Music-making Partners)

Surely communication theorists have a plethora of journal articles and graduate research papers devoted to studies of the eyes.  An important aspect of communicating with anyone (or any group of someones) is looking him in the eyes—with your active eyes.

Any conductor who does not use the eyes to communicate is not using a crucial tool.  Yet it is such an extremely common problem as to be cliché:  most conductors stare at the score while they are talking to the ensemble, when giving cues, and immediately after having given cues.  Score-orientation is an important core value, to be sure, but the conductor should know the score well enough, and be confident enough, to speak to the ensemble vocally and gesturally without constant visual connection with the score.

The effective conductor will look at the ensemble intentionally and meaningfully during music-making.

Eye No. 2:  The One in the Skyeye

These words have been included hymnals:

Watching you, watching you,
Ev’ry day mind the course you pursue;
Watching you, watching you,
There’s an all-seeing Eye watching you.

The song’s inclusion should be embarrassing to generations of churchgoers, if not to the offspring of the poet (who doubtless had very good intentions).  No matter how you view God on the judgment vs. grace spectrum, you have to admit it’s silly (and downright counterproductive if one is thinking evangelistically) to think of God as a big eye in the sky.

It’s not that God’s eyes don’t see, of course; it’s a matter of how the reality is portrayed.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on those who are evil and those who are good.  (Proverbs 15:3, NET Bible)

“Keeping watch” sounds different from “an eye watching you,” doesn’t it?

eyeEye No. 3:  The Ever-Open One

Psalm 34:15, which is quoted, more or less, in 1Peter, has God’s eyes “on the righteous,” or perhaps “toward” the righteous, and His ears, open to their cries for help.  The NET Bible renders this “eye” as simply “paying attention to,” and that’s an acceptable idiomatic translation, although the Hebrew and Greek do include eyes specifically.

Here, we might add 2Chron 16:9, which has God’s eyes actively searching the earth in order to bolster those who in turn are seeking Him.

eyeEye No. 4:  The Bird- and Me-Watching One

This meditation song wasn’t part of my growing-up years, although I gather it was quite familiar in some circles.  I first heard it at an Integrity Music worship conference sometime in the 1990s, and I still have the CD recording (reproduced here) offering Ron Kenoly’s personable voice presenting the song.  Part of it goes like this:

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Now that’s a positive faith-expression.  The second half comes loosely from Matthew 6:26f.

If you want to read more on this topic, try this post from Rubel Shelly.  If I’d seen his extended treatment first, I might simply have shared his link instead of writing a post of my own!

An abbreviated life with pitch (3b – piano tuning)

Yesterday’s more procedural post about piano tuning might have been interesting to a few groups of people, including mechanics and those who produce how-to videos on YouTube.  (I don’t think I’m very good at writing instruction manuals.)  Today’s follow-up is somewhat more conceptual and might interest such groups as acoustical physicists, ensemble instrumentalists and conductors, and anyone whose piano I’ve tuned who wondered what in the world I was doing, why some of the intervals sounded different from others once they started listening intently, and why it all took so long.

Here are some key (!) aspects of piano tuning
Intervals on a piano are these days tuned in “equal temperament,” which more or less means they are equally “out of tune.”  The human ear has grown accustomed, during the last two or three hundred years, to hearing things this way.  Most non-keyboard-instruments musicians (winds, strings, the human voice) can adjust their pitches on the fly and are taught to tune intervals “beatless.”  However—and this is a big however—when a piano or organ or marimba, for instance, is brought into the mix, what we have is a collision of pitch worlds.

When an older piano has not been tuned for many years and has dropped by more than a 1/4-step overall, the tuner must consider whether or not to bring the piano up to “concert pitch” or just to tune the piano to itself, leaving the overall pitch level as is.  This is something I was never taught; I just came to understand it in my worlds, so I don’t truly know what other tuners think about it.  Generally, I do not bring pianos up more than a 1/4 step unless I know the owner either has absolute pitch herself or will be using the piano along with a fixed-pitch instrument such as a wind instrument.  (Guitars and other strings can always tune down to match the piano.)  Increasing the tension too much on 200-some-odd strings can have a drastic effect on the pin block, and in any event the tuning job is unlikely to have much staying power.  For concert pianos, fixing on an absolute standard is important, but for home pianos, the main thing is tuning a piano to itself.

The only intervals tuned “beatless” (i.e., no out-of-tune “waver” that one only hears when really paying attention to pitch) are the octaves near the middle of the piano.  (See two paragraphs down for more detail.)  All other intervals are to have some “out of tuneness.”  For instance, the fourth from A to D (straddling middle C) is to “beat” roughly one time per second.  Thirds and sixths near the middle of the piano should beat roughly 6-7 times per second.

Fifths are tuned “narrow,” or just inside “beatless,” and fourths, “wider” than beatless.  If you take one of these the wrong way and don’t realize it, before you extend into the outer octaves, you’ve got yourself a tuning mess.  It’s more difficult to fix that than to tuna fish.  (Yep, pun intended.)

This paragraph should be notable for all serious musicians and maybe a bunch of others, too. . . .  Octaves that are some distance from the middle can be (for me, at least) much harder to tune, believe it or not, than thirds, fourths, or fifths.  Although from an acoustical vantage point the frequency of the upper note is exactly double that of the lower note and an octave is assumed to be “beatless,” the ear in our era (that was phonetically awkward) hears relatively high “perfect”octaves as flat in the context of actual music.  Therefore, the octaves must be stretched by a cent or two in order to make them sound in tune.  Incidentally, this aural issue also manifests itself in the tuning of, e.g., flutes and piccolos in an ensemble.  Flutists who spend a lot of time with electronic tuners must often reorient their ears to listen to pitch in an ensemble context.

The physical technique of using the tuning hammer is an acquired skill and cannot be described easily in writing.  The “hammer,” by the way, is used mostly as a wrench but also can, in uncommon circumstances, double as a hammer to tap a slightly loose pin into the block.  This is a bad idea for a novice.

Humidity control and temperature control are important for a piano’s health.  Rust is the weapon of a piano’s mortal enemy.  If a tuner breaks a string, it’s a major event to put a new one on.  (It’s like 25 times harder than a guitar string.  I have sworn off ever installing a piano string again, so I am very careful to loosen any possibly rusted strings before tightening them, thus reducing the chance of breakage.  I think I would sacrifice my entire tuner fee to pay someone else to put on a new string before I would ever do it again.)

Additional bits:
Old pianos may or may not be more difficult to tune.  It depends on factors such as the make, the humidity quotient, the quality of the pin block, whether some hack has yanked obliquely on the pins instead of gently loosening and tightening.  Some pianos seem to be open to the tuner’s nudgings, locking in fairly easily, whereas some instruments are stubborn, requiring more muscle and a lot of stick-to-it-iveness.

Yes, the blind piano tuner is a cliché, and I was acquainted with one of those (who also rode a motorcycle and was a water-skier, I heard).  For my part, as my eyes age, it’s becoming somewhat difficult to see the groups of two and three strings as I need to insert the rubber mutes here and there.  If my sense of touch were as good as a blind tuner’s, it might be easier.

It’s not a good idea to tune a piano when you have a headache or a sore shoulder or elbow.

Image result for human earA tuning technique that relies heavily on the ears is to be preferred over a solely electronic method.  It’s not just a matter of tuner pride, either.  In my estimation and experience, the few who tune exclusively with electronic devices are more likely to end up with a lifeless instrument.  (See octaves paragraph above.)  Technologies devices may certainly be used.  I use both a tuning fork and an electronic tuner at some points.  Still, the able human ear is probably the best at hearing pitch-producing strings that will later be used in musical sounds.

Next in series:  intonation and ensembles

An abbreviated life with pitch (3a – piano tuning)

Having begun here, and continued here, I’m continuing a personal chronicle related to musical pitch.  Since piano tuning so absolutely focuses on pitch, it seems reasonable to give this activity an entire installment to itself.


Sometime during my later high school years, my mom noticed an ad in a tech college circular, and I was soon signed up for an adult-ed piano tuning course.  In that pre-internet era, it really wasn’t possible to find and acquire one’s own set of tuning tools; you had to have a “guy” as a go-between.  The course instructor was a guild-certified technician and a good teacher, too, and he hooked about eight of us up with a starter tool set.

My parents, overly ambitious on my behalf and theirs, were thinking  I could help put myself through college by tuning on the side.  I did actually tune a few pianos for Harding University faculty and staff, but the money only bought a few textbooks (which were a tiny fraction of the cost back then).  I think I spent more time touching up both my grandmothers’ pianos and a few of the Music Department’s instruments for free than tuning for hire.  I digress.

Back to tuning a piano.  I suppose my parents knew I had a reasonable ear for pitch, but it was soon to be developed in much finer detail through the course, which I think met for eight or ten weeks.  I still have a repair/service book and a few notes.  This instructor advocated the aural method, and I still do, too.

These days, I can drive myself crazy trying to get things perfect (with finite skills, you know; more skilled, experienced tuners might not feel this way) whereas very few people would notice much difference if I were to spend just half the time.  I’ve probably tuned 200 different pianos, and add 50 repeats to that:  a few families at church in DE; the Three Little Bakers dinner theatre’s banquet room; a church building in Belfast, NY; various school pianos.  Each piano is unique, and many times I have left one in a state that was unsatisfactory to me, but only once in my time have I known of a customer dissatisfied with my tuning, and she was really unhappy.

The process of tuning a piano (here, based largely on how I learned in that tech college course) goes something like this:

  1. Check the instrument out to see how much work is ahead of you.  Play a little ditty.  Check a few octaves and chords and tenths.  (Side benefit:  you can tell the piano owner, “Naw, it’s not that bad.  I’ve heard lots worse.”)
  2. Open the lid, take off the cover, unscrew the thingies and those other whoozywhatzits (there must be 34 different designs of piano covers!) so you can reach what you need to reach.
  3. Shoo the owner away diplomatically with the admonition “this can get really annoying to listen to, so you might not want to be that close for long.”  Then hope against hope that she will not have children crying on the pitches you’re trying to tune—or worse, that she will be unloading a dishwasher (the clinking and clanking of flatware and plates are the worst distractions!  Oh, yeah—and barking dogs, especially the little yippy ones.)
  4. Install the long red felt strip in between the strings of the temperament octave (which sometimes doesn’t have very good temperament and isn’t really an octave . . . sort of like the “Holy Roman Empire,” which is none of the three).  This strip effectively mutes the outer strings of each group of three so the tuner can first tune the middle string to a standard. tuningfelt
  5. Use a tuning fork or an electronic tuner to tune the middle string to A-220 (22o MHz, just below middle C).
  6. Tune alternating fifths and fourths within the so-called “temperament,” something like this—with the first letter representing the lower note in each pairing (pianists, use one hand to simulate the playing of these notes):
    1. A and E, then B and E, then B and F#, C# and F#, C# and G#, D# and G#, D# and A#.
    2. Then A# becomes Bb in my mind, and I tune the lower Bb to the Bb (A#) I just tuned.  I check that against Eb, which is the same D# I tuned a couple minutes ago.  I then repeat a similar pattern, heading downward by a half-octave or so:  Bb and Eb, then Ab and Eb, then Ab and Db, then Gb and Db.  Now check the Gb against the upper F#, which of course is also Gb.  (Etc.  There are lots of checks and balances.  I almost always find one or more intervals out of tune.)
    3. As a double-check, compare a series of ascending thirds near middle C.  They should sound roughly the same, with each successive one beating ever-so-slightly faster than the one below.  If one sounds more “in tune” than the next lower one, you have a problem somewhere that will find you out.
    4. [See below for specifics on how the 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths are supposed to sound.]
  7. After the temperament area (defined somewhat according to the particularly piano, but never starting below D2 (below middle C) and never extending above E4 (two octaves above that) is set, begin to tune octaves outward from the middle of the piano.  I find it helpful to tune 15 or 20 tones “northward,” subsequently giving my ear tuning-mutesa break by tuning some down south, then returning to the upper stretches of the piano.
  8. As one works toward the extremes, he will run out of felt strip even if two are used.  Toward the top end, and always at the bottom end where each tone has only two strings, the use of rubber mutes, such as those pictured here, is a must.

Next:  Further key aspects yep, pun intended) of piano tuning (this has gotten too long)

A few minutes with some Mennonites

A few Sunday mornings ago, I took an hour-long ride to visit a conservative Mennonite group.  I had met a nice, bonneted woman selling baked goods at the Farmer’s Market, and she told me where to find them.  It was way in the middle of nowhere, as they say, but it was a nice, 10-year-old, spacious, well-kept building.  Here are a few observations.

Some things are the same but different. . . .

I heard some issues with vocal pitch, but they were more along the lines of crooning and slip-sliding whereas flatting and flat-out singing-out-of-key are more prevalent in a cappella Church of Christ groups.  In this 100-person Mennonite church, intra-congregational intonation was the best I’ve ever heard.

The Bible is certainly emphasized in both groups, both in Bible classes and in the assembly proper.  In the former setting, the Mennonites traveled along similarly out-of-context tangents and loops, although the specific commentary had a distinct, other-worldly flavor.  That is to say:  (1) these Mennonites were other-worldly themselves, and (2) their dialogue compellingly emphasized the over-arching, compelling Kingdom of God and their place in it, and their interest in bringing others into the Reign.  I take #1 as something between neutral and mildly undesirable, whereas I take #2 as convicting and absolutely to be desired.

Both groups have a plurality of teacher-pastors.  Both seem to use relational terms such as “brother,” “sister,” and “Christian”  frequently.

And some things are more different than same. . . .

One notable difference in a conservative Mennonite church is the seating:  men are all on one side, and women, on the other.  (I shouldn’t make a deal out of which side was which, because, assuming the leader’s lectern represents God’s vantage point, the women were on the “goat” side.  I once had a similar communication issue with hanging “I Am” and “Jesus the Messiah” banners.  I digress.)  In thinking that anyone would actually have men and women separate in this day and age, most “modern” (and I use that term advisedly) people, Christian or not, will shake their heads in disbelief or disapproval, but the idea of sitting that way merits some consideration.  Think of the better teen focus when no one is holding hands with the girlfriend of the month.  Think of  the “divide and conquer” that can occur in terms of parenting when men have their little sons and women have the daughters.  And think of the solidarity in terms of vocal range and voice parts.  The sound is surely enhanced by a sense of strength in numbers.

There were more coats and ties on the Mennonite men, but not all.  (In any CofC building in my last 15 years, groups are down to something between 0 and 15% wearing a coat and/or a tie.  Baptists are probably about the same.)  Pants were mostly black or navy, but a couple had tan pants on.  I saw only black shoes.  All the women were in dresses, as expected.  Children behaved better and still had great personalities.  I would be naturally drawn to some of the families as I observed them.

Only the KJV Bible was used, but I couldn’t help feeling that that practice was more a subconscious, old-world habit than a conscious translation choice.

I believe all three pastors were on the stage, and I didn’t know what to make of that, because not all of them were really active per se.  It was as though they were collectively “watching over the flock.”  I would like to think they did that through the week in more meaningful ways.

A more subtle yet deeper difference was in what I would call a “thoughtful waiting” that characterized so many aspects and events.  In Bible class, at least seven or eight different men spoke up at one time or another, and I noticed that there was some silence after each comment, as though everyone habitually considered everything that was said.  Also, a couple of seconds transpired between stanzas of songs and hymns.  I’ve heard that this is the habit in British churches of various stripes.  It was almost awkward for me, but I think it would be worth getting used to.  The quality of the sung thoughts was, not incidentally, much greater and deeper than the aggregate in any Church of Christ I’ve experienced in a long time—and at least on par with other church groups of which I’m aware.

As indicated above, the Mennonites emphasize being in the world but not of it.  They are pilgrims.  (And that is an eminently biblical view, of course.)  They pray more, and most prayers included kneeling.

They have their pet phrases, just as people of other denominations.  One that I heard at least a dozen times, in conjunction with handshakes, was a hearty “Welcome here!”  I believe they meant it.  And I did feel welcome.  I plan to return for singing one evening this winter.

For a few observations from a Mennonite pamphlet, please see my other blog here.

Bibliology bits 3: context, instructions, and design

biblicalbooksThis post continues from prior ones in which I briefly discussed books and literature types, and then canons and versions.

On contextS
A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared that the primary teaching pastor at his church had recently committed what I consider a major instructional infraction:

While delivering a message on how to study the Bible, historical and cultural contexts were treated at some length, but no attention at all was given to a book-level, paragraph-level, or even “verse”-level look at the literary context.  

What passed for “literary context” was really only a nod to the historical setting in which the document was originally penned.


Let it be noted here that the friend referenced above has a terminal degree in NT biblical studies, and the teaching pastor, of approximately the same age, is well down the road toward his own doctorate in Hebrew and OT.  What the one knows and understands about overall emphasis in text study should also be what other knows and understands.  And the latter very well may know and understand it.  The problem is that he missed a golden opportunity as a public teacher to emphasize literary context!

It makes sense that literary context should be considered primary in biblical studies.  Historical, cultural, sociological, and theological studies may undergird and will be of great interest, but what is actually in the text is more fundamental—and almost always a more objective enterprise.  Pursuit of the literary context should therefore be considered ahead of the pursuit of other contexts.  I might put rhetorical and discourse analysis methods in a tool bucket (along with selected reference tools) to be used as part of contextually aware studies.  Knowledge of the syntax of the original language is indispensable.  (Personally, I have only enough grasp of Greek syntax to know how important it is.)  There is always more to learn about the words and sentences and “paragraphs.”  The point here is that intensified contextual awareness is fundamental when seeking to understand a document.

On instructionS
The number of instructions (reputedly 613) in the Hebrew Torah is daunting.  The number of superimposed rabbinic teachings (Talmud, etc.) is positively dizzying.

It doesn’t surprise me that Christians would fall into the habit of looking at the “New Law” in the same legal terms, but it does surprise me that any of us would defend that habit explicitly.  In the words of Danny Gamble, a neighborhood boy from my childhood, “What are ya—dumb or sump’n?”  (He was talking about my family’s habit of praying before meals.  His rude-yet-innocent comment speaks much better to stupid human tricks such as creating a new legalism.)

There are matters on which God has spoken, of course.

There are also matters about which people wish God had instructed.

And there are quite a few matters about which people claim God instructed us—but the supposed instruction sometimes turns out to be trumped-up, or even bogus.

I won’t specify things I think fall into any of these three categories, because I might get in trouble with some people I respect. 🙂

On design
The structure and design of biblical documents is typically overlooked.  This post (from a year and a half ago) laments the tendency of very good, otherwise spiritually minded people to ignore text design in favor of what turns out to be a faux devotional vantage point.

Even when structure is to some extent in view, it is rarely understood and applied very thoroughly in local churches.  We may affirm that (literary) context is king, but even those public teachers who pay lip service to context will rarely spend appropriate time dealing with its significance.

Here are a few examples/comments:

The structure of Psalm 119 famously involves an acrostic design (based on Hebrew letters).  The literary structure is obvious, aiding understanding of this piece’s origin and possible its intent.

The structure of Paul’s brief letter to Philemon is clear, making the thrust of the message quite impossible to ignore in Greek, although it rarely if ever shows itself in English Bibles or in Bible classes.  Although richly provocative clues reside in the Greek, if more disciples would merely take more time with the English, truly studying this document instead of dismissing it as a nice story about a former slave, the document would speak volumes.  Loudly.

I’m somewhat acquainted with the structure of both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, but I would have to say that it’s required many years and great opportunities to come to understand only a little of their design.  In other words, the structure of a more lengthy document requires deeper, more extended experience.  I am currently engaged in Matthew studies.  Every step of the way, I learn something that enhances my understanding of this text.

Knowing how these documents are put together—how they are designed—is key in coming to understand their emphases.

There is so much more.  The Bible is a lifelong pursuit but must not be seen as an end in itself.  To conclude this series on perhaps a lighter note, I think I’ll soon post a survey about word frequency, i.e., “how many times is X word found in the NT?”

Bibliology bits 2: canons and versions


The last bibliology post focused on the composition of the bible:  it is multiple books, not one, and it includes various literature types.  This installment is perhaps less significant for many of my readers; if you only have time for one or two installments in this series, skip this one . . . or continue for a few more moments in consideration of (1) the place of specific documents within the whole, and (2) Bible versions.

On canonS
“Canon” (not “cannon”—that’s a weapon!) is a rule, measure, or means of measuring.  (For a broader perspective on the word, try this page.)  The widely recognized biblical canon includes a grouping of documents all of which have been measured and subjected to rules of sorts.  It is commonly assumed that there is but one books-of-the-Bible canon, but the picture is actually more complex than that.

The current, widely accepted Protestant canon is . . . well, widely accepted but not beyond question.  Being a neo-Protestant who wishes always to be engaged in reforming and growing, I care comparatively little about ensconcing my understandings within a supposedly static canon recognized by religious bodies for centuries.

I’m much more interested in ascertaining what I can about the authenticity and provenance of a single document/book.  Partly as a result of that concern, I end up spending little to no time with some Bible books and a great deal of time with others.  (It’s not that non-canonized¹ books are necessarily of less value to me where I am; it’s just that there’s only so much time and energy.)  I’ve come to understand that there are some documents not included in our Bibles that nevertheless have an impressive history of inclusion in other canons or that simply have been understood as authentic, somewhat authoritative literature from a faith community (ex:  1 and 2 Maccabees, the Didache).

As one becomes more thoroughly familiar with an individual biblical document, he or she may form educated opinions as to its veracity, its significance, and its place in one or more canons.  Personally, I have less knowledge of OT canonical selection (but tend to be curious as the inclusion of a couple of books, all the while wondering why a couple others are not there).  In the case of the NT, I would have no trouble if three or more letters were excluded.

The very proposition of canon seems rather stiff, actually, and a bit artificial.  As scholarship² expands (or shrinks), perhaps a more fluid view of authenticity and canon would be advantageous, although I doubt anything theologically significant would suddenly emerge.

On versionS
My 2nd grader Jedd was checking out a book I had sitting out.  Noting the wording on the cover—The New Testament in Modern English—I asked him a question.

Me:  “Do you know what ‘modern’ means”?
Jedd:  “Yes.  It means ‘new-ish.'”
Me (smiling):  “Yep, that’s it.  Good job.  That Bible was actually published about 60 years ago, so it was ‘modern’ then.”
Jedd:  (happy to have learned, as usual) Oh.

Which version(s) of the Bible should I use?  Which is/are best?  These questions are always with us.  One thing on which most reasonable people agree is this:  the use of multiple versions can provide insight.  New is not always better, and neither is old, but a variety of wordings can aid immeasurably.

When encouraged by a teacher (of a study program just getting underway) to read Matthew’s gospel, “preferably in a new version,” I took it to heart and began in a version I haven’t spent much time in lately:  the one mentioned above.  Colloquially known as the “Phillips version,” this is an expansive paraphrase translation in picturesque British English.  And I tend to like it.  But I don’t read it all the time, and I certainly wouldn’t depend solely on it.

Those who lean on one translation to the exclusion of others may experience significant theological slants and may also deprive themselves of moving outside assumptive confines.

Next and last in this series:  contexts, instructions, and design

¹ The process of “canonizing” people, and thereby making them seem to be on a different level with God and other people, would appear to involve a linguistically justifiable—but distinctly biblically unjustifiable—use of the word “canonize.”

² Scholarship in biblical studies (and related fields) is oh-so-significant, and I wish three large groups of people recognized scholarship’s significance as well as the realities of well-attested, ancient texts:  (1) agnostics, (2) atheists, and (3) about 97% of churchgoers.

An abbreviated life with pitch (2)

Having begun here, I’m continuing a personal chronicle related to musical pitch (vibration frequency).

I was blessed to have had musical instruction earlier than most.  Never a prodigy, I was however privileged and advanced, being around singers and pianists, and having the opportunity to start playing a wind instrument before I turned 9.

I recall that high school friends would “test” me by playing a note on the piano to see if I could name it.  Another student had an absolute sense of pitch ingrained, and I did not, but I could still guess within a half-step most of the time.  Part of that ability involved what I think would be termed “audiating” (hearing in one’s head without sound):  I would sort-of pre-sing a tone, feeling where it “lay” in my voice.  I could approximate how middle C felt to sing, or a D below that—or a Bb, that ever-droning tuning note for bands.

tuning-forksFacility with singing led to facility with the use of a tuning fork.  Using such a thing as a basis for finding other pitches is a mystery to some, and I have viewed its use as a source of some small pride.  (Those who used a lower-class pitch-finder, a “pitch pipe,” resided somewhere down the totem pole from my branch, I came to think.  It was impossible to be discreet with the cheap, honking sound of the pitch pipe, which I came to despise.)  The standard tuning fork vibrates at 523.3 MHz, which happens to have been designated a C.  The collection above is 5/6 of mine.  I have two cheap C forks (the silver-colored ones), a British Standard C (there on top), the Bb and G forks, which a friend picked up for me in England about 20 years ago, and a British Standard A that stays in my piano tuning bag.

In each a cappella chorus at Harding University, there had to be a means of starting a piece together.  In my particular chorus, a student was the pitch giver, and when I arrived as a freshman, the designee was Jan Sykes, who became a friend.  Jan sang a clear, strong first alto and was a conscientious, capable pitch giver.  (She also played euphonium well.  I’ve always felt that, all other things being equal, instrumentalists would have a more solid sense of pitch than singers who did not have instrumental abilities and experience.)  Jan graduated, and the following fall, the tuning fork job was given to me.  For the next two and a half years, I was the pitch-giver in a group something like this one (bad audio, bad video, but you’ll get the idea).

I obsessed about the pitch-giving role just a bit, never wanting to err.  As memory serves, we used the piano as a pitch standard at some points during some rehearsals, but I would have had my tuning fork at the ready for every rehearsal.  And for every piece we sang in a concert, I gave the pitch.  Sometimes, announcements would run long, or my obsessiveness overshadowed reasonableness, and I would have to strike the tuning fork on my knee or a knuckle several times before feeling I had it in my head well enough to hum it the pitch loudly enough for it to be heard through the chorus.  As a bass, I was near the center, on the next to back row, so I was well positioned.

Once, I remember giving a pitch that was a step off.  I don’t know what had gotten into me.  A few of my chorus friends noticed it but they didn’t give me too hard a time about it.  I don’t think the director noticed it, either.  Most other times, I’m sure I was a few cents off from true pitch, but only a person with absolute pitch would have known.

I became very confident with a tuning fork during college and used one regularly for years to come, leading singing in Church of Christ buildings through the 90s and even at camp.  During the 1990s with the performing octet Lights, I used a fork but sometimes set up medleys that would not require giving a new pitch for each song.  For the last dozen years or more, I have had fewer occasions to need a tuning fork, but I still have an attachment to the little things.  I could readily find my collection this morning!

One more bit from college before finalizing this installment.  I distinctly recall when marching band season was over in my freshman year, and we began to rehearse more artful music indoors.  It was concert band time, and I liked it a lot more than marching band.  The head drum major, Bill, moved to the saxophone section  from the drum major podium and played a very fine alto.  The horns sat in front of the saxes on the west side of the band room, and I was directly in front of Bill.  I commented one day that I liked playing near him, because I had a good intonation model behind me.  It was satisfying and worthwhile to try to play in tune with Bill.

My love of fine intonation has continued to this day.

Next:  tuning pianos

An abbreviated life with pitch (1)

I had an abbreviated pitching career — pitching a grand total of maybe 30 relief innings from age 11 Sports, Baseball, Pitcher, Child, Petto age 15.  I never had a great arm, but I suppose my control was in the 80th percentile or so in my age group.

I also had a summer of sales pitches, after my freshman year in college.  I sold cookware.  These days, I am so repelled by sales pitches that I would probably go on welfare instead of taking a cold-calling sales job.

Construction worker putting the asphalt roofing (shingles) with nail gun on a large commercial apartment building developmentI also had an abbreviated experience with the pitch on a roof.  That is the last time I will ever roof.  I have no idea how anyone older than 25 can do that for a living.  Stephen and I really nailed it (pardon me), but roofing ages a body!  (Plus, it is over my head.)

This serial essay will not be about any of those kinds of pitching, though.  This will be a sort of chronologue of experiences with musical pitch—or vibration frequency, if you prefer.  I hope a few of you find it interesting.

Since my mom is a fine pianist, and since I grew up with (a much lesser) pianism myself, I suppose my sense of pitch was based somewhat on equal temperament.  However, I learned to sing alto in church at a relatively young age, and there were no fixed-pitch (or any other) instruments involved there, so my developing sense of intonation was probably more . . . ahem . . . fine-tuned than it would have been if I had had no a cappella experiences.

As a 4th grader, I was chosen to play the horn.  (Yes, it’s best known simply as the horn, not the French horn, although I admit the generic label creates confusion and the need for further specification.)  I believe that selection had something to do with Mr. Kosc’s finding that I could perceive pitch better than most my age.  It is notoriously difficult for young horn players to know whether they are on the correct pitch since the horn’s partials in its typical playing range are closer together than they are with other brasses.  As a result, there are lots of jokes about horn players hitting the wrong notes.  I have hit lots of wrong notes in my time, but I almost always immediately know it when I do.  Pitch is something I can hear.

I actually remember very little about my sense of pitch prior to college, but I do remember taking a quantum leap in understanding the relationship of pitches in complex chords during jazz improvisation class and in a combo with Mr. Byerly (who, incidentally, had played with the Jimmy Dorsey Band).  The ability to perceive in-tune chords, it seems to me, is most notably enhanced by experience with the piano (and secondarily, the guitar).

I also remember reveling in the blends of barbershop harmony with Mike, Charlie, and Andy.  After the first two graduated, Charlie and I sang with Mark and Tim and maybe someone else.  Memories fade, but those guys were all fine musicians, and we had high school quartets with the rare ability to sing relatively difficult music in tune.  It was much later that I experienced an almost pleasant sort of inner-ear pain when hearing top-shelf barbershop groups hold out perfectly in-tune chords with no vibrato.  Those overtones can be amazing!

Speaking of overtones, the father of one of my college friends had a particularly keen ear for them.  He also had the skill and materials to make tuning forks, and he passed along that skill to his son Steve.  I learned to use a tuning fork when I was a young teenager and began leading singing (again, with no instruments) in church, youth, and Christian camp gatherings.  And those experiences led to some college music experiences with pitch . . . which I’ll share in the next installment.