Comparing two Mozart chamber works in Bb

As I set out to make a surface-level comparison of two Mozart works, I will first make two background observations.  First, an 18th-century composer’s choice of key was often quite intentional.  Each key was considered unique and had its own connotations of mood/affect.¹  For instance, C and D, although only a step apart, would have suggested different moods: the first, perhaps pompous and regal; the second, more exuberant and joyous.  Therefore, my choice of two works in the key of Bb makes for a closer comparison than works conceived in different keys.

Second, it may be interesting to know that, in some of the chamber scorings of Mozart’s culture (e.g., string quartets, wind sextets, and later, wind octets), wind instruments were most often heard in pairs.  Moreover, this was not “classical” music in any stuffy, go-to-a-concert sense.  Chamber music was typically more casual evening entertainment for large, well-to-do homes.  Compositions for these ensembles bore a variety of names such as Serenade, Partita, Divertimento, Cassation, and Notturno (Nocturne).  The minuet (menuet, minuetto) frequently shows up in this kind of suite since folks apparently liked to dance it.

  1. Mozart’s Cassation in Bb, K. 99 was written in 1770.  The work, scored for string quartet plus pairs of oboes and horns, comprises seven movements, including an opening march and two minuets.  It lasts approximately twenty minutes.
  2. Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in Bb, K. 361 was written ten years later and is known as the “Gran Partita.”  This latter work, scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns (something like an alto clarinet), bassoons, and contrabassoon or upright bass) is still frequently performed and is widely considered to be among Mozart’s two or three masterworks for the medium.  This work also includes seven movements, including two minuets and a theme/variations movement.  It lasts approximately fifty-five minutes.

Below is a listing of the movements titles in each work with rough tempo markings.  It should be noted that, in the 18th century (and beyond), movement title words such as “Moderato” and “Largo” were not taken as mere tempo markings, though.  These words originally designated a great deal more than tempo.  For instance, “Allegro” was not only moderately fast; it was lively and cheerful.  With that said, I present the tempo numbers below as reasonably indicative of common practice.  They are, within a beat or two per minute, those used by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, respectively.²  In the context of comparison, the numbers can reveal a kind of tempo “shape” of each work as a whole.

Cassation, K. 99 Tempo & Meter Serenade, K 381 Tempo & Meter
I.  Marche 124 duple-compound I.  Largo – Allegro Moderato 56 (8th note) duple 152 duple
II.  Allegro Molto 144 duple II.  Menuetto 108 triple
III.  Andante 60 duple III.  Adagio 72 duple
IV.  Menuet 148 triple IV.  Menuetto – Allegretto 144 triple
V.  Andante 50 duple V.  Romanze – Adagio 66 8th note – 92 duple
VI.   Menuet 152 triple VI.   Tema Con Variazione 72 duple
VII.  Allegro – Andante – Allegro – Andante – Marche 120 duple |    60 duple compound | 120 duple |  60 duple compound |  124 duple-compound VII.  Rondo 140 duple

I might observe a few things in analyzing the performance tempos and character of the movements of each work.  First, the strict numbers themselves are not always indicative of the tempo or the feel.  In some cases, as in the example shown here, there is a lot of “black” on the page of music—generally meaning there are many 8th and 16th notes in the parts, leaving little white space—yet the basic pulse unit may be quite slow.  Above, I also note the pulse groupings in twos or threes.  For example, a duple andante that gives way to a faster, triple minuet shows variety and contrast.

One may also observe balance and even symmetry.  In the Cassation, the work quite obviously comes full circle:  the “Marche” music heard at the beginning is quoted at the end of the 7th movement.  The even-numbered movements of this work are all relatively fast, while movements 3 and 5 are the slowest.  The minuet (menuet or menuetto) tempi are intriguing in their own right; these four minuets exhibit at least three different moods.  There is more to the technical makeup of minuets than this, but generally, a slower minuet may be considered more courtly and/or stately, whereas a faster one often connotes peasant or country dancing of the time.  The most subdued, elegant minuet of the four would be Movement III of the Serenade, being performed at roughly 72 pulses per minute.

In music of this period, tempo and key tend to be related.  For instance, rarely would one find an Allegro (generally “lively”) in C minor, because C minor carries a funereal association and wouldn’t be performed in a moderately fast, lively manner.  Keep in mind that most works of art music in this time modulate to different keys as a matter of course, but note below the primary key of each movement.

Cassation, K. 99 Key Serenade, K 381 Key
I.  Marche Bb I.  Largo – Allegro Molto Bb
II.  Allegro Molto Bb II.  Menuetto (courtly) Bb-Eb-Bb
III.  Andante Eb III.  Adagio Eb
IV.  Menuet Bb-F-Bb IV.  Menuetto – Allegretto Bb-F-Bb
V.  Andante Bb V.  Romanze – Adagio Eb
VI.   Menuet Bb-Eb-Bb VI.   Tema Con Variazione Bb (includes minor)
VII.  Allegro – Andante – Allegro – Andante – Marche Bb VII.  Rondo Bb

Both works come full circle in terms of key, and that is no surprise.  Each creation is successful and worthwhile.  (That may go without saying for Mozart, but it is not always the case with even the best composers.)  The Cassation was the product of a 14-year-old prodigy, and the Serenade was written when the composer was 24; the latter work does seem to manifest more maturity, more depth.  Its tempi and character show a greater range of emotion:  the opening Largo is deeper, and the presence of an adagio, in comparison to the andantes of the Cassation, seems to reveal a progression in Mozart’s explorations.  Moreover, the Theme and Variations, sometimes an exercise through which a composer challenges himself to be creative, was (wisely? ³) not included in Mozart’s teen work.  The Serenade’s Rondo is a rollicking finale that might not have been as effective if written ten years before.

Both these Mozart chamber works could have provided good “dinner music” for a wealthy family (and guests) in the Austrian countryside, and I’m glad I get to experience them still today—sometimes, during my own dinner.  I listen to these and other Mozart chamber works multiple times every year, and that is saying a lot for a guy who’s not really a Mozart aficionado and who has as many listening options as I have on hand!  Within the next two or three years following the “Gran Partita,” Mozart would go on to write a Serenade in Eb and the Serenade in C Minor.  The Serenade in Eb contains some truly sublime chamber music, and I consider it a chamber-music must-listen for the true music lover with any breadth of taste.


¹ Arguably, this sensibility stemmed from the non-equal-tempered tuning of the time.

² In actual performances not governed by electronics, there will naturally be some variation in tempo.  Also, it bears mention that there were no metronomes of any kind in the time of Mozart, so there was no absolute standard, although historical research has shown generally acceptable windows for most such markings.

³ I myself wrote an elementary Theme and Variations for Horn Quartet as a college student, and it’s not very good.

Conductors from whom I’ve learned

This post is a tribute to influential conductors.  I’ve learned things from all of these; in some cases, the impact has been broad and deep.

I’ll start with men I never had the opportunity to learn from in person but whose conducting has, in one way or another, had strong impact on me.  Of the conductors I have only seen on video, three deceased men rise to the top as those I would like to have learned from, had I the opportunity:

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Carlos Kleiber

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Leonard Bernstein

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Frederick Fennell

Kleiber is perhaps most admirable for his depth of score knowledge (albeit, reputedly, with a limited repertoire) and ability to show the music’s character; Bernstein and Fennell, perhaps for their unbridled passion and command.  If I knew his work better, one living composer might fall into a similar category for me:

Gustavo Dudamel

I played or sang under these next two only once or twice, back in the 1990s.  Those occasions are now in my distant memory, so I am not altogether sure how I would assess them as conductor-musicians at this point:

Mary Woodmansee Green
Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Green and Harth-Bedoya have the distinction of being conductors who had multiple, standing appointments (as opposed to being a principal guest or regular guest conductor) in different cities.  That always struck me as a goal to which to aspire, but I’m not so sure anymore.  A life of perpetual flux and travel is not very desirable.

Of all those conductors under whom I have performed on a regular basis for some period of time, the next two seem the most exemplary to me at this juncture.  One is deceased, another in his seventies.  Their personalities were markedly different, and I learned very different things from them in vastly different scenarios and phases of life.  In their respective idioms and milieux, they were strong leaders and rehearsers, and they both had impact on me:

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Kenneth Davis, Jr. (Harding University)
Robert Streckfuss (University of Delaware)

There have been many conductors that I do not feel I have learned much from.  Some of these seem to be viewed by others as iconic, and at times, I have been unable to discern why.  Other times, I happen to have had similar skill sets and values, so I didn’t particularly take anything from them.  I suspect the strengths of some lie not in conducting per se, but more in their musicianship or program leadership effectiveness or administration than in their conducting and artistry on the podium.  I will not list names in this category, because it is not my desire here to be critical of any individuals in the slightest.  There are actually two or three from whom I learned negative lessons, i.e., “Brian, do not do as s/he did!”  Like many others, I witness unhelpful and/or stylistically inappropriate division of beat, spasmodic gesture, and other nonverbals that should be checked in a mirror or on a video recording.

Other lessons have been interpersonal in nature:  one has consistently modeled, as a gentleman musician, how to treat people with dignity; another once displayed in the starkest terms what a travesty can be made of the communal music-making experience when a conductor shows no human concern or care for what an individual musician is going through in life.

Leaving generalities and negatives behind . . . the next group is short list of conductors whose work has impacted me in unique ways.  They have affected me for good and have been particularly exemplary in one or more respects:

Richard Mayne
Kenneth Singleton
H. Robert “Bob” Reynolds

I never had the opportunity to play under Reynolds, a true prince of conducting pedagogues, but I did spend a little time with him, both personally and in a group.  At summer symposia, he shared a lesson or two I won’t forget.  Here, I honor Reynolds (who taught some who taught me) along with two graduate professors who were and are examples of generosity, teaching, and devotion to music-making and students.

The next list includes a few more I’ve learned from at symposia, plus others I have observed on only one or two occasions.  These conductors strike me as highly artistic, but they have not been specifically formative in my development.

Patrick Casey (no relative)
Steve Davis
Craig Kirchhoff
Cynthia Johnston-Turner
Jerry Junkin
Sarah McKoin

In a couple of the above instances, chronologically distant memories are still strong of impressive, beautiful, controlled gesture, perfectly connected with sound (McKoin and Casey).  For the others, the traits I admire include the humble handling of personal charisma and visible passion.

These last two conductors exhibit different yet overlapping sets of strengths.  Among all those I have played under or observed on multiple occasions, I have learned most from these two, who rise above all the rest, in my estimation.  One knows me, and the other doesn’t.  These are the two most formative, most deeply admired conductors in my experience.  Image result for allan mcmurray

Allan McMurray

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Mallory Thompson

Above, I have opted to show McMurray and Thompson doing one thing they both do very well:  teach younger, aspiring conductors.  In the next post on this topic, I will offer some more detailed praise of these two, as well as the concert offered at the CBDNA conference by Thompson’s ensemble, the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

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Acoustics, concert programming, and the “new band-y”

In hearing nine concerts in the Kaufmann Center’s Helzberg Hall during a period of four days, I began to perceive (I’m stopping short of “concluding”) that wind bands play too much loud music too often, especially when they are trying to impress more than their normal audiences.  Image result for image "helzberg hall"Moreover, the amazing Helzberg Hall may be slightly better for intra-ensemble acoustics (the players can hear each other really well) than for audiences listening to wind and percussion instruments.  Helzberg’s acoustic design, based on the interior of a cello, produces fine results, not to mention being visually appealing, but it can be almost too resonant for the typical dB output of a modern wind band with strong tone and a high performance level.

During the CBDNA conference, I made it a point to sit in four different areas of the hall, and it seemed to me that the wind band sound tended to be the most overwhelming in places that might be assumed to be optimum seating.  Another attendee and I briefly discussed the sound and the concerts, and he suggested the ensembles might have needed more rehearsal time in the hall.  (I observed that one group had at least an hour to do sound checks.)  Another variable could be the artistic leadership and musicianship level of certain groups.  In other words, I think it is the most mature groups with the most discerning leaders that have been the most sonically successful, and the least overwhelming, in the aggregate.

Hearing new repertoire is always a great benefit of Midwest and CBDNA conferences, and this event was no exception.  Despite the overwhelming positives, some of which I will caption below, I think that too much of the new rep tends toward what I might call “the new band-y.”  Stereotypically band-y sonorities of the second half of the twentieth century have their place, and I love some of those pieces, but variety is good—if not to save the ears or delight the senses, then to continue developing the outside world’s perception that wind band music can be artistic music and is not to be relegated to a second-class box behind string or full-orchestral or choral music.  The music of some of these CBDNA concerts struck me as too much “in your face”—too loud, heavy-hitting, and too much brash, full-ensemble texture.  Those accusations (and others, e.g., “humdrum, formulaic compositional technique”) could also be leveled at much of the 1970s and 1980s school band repertoire—a repertoire that in general terms has been pejoratively labeled “band-y” by those of us who want to move toward a richer, more nuanced repertory.  Although no observation here is intended as absolute, I’d say that several of the ensembles featured at the conference could have spent more time exploiting transparent, one-on-a-part chamber textures and softer dynamic levels.  One university performance in particular showed a lack of discerning programming:  stylistic, textural imbalance was evident.  On the up side, some of the in-your-face pieces were very effective and even powerful, but there were simply too many of them.  None of this is to say that the ensembles didn’t have the capacity to play varied kinds of artistic music; it is to suggest that some of them didn’t display enough variety in their programs.

With those criticisms behind, I’d now like to highlight a few positives from some of these programs.  I was enraptured buy a new (transcribed) clarinet concerto¹ by Jonathan Leshnoff and was also wowed by Mason Bates’s 2015 percussion concerto Sideman—both premiered by the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music Wind Ensemble.  This ensemble is now led by Rob Carnochan, a conductor I met in at my first CU-Boulder symposium in 2001, as I was at the dawn of my conducting training.  Here are some other notable pieces on my “yes” list:

MSU

KU

  • BJ Brooks:  The Butterfly Chaser (2016) (YouTube link)
  • Aaron Perrine:  A Glimpse of the Eternal (2016) (an impressive, four-minute work with fanfare figurations)

UMKC

  • Zhou Long:  Concerto for Wind Symphony:  Ancient Echoes (2017)

OSU

UG

UT

  • Adam Schoenberg:  Symphony No. 2:  Migration (with movements about aspects of emigration/immigration)
  • Jennifer Jolley:  The Eyes of the World Are Upon You (2016) (homage to the deceased and survivors of the first mass school shooting on record, at UT in 1966)

Scott McAllister’s Freebirds (2010) didn’t work too well for me; it seemed a gratuitous, vain attempt to bring Lynyrd Skynyrd into the realm of wind instruments.  Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront (1955), transcribed in 2012 by Jay Bocook, was performed by the UMKC Conservatory Wind Symphony and Conservatory Dancers.  This piece does work, and very well!  The performance was one of a kind in spatial and visual terms, and the music was celebratory, energetic, and musical, to boot.  I had the added pleasure of seeing a former student from South Texas perform in this group.

It should be stated that the schools represented above are some of the finest, most highly reputed schools of music in the country:  Michigan State and the universities of Georgia, Texas, Kansas.  (These schools tend to rank alongside the U of Mich, Eastman, the New England Conservatory, U of North Texas, CU-Boulder, Indiana U, and others.)  In a future post, I will treat the concert I considered the best of the entire conference—a Saturday afternoon offering by Northwestern University’s (Chicago) Symphonic Wind Ensemble—specifically appraising two stellar pieces that ensemble performed.


¹ The other clarinet concerto heard during this conference was transcribed by Craig Davis from John Corigliano’s original orchestral version, was performed virtuosically by Jonathan Gunn, but it is not high on my list as a composition.

Blocked content

A Netflix history series caught our eye, and we watched nearly an entire episode, but I decided to quit because of issues related to narration style.

A Social Justice Week lecture by a nationally recognized speaker had much to offer, but I left in the middle—with acute ear pain.  Again, I had to quit because of peripheral issues.

For me, the sound of things can get in the way.  A lot.  Another way to say this is that the content of things can be blocked by side factors.

It can be difficult for me to concentrate on important material when there is a lot of hubbub.

The hum of a machine can drive me up a wall.

I have a tough time listening to voices that speak in grating tones (e.g., overly nasal, very scratchy-sounding, a lot of high overtones) or with monotone pitch, uninteresting declamation, halting/agitated bursts, or unvaried tempo.

At most contemporary-style churches, sound gets in the way for me, too:  maybe it’s bad sound, poorly mixed sound, or just way-too-loud sound (or all three).

When I play an instrument in a group, I sometimes choose to stop playing because of intonation issues.  When I’m distracted and it seems impossible to tune well with the sounds around me, it is better to stop than to add to the problem, I figure.

Various sound factors are distracting, and I can become almost claustrophobic (soniphobic?).  Above, I referred to the history series titled Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.  I didn’t really even know who Oliver Stone was (still don’t know much), but he has a national reputation, which makes his terrible narration habits all the more surprising.  Someone should have taught him how to read aloud!  The narration is so sonically distracting to me that I have trouble concentrating on the information he’s relaying.  He routinely pauses between word-pairs  that are inherently connected:

  • a preposition and its object
  • a verb and its complement
  • an article and the word it attempts to specify
  • the “to” and the other component of an infinitive

90% of the time, he mispronounces “a” as “aye” (never correct) and “the” as “thee” (only correct when the next word begins with a vowel sound).  Arrgghh.  Here are sample extracts with intentional misspellings, forced punctuation, and line-ends that I hope will somehow visually demonstrate the sonic effect:

This went on in . . .

far greater proportion than has ever ||

been officially admitted.

 

Such was their pride:  many refused to || 

evacuate thee ||

city when given thee | 

chance….

 

Stalin now began thee | greatest forced evacuation in …

human history, evacuating some 10 million people to the | east of the || Ural Mountains in Central Asia and | 

Siberia and to thee | South and to |

Kazakhstan

… to rebuild thee | U.S.S.R in a second Industrial Revolution that matched that of thee |

1920s and 30s 

The transfer of thee || greatest part of thee |

Soviet economy was accomplished in two incredible years and by ||

1943, thee |

USSR was the equal of |

any industrial power in Europe.

If the problem wasn’t clear, it could be because you’re used to seeing PowerPoint slides poorly laid out, so try reading a few of the above lines aloud, observing the indicated breaks.  Oliver Stone’s hiccup-infused style blocked a lot of the content for me, raising my blood pressure a couple of points, because I was actually trying to learn something and couldn’t.

John Leonard Harris

Content can become obscured by other sound factors involved in transmission.  Just this afternoon, I intentionally cleared some time so I could go hear a speaker during the local college’s observance of Social Justice Week.  I figured I could use more education and personal connection around civil rights and just treatment of people of color in this country.  The lecture was free and student-organized, and those factors were plusses for me, too.  The speaker’s content turned out to be strong, and he certainly knew how to present, both dramatically and persuasively . . . but whoever was running (or not running) the sound mixer was asleep, deaf, or missing.  My eardrums were bursting, and I simply had to leave.  I could speculate that the rest of the (mostly younger) crowd was more polite or tolerant than I, and that may be true, but it’s equally likely that their ears are simply more damaged than mine since they’ve been using .mp3 players and earbuds since they were this high.  In this case, the sound didn’t entirely obscure the content, but it surely made it difficult to listen to.

Some of my problem with sound (and other peripherals) getting in my way, I’ve come to know, is that my ears are extra sensitive—because of (1) anatomy and (2) musical training.  I’m actually kind of tired of having non-central things get in the way of my experiences, but I can’t change the ear pain, and I wouldn’t trade being a musician for anything . . . so I think I’ll carry earplugs with me more often.  I wish the content weren’t blocked so often, but I can probably also work to become even more adept and comfortable with leaving sonic crime scenes when I need to.

B. Casey, Friday, 2/17/17

Fun music (for a serious musician)

Yes, I consider myself a serious musician.  But that doesn’t mean music isn’t fun for me.

I confess that I get a little smug inside when a teenager says he knows music or is “into music” but hasn’t ever been in a band or a choir or had theory class but maybe had a “music production” class and actually listens to hip-hop on purpose.  Now, you don’t have to know who the “Three Bs” are (NOT the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Boston) in order to love music deeply, and you don’t have to love so-called “classical” music at all, but it does help to be familiar with different types/genres. Also, some comprehension of the basic elements of music (rhythm/duration, melody, harmony, and timbre) can enrich your sense of it and what it takes to create a viable composition. I think much of the public must believe that composing music is nothing more than strumming chords on an electronically tuned guitar or belting out a non-tune with weak rhymes (and maybe hiding your face with a mic so you look cool).  That’s like believing that being a chef is just putting a pizza in the microwave or pouring some canned vegetables into a bowl of chicken broth, turning up the heat, and serving up a cliche, claiming it’s a recipe.

I was starting out to talk about fun music. This might surprise some people who think I’m a serious-minded purist when it comes to music, but actually, I also enjoy me some classic and progressive rock.  Kansas is the go-to when I’m looking for some rock, because most of their songs are interesting compositions. There are some real melodies, some complex harmonies, and a lot of terrific play with mixed and asymmetric meter.  A little less often, I’ll choose Chicago or ELO or Boston or Styx or the Steve Miller Band.  Since I only had about a half-decade of following much popular music, finding a few songs on used albums by REM, Grateful Dead, and Jethro Tull can be a new experience for me.  Yes, one has to be selective lyrics-wise, but the sounds were so much more interesting back then. (Sorta like classic cars — so much more interesting to look at than cars built in the last couple decades. As my wife said once, “No one in 2050 is going to look at a 2005 Corolla and say, ‘What a beautiful car!'”)

I am listening to “Free Bird” right now.  This reminds me that I was once enough of a music geek not only to learn the piano solo in the middle of the long version of “Free Bird,” but also to **write it out on manuscript paper.**  This is not as challenging as a jazz sax aficionado writing out a Parker or Coltrane or Gillespie solo, but it’s a fun fact, and I can still play it. 🙂

Now, my desert island music is more likely to be chamber winds or brass quintets, but lots of different music can be fun.  Tonight, it was the Commodores big band and then Lynyrd Skynyrd.

 

  1. Casey, 2/25/17

The above was originally a Facebook post.  Here are most of the comments made there:

Joachim Reinhuber For me it’s 6 B’s – the three plus Bruckner, Bartok, and Berg 🙂

Brian Casey Interesting. Bruckner is growing on me, and I respect Bartok, but Berg, not so much. 🙂

Randy Runyan I’m not so sure that there isn’t any interesting popular music being created today. One must work harder to find it, perhaps because the digital age has made it so easy to produce.
I’m also quite sure that there was plenty of uninteresting music made in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. (And before). We just don’t hear it much because it is, well, uninteresting.This comment is oversimple; it’s a result of ‘typing’ on a phone. However, I feel that far too many of my friends who are musicians too easily dismiss contemporary music. It’s a shame, because far too many of my students do the same with the music I most enjoy. Perhaps if both groups were able (willing?) to invest the necessary time to find the good stuff, the perceived chasm between the two worlds would seem a mere crack.

Brian Casey I do hear some interesting AND uninteresting music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I find the Beatles overrated and overplayed, for instance, although of course quite a few of their tunes are interesting. I’m sure you’re right that there is interesting music being produced (if not composed) in the 2000-teens. Why is it that every time I’m in a store or restaurant, I’m subjected to the same nothingness and vocal glottal attacks with a slightly varied wrapper? (The answer to that, I suppose), is marketing.
Michael Asbell I don’t know music, but I do know about learning and having a passion for a subject, and I would suggest that you and other music geeks OUGHT to enjoy “fun” music more than the rest of us. You hear more; you understand more; you are more capable of appreciating what’s going on. I would even go so far as to suggest that serious musicians who don’t get this have robbed themselves of one of life’s simple pleasures because they take themselves too seriously. I’ve seen this for years with my wife and son. They know a good deal more about music than your average Joe, so I recognize that they’re better equipped to enjoy whatever’s playing on the radio than I am. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy music a lot. But they can enjoy it more. My full enjoyment and their full enjoyment are not the same. Learning and interests are like that. In a similar vein, lots of people enjoy trees and wildflowers, but I assure you I enjoy them more than 99% of the public. I can’t imagine that ignorance ever leads to a greater enjoyment. Carry on wayward son.
Brian Casey Yeah. Totally w/you about deeper enjoyment’s relationship to deeper knowledge. I guess each person can decide what is “fun” to him/her. My fun music tends to be well-composed, interesting music that’s not very derivative.
Dorothy Lutz I agree with you totally. I know so many people that think they know music but They enjoy what they are listening to or what they are participating in! We can’t educate everyone but we can share our talent with them!
Beth Nie You forgot the people who think playing real instruments should be like Guitar Hero. I’ve actually had parents (yes, more than one…) tell me: “Well, little Snookums here LOVES Guitar Hero and he’s GREAT at it, and now you’re making him re-do his lesson page for trumpet because he didn’t practice enough. Guitar Hero never needs to be practiced, so there’s no reason trumpet should be, you must be teaching wrong.” They’ll be shocked when Mario Kart doesn’t get Snookums his drivers license…
Brian Casey Hahahahahaha! This is wonderfully funny, and I feel your pain nonetheless.
Hannah Beecher “Tango Misterioso” by Pedro Gomez captured my notice almost five years ago when I went through a brief stint of watching “Dancing with the Stars.” (Excuse categories include “pregnancy” and “needing distraction from the question of whether we were about to move or not.”) Lately if I ever find myself in the car alone, my most frequent mental project is to try to put the base part of said tango to solfege. Aural Skills live on in this heart 🙂 I guess all this is to say, I can only imagine that, given more musical training and aptitude, I would only expect to have more fun–at least with complex music.
Brian Casey Aural Skills. Yay! And I like your last sentence a lot. …
Lisa Manning Perhaps ignorance really is bliss. Why must we understand to enjoy? I enjoy a lot of what you might deem inferior because I don’t spend my time analyzing and criticizing it: stars, flowers, pop music. And I’ll take Brubeck over Bach any day.
Brian Casey I suppose there are different levels/types of enjoyment. My enjoyment is deeper and more … well, enjoyable with Kansas than with Boston, for instance, but I can still enjoy the latter. I’d probably agree with you on Brubeck and Bach.

Brian Casey  This has been on my mind and bothering me off and on. I think you misunderstood my intent if not my words, Lisa Manning. I wasn’t trying to say one has to understand in order to enjoy. However, I do embrace my capacity for some analysis as a means to what at times *feels like* deep enjoyment at times.
Overall, I was hoping my tip of the hat to some pop/rock would be taken as just that — not as an appeal for everyone to criticize or to see some music as superior or inferior. For the record, I think Bach is probably just about as mixed as the Beatles. I only own two Brubeck CDs, but I like them a lot. Bach cello suites are excellent to calm the soul, but I had more Bach than I could take during a certain 6 years of my life.

Stan Manning I like Willie.
Brian Casey I can’t even name you three Willie tunes and have always found that curious. Your tastes are varied, so I excuse your Willieness. 🙂
Stan Manning Haha! You have heard HUNDREDS of Willie songs, and have likely played many. Interestingly, he is a highly versed serious jazz guitarist.

Brian Casey Ha. You may be exaggerating my familiarity with the corpus. I would guess I have heard 20, but not a hundred. I’m really pretty ignorant about most popular music. It would be hard to imagine that I’ve heard more of his tunes than James Taylor or Billy Joel, and I don’t think I know more than 40 or 50 of the either of the latter.

Scott Mills This is akin to appreciation of poetry and even movies. I can appreciate the poetic language of poetry without fully understanding the true meaning. I can love a movie for it’s simplistic message and completely miss the meta-narrative that exposes a much deeper treatise on the human condition. In both cases I recognize that I’m not realizing the author’s deepest intention, and I may be the worse for it, but missing their intention doesn’t diminish my own enjoyment of the work.
Brian Casey Somehow I missed this comment earlier. I see your point(s) as important alongside one I was trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to make. I didn’t mean to suggest, because I understand this or that at this or that level, that my enjoyment is superior to someone else’s. Enjoyment is what it is for each person, I suppose. I probably should have been more clear about one or two things I was downplaying. Apologies for that.

 

James D. Wallace I am feeling so much cooler since I know the 3Bs of music and its “more than a feeling”.

Stan Manning Well played!
Stan Manning Brubeck, Byrd, and Basie is my three B’s.

 

Scott Mills Bruce, Browne, and Bonnie for me.
Oh No, and there’s the 3 A’s – Atkins, Alison, and Al. And then… the C’s…
Stan Manning This could be a fun game!
Andy Pearce Can B.B. count as two?
Brian Casey Haha. Only if the Bee Gees count as negative 3.

A lady and her songs

400.  It’s not a magic number, but when it refers to a collection of songs by a single person, it might just elicit a “wow.”

Almost four years ago, an acquaintance had been in touch with a mutually respected undergraduate music professor.  My parents regularly see the same man at church meetings, and the subject of the prior dialogue came up in conversation with him.  Within a couple of weeks I was in contact with Carole, a dear lady, and we began work on her musical creations together.

The backstory:  Carole Obrecht, born in 1935 in rural Indiana, now lives in Nebraska.  Now a widow, a few years ago, she was taken to the hospital with a serious illness (MRSA), and her children were told she had about two weeks to live.  She spent 43 days in the hospital, recovered, and was referred to as “a miracle patient.”  With a new lease on life, about a month later, she experienced a fountain of gratitude in her soul and began composing words and melodies—most of them in the broad category of congregational gospel songs.  Many times she has looked back in amazement at this burst of creativity.  For each song, Carole would eventually

  • type a lyrics sheet (in Word)
  • sing the melody into her computer’s microphone
  • (initially) use her keyboard to devise rudimentary harmony

By the time I got to know her, Carole had created more than 100 songs.  She needed someone to edit and notate them properly for potential church use and for posterity.  That’s where I came in.  It takes a certain complement of proficiency and experience to do this type of work.  I happen to be agile with music notation/engraving, I have some good software, and I know fairly well the kind of music Carole creates.  In the spring of 2013, I also had some extra time available, so Carole sent me a handful of songs, and I began work.  It soon became clear that I would not be able to use her keyboard work as a basis, so I would work out new harmony in all-vocal arrangements.

Carole and I worked with each other patiently (she, all of the time; and me, most of the time) in the early phases, trying to figure each other out.  Almost always by e-mail but periodically by phone, we would discuss this issue or that.  We worked through a standard template (the style, typeface, size of musical staffs, how to show her name, the copyright, my name, etc.).  I believe she still overestimates the limited value of filing her materials with the U.S. Copyright Office, but one of her goals is to make things easy to navigate for her children, should any issue arise, so it’s understandable that she would spend time and money on copyright filing.  Carole has been a perpetual model of consideration and grace in responding and thinking out loud with me, even when she doesn’t quite agree.

Behind the backstory:  When Carole and I began our partnership, I was deep into what I might call a disadvantaged phase of vocational life.  My musical creativity had begun to be squelched and constrained.  I have written more than 100 songs myself and have arranged many more than that, not to mention a sizable catalog of instrumental works, but I’ve had little inspiration to produce music in the last decade.  When one is discouraged, he needs something to do in order to feel useful, and a little extra money would be good, too, but how to negotiate. . . .  Although I had arranged for hire before, I had not engaged in any sort of ongoing relationship.  Carole and I easily reached an agreement under which I would be paid on a per-song basis.  Now that that was out of the way, we moved ahead with the substance.

The process:  I receive a dozen songs at a time, each song consisting in a .docx lyrics file and a .wma audio file.  These are the three phases of work on each creation:

  1. Melodic dictation—listening to Carole’s recorded voice and notating the melody (perhaps 20% of the time spent here)
  2. Harmonic arrangement—writing three underlying voice parts, arranging each song for congregational use (perhaps 50% of the time)
  3. Lyrics insertion—either retyping or reformatting and importing (30%)

carole-listWhen a sheet music draft is complete, I e-mail it to Carole, in the form of a .pdf file with an accompanying .mid sound file for her to listen to.  She will often note words or phrases she wants to change; seeing music and words on a page together can give her new eyes.  (At times, the changes can be extensive, and it’s back to the drawing board, but this is relatively rare.)  A typical song might require 75-90 minutes of initial work on my end, 2-3 e-mail exchanges, and 15-20 more minutes of editing work.  The final steps for each song are (1) my sending edited files (to the left is a group of the .pdf files) and (2) Carole e-mailing to confirm the files are received and saved on her end.

Carole had piano instruction as a young girl and also remembers vocalizing with her mother at the piano.  After childhood, Carole was not trained as a musician.  She hasn’t studied, for instance, any principles of melodic contour or the important balance between unity and variety (so, for example, some melodies are relatively predictable), but she produces some pretty good songs!  Most of them are tuneful and accessible to the average person.  During the process of notation, if I find a measure or two almost like the melody from two lines above, but not quite, I adjust the notes, and Carole is fine with this.  When a melody has too great a range or suggests a nonstandard harmonic progression, I often recommend a change, and most of the time, we move in that direction.  The style of many of the songs tends to reflect the generation in which Carole grew up and perhaps a halcyon sense of congregational singing that is on the decline, but the music is an expression of her genuine faith, and she trusts that the Lord will use the songs according to His pleasure.

A few challenges:  Carole’s voice is remarkably strong, so it’s rarely difficult to take melodic dictation on her tunes.  She has a wide range, but she sometimes starts a song too low for congregational soprano lines.  This doesn’t typically present much difficulty—I just transpose it up two or three steps—unless the melody ranges high as well.  Once in a while, she seems to meander a little, and I suspect such instability is attributable to her having had a cold at the time, or perhaps she was less focused than usual because the next song was on her mind, too.  Sometimes, apparently feeling some out-of-genre expressive impulse, she changes keys midstream; on a few occasions, we have decided to leave the key changes intact in the final product.  (Changing keys is difficult for an a cappella group to navigate.)  Her sense of rhythm is fine but sometimes presents challenges, as do a few other technicalities that require adjustments.

If I can’t figure out how to notate one aspect or another, I just say so, and Carole suggests something else or sometimes goes back to the drawing board herself to record another version of the melody.  My Sibelius music software has some bugs in the way it handles lyrics as they are being imported, matching syllables to notes:  it thinks “trials” has one syllable and “Savior,” three, so I have to manually divide those words and a few other frequently used ones.  The software also has no idea what to do with the word “reigns,” so I have to trick it and correct after the fact.

A few characteristics:  Carole loves words and phrases such as “thrill in His glory” and “our Savior has conquered sin.”  Even more, she loves faith- and hope-filled expressions that look toward Heaven.  In her catalog may be found strong notes of gratitude to a loving God, and of evangelistic concern for others, that they might share in what she has found.

Carole loves choruses and codas, and I have sometimes picked up that her others-conscious heart just can’t bear to let a song rest with the last word in the final stanza.  She is compelled to say just one more thing—in the hope that, eventually, some soul will be a bit more inspired to faith in God . . . and so she adds a chorus or a coda to say that one more thing.

Sometimes, in our e-mail exchanges, one or the other of us will refer to a song as though it is a “child” of hers:  “this one seems a little unruly and needs some parental love” or “you must feel this is a special child.”

My feelings:  We have been working together for nearly four years now, and I remain grateful for this working relationship.  My available time for “Carole songs” ebbs and flows, and Carole understands this and works with it beautifully.  She has become a friend.  We surprised her once by dropping in on her at church while we were traveling.  Carole is also my elder sister, sort of a “great aunt” in faith.  She prays for me and my family with great empathy, even as she cares for many others, including her own family.

Carole, thank you for your constancy and your example of faith.  They are treasures, as are the poetic expressions of your sincere heart—a heart so very thankful to God.  At times, you and your songs have amounted to a spiritual rope to hold onto—a constant in a sea of uncertainty and negative circumstances.

Our respective loose-lwp-1485716870438.jpgeaf binders full of songs grow by the month.  A couple of days ago, we reached song number 400.  As we celebrate this milestone, and as we move into what may be the last hundred, Carole, I pause in gratitude for you.

B. Casey, 1/29/17

Major and minor (prophets and tonalities)

Almost always, I draft my posts days or even weeks before they become public.  This one, however, was conceived, drafted, revised, finalized, and published all within a couple of hours on the same day.  That is speedy for me.  And it may be good, or it may be bad. . . .

As one comes to understand harmony, s/he grows to perceive that not all major-key musical works are “happy.”  Furthermore, although few minor-key works are effervescent or jubilant, minor harmonies can certainly carry a variety of moods.  They may sometimes be mournful or ominous, yes, but also yearning, or plaintive, or resolute, or even annunciatory—and more.  Minor keys are often used in a transitional or modulatory manner, within a larger structure that shifts its mode to major—such as in the 18th-century horn concerto I’m listening to now.  It also bears mention that a minor key (which wasn’t conceived of per se as “minor” until a relatively late time in music history) in the Middle Ages or Renaissance is a different animal than the minor of, say, the German High Baroque, the early 20th century for a Scandinavian composer, or the current era.¹

The “minor prophets” of the Hebrew Bible are so labeled because of the size of the written work that remains.  Not all of them are minor in terms of significance—even speaking relatively.  Yes, Isaiah is a major prophet in anyone’s literary analysis, but Micah also left an important message, and so did many of the others, as far as I can tell.

I often like music in minor keys, but I don’t like to read prophecy, regardless of whether the prophet is considered minor or major.  Sometimes I forget (or try to forget) this aversion, and then I read prophecy again.  Invariably, I regret it.  It makes me upset—not because I identify with the people of Judah or Israel and feel harshly criticized to the point of self-defensiveness.  No, I get upset because I simply don’t get prophecy.  The tenor often seems to be one of stern criticism or mournful repentance or hopeless doom—and I do understand those, in general terms—but so many of the multiplied words are lost on me that I become wistful at best . . . and irritated or disenfranchised or hopeless at worst.  Maybe an early 20th-century blues song (in a major key, mind you) or a hippie folk song would be good about now.

“Why not read a commentary?” you ask . . . “You know, something that could help you understand, you ignorant wretch who must repent, or something worse will befall you?”  Although I have some at my disposal, I have come to believe that there more authors who misunderstand the import of Old Testament prophecy than is the case with any other type of literature.  A lot of the problem, at least in the western world, has to do with the silly enterprise of trying to apply Israelite prophecies of, say, the 7th century BC to modern-day Syria and Iraq or the USA.  Many gullible people have bought into that kind of garbage, and more off-base books on prophecy have sold than better-conceived ones.  I suppose I feel I know just enough about prophecy to know when a preacher or author is full of baloney (deserving true prophetic condemnation in some cases!), but that’s roughly where my knowledge and insight leave off.

And it’s frustrating, because I want to understand Israel’s history during the centuries that led up 20161208_210607.jpgto the birth of the Messiah.  John Bright’s book The Kingdom of God has lately drawn me to the prophecy of Amos.  Aside:  I’m confident in saying that Bright, who died a couple of decades ago, was not one of those careless, pop-theology authors who merely wanted to sell books . . . no, I infer that he really “gets” Amos.  The prophet Amos, as Bright painted him, was a man of the old ways.  A man who deeply “got” God’s original covenant with the people.  A man who was deeply distressed with the state of Israel under the kings and who called the people back to God as King.  With that vision in mind and heart, I started reading Amos this morning.  And I hated almost every minute of it.  The message is redundant at best.  I can’t hear much of the message I suspect the people of Israel would have heard.

So I think I’ll listen to some minor-key music from the Renaissance.  Or maybe a folk tune in the Mixolydian or Dorian mode.  Those are nice, and I can understand more of them.

P.S.  I wrote this post after having read the first four chapters of Amos.  I almost quit in a minor fit of frustration.  Much of the material in the last five chapters was much more understandable for me.  Finishing Amos today was not a major accomplishment, but one I wanted nonetheless to document!


¹ All of this pertains to “Western music,” i.e., it does not speak to music of the Arabian desert, Tibet, India, etc.

Repertory breadth: of Bruckner and the Bible

Anton Bruckner is an interesting figure in 19C music history.  I have only a general impression of his music and have never participated in deep study of his works as either a conductor or player.  I once considered programming at least a movement of one of his symphonies, but that never occurred.  At the intersection of Bruckner and the Bible, there would be much to inquire about.  I won’t be analyzing Bruckner’s faith or his life, though.  I’m going somewhere different (and won’t be probing very deeply).

In or near my CD player right now are these discs:

  • Anton Bruckner—Symphony No. 3
  • Doobie Brothers—Takin’ it to the Streets
  • Phillips, Craig, & Dean—Where Strength Begins
  • Frank Bridge—Orchestral Works vol. 3
  • Edgar Meyer/Yo-yo Ma/Mark O’Connor—Appalachian Journey
  • Carter Pann—The Piano’s 12 Sides
  • Fernando Ortega—Home

A nice smattering, yes?

I like variety.  I suspect many people think they’re getting variety these days when they listen to two different rappers or three pop-country “singer-songwriters.”  Ah, the choices we make.  Maybe I should have substituted some Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, brass ensemble or choral music for the Phillips, Craig & Dean or one of the two orchestral CDs . . . but the above list nonetheless provides a good deal of diversity.

pandoraSince I also like high-quality sound reproduction (not to mention valuing my hearing), I don’t use earbuds very much, and I’ve never had an iPod.  I have rarely used my smartphone or small tablet as an .mp3 player.  On the other hand, I have been streaming Pandora through speakers a lot lately and would like to recommend that some of you Pandora users try out the channels marked in blue to the right.  I was very happy to find the “Classical Complete Performances” channel; it seems to have little to no commercial interruptions.  The “Chamber Winds” channel is a favorite of mine, and I’m working to refine it more.  The offerings here so far are really only about 1/4 true-blue “chamber winds,” but it still makes for transparent listening.  “The Folks” consists in gentle, folk-ish songs; it and “Acoustic New Age” “and “Classical Guitar” are all very good streams, too.

Back to Bruckner and the point I started out to make.  There’s this ongoing thing with the so-called Three Bs:  the powerhouse music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.  A few have added other Bs such as Bruckner and Britten.  For whatever reason, I once programmed two entire orchestral concerts of “B” music with only marginal recourse to one of the original Three.  Instead, I used music of Bax, Britten, Beach, Barlow, Brouwer, and Bernstein (Elmer, not Leonard).

For grins, I’m going to make a hypothetical exercise a little more challenging here by pretending my CD stack had been this one full of various “B”-composed art music:

  • Brahms—Symphonies No. 2 and 3
  • Boccherini—String Quintets
  • Bridge—Orchestral Works vol. 3
  • Beethoven—Symphony No. 7
  • Bruckner—Symphony No. 3
  • Borodin—Symphonies No. 1 and 2; Prince Igor
  • Bax—Tone Poems

Now, I rarely use the “Random” or shuffle functions, since I tend to like hearing one style or genre for a while before moving on.  What if I had pushed the “Random” button and then found myself in another room when the next track started playing?  Could I have identified the composer as Brahms or Borodin?  Bax or Bruckner?  (Boccherini, Beethoven, and Bridge would be a bit more distinct and easier to identify here.)

There’s been this other thing occurring in music appreciation and music history classes through the decades since the invention of the phonograph.  It was at first called the “drop the needle” test.  The professor would actually drop the needle of the record player in a random groove on the record, let the music play for a few seconds . . . and then the students being tested were required to identify the piece:  composer, title, and sometimes more.  The tough profs might play only an obscure section of the second movement of a symphony, and you almost never got the first few notes, so you really had to know the piece in order to succeed on the test.  (The last time I did this for a class, I edited some .mp3 files with the precise excerpt I wanted to play and collected them into a playlist.  It worked fine, but it took way too much time to prepare.  The record player would have been easier!)

As an undergraduate student, I think I experienced this type of test three or four times.  On the graduate level, the method was brought back with a vengeance.  There, our esteemed professor would inflict on us entire exams that consisted of a few pages of each of several scores.  The title and composer were blacked out, of course.  Based on other clues in the score, we were to write our analytical thoughts that led us to a guess as to the style, the genre—and the composer and title, if possible.  As with certain math tests, we were graded mostly on “showing our work.”  The reasoning was more important than the correct answer.  Although I made good grades in those courses, I never really aced one of those tests.  It’s difficult to know a whole repertory (body of music literature) so well that you can make a very educated guess as to the composer and style after hearing or seeing a small bit of music.

So, earlier today, when I heard some music coming from my study, I knew immediately that it could not be Bridge and had to be Bruckner.  That particular comparison really wasn’t that difficult, but I could probably be tripped up if presented with early Bruckner passages vs. late Beethoven ones.  Some Bax might sound like some Bridge—unless I knew the work of each of them very well and could identify the musical language used by each.

Here’s where all this connects to the Bible.  Does any one of us know the biblical texts—the entire repertory—well enough to succeed on a “drop the needle” test?  If we were presented with a few sentences, could we identify them as having come from

  • Paul’s letter to the Colossians as opposed to the Galatian or Ephesian letters?
  • Matthew’s gospel vs. Luke’s?
  • Ecclesiastes vs. Proverbs?
  • 2Timothy vs. Titus?

Many of us could nail many passages from Genesis onto a reasonable place on the wall, but can I hear Isaiah and know it’s neither Jeremiah nor Amos?  Can I distinguish where the history of Joshua leaves off and where 1Samuel begins?  If 1Peter sounds like Hebrews to me, I don’t know either of them well enough.

Maybe I need something more than a Bible app . . . something more than background biblical Pandora.  I also need more devotion—both to the texts and to the God their authors served.

B. Casey, 1/7/17

Three 4s

Chapter 4.  In three books.

I notice the significance of chapter 4 in three of the four gospels:  Matthew, Mark, and John.  I have no mystical sense of numerology about it, and chapter divisions weren’t in the original manuscripts, after all, so the number element doesn’t really matter.  Still, I thought this might make for an interesting trivia piece.

1. In Matthew, chapter 4 includes an extended treatment of the testing of Jesus before beginning to describe His earlier “ministry” and setting up the so-called Sermon on the Mount.  In my younger years, I was led to tuck away neatly the three “temptations” (probably not the best term, given our usage today) as representative of all human temptation in any time:

  1. the lust of the flesh
  2. the lust of the eyes
  3. the pride of life

Although I’d say those characterizations have moderate worth, I now see chapter 4 more in its context.  There is more to the specific tests as it figures in to the whole of Matthew.

Side point:  “pinnacle” (of the temple) in the 2nd testing is probably not the best translation of the Greek πτερύγιο | pterugio.  It was probably not a spire or high point per se.  According to numerous scholars, the reference is probably to the edge of a “wing” or extremity of the temple compound that essentially overlooked a valley.

~ ~ ~

2.  In Mark, chapter 4’s parable of the “sower” (and the spots onto which he sowed) is structurally significant within the whole.  Mark appears to have an intentional form that includes these sections:

A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’ baptism (which became figuratively a death in Christian thought and writing), the splitting of the heavens, and the voice saying, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus’ death, the splitting of the temple veil, and a voice saying, “Truly this was God’s son” (15:33-39) (also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)

A longtime friend’s master’s work was on the place of the parable of the sower in the overall structure of Mark.  Chapter 4’s sower parable is significant and may be related to the vineyard parable (chapter 12)—both dealing with the response of the people.

~ ~ ~

3.  In music, prolonging an element can result in either drama or montony.  Particularly in art music, the compositional technique known as “phrase extension” and the prolonging of a “dominant” harmony (V chord) have notable effects.

In narrative, an extended passage can have an effect related to the author’s purpose(s).  In John, chapter 4’s encounter with the woman at the well is the longest recorded single conversation of Jesus with any individual.  The reader-interpreter does well in taking note of this incident, assuming its conceptual prominence—or at least the fact that there must be something special about it.

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!