In this time of year (4)

Worship words for Messiah Jesus on Sunday morning . . .

Jesus, Son of the Father

Verse 1:
We have been with Jesus, believing in His name,
And we have known His saving blood.  We refuse to be the same.

Verse 2:
Ancient words of kingdom spread—confirmed in wonders true.
Life’s Prince was raised Who once was dead—God’s Messiah, giv’n for you.

Verse 3:
Gathered here, devoting all at table, pray’r, and song.
We pledge to heed His loving call; to our LORD they’ll know we belong.

Chorus
Jesus, Son of the Father—risen, ascended, reigning at His right—
We are compelled in worshipping You, Lord.
You’re present both here and in eternal light.

Words and Music by Brian Casey
© 2011 Encounter Music

Lord of All

Lord of All, we come to You with our hearts and our voices.
Now we sing with one accord to the Lord of All.
Alleluia!  Alleluia!
Oh, sing to the Lord of All.


Words and Music by Brian Casey
© 2004 Encounter Music

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MWM: technology in hindsight

A book is technological feat, and so is a slide.

My parents have boxes and boxes of slides—not the playground kind, of course, but the photographic kind.  Throughout my growing-up years (yes, this dates me), with the exception of a few ill-fated Polaroid™ shots, they took pics almost entirely with slide film.  The slide proj carouselprojector my family owned was a “stacker” that came with a side-mount contraption into which one could load an entire box or two of slides in one fell swoop.  Carousel-type projectors like the one shown here, much more common, took much more time to load and unload but were less likely to jam.  Slide projectors still exist, and I used one like this carousel projector a few years ago when I wanted to convert some family history pics to digital images for my parents’ 50th anniversary.

As for myself, I didn’t think I owned any slides, but I did find one recently:

worship slide

I had no memory of this item but had saved it in a “worship resources” file.  Before personal computers and PowerPoint, and quite possibly with a desire to supplant overhead projectors, this “Worship Visions” outfit was apparently producing slides with worship song lyrics and marketing them to churches who used projectors.  When my wife saw this slide, she asked, “What is that?  Like a time capsule piece?”  Well, yeah, I guess so.  I’ve never been anywhere where worship slides like this one were used, but I did own some transparencies until about 5 years ago, when I finally came to terms with the need to get rid of them.  (Since then, I’ve met with a group that actually still has an overhead projector, so maybe I should have donated my transparencies instead of making the assumption that they were completely obsolete.)

You know, this “worship slide” technology, in its time, would have been just as likely to contribute to real congregational worship as a transparency or today’s lyrics-only PowerPoint slides.  (Here, I won’t go into the merits of using music notation; I’ve written uber-sufficiently about that elsewhere.)  Every technology is merely a tool to be used, or not.

[This is an installment in the periodic Monday Worship Music series which looks at hymns and other topics related to worship music of the church.]

More than a few quotations (#1400)

1400I realized only a couple of weeks ago that I was approaching post No. 1400¹ on this blog.  One hundred times double the “perfection” number is a nice number, but the sentiments and studies here have been anything but perfect.  I’d like to use this particular milestone post (see below² for other milestones) to share some fine work from other writers I’ve come in contact with recently.  Many of the passages below bear words and thoughts that 1) poetically are my envy and 2) spiritually speak of some of my elusive, unattainable, guiding stars.  I will appeal to many of these again.

Please be inspired . . . or motivated . . . or challenged . . . as you wish.

Of Following the King

Could it be that one’s real duty is not to find the one true highway, but rather to be a certain kind of person—humble, attentive, and obedient—whatever the path one is on?  If “The Way” be in us, John Bunyan once said, then we will always be in The Way, wherever we travel.  – Darryl Tippens, Pilgrim Heart

When “everyone was a Christian,” the means by which “everyone” became a “Christian” was infant baptism….  This practice stood at the heart of the full flowering of the Constantinian church…. For the Anabaptists, baptism represented the point of entrance into a community of faith that had “been taught repentance and the amendment of life.”  Baptism must not serve as a empty symbol of entry into a state-run church; baptism epitomized discipleship, and infant baptism cut out the very heart of the New Testament vision of the practice.  Instead of baptizing culture and calling it ”Christian,” the Anabaptists desired that the church baptize those whose sought to walk in the way of Jesus…. “Faith” required, enabled, and freed one to walk in the way of Christ; baptism without discipleship was thus not Christian baptism.  – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 137-139 (citing also the Schleitheim Confession of the 16th century)

It appears to me, comparing my experience with that of many friends, that once one has seriously enlisted on the side of God and his purpose, considerable spiritual opposition is provoked and encountered. . . .  Should they once begin to embark on real living and to assist in building the Kingdom of God, then the attack begins!  – J.B. Phillips, For This Day (emphasis Phillips’s)

Underneath “the end justifies the means” logic lies the assumption that the way of Christ is simply not a relevant social ethic … society will fall apart, will sink into a spiral of unmitigated violence. … Jesus could not have meant that we take him seriously in the realm of social and political realities—after all, what would happen if everybody did that?!  . . .

Can those who claim Jesus to be divine grant so little authority to this One who showed us what it means to live a human life in accordance with the will of God?  “Hey, be realistic, none of us are Jesus!” it is objected.  But do such objections not overlook the New Testament claim that the people of God, the “body of Christ,” continue the ministry and work of Christ right in the midst of real human history, right in the midst of oppression, injustice, violence, and greed? – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 34, 39 (emphasis Camp’s)

Disciples are called to be peacemakers.  This, however, does not necessarily mean passive disengagement from the world around us.  Our example is our Father who loved the world and gave His Son for it.  This is radical engagement….  -John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come

[A German woman, in reflection on Hitlerian Germany:]  “Don’t you Americans always think that your wars are just?”  Such anecdotes point us to a historical reality:  a lazy use of the just war tradition most often provides rationalization for Christians killing their alleged enemies.   – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 129 (emphasis Camp’s)

Claiming Jesus as Lord results in a particular manner of life, for which Jesus is the authority. – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 125

Of the Kingdom

My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. – Jesus (John 18, NRSV)

The idea of the Kingdom of God, the sovereignty of God, was a conception which was central and basic to the message of Jesus.  He emerged on men with the message that the Kingdom was at hand (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15).  To preach the Kingdom was an obligation that was laid upon him (Luke 4:43).  It was with the message of the Kingdom that he went through the towns and villages of Galilee (Luke 8:1).  The announcement of the Kingdom was the central element in the teaching of Jesus. . . .   To do the will of God and to be in the Kingdom of God are one and the same thing. – William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus

When Jesus said (Luke 17:20-21) that the Kingdom doesn’t come with observation—that the Kingdom of God is “within” he wasn’t denying external things, he was emphasizing internal things. . . .  What exactly is Christ saying in this verse?  He’s telling us that the reign of God is peculiar. It’s built on self-surrender. – Jim McGuiggan, The Reign of God

What did Jesus talk about after his resurrection?  He appeared to his followers “over a period of forty days and spoke about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).  This was his subject matter.  – Howard Snyder, Community of the King

Of Worshipping the King

Worship is keeping open the vital connections between man and the source of his spiritual life.  Worship is the road over which the prodigal travels from the wastelands of sin to the Father’s house of plenty.  It is the wire which connects the Christian with the Dynamo of energy and light, and it is the lifeline through which flows the water of life.  Worship is eating, eating bread at the table of God.   – Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God

Two facets of worship are often overlooked.  First and foremost, worship is a matter of allegiance: whom shall we deem worthy of glory, honor, and dominion? – Lee Camp, Mere Discipleship, 120


¹ For the record, a couple of the 1400 posts have been unintentional duplications, and if I were to read through them all now, I’d only be proud of 14% of them.

² Links to other milestone posts:

  • #1300a non-momentous sharing of quotes from C.S. Lewis
  • #1200—a chiastic meditation
  • #1000—John 9’s exegesis and blindness
  • #900—ponderings about God
  • #666—about Revelation (a post I’m not particularly proud of; I’d say things differently now)

A few points

Someone has said that “residue” is what you have when you finish most of something, and then the “res I due” tomorrow.”  This post is the final residue from last fall’s worship series,¹ and I’m “due”ing it today.

~ ~ ~

Cecil Hook was one of the most gracious, gentle spirits one could ever hope to know, and was the author of at least five books.²  Toward the end of each of the later books, he would offer brief, discrete teachings in collections called “Hook’s Points.”  I’m taking that habit as my cue here, offering a few points here about worship and the assembly.

Public and Private

Worship should be both private and public.  Worshippers should participate and experience alone and in groups.

Your church might call the main gathering a “worship assembly” or “corporate worship,” and the gathering probably includes some worship, but it is almost certainly not completely filled with worship activities.  If the strong majority of the public gathering’s activities are not worship per se, it should probably be called something else.  Likewise, your private life may involve some worship, but it is not completely filled with worship.

Those who think corporate worship is overrated or even entirely misconceived may be duly reacting to an overemphasis on the assembly in the scheme of Christian life.³  They may also be inclined toward the idea of “whole-life worship” (a more private concept), which is often rooted in a misguided extrapolation/misguided interpretation of Romans 12:1.

Those who actually think everything in their weekly public gatherings is worship are equally misguided, mistaking centuries of church “worship service” tradition for biblical examples and principles.

Happy and Sad

I once bought into the idea that Sunday mornings were for celebration. I now think that notion is incomplete and inadequate.

Worship leaders, I hope many of you will hear this, if you aren’t already starkly aware of it:  not everyone comes into your assembly feeling glad and worship-filled.  If you start every assembly in a hip-hip-hooray mode and act as if everyone ought to be celebrating all the time, you’re leaving out a lot of people.

Worship is not always celebratory and actually has many faces.  At times, we worship “anyway,” because God is the worthy One.  Among contemporary songs, Fernando Ortega’s “I Will Praise Him Still” approaches worship from this determined, humble, “despite what’s going on” angle.

Music

Worship and “worship music” are not equivalent expressions.  Music doesn’t have the universal appeal that some assume.

There probably was a time when I was just that insistent and insensitive in public leadership, coming across as over-interested in worship music.  Not everyone is that interested, and that’s OK.  At this point, having lived more years, I refuse to equate the musical experience (no matter the style) with worship.  There is much more to worship than music.

Verbal action/noun sense

Worship may not, must not be reduced to any list of “acts” that supposedly fulfill a supposed checklist.  To suggest that the scriptures communicate a group of “five (or six) acts of worship” is to make up something out of thin air.

Although “worship” can be either noun or verb, both can be limiting.  To say “X church has ‘a good worship'” is too noun-ish, n’est-ce pas?  It is truth to say that worship is active in various ways, but reducing it to one or more “acts” may suggest that those actions are always observable, attaining only to a part of the reality.

When I worship, my spirit acts, and my body may act, too. But far be it from me to attempt to come up with a list of “acts” that comprise the whole of worship.  Such a list cannot be written, nor can my worshipping (how’s that for a verbal noun?) ever be sufficient.


¹ If you’re interested in that series but missed it, use this link, and then scroll back a few posts to one of the summary “What Was All That About?” posts.  Material on worship words was presented, as well as resource lists and quotations and a few other goodies.  (Or, wait for the book that will include revised versions of those studies, planned for release in 2-3 months.)

² Hook’s books were titled Free in Christ, Free To Speak, Free as Sons, Free To Change, and Free To Accept.  I was privileged to contribute editorially to the last two and to a major revision of the first.  I wish I had assumed more of Hook’s mantle of grace, not to mention his succinctness in writing!

³ It is my sense that Cecil Hook was among this group.  He did not write much about worship, and when he did, it was more of a disclaimer, a pointer-away-from the over-emphasis on supposed rectitude in assembly worship.  He was, however, very gracious and affirming toward me and my somewhat different views on the nature and place of worship in thought and life.  For more than a quarter-century now, I have emphasized that worship is not by any means bound to Christian assemblies, nor are assemblies (to be) entirely composed of worship activities.  Cecil emphasized more of the horizontal, which I also support, while I have at most points emphasized the vertical.

 

MWM: The Last Past-Blast Worship Music Review (8)

This is an installment in the periodic Monday Worship Music series which looks at hymns and other topics related to worship music of the church.  Here, I’m offering the last of my published reviews (all published during a short period in the 1990s) of worship music—music that was then being released and is still “contemporary” in broad perspective.  Here is the most recent post of this specific type, in case you want to see another.

This review treats two separate albums that attempted to focus on helping people who are hurting.

Magazine
Magazine

Ministering in Times of Distress
1.  Integrity: God Will Make a Way
2.  Vineyard: WWW – Healing
(Published March 1999)

by Brian Casey

Fundamental to the notion of “ministry” is helping those in need, and these two recordings can help to fill that need—impacting souls in, or being pulled out of, spiritual holes of doubt and struggle.

“God Will Make a Way” consists entirely of previously released material.  Those who naturally are drawn to Integrity’s sensibilities and polished-glass sonorities will assuredly draw strength from this repackaged music.

The lush adult choir arrangement (Fettke et al) of “Be Strong and Take Courage” (from the musical God With Us) is effective. “You Are Eternal” is a conceptually significant inclusion: Knowing that God doesn’t change is crucial if we are to trust that He is in charge and will make a way.  As author Max Lucado has said, “In times when we can’t trace His hand, we can trust His heart.”

It’s a powerful connection indeed when someone communicates through song who thoroughly and earnestly believes that God will come, will enter one’s pain.  God chose to enter the world’s distress as a human; His messages may yet be most powerfully expressed through His human servants.  “God will make a way,” “do not lose your faith,” “no eye has seen what God has prepared,” “forget not all His benefits,” . . . when believers extend these powerful, Godly exhortations to me, I am strengthened.

Though the lyrical content is no more robust, the slightly less conventional music of Vineyard’s “Healing” is more immediately heartening, with no talk between songs.  The yearning vocals on Terry Butler’s “Simple Prayer” are genuinely beautiful, but the range/tessitura might hinder congregational participation.  “Faithful Love” and “Father, I Want You To Hold Me” are high points.  Also noteworthy are the artistic contributions of Rita Springer—besides her writing, her vocals are expressive and believable, sometimes with a finessed, breathy edge.  I found Michael Hansen’s compositions musically (not lyrically) monotonous.

It might be considered inappropriate to attempt to minister healing to individuals in dire situations (e.g., in “Mend a Broken Heart,” abused children) through congregational, publicly marketed music.  Some matters seem more aptly dealt with in private.

Each recording incorporates ample, worthwhile congregational and solo music—to be used therapeutically in ministering to real individuals with real needs.

– Brian Casey, March 1999

 

Three in five (of poetry and music)

Trained musicians know what the words “in one” mean.  Occurring most often when the meter signature is 3/4 (or 3/8), the designation “in one” signals the performing musicians that, although the music appears to have three beats in a measure, in onethe “feel” involves only one pulse per measure.  Put another way:  when music is written in 3/4 or 3/8 but designated “in one,” each single pulse has three component parts.  Each of these pulses might be further grouped—commonly, in twos, threes, or fours.  It’s relatively uncommon, though to have other groupings, such as five.

This post is about the rare music “in five”—particularly, about three flawed Christian songs in quintuple meter.  I suppose I should mention the likes of iambs and spondees and trochees and dactyls, although I really don’t speak that language.  It might be worthy of note that the commonly studied “iambic pentameter,” with its five pairs of syllables, is probably most often recited¹ in alternating groups of four and two—six total pulses per line, with the last one silent, like this:

iambicpentameter

Even five is is rendered in a kind of six here.  My point is that rhythms “in five” are relatively unnatural for most of us.

The first flawed one in five

In the mid-90s, I wrote an a cappella worship song that began in 5/8.  It was called “Not To Us,” and its words came from Psalm 115.  It was intended for a performance group with high-level abilities, but it was really img_20151129_193118_412.jpga disaster.  This song lit up my own spirit at the time, and a few other sets of eyes might have widened when I shared it, but there was no real chance for the piece to have been sung with any success.  Oh, I suppose the rhythmic conception was fine, emphasizing “not” and “us” and de-emphasizing the preposition “to” as the last syllable of a dactyl, but it’s too awkward a pattern for most folks to latch on to.  It was a plus that the song didn’t stay in 5/8 for long, and it did have a very dramatic, expressive ending, but its main value was in its creation, not in any future use scenario.  Mostly a fail.

The second

John G. Elliot wrote “Unto the King Eternal” based on the words of 1Timothy 1:17img_20151129_193105_818.jpg.  This song involves a more convincing application of 5/8 than my own song above.  The poetic diction of the phrase “unto the King eternal” semi-naturally falls out in five, but actually, the way this comes out is in four with two long beats and two shorter ones.  This has the effect of having two flat spots in your tire.

Below, I’ve diagrammed the layout of 16th notes, 8th notes, syllables, and accents.  If you’re not really a musician yet are interested in this, try this step-by-step procedure, before or after examining the diagram:

  1. saying the numbers 1-10 fairly quickly (and repeating without pause between 10 and 1)
  2. then adding stress on the numbers 1, 4, 7, and 9 (again, repeating)
  3. then saying the words “unto the King eternal” in the same rhythm and tempo, with “King” and “-ter” receiving double the time of the other syllables
1    2    3   4  5  6   7 8   9 10   (16ths)  
1         2      3       4     5     (8ths)
un - to  the  King  e - ter - nal
>             >          >     >     (accents/beats)

What this amounts to is two dactyls (123456) followed by two trochees (78910) And the 5/8 meter works for about that long, but the rhythm breaks down when the 1st and 2nd endings are in 9/8 without proper syllabic emphasis.  Not as much a “fail” here as in my song, but there’s still some questionable rhythmic conception at work.

And the third

Bob Kauflin’s arrangements are frequently heard on Glad’s albums, and they can excite the spirit and the musical sensibilities.  Kauflin is a skilled craftsman who understands both music and words deeply, and I have envied him.  For all his adept treatment of notes and voices, though, Kauflin didn’t succeed, in my opinion, with an extended 5/4 section in his arrangement of Deborah and Michael W. Smith’s “Great is the Lord.”  The result is an awkward song that limps (as rhythms in groups of 5 tend to do!), would-be tribute to God’s greatness.  In the realization, the song ends up calling far more attention to its own quirky, flat-sided rhythm than to God.

Epilogue:  Four, Five, and Six (in five)

On the upside, Dave Brubeck’s jazz classic “Take Five” works really well in 5/4.  It was famously performed by a quartet that played together all the time; they could gel beautifully in this relatively unusual meter.  Gustav Holst’s “Mars” movement from The Planets, also famously in 5/4, is a masterwork.  Mark Camphouse, one of my top-20 wind band composers, writes in 5/4 in short bursts, and it always seems to work well for him.  In short bursts, mind you:  Camphouse allows his music to experience a sense of repose in 4/4 or 3/4 after the rhythmic tension of 5/4.

After respectful nods to the above composers and a few others, most of the rest of us ought to stay away from writing in five very often.


¹ I don’t know if the modern recitations I’ve heard of iambic pentameter resemble how it was read in prior centuries.  Perhaps the five iambs were rendered more truly “in five” in earlier times.  Relatively modern Greek dances (art-music types, anyway) seem more comfortable in asymmetric meters such as 5/8 and 7/8, so it could very well be that music of other cultures and eras doesn’t play by the same rules as contemporary, European-based music.

MWM: A Past-Blast Worship Music Review (7)

This is an installment in the periodic Monday Worship Music series which looks at hymns and other topics related to worship music of the church.  Here, I’m offering another of my published reviews of worship music—music that was then being released and is still “contemporary” in broad perspective.  Here is the last post of this specific type, in case you want to see another.  There will be one more.

This review treats three separate albums that attempted to focus on young people.  At the time, I was working regularly with teenagers and enjoyed a close relationship with several of them.  I don’t know that I had a good finger on the pulse of their tastes even then, and whatever I had then is mostly lost now, but I still think it’s worthwhile to aim for “Real and Natural.”

Magazine
Magazine

Published 1998
by Brian Casey

Youth-Oriented Recordings

WorshipTogether’s Revival Generation
Matt Redman’s Intimacy
Hillsongs Australia’s The Plan

I was recently surprised when three spiritually minded teenagers, in unison, disparaged Rebecca St. James’s “God” album. “I just don’t like that kind of music,” one said, neglecting to define “type.”

What makes a young person gravitate toward a certain type of music?  The instrumentation?  The beat?  What attracts a teenager to an artist?  Popularity?  Something even less tangible?

Many are drawn to the ministry of connecting teenagers with God:

  • A shepherd becomes emotional when the topic of conversation turns to the number of teenagers that just aren’t “connecting” at church.
  • When churches consider hiring a second staff minister, they often seek someone to work closely with youth.
  • Nearly as many adults as teenagers turn out for an annual youth retreat at our church. They are impelled by the love of teenage hearts and are thrilled to be used by God in bringing high-impact worship experiences to the young.

Teens are predisposed to accept practically anything if it’s written and/or performed by someone near their age. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, Hillsongs Australia’s The Plan (Integrity) comprises songs “by young people for young people,” so its appeal is virtually guaranteed though some of the lyrical/musical material is immature.  This album is a somewhat forced amalgam of styles and represents more of an evangelistic plea than a worship thrust.  However, “Anything (for You),” “U.R.Y.” and “Fill My Heart” indeed are brimming with impassioned devotion.  While I could tap into the youngish, rap energy of “Serve the Man” and the grunge praise of “God Made the World,” some of the techno-dabble found here left me wondering if a preteen was manning the effects board without guidance.  But will this music attract teenagers?  At least on one level, yes.    But let’s go deeper….

Matt Redman, a patently gifted British worship leader in his early twenties, is a wellspring of songs that are real, well crafted, and undeniably God-focused.  His latest album, Intimacy, is a worthy successor to The Friendship and the Fear. Singular pronouns—indicating intensely personal, relational worship—abound in Redman’s lyrics; “What I Have Vowed,” “Hear the Music of My Heart,” “I Am Yours,” and others are eminently believable expressions of surrendered worship … giving it all up for God.  Stylistically, Intimacy incorporates everything from retro rock organ to unplugged, contemplative love song, but Redman does it all more convincingly.  Frankly, I would much prefer that teens spend time with anything of Redman’s than with Hillsongs’ The Plan.

WorshipTogether’s Revival Generation, featuring large-group worship content, is a compilation of works of Redman, Deliriou5?, and others whose songs play roles in the current worship revival in England.  Here is a wealth of indirect praise; leader-congregation interplay and responsorial structures are plentiful.  Redman’s “There is a Louder Shout to Come” provides an anticipatory glimpse into the praise of eternity, and the Beatle-esque “Oh Our Lord and King” centers on God because of who He is. Southern rock surfaces in Stuart Townend’s“There’s a Place.”  Revival Generation has almost as many high points as Redman’s Intimacy.  It is even more packed with church-friendly tunes and will also appeal to both teens and young adults.

Musical style does matter—perhaps more for teens than for other age groups. But more significant in connecting with the younger generation is the R&N (Real & Natural) Quotient.  If the expressions of worship are heard as “real” and are poured out in spontaneous overflow of the heart—as so many of these songs are—they are destined to connect with entire congregations as well as with youth.

– Brian Casey, November 1998

MWM: Grechaninov for tenor and brass (2 of 2)

This post continues from here and describes some of the process of my work with text and music.

The source file for my transformational work with Grechaninov’s Nunc Dimittis (ca. 1913-14):

I had only an edition of the composer’s original:  Rafael Ornes’s engraving of an English setting by N. Lindsay Norden, available here.  It included Norden’s English text, which I seriously doubted would have been Grechaninov’s choice, notwithstanding that this neo-Romantic composer finished his earthly years in the U.S. and was buried in northern New Jersey.  (He didn’t move to the U.S. until 1939.)  Since the chordal, choral style were in keeping with the Grechaninov choral music I had already heard and sung, I had no reason not to assume that the Norden sheet music was a strong facsimile of the original, composed some 100 years prior.

Arranging the music, frankly, was no big deal. 

This type of chordal, chorale-like music is a sonic world in which most trained musicians feel quite at home.  Both art and science are involved, however, in the arranging.  One has to know such things as

==> the makeup of a typical brass ensemble that could be assembled in most places (facilitating repeat performances)

==> the ranges of the various brass instruments employed, considered alongside the range and power-spots of a typical baritone or tenor voice

==> how a flugelhorn or cornet sounds on a concert Bb³, not to mention how two of them sound on that note in unison

==> how many of each chord tone makes for a good voicing (is a combination of 1st horn and 2nd cornet good here? or do I need one more 5th in the chord for that perfect sonority?)

Key:  The choral original was in E major, but E is not a great key for low brass intonation, and it’s even worse for trumpets/cornets/flugelhorns.  So I moved the key down to Eb, which is much better for all concerned.  The vocal melody has an exceptional range—an octave and a 7th—so there is no wiggle room for bad choices of key . . .

. . . if it were pitched s a half-step or step lower, chances are no one would hear the opening notes that lie low in the voice’s range

. . . on the other hand, if it were any higher, the melodic climax would be untenable.

I made choices for doubling, leaving out certain instruments here and there.  I also made choices viz. dynamics, not always following the original, because changing the sound-producing medium sometimes indicates such adjustments.

In working with the text, though, there were some more complex choices to make.

One choice was to include the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols in the first text line.  These symbols are familiar to most trained singers; my own IPA familiarity had been hibernating for decades, but I do still own a couple of reference works that helped to refresh my memory.  This seemed more clear and also lent credibility in the context of the kind of singer that might perform this work, than trying to spell things in awkward letter-combinations like noohn ah-paw-loo-ace.

Below are a few items that represent some additional choices I made:

grech4
Nothing is perfect in the science-informed art of matching words with musical line.  For νυν απολύεις | nun apolueis, the natural accent in the second word falls on the 3rd of 4 syllables, yet the musical line has the accent on the 4th. In this case, I let the music win out.
grech3
Here, the agogic accents favor the Greek words εἶδον (“see”) and ὀφθαλμοί (“eyes”), the first syllable of the substantival (noun-like) adjective σωτήριόν (“delivering” or “salvation”), and the possessive pronoun σου (“Your”).  These accented-syllable choices, seen in the 3rd-line English interlinear, only sometimes correspond with the actual Greek accents.  My decisions sometimes led to inner struggle and were based in part on the vowel sounds for the singer:  for instance, “oph” and “sou” are more pleasing for singers to accent or sustain than “moi” or “τή | (tay).”  The “longer” Greek vowels such as ω (omega) also sometimes merited more musical emphasis, at least in this piece.  Incidentally, it’s a hassle to type IPA symbols (the 1st line of text)!
grech5
Here in the penultimate melodic peak (and in the ultimate climax 8 mm. later) the pitch focus is on the word λαῶν |laon (“peoples”), which seems more true to the original text than the Norden English translation that repeats the word “light” 3x.

It seemed best to display the phonetic spellings on the top since few would be able to read the Greek, although I definitely wanted to give the actual Greek text for sake of drawing attention to historical, ancient scriptural texts.

The work with the text lines consumed considerable time and provided a good deal of vocational and spiritual fulfillment, as well.  All of this constituted an effort to occupy my mind and heart in a sphere in which musical, spiritual, and textual passions intersect.

I’ve posted more excerpts from the score and edition notes (notes for the conductor and other performers on both the musical and textual aspects) here on this page, and I’ve also appended three paragraphs that are currently set to appear in the College Band Directors National Association CBDNA Report.  The April 2015 premiere of this piece, by the way, was not entirely satisfying, mostly due to acoustic issues and lack of rehearsal time in the performance hall.

Caveat lector ex compositor:  This is a niche piece, unlikely to generate broad interest because of the subject matter and the Greek text, but I sincerely hope other performances will occur.  I plan to advertise it to a few institutions that I know would generally share such interests.

MWM: Grechaninov for tenor and brass (1 of 2)

Some choral musicians may be particularly interested in this post, having become as captivated as I have been through the years by Alexander Grechaninov’s Holy Radiant Light.¹  What a rich work of wonder that is, with its luxuriant harmonies, wide dynamic range, and varied worship-moods wedded to a translation of a 3rd-century Greek text.

More than a year ago, I began looking for material occupy to my musical self, having little to no challenge or stimulation at the time.  I turned up several freely available works by Russian choral composers and began sifting through them in my spare time, which was then relatively plentiful.  I was thinking I’d transcribe a four-, six-, or eight-part choral piece for a brass ensemble or a large wind band, but I ended up enhancing that half-plan considerably.

I came upon Grechaninov’s Nunc Dimittis, a choral work for 4-8 (depending on the measure) voice parts.  The Latin words “nunc dimittis” are translated “Now Dismiss” or “Now Send Away”; this expression stands as the title for a plethora of choral works through the centuries.  The words refer to what is known as “The Song of Simeon” from Luke 2—that poignant account in which one of God’s faithful ones, upon holding Mary’s baby, essentially prays this:

Now, Lord, send me away (i.e., from this life) in peace, because I have seen your Salvation — the light of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.

I got a spine-tingle as I typed those words.  They have for years given me that kind of rush, perhaps first because of “Michael Card’s “Simeon’s Song,” which I wrote about two years ago.  Even a sensitive agnostic or atheist can appreciate this moving scene.

In beginning work with Grechaninov’s Nunc Dimittis, I had at my disposal a presumably 2nd- or 3rd-generation edition of the composer’s choral score.  While I could have paid good money to attempt to retrieve some undiscovered pen-and-ink version from Russia or the composer’s estate, it was not a scholarly edition of this original I was after, so, after a couple of quick checks, I was satisfied with a readily available, unattested version.

The music, conceived originally for a cappella choir, demands sonorous, “familial” blends:  after all, a choral sound is made up of a family of varieties of the same basic thing—the human voice—with different pitch ranges.  For an instrumental sonic medium, I suppose I could have gone with one of the following:

  • a bassoon/English horn/oboe ensemble—all double reeds, from the same “family,” that can collectively span about four octaves
  • cellos, violas, and violins—all strings that can do the same
  • a clarinet choir—also possible in terms of range, but the extended clarinet family seems a bit understated for the expression of this music

Actually, none of the above instrument families seemed dynamic enough, so . . . none of the above for this piece.  Brass instruments are cooler, anyway.  I would adapt it and arrange the Grechaninov work for a brass choir.  It didn’t hurt that I had the live brass players available for a performance.

However (αλλα) . . . it quickly became clear to me that this new musical work of mine would not be an instrumental-only one.  Although I almost always prefer instrumental sounds to vocal ones,² I was impelled in this case to work with the literary text (to honor the ancient ῥῆμα) as well as the much later musical text.

The melody in the choral original was entirely in the soprano part, but I thought, Why use a soprano for a text spoken originally by a manPlus, I only like about one out of every 84 sopranos I hear, whereas the odds are better with tenors and baritones.  So I decided to set the music for tenor vocal solo with brass accompaniment.

The work was daunting.  And equally rewarding.

Next: 

  • a few details about the process
  • a link to score excerpts and edition notes for those interested in more detail about the music, the text, or both
  • article that describes the work’s April 2015 premiere

¹Incidentally, a hymn by the title “Hail, Gladdening Light” (“Phōs Hilaron”), published in Great Songs of the Church No. 2 and Great Songs of the Church, Revised, translates the same ancient Greek poem as “Holy Radiant Light.”

² Choral music is mostly in the background for me at this point—for practical, philosophical, and psychological reasons.  It doesn’t help that I have a really mediocre voice that gets tired easily—and that may be, in large part, because I didn’t devote myself enough to voice lessons as a younger person!  The fact that I regularly turn away from vocalists and vocal or choral sounds is but one of the many ways I am not like most people around me.

Worship materials: books

Several weeks ago,¹ I wrote rather extensively on worship, dealing largely with words and core concepts.  Then on Sunday I shared a bit about songs, articles, and periodicals that have been formative in the worship realm.  Now to a few influential books. . . .

Books
At first blush, it might seem ironic that one reads about worship instead of spending wpid-img_20151024_203516_727.jpgthat reading time worshipping.  Not so.  Taken in balance with experience, dialogue, and scripture study, the reading of books about worship is also important.  Through the years, I have discarded or traded in some books that seemed mute or otherwise less than worthy; others, less likely to be referred to, now reside in a box.  Below are descriptions of some standout books that have had clear influence at points along the way.

Jack R. Taylor:  The Hallelujah Factor (1983)   This little volume came along at just the right time for me, and I always wished I could have experienced what Taylor experienced. He was asked to be interim pastor at a church in Texas and agreed to do so, on the condition that the church would study and practice worship exclusively during his tenure.  This book relates the fruit of such a concentration on worship, and I suspect that many churches, if bold enough to venture forth like this, would realize they hadn’t previously been worshipping much at all.

Matt Redman:  The Unquenchable Worshipper (2001)  Although I only read this once, I feel a fondness and a yearning every time I spy it on my shelf.  I remember thinking that this leader of contemporary worship knew God and understood more deeply most people of this era.

Gene Edwards:  The Divine Romance (1984)   A poorly proofread book by a less-than-polished but highly poetic writer, this is an unusual one.  It is a work of fiction, but one based to a degree on scriptural truth and insight.  It’s not that this book taught me about worship per se, but it uniquely stirred my spiritual imaginings of the One Who is the Object of worship.  One could say that awestruck wonder resides in the background of every page.

Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.:  Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God (1969)  My parents edited and typed the final manuscript of this book authored by my mother’s father.  Their work was accompanied by “a rare kind of empathy,” according to the inscription.  Through the years, I have returned to this book—a section here, a richly poetic prayer there.  At this point, the influence comes largely indirectly—from remembrances of the man who, by so many accounts, allowed deeply adoring words of worship to flow through him as he led and taught.  The brief, written prayers that conclude each chapter of this book are the best of this “genre” that I’ve ever read.

Steven Mosley:  God—A Biography (1988)   How could one resist this title?!  I think I picked it out of a CBD magazine with no knowledge of the author, but I was stimulated to ponder the historical and spiritual realities of God’s activity through Mosley’s writing.  The book alternates the telling of biblical history with other stories in which Mosely observes the work of the great God of All.  All this spurs the reader to worship from a posture of admiring awe.

Max Lucado:  He Chose the Nails (2000)   At an especially fragile time in my life, I sat on a plane and opened my new copy of this Lucado book.  It was my 5th or 6th Lucado book, I think; No Wonder They Call Him the Savior and God Came Near had almost as much impact on me.  These days, I don’t gravitate to Lucado as much (so I didn’t join the “Max Lucado addicts” Facebook group).  However, there were words in this book about my Savior that moved me deeply, leading to joy-filled worship.  Yes, on a plane.  Quietly and with full eyes.

The above captions aren’t necessarily representative of the whole (and neither were the mentions of a few song titles in the last post).  I would also point to the writings of of A.W. Tozer, Twila Paris, Michael Card, Philip Yancey, and others² who have offered various inspirations in their books . . . along with the witness of lives of friends committed to the worship of God.

B. Casey, Sept. 2015


¹ I left the academically important pursuits around worship words/concepts several weeks ago, picking up with a few other aspects before letting this topic rest.  Here are links to some of the earlier posts:

² The influential “others” have not, for one reason or another, included the exemplary-yet-Calvinistic 🙂 theologian J.I. Packer (Knowing God, 1973/93), the late guru Robert Webber (Ancient Future Worship, 2008; Planning Blended Worship, 1998), or any CofC writers who expend significant effort dealing with mechanical instruments vs. the voice.  Although some of these do have something respectable to say, what I’ve read simply didn’t meet me where I was living at the time I encountered the writing.