Monday, September 20, 2010

Farewell, Notes. Hello, Collideoscope!


This three year exploration of intersections between Apostolics and music is drawing to a close. But discussions about Apostolic music are not ending. The Notes blog will be subsumed into the wider discussion of Christianity and culture at Collideoscope.

To the bloggers who have posted here, thank you. I have enjoyed working with you.

To the readers of the Notes blog, on behalf of the Notes bloggers as a collective, thank you for your readership. It has been a privilege to write for you.

See you all on Collideoscope!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Music Therapy Part 2

Did you do your assignment? Did you think about a song? Did you write in your journal? Or did you just read my last post and think "Hmm... Interesting." Or maybe "Hmm... that's kind of dumb. Who has time for that?

If you will allow me to beat the dead horse, I will share with you a small portion of what prompted the last post. As some of you may know, my son's language skills did not progress at anywhere near a standard progression as he was learning the rudiments of language. But a funny thing happened. We discovered that if we sang a song to him, he could learn a word much more easily than otherwise. So that was one reason my mind was on the topic of music therapy. But there was another.

So I'm on my lunch hour listening to my Shuffle (yes, you can reference my other recent post if you like) and this song comes on with the lyric "Jesus, you're all I need." Etcetera, etcetera. Frankly, I wasn't in the mood. I just snapped back to no one in particular, "No, that isn't quite right. I need more than that. I need food to eat. I need a place to live. I need clothes to wear. I need a permanent job that actually has decent health insurance. So, that song really doesn't quite express it correctly. I need MORE than simply Jesus.

Next song.

Psalm 63.

"Thy lovingkindness is better than life. My soul shall be satisfied. My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee."

And I simply broke down and had to acknowledge the Truth of the words in the previous song. There really wasn't any need for my bad attitude about what I needed or what I thought I needed. His Grace is sufficient for me.

So when you are feeling like you don't know if your musical talent has a purpose, if you wonder whether it makes a difference because you sure don't see anybody worshiping . . . you never know when the words to that song you sang for a special last Wednesday night will catch someone unawares, and be the blessing that they need, not just to survive another day, but to rejoice in the glory of His presence forevermore.

It's all the rage to be critical of Apostolic musicians who get too full of themselves and not full enough of God. They no longer see the source of the music, but they see themselves as the source. They will not go far. But those musicians who humble themselves . . . we often do not praise them enough for fear they will get a big head.

Say "thanks" to your praise team this week. Give the soloist an extra pat on the back and say "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Consider the poor unnamed harpist from 2 Kings 3:15. Elisha was in a mood. He wasn't one to be trifled with. But before he could hear from God, Elisha needed to hear a soothing song.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Music as Therapy


Do you know any music therapists? Were you aware that you can get a master's degree in music therapy? A good friend of mine is a music therapist. He works in hospice, playing his harp and singing with anointing to minister to those who are near the end of their journey in this life. I don't think it's my calling. But I can't say for sure. I'm still looking for what I want to do when I grow up. I hope I'm not still saying that when I'm 80.

The therapeutic nature of music has been well documented throughout biblical history, from Saul being soothed by David's playing, to the disciples' bittersweet singing at the close of the Last Supper, to Paul and Silas encouraging themselves while locked in prison, not to mention the celebratory and didactic function of, say, the various poems throughout the biblical text (Exod 15, Judg 5, Phil 2, just to name a few).

But how many times has a song ministered to you, personally, in a time of need or crisis or low point in the deep valleys of this journey we call life? Just the other day I had one of those "God moments" in song. God spoke to me personally through the words of a psalm, but more importantly, it was the music that was the vehicle of the message. I could not have received that message through the words alone, but the wheels of song carried it into my heart.

Now here's the homework: get your pen(cil) and paper ready. Select a song that has especial meaning to you. Find a quiet space where you can sit and listen and think without distraction. Press play on the recording. Listen. Write. Tell what you love about this song. Write about how it has ministered to you in the past. What is the over-arching meaning of the song? Does it speak to you on more than one level? What, if any, biblical text(s) does the song reference? How effective is the song at communicating the true meaning of the biblical text? If necessary, listen to the song again. And again. If it's within your technical capacity, perform a cursory analysis of the form and discuss how the song fits within its own genre or whether it breaks the mold of its genre.

If appropriate, share your findings with someone. Or post them as a comment, here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Harp Lesson from the Holy Land

The harp shop hid among the crowded streets of Jerusalem. It was hard work to search it out among the many houses and souvenir stalls. An ordinary looking door with the correct address finally presented itself. We entered a small room with very few actual instruments and heard stomping around on the floor above our heads. The proprietors came down the stairs, delighted to show off their musical wares. They hand crafted the instruments, and their specialty was harps like the one King David played.

The man showed off his treasures as he gave us a history lesson. He and his wife explained that the legend says David hung his harp above his bed, and the wind blowing through the strings would awaken him every morning.
This gave new meaning to Psalm 108:1-2 which said, “O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early” (KJV).

I loved the idea of a praise alarm clock. Was it possible to build one internally? Could I stretch some spiritual strings across the walls of my heart that would vibrate whenever God’s spirit started to blow?
The merchant took an ornate, harp with leaves scrolled down the front and handed it to one of us. The U-shaped instrument was polished to a burnished brown. Ten strings stretched between its curvy arms and a Star of David was carved on the base. He told the woman to lay her ear against the wood and pluck softly at the strings.

Nothing happened. She played away and we couldn’t hear a note. Why was she smiling?

They passed the harp to each of us and then we understood. When you laid your ear against the side, you could hear a soft hum begin. The vibrations traveled through the body and directly to the musician’s ear. A room full of people could sit next to you and never hear a thing.

I can imagine David sitting in his court, surrounded by the self-important backstabbers he complained of in the book of Psalms. Should he go to war? Should he stay at home? How was his popularity rating among the people? The heated discussions swirl all around him until the noise threatens to drive him mad.
Ignoring the bicker and squabbling, he picks up his ten-stringed lyre and softly strums. The conversations continue unimpeded, but David is no longer the king on his throne. He’s a simple shepherd once again as he plays a love song only he and God can hear.

I doubt I will ever learn to play the lyre or compose the kind of heart wrenching poetry that poured from David’s soul, but I can sing a new song of my own. I’ll compose it on the strings of my heart and offer it silently up to God. It’s a secret He and I can share together, no matter how crowded and noisy my surroundings may be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Keepin' It Real

Let me start by apologizing for skipping out on my post last month… I apologize.
As a person that plays the organ, there are many occasions in Apostolic services that my services are called upon to, without listing all the different terms, “preach with the preacher”. I know somebody’s thinking I’m about to complain about this, but I’m not. I actually have a great time doing that (preaching with the preacher). It’s one of my favorite things to do, but don’t tell me to get on some keyboard with a pathetic excuse for some organ sounds on it. This should be a sin. People should be beaten for asking this of anyone that truly loves playing the organ. You may say “that’s harsh TJ!” And I’ll just say “it was harsh to ask me to do that.” No, I’m not bashing people that don’t have best keyboards money can buy (which by the way, I don’t like playing organ settings on them either).
If somebody asks me to come back them up, I don’t mind doing that, just let me choose a sound on that bad boy that allows me to create the best sound I can with it. Don’t insist on using the organ sound. Sometimes it just doesn’t sound right… to me.
Let me explain. The sound that we are using a single keyboard to imitate is so much more complex than we seem to think. It’s like asking a 10 year old to play point guard for an NBA All-Star team. It may be pretty good, but it’s not going to accomplish the task at hand. And this isn’t just for preaching with the preacher; I’m talking about throughout a service. One keyboard, with 88 keys to imitate a beast that has two keyboards with 61 keys and a pedal board with another 25 is just not right! And on top of that, one can manipulate the sounds on a Hammond C-3 almost just thinking about it. Mm BABY!!! Ok, I’m getting too technical. If you want me to go deeper, just let me know.
How often do we hear drummers complain about playing electric drums, or just anybody complaining about a guitar sample on a keyboard? But let an organist say he or she doesn’t want to play an organ sound on a keyboard; the looks people give me are priceless.
I’ve said all this simply to make this point: You can’t beat the real thing. Thank you Coca-Cola! We can’t just be trying to be some kind of imitation. You need to sound like you when you’re singing or playing. While someone else can’t tell the difference – He knows the real deal. There are things that only you can do. There are things that separate you from the bunch. So no matter how “old school” someone may think your style is, or how irrelevant somebody may claim your sound to be. God requires that each man give according to what he has. Don’t try to turn what God gave you into something else – keep it real!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Don’t Put Your Life on Shuffle


Ever stop to wonder what your worship service would look like on the iPod Shuffle?

You could have a select number of individuals pick their top favorite two or three or ten songs and put them all on a Shuffle. Then to start the worship service you could just press play. Crazy, no?

But isn’t that what it looks like when you don’t give the worship service the attention it deserves? When you don’t pray before making your song selection? When you don’t take time to reflect on what the LORD is doing in the service? When you don’t allow the Spirit the direct you to make a change in the middle of the song service while you’re leading it?

Consider the evolution of recorded music. From LPs to cassettes to CDs to the iWorld. Certainly I don’t want to leave out eight tracks or 78s but if they receive short shrift in my estimation it’s because I have had practically zero experience with them. But with the thematic possibility of 20 or 25 minutes a side, or even with the idea of the entire recording having a thematic unity resembling the organic unity of a symphony or, say, a sonata, there was a sense of “I’m going to sit down for 20 or 30 or 45 minutes and listen to music.”

Nowadays we multitask. We’re not inclined to simply sit and listen to music for any extended period of time unless we have a long commute. So introduce the concept of the Shuffle (for brevity sake passing over the iPod). Load 300 songs onto one little device and randomize. You don’t even have to think about it. Well, beyond the initial selection of which 300 songs will you install on to the device, assuming you’re fortunate enough to have more than 25 or 30 CDs to choose from. It’s precisely this lack of thinking that is a result of our incessant multi-tasking. When anyone and everyone can post their latest “status” or write a 200 word blog entry or even publish their own novel, something is very . . . in the state of Denmark.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still a fan of the Shuffle. I use it precisely because I don’t have to think about what I want to listen to. Because I want to allow for a certain serendipity, or even in some cases, for the LORD to speak to me through a simply “seemingly random” song selection. It may be that the song that’s next in the random playlist is just the one I need to get through a difficult circumstance. But when you go from more thinking to less thinking, or even in some cases, to no thinking, I think we’re on the wrong track.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Planning Ahead


Consider the artist tasked with creating a mosaic. All of those little pieces of stone need to just the right shape and placed in just the right place. If it is done well, and done correctly, from a distance it will look like a nice picture. And up close . . . like the ancient forerunner of pointillism that it is.

It’s that way with a worship service. If the songs are selected pell mell at the last minute without any prayer or thought or even possibly coordination with the message, it is likely the result will be experienced as a poorly designed work of art, a mosaic gone awry, all of the stones not quite lining up, a patchwork of unhappy disunity.

How far ahead do you plan for leading worship? A few minutes? a few hours? A few days? A few weeks? It’s obvious that there is such thing as not planning far enough ahead (picking songs five minutes before the start of service) but is it possible that you can plan too far ahead? Can you plan six months worth of songs for your worship services?

How often are you able to coordinate the selection of songs with the message?


Mosaic, Ephesus. The one at the top of this post is from Sardis.