Posts Tagged With: music

[Repost] A Joyful Sound That’s Doctrinally Sound Where Skills Abound and Praise Resounds: Gospel Gripped Church Music

“I like the hymns!  I grew up with them!  They are part of the heritage and the heritage of the Church—and they alone should be sing in worship.”

“I like the choruses and the modern worship songs.  We are called to sing to the Lord a ‘new song’—and these new songs with the modern sounds are what should be sung to reach this generation.”

Conversations like this abound in the American evangelical church over this issue.  Writers have spilled much ink over this topic—usually under the umbrella of the topic of ‘worship wars.’  The hymns vs. choruses debate raged in the 1980’s and 1990’s—and seems to have died down a bit, thankfully.  (When I brought up the topic of hymns and choruses, one man in our church confessed that he had no idea what I was talking about—he made no distinction!  How happy I was!)

I grew up in the church heavily involved in traditional music ministry (choir, orchestra, piano/organ-backed congregational hymn singing, etc.).  I even earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in church music (B.S., Palm Beach Atlantic University; Master of Church Music, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and was a music minister for 10 years before God called me into the pastorate. 

A joyful sound.  Yes, I am starting with attitude.  Musical skills are important (and I will address them soon), and doctrine is crucial, but if you want people to listen to what you sing, sing what you sing with joy!  The axiom “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies to this area as well.  Do we care about what we sing—or do we act as if we could care less?  Is it any wonder that the Psalms are filled with admonitions and encouragements to sing for joy (Psalm 95-100)? 

that’s doctrinally sound … Here we examine the actual content of a song.  Is the song doctrinally sound and Scripturally bound?  Sadly, fewer and fewer look at the words they are singing but simply to the singability and rhythm exclusively—and whether they can get them into an emotional ‘state’ worship.  Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).  One of the main functions of worship music is to teach about the glory of God and the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Having certain emotions is not the main desire, but truth should be the fuel to those emotions.  The joy comes from knowing that what we are singing about (and, more importantly, Who we are singing about) is true!

where skills abound … Skills?  Am I saying that all worship leaders need to sing like Michael Buble? Play guitar like Christopher Parkening?  Play drums like Buddy Rich?  Piano like Horowitz?  No, not at all.  What I am saying is that the Psalmist implores those leading God’s people in worship to “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Psalm 33:3).  When David was organizing the musicians for leading worship in the Temple, he gathered “all who were skillful” (1 Chronicles 25:7) in various instruments to lead.  Granted, this is relative.  Not everyone has equal skills, but everyone can offer the skills they have as an offering of praise to God.

and praise resounds.  What a witness it is to lead people to praise the living God who sent His Son for our justification!  To think how Christ bore the wrath of God toward our sin upon His shoulders to satisfy as a propitiation so we would not have to face the penalty that was due us.  What mercy and grace!  To this, we offer that sacrifice of praise.  We have come full circle. 

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Ears to Hear: Are You Locked in on the Right Melody?

My son Daniel is starting to pick up and pick out tunes on the piano, much like I did at his age when I began piano lessons.  He gets such joy in this, and really has a good ear to go along with his innate rhythmic sense.  I’m thrilled.

One day, he was playing a song and just one note was off.  I was in another room and heard him play that over and over again.  When I finally made it down to the piano, I showed him where he was just a half-step off.  When he finally played that, he didn’t care for it.  “I like the other melody better, Dad.”  “You got too used to it… that’s not the correct melody.”  It took some time, but he finally had the ear to hear and played it right from then  on.

SItting under preaching that preaches false doctrine is much like that.  Your ear gets used to a melody that is not correct.  Then, when you hear the Word rightly divided, it doesn’t sound right to you–and you go back to what sounds right to your bad ear. 

This is why Jesus tells us, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches ” (Revelation 2-3).

As you sit under the preaching of God’s Word, ask God to give you ears to hear His Word.  Beware of locking in on the wrong melody that the Spirit sings.

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Why Do We Sing? God’s Gift of Music

 

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

(Ephesians 5:15-21)

In the Preface of the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, Jimmy Draper, at the time President of the Sunday School Board, now known as LifeWay Christian Resources, penned this opening paragraph:

God’s people are a singing people. Ours is a singing faith, our songs incorporating our beliefs. Our music draws us in praise and adoration to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Nothing is more vital to vibrant Christian faith than to praise and adore our Lord. It is in worship that we encounter God, that God speaks to us and calls us to deeper levels of understanding and commitment. Nothing draws us to true worship more forcefully and effectively than music.[1]

John MacArthur once wrote:

“The Spirit-filled life produces music. Whether he has a good voice or cannot carry a tune, the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Nothing is more indicative of a fulfilled life, a contented soul, and a happy heart than the expression of son. The first consequence of the Spirit-filled life that Paul mentioned was not mountain-moving faith, an ecstatic spiritual experience, dynamic speaking ability, or any other such thing. It was simply a heart that sings. When a believer walks in the Spirit, he has an inside joy that manifests itself in music. God puts music in the souls and then on the lips of His children who walk in obedience.”[2]

You will notice that a considerable amount of time during the first half of our gathering together is that of singing. We sing different styles (praise choruses, hymns, etc.), in different ways (solos, congregational singing, choir, instrumental pieces, etc.) at differing tempi. And frankly, some folks are very much caught up in styles, ways and means, and tempos.

Yet, with all these varieties, there holds one unifying factor: the goal is to magnify Christ, to help us mature in Christ, to minister the name of Christ, and mobilize in the name of Christ from Centennial to the corners of creation. We must realize this—Christ has given us the gift of music to point to the gift of Him and what he’s accomplished for us on the cross and empty tomb in atoning for our sins.

Isn’t it a shame how God gave a gift of music, and our fallen natures can turn that gift intended for Him into something intended for us? Martin Luther put it in his normal blunt way: “A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of donkeys and the grunting of hogs.”[3] (Goodness, Martin—how do you really feel?) But we see that music, especially music in the service and witness of God, brings out some strong feelings!

The apostle Paul is no different! In the midst of some great instruction, he encourages us to use “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to propel us upward, forward, inward, and outward.

The Upward Dimension: We sing to magnify God (Ephesians 5:19b-20).

Look with me at Ephesians 5:19b-20: “… singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So music, specifically singing, has a distinctly upward direction to it. We sing outwardly from the melody that He has already placed in our heart.

John MacArthur once noted:

Our singing and making melody is not for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves or of entertaining others but of rejoicing in and praising God. Whether we are singing a solo, singing with a choir, or singing with the congregation, our focus should be on the Lord, not on ourselves or other people. He is the audience to whom we sing.[4]

This type of singing mirrors other areas of our lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we see the passage, “Whatever we eat, or drink, or whatever we do [even how we sing], do to the glory of God.”

If you read on later in Ephesians 5 when it talks about the roles of husbands and wives.

  • “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22)
  • “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
  • “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
  • “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:5-7).

Every place that God has put us, we live to magnify Him. But we live in the flesh that seeks to magnify self. We live in a world that seeks to magnify personalities, celebrities, fame.

There is the story of a time when Thomas K. Beecher substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore, when Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit instead, some people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas raised his hand for silence and announced, “All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain.”

The Forward Dimension: We sing to become mature in Christ (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Look with me at Ephesians 5:15-17:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Paul begs the Ephesian Christians to look carefully at how we walk. When he uses this term ‘walk,’ he is referring to how we live and move in this world. Back in Ephesians 4:17-18, Paul warned the church, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” So Paul calls them (and us) to put that off and to walk wisely.

In the preceding paragraph, he tells us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1). In verse 8, he reminded them that they once walked in darkness, “but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (5:8).

Now, he is calling us to walk wisely. By what standard? Our backgrounds and experiences may develop in us what seems like ‘wisdom’ and common sense. And the longer we live, the more we rely on this—even being lauded by others for our good sense!

Many of you read through the wonderful devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. In the August 29th entry of this devotional, Chambers says:

Every time you venture out in your life of faith, you will find something in your circumstances that, from a commonsense standpoint, will flatly contradict your faith. But common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense. In fact, they are as different as the natural life and the spiritual.[5]

So what informs this wise living? Solomon wrote that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). The fear, reverence and awe of the LORD, the covenant God of His people who created heaven and earth by his own will and purpose—this here is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and instruction. Wisdom comes from taking instruction and the knowledge that comes with it, and them applying it! Even them, we need help, don’t we?

So Paul takes it a step farther: “be filled with the Spirit.” The Spirit was promised to us by Christ himself before He left to ascend back to the Father. Being filled with the Spirit means to be fueled to walk as Christ would have us. Walking lovingly, walking in the light, walking wisely, walking productively (“making the best use of your time, because the days are evil”). Every moment, every second, every hour matters. Even the routine things.

Walking unwisely means walking in ‘the course of this world.’ Ephesians 2 tells us that we followed “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience.” Satan seeks to blind us to our true situation outside of Christ. But when we come to Christ and surrender, He through the Holy Spirit begins to indwell us. Through the Holy Spirit, we are connected to the mind of Christ and Christ is connected to us!

When I lived in Michigan, I was 11-12 years old and remember driving past a restaurant in downtown Midland, Michigan called The French Onion. Below the title, it said, “Food and spirits served here.” Spirits? That’s another name for alcoholic beverages. I had only heard or seen the word spirit in connection with something other-worldly or supernatural.

So when Paul says, “Do not be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” the juxtaposition was not accidental on his part. Wine and other substances have a way of influencing. Look at Proverbs 23:26-35:

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.[c]
35 “They struck me,” you will say,[d] “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.”

This doesn’t surprise us, does it? You hear of those who are drunk have certain personalities: “Oh, he’s a mean/nice/fun/crying drunk”—with the implication that this is not their normal personality—or at least it’s not that intense.

See what kind of influence this has—but Paul is saying, “To live wisely, to be connected to ultimate wisdom—be filled with the Spirit. You see, we will be filled by something—and whatever fills us, fuels us. If the Spirit fills us and we are being filled by His inspired Word, we will live not only wisely, but productively. Note what is says that wisdom is that which “makes best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

The Inward Dimension: We sing to minister to fellow Christians (Ephesians 5:19, 21).

When I was a music minister (served as one for about 10 years), everyone had a differing view of this. In fact, when I was a music minister from 1992-2002 (and at that time, going to college and seminary to get ‘church music’ degrees), there was a term that was being bandied about: worship wars. Now, if two words ever did not go together, it was that! And people got in their camps: traditional (I love the hymns and anthems), contemporary (I love more modern music), blended (a blend of both), and some are liturgical (a very scripted service with scripted music and Scripture readings).

And for a while, instead of music unifying, it divided. It was like when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that some followed Paul, others follow Apollos, etc. It was, “I’m in this camp,” “Why how could you? I’m in this camp.” And instead of it being merely about preferences, it would become a test of faith.

Another way music can be seen as selfish is by relying on talent and musicianship rather than the giver of that talent and musicianship.

After the apostle Paul tells the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit, them something interesting happens. The filling of the Spirit does not simply affect the person filled, but the people also that surround the person so filled. Notice in verse 19 that immediately follows: “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Then as you go down to verse 21, you see that a result of this singing to one another and making melody to God that the result is that we are “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

God has called us to take care of one another in the faith. All through Scripture, singing among God’s people is always shown within the communion of believers. And this type of ministry among God’s people always puts music in its proper place—as a vehicle for the truth!

In 1 Chronicles 25:1, we see how King David is setting up the worship that would take place in the Temple. In this verse, we see something very interesting: “David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.” What were they doing with those instruments? Prophesying! They were using music to preach and minister to the people.

Let me ask, “Do you sing?” If so what is your motivation behind your singing? If you don’t why?

Some of you may not sing because you don’t think you can sing. Are you afraid how you sound? Are you afraid you might not get the tune right to that new song, so you’ll only stick to the older songs you’re familiar with? Could this lack of singing be pride—a reflection of our lives where we do not wish to risk breaking the façade of what others think of us? Could there be a coldness in our relationship to Christ where the song won’t come—and if it does come, it only comes with a time limit?

If you do sing, why? Do you sing to show off your pipes? Do you sing so people will think well of you? Do you sing, but may be offended of someone doesn’t acknowledge your talents and gifts? This also could be a sign of pride. You are using a gift that God has given you to exalt you rather than the One who gave it.

You see, friend, our audience is not each other—our audience is the crucified and risen Savior. And he gave you a song to sing when he saved you. The unholy Trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil want to take away your song. But you must fight that! Sing helps you in your worship upward to God—but it also help the person sitting beside you. Your singing encourages them in their song!

The Outward Dimension: We sing to mobilize Christians Monday through Saturday.

The people of God would always sing before battle, but especially in praise to God after a victorious battle! We sing to encourage believers here, but songs are also sung.

It must be said that each Sunday, we are unleashed. But each Sunday, we also come in from that to which we were unleashed! When we are living for Christ, trusting in Christ, witnessing for Christ, and discipling others in Christ—and Christ sustains us and continues to show himself faithful—you cannot tell me that will not fuel up and fire up our singing!

Of if we are aiming to live for Christ, but an issue comes along, a monkey wrench is thrown into our circumstances—we come and sing to remind ourselves in song about the mercy, faithfulness, and sovereignty of God in Christ.

Louie Giglio in his book The Air I Breathe, poignantly wrote:

“It’s a lot easier to sing a song than it is to stop and touch the broken. It’s a lot less taxing to go to church than to take ‘church’ to the world. But sharing with others is a sacrifice of worship that makes God smile.”

May God give us a song to sing that springs, as Larry Norman once sang, from “that sweet, sweet song of salvation.”


[1]The Baptist Hymnal, Wesley Forbis, General Editor (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991), v.

[2]John F. MacArthur, Ephesians

[3]Luther on Music. Accessed at http://www.eldrbarry.net/mous/saint/luthmusc.htm [on-line]; Internet.

[4]MacArthur., p. 257.

[5]Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, August 29. Accessed at http://utmost.org/the-unsurpassed-intimacy-of-tested-faith/ [on-line]; Internet.

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The Role of Skill in Church Music and Worship

Our Music Team at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church and I are meeting about every six weeks to two months for a number of reasons:  encouragement, direction, and focusing on leading God’s people in worship.  When I came in view of a call to ARBC, some asked me what kind of musical style I preferred.  Personally, I have a wide range of tastes, so I told them that I wanted music that’s a joyful sound that’s doctrinally sound

I am in these meetings because at this time we do not have a “Music Minister” in the traditional Southern Baptist sense.  And to be honest, that’s OK.  The Scriptures are inspired, the methodology is not—but we must be led by the Spirit to move where God would have us.  I love what our music team is doing—and they are all volunteer: 

  • Gene Shoun: leads our Sunday morning worship and does a tremendous job in bringing us to the throne of heaven;
  • Diane Weston: play the piano and leads our Praise Team, giving us a great blend of music that all serves under the umbrella of worship;
  • Dee Dunn: Dee coordinates our choir—unreal the Spirit they have.
  • Don Taylor:  Don leads our Sunday night worship times, getting all of us to appreciate and sing with vigor the great hymns of our faith, connecting us with our significant heritage.
  • Dolores Sears: plays the keyboard and the organ, which is a great help to us all.
  • Gloria Hughes:  she serves as our choir president and brings a great spiritual leadership to this team.

At the risk of burying the lead, we are going through an amazing book by Bob Kauflin called Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Crossway, 2008).  All of us love this book.  Kauflin doesn’t tell us to pick a style—he tells us that all styles, if done with excellence and with doctrinal soundness all bring glory to God. 

One particular area he covers that is often missing in church music and worship education (outside of seminary) is that of skill.   Why is it often missing?  It’s because, in my opinion, not taking into account the Spirit in music.  Improving one’s technical prowess, for some, lessens the work of the Spirit moving through.  “If someone’s heart is in the right place, they they should just try their best, and God will bless.” 

In truth, Kauflin reminds us that a lack of skill and a lack of practice in improving that skill can become a hindrance to the worshipers and not a help.  So he takes time to share five things from Chapter 3 (“My Hands: What Do I Practice?”) for us to remember about skill (pp. 34ff ). 

  1. Skill is a gift from God, for His glory.  “What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
  2. Skill must be developed. “We read in 1 Chronicles 25:7 that the musicians ministering at the tabernacle were those ‘who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful.’  Skill must be developed. . . . The greatest musicians put in countless hours honing their talent, realizing that skill must be developed (p. 35).
  3. Skill doesn’t make worship more acceptable to God.  “Even if I can play the most complex chord progressions, write better songs than Matt Redman, or play a song flawlessly, I still need the atoning work of the Savior to perfect my offering of worship (1 Peter 2:5)(35).  
  4. Skill should be evaluated by others.  “I can’t always tell if what I’m doing is helpful or where I need to grow.  I need the eyes and ears of those with whom I am serving.” (36)
  5. Skill is not an end in itself.  “God wants us to realize that the point of our practice isn’t to receive the praise of others.  It’s to bring glory to him.” (36)

What does skill help us do?

  1. Skill helps us focus on God. "The more comfortable  I am with practical aspects of leading, the more I can think about the One to whom I’m singing.  I focus on developing skill so I’ll be able to focus more on God.” (36-37)
  2. Skill helps us serve the church.  “How do we serve one another?  By leading clearly so people aren’t wondering what words to sing next or what the melody is.  By using fresh arrangements that aren’t distracting.” (37)
  3. Skill multiplies serving opportunities.   The broader your skill set, the more areas you have in which to serve.

Skills to develop

  1. Leadership:  “Our goal is pleasing God, not trying to make everyone happy.  Our goal is to serve the church (39).
  2. Musicianship:  This involves technique (“mastering the mechanics or building blocks of a style”), theory (“understanding how music works… like a road map that helps us get our bearings and return to the right path”), and taste (“knowing what fits…what to put in and what to leave out”).  (39)
  3. Communication:  “God wants to change them through eternal truth and an unchanging gospel.  That takes clear, theologically informed communication.”  “If I wanted to grow in communicating more effectively, I should write down what I wanted to say and keep it to a certain length.  The more I though through comments in advance, the more substantive they would be and the easier it would eventually be to prepare them.” (40)
  4. Technology:  “It can be a valuable asset or a terrible taskmaster.  Be familiar with current methods of transferring and downloading music (legal ones, of course), notating charts, using MIDI, producing music, amplifying sound, and projecting lyrics and images, to name a few.” (41)

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2 Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

4 For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:1-7, ESV)

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Schoolhouse Rock and the Value of Timeless Quality

My wife picked up a DVD of some old Schoolhouse Rock videos for $5.00 at the store recently.  I’m not sure if you have been exposed to these epic cartoon shorts, but they were fantastic for me as a child growing up in the 1970s.  They dealt with math, grammar, civics, and a number of other educational subjects, but put them to great rock lyrics (with some classical and jazz thrown in) with some very unique animation. 

My favorite one is given below, which talks (sings?) about how a bill becomes a law.  An entire course in legislation in three minutes!

 

 

A close second is “Conjunction Junction”:

 

Followed by “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.”

(Yes, there are a number, and you can click here to view a bunch of others.)

The truth is, quality is timeless!  When you do something, do so with excellence in mind!  Don’t just skate by.  “Whatever you do, do as unto the Lord and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23; Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31). 

Even though this videos were done in the 1970’s does not mean they are outdated.  Quality lasts.  And when you watch these, I hope you appreciate the effort and creativity that went into this. 

And dear church, doesn’t God deserve our very best in quality, excellence, and creativity?  For His glory?  Be inspired and motivated!

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Pickin’ in Iraq: Bluegrass, the Military, and a Very Good Day

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MUSIC/HUMOR: Harpo and Chico Marx At the Piano

The Marx Brothers were a supremely talented comedy team in the 1920s through the 1940s, which Groucho as the leader of this team. But Harpo and Chico Marx (along with Zeppo) rounded out this team to produce some comedy and laughs that still ‘work’ even today.

But if you have watched any of their movies, you recognize that Harpo and Chico are supremely talented musicians as well. Here is a three-minute clip giving evidence of their comedy as well as their musicianship.  Enjoy!

 

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A Joyful Sound That’s Doctrinally Sound Where Skills Abound and Praise Resounds: Gospel Gripped Church Music

“I like the hymns!  I grew up with them!  They are part of the heritage and the heritage of the Church—and they alone should be sing in worship.”

“I like the choruses and the modern worship songs.  We are called to sing to the Lord a ‘new song’—and these new songs with the modern sounds are what should be sung to reach this generation.”

Conversations like this abound in the American evangelical church over this issue.  Writers have spilled much ink over this topic—usually under the umbrella of the topic of ‘worship wars.’  The hymns vs. choruses debate raged in the 1980’s and 1990’s—and seems to have died down a bit, thankfully.  (When I brought up the topic of hymns and choruses, one man in our church confessed that he had no idea what I was talking about—he made no distinction!  How happy I was!)

I grew up in the church heavily involved in traditional music ministry (choir, orchestra, piano/organ-backed congregational hymn singing, etc.).  I even earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in church music (B.S., Palm Beach Atlantic University; Master of Church Music, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and was a music minister for 10 years before God called me into the pastorate. 

A joyful sound.  Yes, I am starting with attitude.  Musical skills are important (and I will address them soon), and doctrine is crucial, but if you want people to listen to what you sing, sing what you sing with joy!  The axiom “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies to this area as well.  Do we care about what we sing—or do we act as if we could care less?  Is it any wonder that the Psalms are filled with admonitions and encouragements to sing for joy (Psalm 95-100)? 

that’s doctrinally sound … Here we examine the actual content of a song.  Is the song doctrinally sound and Scripturally bound?  Sadly, fewer and fewer look at the words they are singing but simply to the singability and rhythm exclusively—and whether they can get them into an emotional ‘state’ worship.  Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).  One of the main functions of worship music is to teach about the glory of God and the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Having certain emotions is not the main desire, but truth should be the fuel to those emotions.  The joy comes from knowing that what we are singing about (and, more importantly, Who we are singing about) is true!

where skills abound … Skills?  Am I saying that all worship leaders need to sing like Michael Buble? Play guitar like Christopher Parkening?  Play drums like Buddy Rich?  Piano like Horowitz?  No, not at all.  What I am saying is that the Psalmist implores those leading God’s people in worship to “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Psalm 33:3).  When David was organizing the musicians for leading worship in the Temple, he gathered “all who were skillful” (1 Chronicles 25:7) in various instruments to lead.  Granted, this is relative.  Not everyone has equal skills, but everyone can offer the skills they have as an offering of praise to God.

and praise resounds.  What a witness it is to lead people to praise the living God who sent His Son for our justification!  To think how Christ bore the wrath of God toward our sin upon His shoulders to satisfy as a propitiation so we would not have to face the penalty that was due us.  What mercy and grace!  To this, we offer that sacrifice of praise.  We have come full circle. 

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Music Friday: Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio

In the 1990’s, I wanted to play like Bill Evans (1929-1980).  Here he is with Chuck Israels playing an amazing solo on bass. Bill was one of the first to give each part of the trio equal time rather than simply supporting the lead piano. 

For the record, my wife is not a jazz fan.  She doesn’t understand why I enjoy this music so much.  Evans exuded creativity—even genius—with the piano. While you may not hear what I hear in this piece, let me know the types of music that spark your creativity.

Here are the lyrics:

In her own sweet world
Populated by dolls and clowns
And a prince and a big purple bear
Lives my favorite girl.
Unaware of the worried frowns
That we weary grown-ups all wear.

In the sun she dances
To silent music-songs
That are spun of gold
Somewhere in her own little head
Then one day all too soon
She’ll grow up & she’ll leave her doll
And her prince & her silly old bear.
When she goes they will cry
As they whisper good-bye
They will miss her I know
but then so will I.

Then one day all too soon
She’ll grow up & she’ll leave her doll
And her prince & her silly old bear
When she goes they will cry
As they whisper good-bye
They will miss her I know
But then so will I.

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Pete Seeger and the Beauty of Congregational Singing

Pete Seeger.  Ever heard of him? In the 1950s, 1960s, and even now the mention of his name can elicit different feelings.  Chase by the McCarthey Investigation and the FBI for what they deemed subversive and anti-Vietnam rhetoric and singing.  Some saw him as unpatriotic for his lack of support of war in general, and Vietnam specifically.  Some saw him as patriotic for expressing his views on injustice and racial discord in the world.  His aim, he said, was to bring people together.

Why does Pete Seeger intrigue me?  Seeger had a particular habit in his concerts.  First of all, he was an extraordinary folk musician who could play about any stringed instrument that came his way—even a fretless banjo (as seen here on The Johnny Cash Show).  Second of all, he had such an engaging manner about him as he played and interacted with the audience.  He just seemed like a nice guy.

But what intrigues me most about Seeger is the way he encouraged audience participation in his singing.  I honestly don’t care much for his studio work (just him singing alone).  But the energy that developed in listening to him sing live—and then when the audience joins him . . . few things are as stirring as this.

Seeger went on tour in 1964, with the first stop of the tour being in Melbourne, Australia.  The point of this tour was to share some American folk tunes with the Australian people.  In the clip below (approximately eight minutes in length), he shares some backstory on Negro spirituals, then begins singing “Down By the Riverside.”  With just his voice and his banjo (how can anyone go wrong with a banjo?), he shares the tune, then helps them with the four parts so they can sing harmony, then he just let’s go (especially on the part of the song that goes, “Ain’t gonna study war no mo’ . . . .”).

Again, it’s about eight minutes in length, but hang with it and see how he really encourages them to sing along.  It’s worth the watching and waiting.

Seeger understood that if you could get people from different backgrounds (liberals, conservatives, different races, different creeds) singing together, then (right or wrong) a number of walls would come down.  There is something decidedly unifying in a room full of people singing together.  And the more passionate one is about the content and subject of that song, the more passionate the singing—and it becomes contagious.

In church world, we call this ‘congregational singing’ and outside of the preaching of the Word and observance of the ordinances/sacraments it is the most critical part of our times of corporate worship.  Why is this so important?  It brings different voices of the body of Christ in one accord.  And what do Christians have to sing about?

When my wife and I went on our 10th anniversary vacation to my sister’s time share in Cocoa Beach, Florida, we worship at Sovereign Grace Church in Titusville, Florida.  It was a two-hour service.  The first hour was singing, the second hour was preaching.  What I noticed about that first hour, every time any mention of the resurrection occurred, they would start cheering and the singing would become more energetic!  Suddenly, I was shaken out of myself and the newness of the place and just going through the motions and began to focus on the what (or should I say ‘Whom’) we were singing about: a risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Pete Seeger’s legacy, whatever else may be said, is that of bringing others to sing.  In a recent edition of PBS’ American Masters, Seeger noted that the most incredible experiences he’s had at concerts was when the people joined him in singing!  May our churches have these glorious experiences of magnifying our risen Savior and Lord every time we meet!

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