Hymns

2 hymnals

A big part of my job at church revolves around the praise band. I have a fun time playing with the band (on keys, bass, banjo, whatever), but I confess that praise music really isn’t my bag. There are very few contemporary Christian artists I would choose to listen to in my spare time just because I enjoy their music. (Lauren Daigle is one exception that springs to mind, and maybe I Am They, but these are definitely exceptions.) I grew up the son of a Methodist organist and the grandson of a Lutheran organist, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I prefer the traditional hymns. Beyond personal preference, though, I’ve always been hard-pressed to put into words exactly why I find the old hymns so much more meaningful than contemporary worship choruses. Undeniably, our somewhat dated church hymnal is filled with archaic language and non-PC lyrics. And musically, most of the well-known hymns are at least at formulaic and repetitive as the songs I could hear on Sirius’s “The Message” channel.

This article from Christian Century magazine (November 16, 2010) comes as close as anything I’ve read to voicing my feelings. “I understand the value of praise choruses for those who find them more accessible than hymns. But I doubt that anyone will be singing ‘Our God Is an Awesome God’ on a deathbed. The problem isn’t…the lyrics, but its lack of gravitas.” – M. Craig Barnes

https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2010-10/closing-hymns

 

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Calling: Music

Contemplative with bass

Sometimes a calling can change. That’s been happening to me lately, and I have to remember that advice we’ve all heard: You are not your job. You are not your career. And you are not your calling. Jobs, careers, and callings (yes, they do overlap, at least hopefully they do) can all change. For years, I felt a calling to be a musician. I think that is no longer true.

My mom started me on piano when I was just 4. I added the trombone in fourth grade. I picked it up quickly, what with the piano background and all, and made first chair in the grade school band and then the All-West band, which covered a wider area of the city. This was followed by All-City band, and then in high school All-State. I played lead in the jazz band. I won several awards including the Glenn Miller Competition, and was accepted into the prestigious Northwestern University music program as a trombone performance major. All along I had been keeping up my piano skills, which came in handy while performing with a series of semi-professional rock and jazz bands.

Meanwhile, music theatre had been an interest ever since I made my stage debut as a little kid in a local production of The King and I. Much of my recent work has been playing in pit orchestras for the theatre, in addition to working as a church musician, and taking occasional pickup gigs. For many years past the time most people would have put a music career down as a pipe dream, I still nursed along the hope of finding a way to make a living making music.

But for the past couple of years, something else has also been happening. I’ve been losing interest in music. After so many years thinking of myself as a musician first and foremost, this comes as a shock, and an unwelcome one at that. If I’m not a musician, then what am I? Tying one’s identity closely to one idea can lead to an identity crisis when that idea suddenly no longer has the appeal it once had.

I still love music. I hope I never stop loving it as something to listen to and appreciate, but my calling has changed. That is something I have to acknowledge. It’s not easy, but I notice that when I give myself permission to change, I feel better. These days I am feeling a calling in a different direction, one that surprises me. It’s hard to admit to myself and it’s hard to admit to other people, especially since most of my friends and acquaintances still think of me in a way that I no longer think of myself.

Change can be scary but it can also be good. When a new calling comes…er…calling, it can be worthwhile taking the call.

Strange Music

UM-26_27

I am certainly not guilt-free when it comes to musical chauvinism, but I am generally broadminded about music. This started early on; as a kid I was just as happy listening to Broadway musical cast recordings as I was listening to kiddie records, country-western, or Disney soundtracks. Well, there was a period in high school when I was something of a jazz snob. Mostly, though, I have always had very eclectic musical taste. I never understood why one was expected to like The Beatles OR The Rolling Stones, disco OR rock, sacred OR secular. These sorts of musical duels seem pretty pointless.

Not long ago I gave a talk on “What Is Music?” As examples, I played snippets from John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, Laurie Anderson, The Residents, John Coltrane, and Arthur Russell: all artists who have withstood both critical appraisal and the test of time well enough to be taken seriously by music scholars, yet all just odd enough to leave some people scratching their heads and/or covering their ears. The folks in the audience were largely in-the-box when it came to music, and my purpose was to lead them gently outside of the box a little. (I’m sure some of them left and later said to their friends and family, “You wouldn’t believe the crap I had to listen to today!”)

Whenever I find myself falling into a musical rut—which is very easy to do, especially for an old fart like me!—I force myself to try something new. I subscribe to Spotify and Sirius, and both of these services make finding new music a breeze. And there is a lot of great new music! (Yes, there is life beyond mean-spirited and insipid realty TV shows.)

For anyone wanted to reach out a bit, might I suggest turning to a guy who has had his hands in, on, around, and all through many creative and innovative musical projects: Brian Eno. He’s well-represented on Spotify both as a solo artist and as a collaborator with Roxy Music, David Bowie, U2, Ultravox, Robert Fripp, John Cale, and David Byrne just to name a very small sample.  On the contemporary classical side, one of his most interesting projects was Obscure Records, which existed from 1975-1978 and presented 10 records featuring groups and composers such as Penguin Café Orchestra, Gavin Bryars, Harold Budd, and others. These recordings are not necessarily easy to find, but they are worth the search. Most of the composers represented in the series have discographies that stretch beyond the Obscure label.

Happy listening!