Music is the Sound of Reality, or Reality in Sound

Stratford Caldecott (author of a great book on education: Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education) posted a link to a helpful article on music by Robert R. Reilly: “The Music of the Spheres.” That is where I got the title for the post (his quote: “Music is, in a way, the sound of metaphysics, or metaphysics in sound.”). But I can’t put metaphysics in the blog title! Reilly explains how music gives voice to underlying views of reality, and in the twentieth century, music was reconceptualized:

Music in the Western world was shaped by a shared conception of reality so profound that it endured for some twenty-five hundred years. As a result, the means of music remained essentially the same—at least to the extent that what was called music could always have been recognized as such by its forbearers, as much as they might have disapproved of its specific style. But by the early twentieth century, this was no longer true. Music was re-conceptualized so completely that it could no longer be experienced as music, i.e. with melody, harmony, and rhythm. This catastrophic rupture, expressed especially in the works of Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage, is often celebrated as just another change in the techniques of music, a further point along the parade of progress in the arts. It was, however, a reflection of a deeper metaphysical divide that severed the composer from any meaningful contact with external reality. As a result, musical art was reduced to the arbitrary manipulation of fragments of sound.

Here, I will sketch of the philosophical presuppositions that undergirded the Western conception of music for most of its existence and then examine the character of the change music underwent in the twentieth century. I will conclude with a reflection on the recovery of music in our own time and the reasons for it, as exemplified in the works of two contemporary composers, the Dane Vagn Holmboe and the American John Adams.

I suggest you read the whole article.

Keith Getty on Writing Hymns

Keith Getty led one of the workshops at the National Worship Leaders Conference on the topic, “Writing Today’s Modern Hymns.” David Neff, editor-in-chief for Christianity Today Media Group, edited and distilled ten notable ideas from the workshop:

  1. The primary form we use is the story form. The gospel is primarily story. How do you take people who want 4-line worship songs and get them to sing 32 lines? By structuring the song as a story.
  2. It is important to look at things that are harrowing and that don’t necessarily make us feel happy. The central core of the Christian faith is not something that makes us happy. We need to acknowledge our need for a redeemer. The reason we worship is that we meet God through the central story of the cross.
  3. We need lament. But if you want to write lament, remember that a successful lament resolves. Not into a happily-ever-after ending, but like the psalms of lament, by ultimately acknowledging that God is God.
  4. To write strong melodies remember that folk melody has to be passed on orally (aurally). I try to write songs that can be sung with no written music. I imitate Irish folk melody, with a great deal of contour, of rise and fall.
  5. Use pastors and theologians as resources for your writing. But keep company with them. Don’t just ask them to fix your text here or there when you’re done with it.
  6. Trinitarian worship safeguards us from so many problems our worship can get into: either an overly stern view of god or a casual view of god. Both can lead to problems in our lives.
  7. Martin Luther is one of ten people from history I would want to have coffee with. I have looked at a lot of Luther’s hymns and emulated him. First, Luther had a high view of redemption. He also believed we live our lives in the midst of spiritual warfare. Thirdly, he had a high view of the church and a high vision of the church.
  8. The congregation is the choir and it is merely the privilege of those of us who are musically gifted to help them sing.
  9. Lyrics and great writing are the same thing. Lyricism is poetry. If your write lyrics, read as much poetry as you can. Lyricists are people who love words and do crossword puzzles.
  10. Growing up, I never listened to pop music as a child. I was steeped in church music. That could be a blessing because everything I write can be sung by a congregation.

Keith and his wife Kristyn have several CDs that might be of interest to you.

Bach the Evangelist

In the June/July 2000 edition of First Things, Uwe Siemon–Netto wrote an article titled, “J. S. Bach in Japan.” He begins by explaining:

Twenty–five years ago when there was still a Communist East Germany, I interviewed several boys from Leipzig’s Thomanerchor, the choir once led by Johann Sebastian Bach. Many of those children came from atheistic homes. “Is it possible to sing Bach without faith?” I asked them. “Probably not,” they replied, “but we do have faith. Bach has worked as a missionary among all of us.” During a recent journey to Japan I discovered that 250 years after his death Bach is now playing a key role in evangelizing that country, one of the most secularized nations in the developed world.

Read the whole article, and check out this video posted by Paul McCain regarding the influence of Bach on Japanese musician Masaaki Suzuki.

Music, Singing, & the Reformation

Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA, holds a Reformation Heritage Conference each year. I have mentioned some of their previous lectures given by D. G. Hart, Mike Horton, Carl Trueman, and others. This year Paul S. Jones from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, lectured on Music, Singing, & the Reformation. Here are the links:

[HT: David Strain]

A New Indelible Grace CD Project

Kevin Twit explains that they are working on a new Indelible Grace CD project that might be available this Fall. He explains:

Some of the longtime IG artists will be on this one including Matthew Smith, Sandra McCracken, Matthew Jones, Emily Deloach, and Jeremy Casella. But there will be some from more recent IG artists like Jason Feller and Chelsey Scott, and a couple new artists too including Justin Smith. Justin wrote 2 of the tunes on the Wake CD (including Abide With Me) and he wrote 3 on this new project. Matthew Smith wrote 1 and there is one by me (Kevin Twit). I have posted some pictures from the recording sessions over at our facebook fan page.

Read his whole post.

Reilly: Sunlight

I have a link to the violin-rock band known as Reilly on my sidebar. You can find out more information about their band in this interview. They have a new music video of their song Sunlight that is well done. Here is a sample from the lyrics:

You shine a white light into my blind eyes / and now I’ve seen you truly for the first time / This revelation of my desperation / Brings me to Calvary, it brings me to salvation / You resurrect me, You rearrange me / You make my heart beat to another symphony / And You’ve pursued me like You think I’m worth it / And Savior now I know that I do not deserve this…”


REILLY – Sunlight (HD) from Reilly on Vimeo.

Creativity as Perception

In the Vol. 94, Nov/Dec 2008 edition of Mars Hill Audio, Ken Myers interviewed Jeremy Begbie (Thomas A. Langford Research Professor at Duke Divinity School, Duke University) on how music is a way of engaging with the order in Creation. At one point in the interview, Begbie says:

Oliver O’Donovan, the great ethicist, has a fantastic phrase: “Love achieves its creativity by being perceptive.” We often think of creativity as, we are going to make something and impose it on the world…the great artists are perceptive. They spend a very long time with three notes or a chord or sometimes just a note. That loving attention to what God has given us is extraordinarily important.

What a helpful insight into creativity. You can see the content of volume 94 here. If you do not subscribe to Mars Hill  Audio, I cannot recommend it highly enough! I should also recommend Begbie’s book Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. If you follow the link, you can read some sample pages.

The Music of Nathan Clark George

I haven’t had much time to blog this week. We had a mid-week concert with Nathan Clark George. This was a great experience for our church. We enjoyed meeting his family and spending time with them. If you are unfamiliar with Nathan Clark George, take a moment and check out his website here.

There is a great story behind this ministry. They are a family of 7 (soon to be 8), and they travel together in a motor home. Franklin Springs Media did a documentary on their ministry. You can view it here. It’s called, Pull Up a Chair: The Story and the Songs with Nathan Clark George:

The Stories—Nathan and his wife Patsy lead a life that is anything but typical. Along with their five young children, their family travels the country together in their home—an RV—during this exciting season of their lives. Pull Up a Chair features an engaging half-hour documentary about the fun-filled aspects of life on the road with a traveling musician’s family, while providing honest insight into the challenges that are faced along the way. Ultimately, a joyful picture of biblical family unity emerges, as the George family embraces the adventure-filled uniqueness of their journey.

The Songs—Pull Up a Chair is full-length High Definition concert of original music written and performed by Nathan and his talented band. Renowned for his musical excellence and heart-felt vocals, Nathan Clark George combines his musical talent with a commitment to scripturally-based lyrics. The result is a musical experience that is enjoyable and enriching for the entire family. Pull Up A Chair features 17 songs, including “I Will Rejoice” and “Psalm 24”. This beautifully filmed concert event is a God-honoring celebration of music and family.

You can get the CD at his website here, along with his other CDs. I highly recommend his Christmas CD: A Midwinters Eve.

Nathan Clark George concert in Rossville, TN

On Wednesday evening of this week at 7 pm (April 22nd), I am very excited that Nathan Clark George will be at our church for a concert. If you are unfamiliar with Nathan Clark George, take a moment and check out his website here.

Nathan was recently awarded Acoustic Artist of the Year at the annual Momentum Awards hosted by Indieheaven. His new CD, Pull Up a Chair, was also named Album of the Year. Here are some other resources for him:

You can go to the MySpace page and listen to his music. Go here to our church web page for directions. The town of Rossville is located 45 minutes east of Memphis, TN. Please feel free to contact me via the contact form or the comments section.