Bach and God

For several days I have the the opportunity to listen to music with three different levels of youth orchestras and hear conductors and composers.  Here is one of many tidbits I’ve learned (and I’m just observing and chauffeuring :)).

A Conductor today was explaining Pedal-Points in Bach’s Organ pieces.

A Pedal-Point is a long sustained typically bass type note in a music piece.  Several of Bach’s compositions have long sustained pedal-points.  The pedal-points do not change or fluctuate but may last 32 measures or longer.  Bach’s pedal-points were used to represent the unchanging nature of God.  God remained the same no matter what else was going on in the world.  Even if chaos was occurring (for example: in the rest of the music), God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Isn’t that neat?

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. ESV

Approximately 80 high schoolers (Public, Private and Homeschool) got to hear that Saturday as part of their instruction in an orchestra.


One Mouthful Is Quite Enough

Here is a helpful reminder of what discernment is?

While the quote speaks of books, it can apply to so many areas – TV, Movies, Magazines, Music, and even some Preachers.

If I have a joint of meat on my table of which the smell and the taste at once convince me that it is putrid and unwholesome, should I show discretion by eating the whole of it before giving my judgment that it is not fit for food? One mouthful is quite enough, and one sentence of some books ought to suffice for a sensible man to reject the whole mass. Let those who can relish such meat feed on it, but I have a taste for better food.


 Charles Spurgeon


Does Your Church’s Worship Resemble This?

Ezekiel 33:31-32

31  And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.

32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.  ESV

The congregation coming and talking up a good talk yet walking out unaffected by anything said?

Beautiful voices, well played instruments, maybe even good words but not actually living and doing what is said?

Does your worship resemble this?


A Book About Worship by Scott Aniol

I have enjoyed reading several of Scott Aniol’s documents available on his website Religious Affections Ministries.  When I was researching about the Regulative Principle of Worship and also when I was discussing the issue of Rap in worship I benefited greatly from his articles or the external links he provided.  His newest book he has made available for pastors for free. 

Sound Worship

Sound Worship takes the main concepts of Worship in Song and delivers them in a brief, easy-to-read, engaging way. If you want answers to important worship and music questions without all of the research, footnotes, or technical jargon, Sound Worship is for you. See the book’s contents here.

Pastors: Get a free copy of the Teacher’s Edition (full book text included) by contacting us at: [email protected]!

“Get a free digital copy of Scott Aniol’s new book, Sound Worship!


Homeschooled Young Adults

There are several young adult and older teens who were homeschooled that are beginning to make some progress in sharing their faith and their lifestyle with others. Two homeschooled young ladies Jasmine Baucham, daughter of Voddie Baucham, and Abigail of Pearls And Diamonds (shared with her sister-in-law Lauren) are examples of young ladies who are striving to serve their Lord, their families and encourage their peers in living godly lives.

One interesting feature of the movie The Mysterious Islands that I noticed was the music for the film. After the film we were able to hear Ben Botkin talk about composing and producing the music for the movie. When I heard his name and that he was homeschooled, I suspected he was related to the Botkin sisters, Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin of Visionary Daughters. Sure enough he is a sibling of theirs. Quite a talented family they have.  We were able to get an audio track of the movie and I think we’ve listened to it several times. Seems he has helped compose the music for several of the Vision Forum Movies such as League of Grateful Sons, The Return of the Daughters, and Jamestown. It will be interesting to see what future projects he gets to work upon.

Teens and young adults can do hard things and serve the Lord. My how I wasted my youth years!

Wonder what the Lord has in store for each of these in the next twenty years?


Amazing Grace: Does the Tune Matter?

Does the tune, the music itself, have a message?

Examine the following videos and see what you think.

Orchestra and serious solemn singing of Amazing Grace.


Amazing Grace ( My Chains are Gone) by Chris Tomlin


Amazing Grace sung to a different tune.


Now that version didn’t sound bad (more different) and actually was somewhat serious. So what can be wrong with putting Amazing Grace to that tune? If you know what the tune is then you might see the conflict. The tune is House Of Rising Sun which is about a house of ill repute.


So does singing Amazing Grace to this tune change the ultimate meaning or give a different message?


Worship by Ligon Duncan

Matthew Pinson, J., Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views has this from Ligon Duncan

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, from whom traditional evangelicals have learned much about what Scripture teaches about worship, understood two things often lost on moderns. First, they understood that the liturgy (by which I simply mean here the set forms of corporate worship), media, instruments, and vehicles of worship are never neutral. So exceeding care must be given to the “law of unintended consequences.” Often the medium overwhelms and changes the message. For example, singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island” (the meter works, but the tune does not—a light, quasi-sea-shanty, with comedic associations, coupled with gravely serious words) changes the whole tone of what one is doing in singing that text and easily becomes a sacrilege. Second, the Reformers knew that the purpose of the elements and forms and circumstances of corporate worship is to assure that one is actually doing worship as it is defined by the God of Scripture, that one is worshiping the God of Scripture, and that one’s aim in worshiping Him is the aim set forth in Scripture.

So traditional evangelicals care about how we worship, not because we think that liturgy (again, simply meaning the order of service) is prescribed, mystical, or sacramental, but precisely so that the liturgy can get out of the way of the gathered church’s communion with the living God. The function of the order of service is not to draw attention to itself but to aid the soul’s communion with God in the gathered company of the saints by serving to convey the Word of God to and from God, from and to His people. C. S. Lewis puts it this way: ‘As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t have to notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.’ This is why the great Baptist preacher Geoffrey Thomas can say that, in true worship, worshipers ‘have little thought of the means of worship; their thoughts are upon God. True worship is characterized by self-effacement and is lacking in any self-consciousness.’ That is, in biblical worship we so focus on God Himself and are so intent to acknowledge His inherent and unique worthiness that we are transfixed by Him. Thus worship is not about what we want or like (nor do His appointed means divert our eyes from Him), but rather it is about meeting with God and delighting in Him. Praise decentralizes self.

So how was your worship today?


Church Music in the Days of The Puritians

During their day, Puritans would play musical instruments in their homes but never in the church. It just wasn’t done that way. The psalm book that they sang from did not have musical notes or notations but the tune was chosen by the presenter and then the congregation followed. Or at least was supposed to. But with no written music to follow and no musical instruments the singing over the years denigrated into cacophony. Congregations did not even sing the same “tune” the same way.

Judge Sewell according to his diary complained that twice the congregation was started on one tune and quickly charged right into a totally different tune. He soon gave up his job as presenter.

“. . . the Tunes that are already in use in our Churches; which, when they first came out of the Hands of the Composers of them, were sung according to the Rules of the Scale of Musick, . . . are now miserably tortured, and twisted, and quavered, in some Churches, into a horrid Medly of confused and disorderly Noises. . . .Our Tunes are, for the want of a Standard to appeal to in all our Singing, left to the Mercy of every unskilful Throat to chop and alter, twist and change, according to their infinitely divers and no less odd Humours and Fancies. That this is most true, I appeal to the Experiences of those who have happened to be present in many of our Congregations, who will grant me, that there are no two Churches that sing alike. Yea, I have my self heard (for Instance) Oxford Tune sung in three Churches (which I purposely forbear to mention) with as much difference as there can possibly between York and Oxford, and any two other different Tunes. … For much time is taken up in shaking out [the] Turns and Quavers; and besides, no two Men in the Congregation quaver alike, or together; which sounds in the Ears of a good Judge, like Five Hundred different Tunes roared out at the same time, whose perpetual interferings with one another, perplexed Jars, and unmeasured Periods, would make a Man wonder at the false Pleasure, which they conceive in that which good Judges of Musick and Sounds, cannot bear to hear.”

Grounds and Rules 1721, Thomas Walters

Or how about this quote:

“… sad to hear what whining, toling, yelling or shreaking there is in our country congregations.” Master Mace

And another controversy over music and singing.

So villanous had church-singing at last become that the clergymen arose in a body and demanded better performances; while a desperate and disgusted party was also formed which was opposed to all singing. Still another band of old fogies was strong in force who wished to cling to the same way of singing that they were accustomed to; and they gave many objections to the new-fangled idea of singing by note, the chief item on the list being the everlasting objection of all such old fossils, that “the old way was good enough for our fathers,” &c. They also asserted that “the names of the notes were blasphemous;” that it was “popish;” that it was a contrivance to get money; that it would bring musical instruments into the churches; and that “no one could learn the tunes any way.”

Sabbath In Puritan New England by Alice Morse Earle

Here is some more information about Edwards:

And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.

Jonathon Edwards Religious Affections (WJE Online Vol. 2)

Edwards lived at the time when Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was dominating the world of music. Though the two were separated by an ocean, one was a Congregationalist and the other a Lutheran, and it is probable that Edwards never actually heard any of Bach’s music, Edwards shared a similar vision with the great composer. Bach, as the composer par excellence at the time, used harmony and counterpoint to direct one’s attention to a higher reality. Edwards likened the harmony of music to the proportionality of beautiful physical features on a woman, as musical harmony symbolized future heavenly harmonious relationships. Music, as well, was to him the most perfect means of communication. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Edwards often enjoyed singing with his wife Sarah. As a result of this love of music, Edwards set about to reform congregational singing. Strict Calvinism (and correspondingly high Biblicism) led many to believe, as Calvin did, that the only appropriate songs to sing in church were those found in the Bible, translated literally from the Hebrew or Greek. Thus, the Psalms (usually unaccompanied by instruments) was the only form of musical worship allowed in New England churches. By Edwards’ time, this had become pure cacophony, especially in contrast to the music epitomized by Bach. People like Cotton Mather, Isaac Watts, and Edwards’ grandfather Solomon Stoddard brought in the “new music,” including hymns, into the churches. Thus it was that Edwards was able to enjoy the advent of this new musical revolution, the style of which he dearly loved.

The quote from Master Mace seems that we have come full circle back to where we started centuries ago.

“… sad to hear what whining, toling, yelling or shreaking there is in our country congregations.”

Does that not describe many of our contemporary worship services where the noise of the instruments and the screaming of lyrics obscur any possible value in the words?


Birmingham News Articles About Sacred Harp Convention

Sacred Harp syllables take shape at National Convention in Birmingham, Ala.

Fortissimo is the preferred volume level — the only one, in fact. Singers in four voice categories sit in a “hollow square” — altos facing tenors, basses facing trebles — with the leader in the center.

Sacred Harp singers meet in north Shelby County
(video is slow to load)

Sacred Harp singing going strong with younger, non-Southern devotees

“When (director) Anthony Minghella came to do ‘Cold Mountain,’ one of the things he ran across was Sacred Harp,” says Buell Cobb, the Birmingham author whose research is documented in his book, “Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music.” “He said that when he heard it, he knew he had a film.”

Some of the singers that will gather next weekend for the 29th National Sacred Harp Convention were in the movie. Most of the 500 or so expected at First Christian Church in North Shelby County are part of a changing demographic that includes more young people and more from outside the South.

“When I first got started in Sacred Harp, many of us had serious doubts about its ability to survive into the new century,” Cobb reflected. “Then a curious thing began to happen on its way out. It began to be discovered and popularized in folk festivals and college music departments. It’s almost like two orbs that were about to pass each other collided and spawned a whole new wave.”

See also Sacred Harp Singing – Losing Its Heart


Sacred Harp Singing – Losing Its Heart

This weekend we attended the National Sacred Harp Convention in the Birmingham, Alabama area. I enjoyed getting to hear the style singing that I grew up listening to. Although I found I was seriously out of practice. I could not sing as fast as they did.

The National Convention draws some of the best Sacred Harp singers from around the world.

There were around a dozen singers from the UK, lots from Canada, one lady was from Holland, and many from all over the USA. Singers drove or flew from Oregon, Montana, New York, and California. There was one lady that has flown from England for ten years for this conference.

We didn’t see anyone we really knew this year. Most of the older individuals aren’t able to travel any longer or else they have passed away. We saw several that we are familiar with but really don’t know, many that are part of promoting Sacred Harp Singing nationally. And of course there was the eclectic older individual man that is a regular each year. You never know what to expect from him. I guess you would call him a modern day hippy. The day we saw him he wore shorts, a printed shirt, black knee high socks, and some kind of rolled beret hat. The day before he was proudly wearing a NO WAR shirt.

That was a symptom of a larger problem which I have noticed for years but never so much as this year. What is the problem? The fact that although in some ways Sacred Harp Singing is thriving and being introduced to more and more younger generations, it has lost its heart.

What do I mean about losing its heart?

The National Convention has become a singing for the sake of singing and promoting Sacred Harp singing. But the real reason for singing is lost, just like Christmas today has no evidence of the purpose intended. The heart of Sacred Harp singing is worshiping our Lord, singing praise to His name and His wonderful provisions for us. But that was missing. Now granted there were those there that were singing to praise and worship the Lord, particularly the older individuals. But many, many were there to sing a style of music and they had never caught the reason for the singing.

Sacred Harp singing was a method of learning to sing notes and carry tunes in order that hymn singing in worship services might be beautiful praise to the Lord. It was developed at a time when reading music was not known by the general population and tunes were sung differently in different churches just from memory.

Within a generation or two, the Puritans forgot many of their psalm tunes, and the pace of singing slowed. Lining out, a practice in which a clerk or precentor sang or read a line followed by the people’s singing of that line, gradually became more popular. This call-response pattern and the slowed tempo encouraged individuals to improvise their own variations on the psalm tunes ever more loudly in an increasingly cacophonous sea of sound. Ministers like Thomas Walter found this “singing by rote” intolerable and began in the second and third decades of the eighteenth century to argue for a return to “regular singing.” By 1800 the practice of “lining out” had died in New England and moved South, more of its own accord than by argument, but concern for “regular singing” helped to create singing schools.

Dictionary of Christianity in America

So villanous had church-singing at last become that the clergymen arose in a body and demanded better performances; while a desperate and disgusted party was also formed which was opposed to all singing. Still another band of old fogies was strong in force who wished to cling to the same way of singing that they were accustomed to; and they gave many objections to the new-fangled idea of singing by note, the chief item on the list being the everlasting objection of all such old fossils, that “the old way was good enough for our fathers,” &c. They also asserted that “the names of the notes were blasphemous;” that it was “popish;” that it was a contrivance to get money; that it would bring musical instruments into the churches; and that “no one could learn the tunes any way.”

Sabbath In Puritan New England by Alice Morse Earle

So Sacred Harp singing developed as a way to teach the hymns and tunes to the congregations in order that the hymn singing could be done “decently and in order”.

If you visit a small Sacred Harp singing in a church there is often praying and testimonies given during the singing. Even the songs attest to the Lord’s Grace and faithfulness to us worthless sinners. Although the singings may be doing the right things and saying the right words, they are becoming lacking in the truly important things – worshiping the Lord with all the heart and spirit.