Laudable Linkage

img_0021

I have kind of a longish list today, but found all of these noteworthy or thought-provoking in some way. Hope you find something you like!

Where Is God in a Mass Shooting? HT to True Woman.

Letter to a Church Member (Or a Letter to Myself). “Your church is here, not to give you a good self-image, but to give you a true self-image.”

Exegesis Without Embarrassment, HT to Challies. The first of a series dealing with why God would command the destruction of the Canaanites.

Ten Things You Should Know About Temptation, HT to Challies.

God Is With You in Your Panic Attack.

Let’s Get Real About Women’s Discipleship, HT toChallies. “If Instagram is any clue, most Christian women think discipleship is limited to hosting thoughtfully curated Bible studies in tasteful homes where shrieking children and dirty dishes don’t exist. This glossy ideal sits like a yoke on many women’s shoulders rather than spurring them onward in Christ’s Great Commission.”

The Holiness of Small Things.

Worship Isn’t About Feelings, HT to Challies. “Sometimes I serve my neighbor out of obedience to Christ, and love for Christ follows. Sometimes I am filled with love for Christ, such that I look for an opportunity serve my neighbor.

When You Don’t Need God’s Guidance, HT to True Woman. “We don’t need to seek guidance where guidance has already been revealed in Scripture. How easy it is to convince ourselves we’re “confused” about what we should do when we’re reluctant to do what we know is right. It helps us feel better to label questions of morality “complicated” when they require us to pick up a cross or suffer rejection. The serpent’s ancient whisper—Did God really say?—trips off the tongue when God’s commands are costly.”

Heroes, Hagiography, and Villainy. I’ve been thinking for some time now about writing a post concerning flawed heroes. This says some of the things I have been thinking.

Four Reasons to Read Slowly. “The Information Age isn’t slowing us down, but subtly and constantly pressuring us to speed up. As we browse, surf, and scroll, we’re training ourselves to quickly see new facts and then look for the next figures, rather than feel the weight of what we read.”

Advice for Reading the Bible when a learning disability makes it hard.

Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, But Prosperity Preaching Isn’t For Me.

Theological imagination.

I Stopped Praising My Kids for a Week: This Is What I Learned, HT to Story Warren.

Some years ago I was wandering around the local library’s video collection looking for something to watch and saw the 10th anniversary production of Les Miserables. I decided to get it and see what all the fuss was about – and that started a love affair with the musical and then the book. Since the particular singers there were the first I heard, and though I have seen some wonderful clips of a variety of singers singing some of the songs, this cast will always embody the characters for me. Recently I stumbled across this video of Philip Quast, who played Inspector Javert, telling how he approached one of the solos. I had no idea such thought and intention was involved behind every word. In the song he’s discussing, Javert has just had an encounter with ValJean, the man he has been trailing all his adult life. ValJean has just carried a wounded Marius through the sewer system when he runs into Javert and begs Javert to let him see Marius to safety. Previously ValJean had held Javert’s life in his hands, and let him go. Javert can’t compute this: he upholds righteousness and The Law, and in his mind, once you’ve fallen, there is no mercy or grace. “Once a con, always a con” is his mindset. So how can it be that this man no longer acts like a con and even shows mercy and compassion?  I’ll post the video of this song from the musical after this interview:

A couple of other things I love about this: Javert’s previous solo was about the comfort he found in the stars as “sentinels” of God’s order in the world. But here, “the stars are black and cold.” Also, there is so much parallelism between this song and Valjeans’s soliloquy when when the bishop shows him an undeserved kindness: the same tune there and here, similar phrasing about “allowing this man” to have an influence, an offer of freedom, “I am reaching, but I fall…,” escaping the world of Jean ValJean, but in two different ways. Although ValJean had to wrestle with it, he accepted the bishop’s grace. Javert either thought he didn’t need it, since he was always in the right in his own eyes, or he couldn’t accept it from this man. When his entire worldview was turned on its ear, instead of adjusting, he could only escape. Grace accepted saves and changes a person. Grace rejected leaves one out in the cold darkness.

 

Save

Advertisements

Tune My Heart to Sing Your Grace

I’ve always wanted to do a study of music in the Bible – not so much via concordance, but as I go through my usual reading the Bible through, noting what all it has to say about music in context. There are so many rich references to music there: music touches most of us deep in our souls, and it’s meant to! Some day I will.

But  our substitute Sunday School teacher has been going through Isaiah 12 the last couple of weeks. Last week centered mostly on verse 2:

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

I have always loved that not only is He our salvation, He is also our strength; and He doesn’t just give us “grin and bear it” strength, He is also our song.

This week the lesson went on to the rest of the chapter, and one subset of the lesson included verse 5:

Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth.

Then the teacher shared just a few verses indicating what we’re to sing about. I failed to take notes, but when I had a chance I looked up some of the verses in a concordance. Here is what I found just in the psalms that we can sing about:

God’s righteousness: I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high. Psalm 7:17.

His doings: Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings. Psalm9:11.

His bountiful dealings with us: I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:6.

His power:  Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power. Psalm 21:13.

His holiness: Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. Psalm 30:4.

His praises: Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. Psalm 47:6-7.

His righteousness in forgiveness: Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. Psalm 51:14.

His mercy: But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble. Psalm 59:16. I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 89:1.

His Name: Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious. Psalm 66:2.

His righteous judgment: O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Psalm 67:4.

His truth: I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel. Psalm 71:22.

His wondrous works: Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. Psalm 105:2.

What He has done for us: When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. Psalm 126: 1-3.

There are so many other aspects of music in the Bible: where people sang (from “the congregation of the saints” [Psalm 149:1] to our own beds [Psalm 149:5]), to whom they sang, situations in which they sang.

Just this brief study makes me want to burst into song!

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of God’s redeeming love.

Oh that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Full arrayed in blood-washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Bring Thy promises to pass
For I know Thy pow’r will keep me
Till I’m home with Thee at last.

~ Robert Robinson

Related posts:

“Special” Music in the Church
Songs in the Night

(Sharing With Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Faith on Fire)

Save

Laudable Linkage

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve been able to share interesting reads I have come across, so here we go!

Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit.

Michael J. Kruger has been posting a series called “Taking Back Christianese,” where he discusses common phrases in Christendom that may have some merit but may also be misinterpreted or misrepresented. I particularly enjoyed “God Is Always Pleased With You” and “The Christian Life Is All About Being Transparent and Vulnerable.” I think the HT for sending me to these goes to Challies – I forgot to note it.

Lay Aside the Weight of Irritability. Ouch! One of my besetting sins…

STOP! Read This Before You Post Another RIP on Social Media. It’s so easy to share news so quickly, but we have to stop and ask ourselves if it’s our news to share. It can cause problems and hurt deeply if something is whisked through social media before the family involved has even had time to contact the rest of the family and close friends.

How to Help Your Children Walk Away. It’s kind of a sad truth that part of our training of our children is training them to ultimately go away from us. It’s good and right that they will ultimately live on their own, and it’s exciting to see how God leads, but there is a wistfulness about it for moms as well. This is about some of those smaller times apart as training along the way.

Does a Husband Have the Authority? deals with taking a husband’s authority in the home way farther than the Bible instructs.

Rosaria Butterfield: No Free Passes. Interesting interview about life since the publication of her book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, particularly dealing with protesters when she speaks at colleges.

Self Publishing a Book? Read This Strong Warning.

And finally, I am not a big fan of the organ, though an occasional Bach suite on an old pipe organ that I can watch, and not just listen to, hits the spot. This isn’t a pipe organ, but it’s mesmerizing. As the Story Warren said, the organ is a ” full-body contact instrument.” I can’t fathom being coordinated enough to do this:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here are some noteworthy reads from the last couple of weeks:

Shine Like Stars: Give and Rejoice {Philippians 2:17-18}. What it means for our lives to be poured like like a drink offering. Hit me right where and when I needed it.

10 Things We Don’t Want Our Kids to Learn From Church.

What these ladies did to turn a friend’s day around, and what they received in return. Loved this!

Why Can’t Christians Intelligently Discuss Current Events. “I suspect that by yelling so loudly about nearly everything, we’re obscuring the big thing (Matt. 12:36).”

Responding to the Increasingly Short Shelf-Life of Worship songs, HT to Challies. Songleaders/music pastors/worship leaders have an abundance of songs to choose from, and being able to project the words for all to see enables us to sing more than just what’s in the hymnbook. That’s good in many ways but complicates things in other ways. Though this was written to song leaders and such, it helped me to see what  big job it is to choose songs from the multitude we have available. I especially appreciated his caveat that some songs are for just a season. It used to bother me that we heard some songs often for a while and then not at all – kind of like a current “hit” – but then I realized that even the older hymn-writers wrote many songs that we know nothing about now, so that must have happened then, too.

This is a  neat overview of the Bible for kids, showing how it all points to Christ:

Have a good weekend!

“Special” Music in the Church

choir

Let me say at the outset that I know some people object to the term “special music” in church, meaning songs that are performed by instrumentalists or sung as solos or groups as opposed to congregational singing, because it sounds like we’re elevating that type of music above congregational singing. In the order of service in our own church bulletin, a “special” is listed as “Ministry in music,” and that’s perfect. But if I used that phrase as a blog title, it would sound like I was writing about the whole panorama of music in the life of a church, and I am not doing that. I just wanted to share a few thoughts on this particular aspect of church music.

These thoughts were spurred some time ago by an article I saw (which I can’t find now) which advised that one way to encourage more and better congregational singing was to deemphasize the special music. I don’t know how many people saw that particular article, but it seems like that is the current trend, and I think it is a sad one, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment. We always have such a tendency to be unbalanced in one direction or another, and I think to scrap or at least downplay personal ministry in music creates a loss for the church, a loss for the musicians and their gifts as well as for the hearers who would be ministered to.

The writer of the article in question suggested that one reason people weren’t singing as well as they could congregationally was that having worship leaders and a band on stage made it seem more like they were “the professionals” and everyone else was just there primarily to listen and maybe to sing along occasionally. I have never experienced a set-up like that personally; the churches we have attended have been more traditional, with a songleader behind the pulpit and a choir behind him, and a few instrumentalists to one side. I am not knocking the other style, but I can see the point that if it is set up more like a concert, the audience will be more likely to listen than to participate. However, I really don’t think that’s the problem in most churches.

Some think that when we listen to others “perform” a spiritual song, we’re more likely to enjoy the performance rather than be ministered to by the words. And I do admit that is a danger. But I don’t think it is a reason to deemphasize performed hymns and spiritual songs. I can get distracted by how well I like a song or its melody even in congregational singing, so I think that’s largely a matter of training our minds and taking “every thought captive.” I don’t think it is wrong to enjoy the music, the harmony, the performance aspect of it, but we need to let that enhance the message rather than become the main point.

Some want to downplay “special” music in church because they feel congregational singing is more participatory, whereas with special music we’re just listening. But I disagree: listening is participating if done right. (And besides that, we don’t apply the same logic to the preaching, which is done by one and listened to by everyone else.) I think we need to train our families and ourselves to concentrate, to pay attention to the words especially, not to talk or fidget or otherwise distract ourselves and others during the performance. Part of that is just consideration and respect for those performing, but another part of it is to enhance our own ability to receive the song’s message.

For me personally, the special music, whether an offertory, solo, or ensemble, is the most worshipful part of the church service. (By the way, I don’t believe the musical segment of a service is the only time where worship takes place: worship should be what we do in every part of the service.) I do enjoy congregational singing very much, but I do get more distracted by my own voice, by the voices of those around me, by wondering when we’re going to get to sit down because my knees are killing me, by what I need to do to start dinner, etc. That is my own problem, and I work on it constantly. Our church does display the words to the songs we’re singing, and that helps immensely, but that time is the hardest time in the whole service for me to keep my mind on what I am doing. During special music, however, I’m all in and focused without really trying to be.

Besides being able to focus better personally, I think special music has value in other ways as well. Some people are gifted vocally or in ways of expressing what they are singing so that we can get more of the nuance of a song than when we’re just barreling through it with everyone else. And though I have a wealth of recorded Christian music I can listen to any time, and do often, it means more to hear someone I know personally who is dealing with a chronic illness sing, “Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here,” or someone who recently lost her husband sing about the New Jerusalem, or a sweet couple who have walked with the Lord for decades together singing about Him whom their souls love, or someone undergoing a longstanding trial singing:

What if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

(“Blessings” by Laura Story)

I can and have been ministered to through music sung by someone I don’t know, but when I know the people and observe how they walk with the Lord, that adds a valuable layer of ministry to a church.

The article I mentioned also proposed that singers and musicians should take it down a notch and not sound so professional so as not to discourage those of us with more average voices to sing out. But Psalm 33:1-3 talks about playing music skilfully. Those who sing and play need to have some skill in doing so (and that is another reason I enjoy it: I can sing and praise in my own spirit vicariously through them, since I don’t have the skills they do.) I don’t think special music has to sound “professional”: it can be very simple. But it is not wrong for it to sound professional, either. Different people have different skill levels, and I can enjoy a variety of them just as I enjoy reading from writers at various levels of writing skill or listening to preaching from men whose style or gifts vary. A child’s first piano offertory or a simple solo with a guitar can minister just as much as a full scale performance of Handel’s Messiah, and I like them all in different ways.

Not long after I came across the article I mentioned, I came to Chronicles in my Bible reading. Among the many people with various specific functions in the temple were musicians and singers.

I Chronicles 16:4-7: Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.

I Chronicles 16:41-42: With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever. Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song.

I Chronicles 25 gives great detail about David appointing different people for different musical functions. One of the most interesting verses to me is I Chronicles 25:1: “Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals.” A former pastor used to say that even instrumental music was a form of prophecy.

When the ark was brought into the temple,

all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud,  so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. II Chronicles 5:12-14.

“Special” music was also performed at the dedication of the temple, before the army, at the crowning of a king, when Hezekiah reestablished worship in the temple, at the restoration of the Passover,  at the Passover in Josiah’s time, when the foundation for the temple was laid again in Ezra’s time. But special or performed music wasn’t just for special occasions:  II Chronicles 8:14 says  “According to the ruling of David his father, he appointed the divisions of the priests for their service, and the Levites for their offices of praise and ministry before the priests as the duty of each day required.” Singers are mentioned multiple times from Chronicles to Nehemiah: Ezra 2: 65 says they were male and female.

Then of course the Psalms are themselves songs and mention music throughout. Whether they were song congregationally or by the temple musicians, or both, I don’t know. Now I am in Isaiah: I am not sure whether I’ll find references to singing in the prophets, as their focus and purpose is different.

That is all Old Testament: what about the New? I’ll look for specific references when I come to it in my reading, but two passages there come to mind. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” I think that can apply to both congregational and performed music. I Corinthians 14:6 says, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” The ESV has “hymn” in place of “psalm.”

I think songleaders and preachers can enhance the performed music of a church by emphasizing the message of it just before or after the person or people sing. If there is one thing I could say to preachers everywhere on this topic: please don’t joke just after someone has ministered in song, especially about that person. I’m not against laughter, I love to laugh as much as the next person, I know the Lord loves a merry heart, but joking just after someone sings is one of the quickest ways to quench whatever ministry their testimony in song could have had.

Instead of downplaying ministry in musical performance, I think songleaders can enhance congregational singing in a number of other ways: reminding us to sing as unto the Lord and what the Bible says about singing or commenting on something the song teaches (not long: a little sermon before each song or each stanza can dull its effect). Please, however, don’t do what I have heard often through the years and say something like, “Are you a Christian? Do you love the Lord? Then please tell your face!” or “If you could see the view from here, you’d be really depressed. Smile!” That’s basically saying, “Paste a smile on so you look better,” an emphasis on the outer rather than the inner man and not conducive to worship. How much better to encourage better singing by encouraging worship of the one we’re singing about and thinking about the message of the song.

Please understand that I am not trying to exalt “special” or performed music above congregational singing because I have emphasized it here: I’m just asking that we don’t discourage or downplay special music in our efforts to encourage congregational singing. Both have vital places in our worship: both can be great tools the Lord can use to minister to our hearts.

Luther on Music

Photo Courtesy of morguefile.com

Photo Courtesy of morguefile.com

This may seem totally random (this blog is called Stray Thoughts after all 🙂 ), but I came across a quote from Martin Luther about music, and that got me searching for what else he might have to say about music. I found these quotes but couldn’t find their source – if anyone knows, please do enlighten me.

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.

My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.

You will find that from the beginning of the world [music] has been instilled and implanted in all creatures, individually and collectively. For nothing is without sound or harmony… Music is a gift and largesse of God, not a human gift. Praise through word and music is a sermon in sound.”

This was balm to my own heart as music minsters to me in a unique way. My husband and I have had many discussions about music in church. He prefers congregational singing, partly because he feels like he is participating. I enjoy congregational singing most of the time, but I have a hard time keeping my mind on the words. I “feel” (I hate to use that word but can’t think of a better one) more worshipful when listening to someone minister in music (what we sometimes call “special music,” but some object to that term). Arrangements for an individual or small group usually allow for more expressiveness in style than a congregational song, and the musician’s giftedness can enhance the message. For some reason I can fully focus on a song that someone else is singing or playing better than I can when I’m singing with others.

But either venue can and does glorify God and and ministers to our own hearts in the meantime. I am thankful to God for it and for those who minister in that way.

See also:
Songs in the Night
The Hidden Art of Homemaking on Music.
Sing! Sing a Song

The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club, Chapter 3: Music

It’s Week 3 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, a chapter at a time.

In Chapter 1, “The First Artist” (linked to my thoughts) Edith makes the case that because God as Creator is artistic, making the world not just functional but beautiful, and we’re created in His image, it follows that we’re created to be creative and to appreciate the artful and beautiful. In Chapter 2, “What Is Hidden Art?” (also linked to my thoughts), she goes on to explain that she is talking primarily about everyday endeavors, not necessarily pursuing the Arts as a profession (though some are called to that), and encourages us that though we’re finite and limited, though being creative requires some discipline and prioritizing, there are ways we can pursue it. The next several chapters are going to delve into some specific areas where we can learn to appreciate and perhaps even incorporate beauty and creativity. Chapter 3 discusses music in particular.

Experiencing music together as a family or with friends gives an outlet for expression, for relaxation, for “creative ideas and imagination [to be] sparked off” in each other, for enjoyment, and for personal development. She encourages letting children start off with their natural inclination to explore sound and rhythm (I can remember mine banging pans and such as toddlers).

She spends only the last few paragraphs talking about musical expression in the Bible, but that would be a very rich study to pursue further. We have the Psalms with their variety of emotions expressed in song, we have the encouragement to “make a joyful noise” unto the Lord, the instruction to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. God tells Job about when the morning stars sang together and is Himself called a song: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).

To my regret, I don’t know how to play a musical instrument, but I do enjoy singing around the house, in the car, etc. I can’t say I know a lot about music, but I have always enjoyed it, and one of my favorite classes in college was Music Appreciation. I did not grow up with classical music but developed a love for it in college. I’m not much into pop music – the closest I get to it is some of Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Il Divo, etc. I love “the standards” – “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” etc. I also grew to enjoy folk songs – American, Irish, Scottish, English – a lot of songs from musicals, and a rich variety of hymns. Music, even secular music, touches the soul in a particular way that nothing else does.

I remember having a little toy drum and piano when my kids were toddlers, and if I remember correctly, our library had a regular time for preschoolers that involved musical instruments. Of course I sang to them from their infancy, we sang a variety of songs together, and they grew up hearing music at home. They all went to sleep listening to Patch the Pirate and other musical tapes. We didn’t start any formal lessons until they were 8: that was the age recommended to me by a friend who is the mom of a very musical family, and coincidentally, the age their school began piano lessons. I wanted them to take piano because it would give them a good foundation for singing, for choir, and for any other instrument they wanted to take, plus it’s a good discipline and use of time. I don’t know if any of them liked it. They were excited to begin, not so excited about practicing. They would have liked it a lot better if they hadn’t had to play in front of people at recitals. Only one taught himself a variety of other instruments (guitar, penny whistle, ocarina). But they do all enjoy listening to music. They all sang in school choirs, one sang in the church choir for a while, and one sang with an ensemble at school.

Edith mentioned at some point in the first couple of chapters that even if we don’t have talent or skill in a given area of art or creativity, we can learn to appreciate it, to see the beauty in it. I had not originally planned to do this when I first started this post, but this morning I was thinking that it might be helpful to some to share a little bit about listening to classical music from an amateur. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have much exposure to classical music until college. I grew up with “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties. 🙄 I can remember going to hear an orchestra with my Girl Scout troop and being fascinated, hearing a high school concert of Handel’s Messiah, and a few other exposures, and then when I got to college, I not only heard more classical music from some of the programs we were required to attend, but I had a Music Major roommate who got me started with some basic classical records. Then my senior year I was required to take Music Appreciation and loved it. But the first time or two I heard a whole concert, I was lost. I found a couple of parts that particularly appealed to me, but afterward I couldn’t have told you what they were. Listening more and learning more about classical music helped immensely. I don’t know a whole lot, but here are a few pointers for enjoying classical music:

1. Listen for the theme, a few notes put together in a specific pattern that repeats. This is easiest to do at first with something that is a variation on the same theme, like the second movement from Hayden’s Symphony No. 94, the Surprise Symphony (so called because it has some unexpected loud parts designed to wake up those who were dozing :)) or Ravel’s Bolero or the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The composer takes the same series of notes and repeats them with different variations: different instruments, different themes, different harmonies, different tempos and rhythms, etc. It’s similar to your music leader at church saying, “Everyone sing harmonies on the first stanza of this hymn, men sing the second stanza, ladies the third, then we’ll all join in unison on the fourth without the instruments.”

2. Listen for how the themes work together. This is easiest to do if the themes mean something to you, like in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture: the first part is here, the second part is here – I guess maybe it was too big for one YouTube video. It begins with what some people would consider high church or holy-sounding music, representing the friar, then goes into the the fight theme, representing the discord between the two families (the music picks up, clashes, you can imagine sword thrusts back and forth), then goes into the love theme (which you’ve probably heard at some point),  – and then all these themes start interacting, playing over and above each other as the young lovers try to connect amidst the fighting, the friar tries to help out, etc. Even if you can’t follow it line by line, you can get the overall feel of it. One of my favorite examples is The Moldau by Smetana, representing one of the rivers in his native Czechoslovakia. It begins with two streams that merge into a river, then the river flows alongside a country wedding, through mermaids, rapids, etc. It wasn’t until the Romantic Era that music was made to represent nature or literary themes on a large scale: before that it was mostly “absolute music” the same interplay of themes, but just as themes and not meant to represent something in life. Still nice, but a bit harder to pick out sometimes.

Two good piece for children are Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals (especially the latter with Odgen Nash’s poems in-between.

3. Listen for the progression. Like a good story, most classical pieces have a beginning, build to a climax, and then resolve.

4. Read up just a bit on the different kinds of compositions. A symphony, for instance, has 2 or 3 “movements,” and each one usually following certain parameters (the second is usually slower, for instance) and each with its own themes. It helps you not to feel so lost if you know a little bit about how it is put together and what to expect.

5. Learn a bit about the piece. Knowing that Dvorak’s New World Symphony was written when he felt America didn’t have a”national sound,” and that he invoked a lot of Native American and African-American-sounding themes in it, helps you get more out of it. The song “Going Home” is from the second movement.

6. Learn about the composer. A friend did this once: chose a composer and read about him while listening to various works of his to get the flavor of them. Knowing that Hayden’s situation and personality were both different from Beethoven’s, for instance, helps to account for some of the differences in their music.

You can see why Easy Listening music is called that. 🙂 It’s not that classical music is hard, necessarily, but you do get more out of it if you put a little more into it. And then just like any other song or story, once you’re familiar with a piece, you enjoy it, anticipate your favorite parts of it, etc.

I wish I had listened to more classical music with my kids. I had planned to have some sessions with one of these pieces playing in the background while we did other things, but I either never thought about it when we could have done it, or it never worked out as they got older and busier.

I mentioned my thirteen favorite classical music pieces here and some favorite CDs here (though I’d have several to add to that list now). Here are some of my favorite selections from different genres: