Saturday, January 29, 2011


This is the only "modern" song that came to mind as I thought about songs that might recount specific salvation events in History. Tune and words written by American William Billings, Chester is very nationalistic, but it does thank God for his blessing on the nation, and His deliverance from their (relatively) Godless enemy. I like it.

"Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And slavery clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.

Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and Cornwallis joined,
Together plot our overthrow,
In one infernal league combined.

When God inspired us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced,
Their ships were shattered in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our coast.

The foe comes on with haughty stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their veterans flee before our youth,
And Generals yield to beardless boys.

What grateful offering shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud halleluiahs let us us sing,
And praise his name on every chord!"

After writing it all out, I like it even more! It reminds a lot of of Exodus 15, and of Deborah and Barak's song in Judges 5. Could we sing this in church today? I'm not sure...but I like it!

Here is a recording of the song with a good introduction. Not the best choir in the world, but not bad for high-schoolers.

Moses' Song

Moses' song, recorded in Exodus 15, is the first major song recorded in the Bible. Moses leads the people of Israel in singing this song after they are delivered from Egypt and the Egyptian army is drowned in the Red Sea.

It is a long song (18 verses in our Bibles) and is basically a song rejoicing in God's utter destruction of the evil Egyptians. It can be roughly outlined like this:

I. I will sing to YAWHEH for He has delivered me (1-3)
II. Vivid description of judgment on the Egyptians (4-12)
III. The Nations fear the LORD (13-18)

This song focuses most on points 2 and 4 from my earlier post ("mighty acts of salvation recorded," and "His acts of judgment are rejoiced in") which I believe are the weakest areas in our worship music today. What if people today wrote songs recounting how God has blessed the Church and punished/judged the forces of evil? It is obviously a little easier for Israel in this case since the were the people of God, as a nation, they were all in one location, and God worked very directly in history to save them from the Egyptians. In fact, this event is mentioned in many more songs thoughout the Bible, including Psalms 78, 81, 105, 106, 114, and 135. I have a hard time thinking of how we could write songs for worship today that reference specific salvation events in "modern" history (partly because the Church is so divided...), but I'm sure it is possible.

How many songs do we sing that have lines like these?
"The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, glories in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble."

This song is about salvation for the people of God, but the other side of that is God's terrible judgment on His enemies. We just don't sing this kind of stuff unless we sing the songs of the Bible! The only way we will be able to write songs like the ones God has given us is if we raise up a generation saturated in these songs from the Bible. Maybe we can only sing slightly odd versions of these songs (I'm for the chant version), but I think that it is most important that we learn these words, these songs that God has given us, and use them as a pattern as we write worship songs for today.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"God's Lyrics"

I haven't posted here for well over a year now! I've been busy graduating, getting married and working and haven't had a lot of time to devote to this area. I've just started reading a book that is reviving my interest and enthusiasm in the area of Church Music.
So far God's Lyrics by Douglas Sean O'Donnell, promises to be a fantastic read. His basic idea is to look at the songs from the Old Testament that God gave to his people, analyze them, and compare them with the songs used in worship over the past century or two. He specifically focuses on a handful of the longer and more prominent songs in the Old Testament including Moses' song of victory after the Egyptians are drowned in the Red Sea, Moses' song he teaches Israel before he dies, Deborah's song, Hannah's Song, and "the Song of Habakkuk." I find it a little odd that he doesn't use a Psalm, but I bet he will address that before the end of the book.
O'Donnell identifies four major themes he claims are the "meat" of the OT songs:
  • The LORD is at the center: our God is addressed, magnified, and adored.
  • His mighty acts in salvation history are recounted.
  • His ways of living are encouraged.
  • Finally (and I think most notable for our culture and time), His acts of judgement are rejoiced in.
I think that much of 19th century hymnody is fairly strong on points 1 and 3, but I don't think points 2 and 4 come up much in the worship music I am familiar with.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Funk Quote

“Thus morally considered, it is certainly our duty to cultivate this talent for the blessings which society and the world may reap therefrom; but upon the Christian it has double claims; it is the language of heaven; it had its birth in the bright plains of the heavenly Paradise near the throne of the ETERNAL; it is the language in which the ransomed host of heaven unceasingly present their adoration an dpriase before the throne of God and the Lamb; the art of the Prophets and saints of old; the language of the apostles, primitive Christians, martyrs and reformers.

Shall the cultivation of a talent with which is associated the worship of the inhabitants both of heaven and earth be neglected by the chosen people of God? [emphasis added]

Can they permit their voices to be mute when all the earth is called upon to ‘sing praises’ to Jehovah? Certainly it is the Christian’s duty, to say nothing of his privilege, to cultivate all the talents which God has mercifully and kindly bestowed upon him; it is doubly his duty to cultivate those talents which he is called upon to exercise in the edifications of the saints, and for the worship of God, and so soon as he fully estimates its claims, and the importance of its cultivation, his enlightened mind and philanthropic heart will lead him to desire its cultivation by all those who are the especial objects of his care—those of his own household; nor will it stop here; he will use his influence to promote the happiness of his neighbor, and the good of the church and community around him.”

From the March 1860 issue of The Southern Musical Advocate and Singer's Friend.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The World According to Joseph Funk

I found these quotes while working on my research regarding Joseph Funk.

Taken from "The Southern Musical Advocate and Musician's Friend," May, 1860.

"MUSIC-WHAT IS IT? It is the language of Heaven! the medium of feeling! the solace of the lot of all! a flower of perennial bloom. Take her away from earth, and dark would be our passage to the tomb. Life would be a gloomy period and the world a barren waste."

A little flowery....but has a couple good points.

Another good one:
“Like woman, another of heaven’s gifts to man, it [music] 'doubles our joys and divides our sorrows;’ and, like her too, it finds its most appropriate place and its sweetest influence, in the bosom of the family.”

I'll leave you to think about that one!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

George Fox University Christmas Concert

I just got home from participating in the first of three Christmas concerts this weekend put on by George Fox University. Over 150 performers and a sold out audience of around 1200.
I'm in the back row, second from the end on the right. You can't really see me...
It was a great concert!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Claude Goudimel's contribution to the Genevan Psalter

Here the notes I used for a talk on Claude Goudimel and the Genevan Psalter for our Reformation Celebration on October 31st of 2009.

While Claude Goudimel was not directly involved in putting together the Genevan Psalter, and, in fact, he wasn’t even converted from Catholicism until the Genevan Psalter was nearly complete, he was one of the most influential men to help spread Calvinism through Europe in the late 16th century.

So before I talk about Goudimel directly, let me summarize the history of the Psalter up to the time Goudimel began to work it. The seeds for the Psalter were sown in 1532 when ClĂ©ment Marot, a popular and gifted French poet began settings a few Psalms to meter while employed at the French court in Paris (thirty years before the Genevan Psalter was finally finished). They were sung as popular poetry in the Catholic court. Calvin met Marot in 1536 and after hearing his verse and witnessing the congregational singing in Bucer’s church in Stassbourg, he began work on what would become the Genevan Psalter. Calvin took Marot’s 13 Psalms, put six more into verse along with Nunc Dimittis, Decalogue, and Nicene Creed and commissioned two German musicians from Bucer’s church two write simple melodies. This first Psalter was published in 1539. Marot the poet came to Geneva for a few years and the work proceeded and resulted in an expanded Psalter in 1542 and 1543. Marot died in 1544 leaving the Psalter far from done.

Five years later, Theodore de Beza, a scholar and Calvin’s eventual successor in Geneva, continued the work. Beza steadily worked away at the project, finally finishing the entire Psalter in 1562. Beza’s Psalms are very accurate and contain a high degree of fidelity to the original text, especially considering they are translations and put into meter. By 1562, the Genevan Psalter was considered “complete.” It contained all 150 Psalms, the Nunc dimittis and Decalogue set to 125 different tunes, each in a different meter.

Up to this point, Calvin had been the driving force behind the whole project. He had not participated in any of the musical or poetic work in the final edition, but it was his idea from the beginning and he worked tirelessly finding and inspiring qualified men to continue the project.

The completed Genevan Psalter was a monumental accomplishment in Christian history. This was probably the first time in history that all the Psalms were collected together and set in manner simple enough for the average person to sing.

This Psalter was used extensively in Geneva but it took men like Claude Goudimel spread the Psalms and with it, Calvinist ideas and theology through Europe and eventually across the world.

Goudimel was born around 1514 in Eastern France and received his education at the University of Paris. He was known as one of the best French composers of his day and composed quality in the form of both secular chansons and complex sacred music for the Roman Catholic Church. As a Catholic musician, he composed 5 settings of the mass, 3 magnificats, and several motets, AND several complicated pieces based on the tunes from the Genevan Psalter written for catholic use (until the Genevan tunes were outlawed by catholics). He seemed to be sympathetic with Protestants in the 1550’s, and he converted from Catholicism in 1560. The important work that Goudimel really accomplished was the harmonizationed versions of the Psalter that he produced between his conversion in 1560 and his death in 1573. He harmonized the complete Psalter three times. The first setting, finished in 1564 is the simple, hymn-like settings that we sing here at RCC. The second setting finished the following year, was a little more musically complex and his third and final setting was much more polyphonic and complicated. He was still finishing this harmonization when he was killed by Catholics in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

While these harmonizations of the Psalter where not actually intended to be used in congregational worship, they where what really made the Psalter popular with the middle to upper classes in France and through Europe. Goudimel wrote in the preface to one edition that the music was to be used in the home for worship and recreation. It used to be a very popular recreational activity among the middle and upper class and even students to get together and sing and play in parts. Music was changing at a rapid rate during this period and music was more easily available with printing press so singing was kind of the “video games” of the 16th century (at least for college students).

These harmonizations became immensely popular in France and quickly spread through Europe. Calvinist theology often accompanied the Psalms , especially in Holland and Germany. They were translated into German very quickly and were seen as such a threat to Lutheranism that Dr. Cornelius Becker made his own version of the Psalms in German that would eventually result in Heinrich Schutz’s Psalter from which we sing today.

Since the 16th century, the Psalter has spread to Germany, Holland, Italy, England, Scotland, Hungary, Belgium, to the Americas, Canada, and even to South Africa, Australia, and have recently become popular in Japan.