The Beatles

In April 1973, Apple Records released two double albums (eight sides in all) containing fifty-four songs that had been recorded and released by the Beatles between 1962 and 1970. Officially named The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970, the recordings quickly became known as “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album” because of the color of the album covers. (A double album of new material from the Beatles, released in November 1968, had been named The Beatles but is usually called “The White Album.”)

Other compilations of Beatle music had been released before 1973 and have been released since 1973, but for many Beatles fans the Red Album and Blue Album are the definitive collection of Beatle songs. Fans can easily debate the selections. I, for example, would have included “If I Fell,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “I Will,” and “Sexy Sadie,” among others.  With the coming and going of compact discs and the current availability of digital recordings, the red and blue albums are likely irrelevant to newer fans of the Beatles. But in the history of Beatle fandom, those albums have an important place.

A few days ago I tested my memory to see if I could recall all fifty-four songs included on the red and blue albums, as well as the order in which they appeared. Some sides I remembered easily; others were dimmer in my memory. Finally I had to pull them out of my collection and fill the gaps. (Yes, I still have my vinyl albums that I bought in the Seventies and Eighties.)  Interestingly (to me if to no one else), the songs I had forgotten were largely from the Rubber Soul and Magical Mystery Tour eras. “In My Life” and “Hello, Good-bye” are both songs that I like, but for some reason I had forgotten that they are included on the Red Album and the Blue Album, respectively.

Last year’s movie Yesterday imagined a world in which the Beatles had never existed and almost no one had ever heard their music. One man could remember and reproduce the songs of the Beatles, and he introduced them into the world. At first he found it difficult to get people to listen, but eventually the songs made a big impact. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t like how the Beatle music was scrambled together, not showing the development of their musical styles and interests. But I then realized that younger Beatle fans know the music of the Beatles exactly in that fashion—all one package, without context of years and albums and formative influences. My children grew up hearing the Beatles music at home, and they probably remember some songs by album—Abbey Road, for example, or A Hard Day’s Night. But even for them, hearing “And I Love Her” side by side with “Oh, Darling” would probably not strike them as essentially different songs—just two of the many great songs written and recorded by the Beatles. J.

Keep Flying High

(chorus)  Reach up your hand and touch the sky. Look around you and wonder why.

Take the worst in the world and try not to cry, and keep flying high.

 

Take a journey far away. Don’t be afraid.

Be ready to take off today. The plans are made.

The stars are calling out, so don’t be afraid.

Lift up your voice and shout, I’m on my way.

 

Take a journey far away. We love you so.

Tomorrow’s dreams begin today. You’re our hero.

You carry our desire in all you do

And wherever you fly, we all go too.        Chorus

 

Smile and look around you now. Keep flying high.

The work you’ve done is over now, up in the sky.

You’ve been training for so long, so keep flying high.

We salute you in song. You’ll never die. Chorus

 

When you leave this surly sphere, reach out and touch God’s face.

Confide in him and have no fear. He suffered in your place. (instrumental interlude)

 

Take a journey far away. Don’t be afraid.

Be ready to take off today. The plans are made.

The stars are calling out, so don’t be afraid.

Lift up your voice and shout, I’m on my way.        Chorus, two times

My acting career

My review last week of the musical Wicked has prompted memories of my own career on stage many years ago. The high school I attended put on a play every fall and a musical every spring; the productions approached a professional level and were popular in the community. My sophomore year I played in the orchestra for The Music Man. The next year I was back in the pit for Fiddler on the Roof. My senior year I finally found the courage to try out for a part on stage. That year the faculty chose to produce Hello, Dolly! and I was given the part of Horace Vandergelder (clear evidence that, even in high school, I was already recognized as a curmudgeon).

The high school had enough talented students interested in these productions that they were able to double-cast every major part. On Fridays and Sundays the main cast would have the major parts, while the “understudies” would perform smaller parts. On Saturdays (and for the school assembly promoting the production) the “understudies” performed the main roles while the main cast took the smaller parts. This meant that many students had to learn two characters for each production.

The Music Man portrays a traveling salesman who sells musical instruments for children, as well as uniforms and instruction books—in spite of the fact that he has no musical training. The town’s librarian, who also gives piano lessons, is the chief threat to his sales campaign. Being a comic musical, a romance develops between Professor Hill and librarian Marian Paroo. That year the school boasted a fine crop of actors and musicians, especially among the young men. The smaller parts for said young men were the school board, who begin the play bickering in public but become united when Professor Hill introduces them to barbershop quartet music. In the cast room after the production, and on other occasions out of the public eye, the two quartets would combine into a powerful octet, singing barbershop songs from the musical. I was one of the three trombonists in the orchestra (a far smaller number than the seventy-six trombones mentioned in the show). I also got to produce the blats of the tuba for the children’s band that appears in the finale of the show.

Fiddler on the Roof depicts a Jewish community in Russia during the nineteenth century. What a learning experience for white, Protestant, suburban kids, learning how to portray a vulnerable and persecuted community of outsiders. Although the script has comic moments, the tenor of the show is very serious. The cast became very close during the rehearsals and put on a powerful performance.

Hello, Dolly! is a comedy about a New York widow early in the twentieth century who also serves as a matchmaker. As the heart of the story, Dolly decides to choose a match for herself—a wealthy but dour merchant in the suburb of Yonkers. Several subplots become entangled in the story, including the merchant’s two assistants, a milliner and her assistant, the merchant’s niece and her prospective husband, and a famous restaurant in New York City. Those of us who had been involved in Music Man and Fiddler found Dolly to have less substance and life than the previous shows; I, for one, was rather glad when the curtain came down on Sunday afternoon. On the other hands, I became good friends with some of the sophomores who were getting their start in theater, which made rehearsals, performances, and cast parties a lot more fun.

I have not been able to return to acting since high school, although I have been an enthusiastic supporter of amateur community theater everywhere I have lived. I cannot count the number of live productions I have seen over the years. My family owns dozens of DVDs and VCR tapes of famous musicals. I understand that a number of people are not fond of productions in which the story is interrupted periodically by singing and dancing, but I agree with a friend of mine who wrote a song, “Life Should Be More Like a Musical.” J.

A new man from head to toe

I have a radio in my car. I like to hear music while I’m driving. The station I’ve chosen plays songs from the last forty years. I’d like the station even more if it expanded the selection to the last sixty or seventy years, but I enjoy most of the songs it plays. Their DJs chatter a bit too much for my tastes, but on the other hand the music is free.

Of course nothing is truly free. Someone has to pay the costs of running a radio station, and that someone consists of sponsors. In between the songs I like are advertisements trying to make me discontent with my life. They seek to create a need that they then can satisfy by selling me their product. Our national economy depends heavily upon this creation of needs and desires, along with the sale of items to meet those needs and satisfy those desires.

So the radio sponsors want to remake me from head to toe. One warns me of hair loss and promises to stop and reverse the loss of my hair. Another offers to improve my hearing so I will know what I’ve been missing. A third offers eye surgery so I will no longer need glasses or contacts. A dentist’s office offers me a better smile, assuring me that people who smile more are happier and live longer. Yet another sponsor offers to remove pockets of fat, leaving me looking younger and fitter. Still another criticizes my wardrobe, promising to interview me about the clothing I like and send packages of clothing to my home—I only have to pay for what I like; I can send the rest back at no cost. Finally, one sponsor assumes that I am miserable because of foot pain; this sponsor says my life can be fuller and happier if I buy foot supports at their store.

I’m glad that these services exist for people who want them and need them. We all need dentists, and a few people need foot supports. But on the whole, I’m content with my body. I know that Christian stewardship includes caring for the body God created. I keep it clean, eat properly, and try to get enough exercise. But no radio ad is going to persuade me to spend money to reverse my hair loss, fix my eyes, or fill my closet with a whole new wardrobe. I accept the way I look. So far as I know, my appearance does not frighten animals or small children. So I think I’ll keep my money until I spend it on things that matter more to me.

After all, I only get to use this body for a lifetime. Some day it will be dead and buried, and I won’t be using it any more. After that a Day will come when it will rise, healed of all its problems, and then I will have it forever. It will be new from head to toe, and in the new creation nothing will ever go wrong with this body.

So I do not need to envy the full head of hair other men sport, nor their 20-20 vision, nor their fancy clothes. The Bible tells us not to covet. Advertisers have different ideas about coveting, but my confidence is in the Lord, who promises me a brand-new resurrected body at no cost to myself. J.

Pet peeves and pleasantries

  • I’ve been hunting for something clever to say about Hurricane Dorian, something that would connect it to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps something along the lines of realizing that the storm is remaining unchanged even as pictures of it grow larger. But so far, I’ve not been able to top the local newspaper, which printed a photograph of two people boarding up their home in Puerto Rico with the headline, “Dorian Blues.”
  • For decades, radio DJs have talked over the instrumental introductions of songs. As I age, I find the practice increasingly annoying. With some songs it doesn’t matter, but the opening chords of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” should never be eclipsed. Likewise for Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” And the opening guitar chords to “Shallow” from the recent movie “A Star is Born” set the mood for the song and should be heard without interruption.
  • One reason this practice of talking during the instrumental introduction annoys me is that the afternoon DJ on our local station seems to think she does it well. She doesn’t. At times she keeps on prattling into the opening words of the song. And she often neglects to restore the volume of the music after she has turned it down to hear herself talk. I could turn up the volume, but then I have to hurry to turn it down again before the song ends and her voice blares again from the speakers.
  • Another reason I’m annoyed by the talking DJ is that I only listen to the radio in my car. At work I don’t listen to music; at home if I want music I choose a CD. Now, many other things rattle my equilibrium when I am driving. Some drivers swerve from lane to lane going ten miles above the speed limit; others drift to the edge of the lane while driving ten miles under the speed limit—they are texting while they drive, which is why they drift; their drifting makes it difficult to pass them safely. Ergo, since I’m already annoyed behind the wheel, the DJ is only going to increase my discomfort.
  • Then there’s the issue of turning right at a red light. All too often I’ve had a driver try to squeeze in front of me when that driver was facing a red light and I had a green light. On the other hand, this happened again yesterday, twice: I was trying to turn right on a red light, but every time I inched forward to look for traffic, the car in the left turn lane also inched forward. That driver had nothing to gain from the adjustment, but it was to my disadvantage.
  • If you are a bad driver, please do not advertise your church or your beliefs with a sticker on the back of your car. If you are breaking the law or generally being rude and discourteous, the last thing you want to do is associate your community of faith with your behavior.
  • On a lighter note, one of my students of history made an interesting observation last night. On Tuesday we discussed the Harappan civilization of ancient India: they reached a high level of civilization many centuries ago, with amazing architecture, indoor plumbing, and a written language that no one alive today knows how to read. Afterward, their civilization collapsed, and no one is sure what happened to their descendants. Then, last night, we covered the Olmec and Maya peoples of the western hemisphere. Again, their architecture and use of running water and many other characteristics are astounding for the ancient world. Yet the Olmec abandoned their cities without a trace, and the Maya also walked away from their dwellings (though the Maya writings are being translated, and there are people living today who are descended from the Maya). My student noted that the common threads in these civilizations are their use of plumbing and the collapse of their civilizations; she thought there might be a connection. I told her to write a paper on the subject; it might make her famous.
  • It is worth nothing that one of the theories about the fall of the Roman Empire is related to plumbing. The Romans used lead pipes to bring water into their homes. Lead poisoning is thought to have weakened them to the point that they were overcome by invaders. It’s not a popular theory—many other causes are also given for the fall of Rome—but it’s interesting, all the same. J.

Down dooby-do down down (semicolon)

Breaking up is hard to do. That’s not just a song from the Bubble Gum Era of rock music (the early 1960s); it’s also a fact, one that is hard to deny.

This summer would be a bad time to end a relationship. I say that because of the ubiquitous song “Be Alright,” written and sung by Dean Lewis. (“I know you love her, but it’s over, mate….”) If I were dealing with the aftermath of an ended relationship, I would probably want to destroy my radio the next time that song began.

That’s unfortunate, because most of that song contains good advice. Alright: the “bottoms up to forget” is bad advice, because drinking only increases the pain; it doesn’t make it go away. But the rest of the song is fitting: breaking up does hurt a bit for a while, and after a while things do get better.

I have experienced ended relationships, and I have not forgotten the pain. But I survived—life goes on, and new joys replace the old. I have encouraged others when they were grieving ended relationships. Being the supportive friend can be difficult—you see the light, but they only see the darkness. You know there is hope, but they don’t want to hear about hope. For a while, it seems that they want to cling to the pain, to coddle it, to make it the center of their lives, the meaning of their existence. For most people, that stage also ends, and life goes on.

What would I add to Dean Lewis’ words of wisdom? It doesn’t rhyme, but it’s still worth saying: love makes us vulnerable. When we love someone, our love makes it possible for us to be hurt. That is true of more than romantic love: family relationships can be painful, and even friendships can be painful. But the possibility of pain—even the reality of pain—is worth bearing because of the immense, immeasurable value of love itself.

Even the Almighty God has made himself vulnerable to the pain of rejection. He loves his fallen creatures. He grieves when any of us turn away from him and reject his gifts. The lover whose loved one chooses someone else has a taste of the holy, divine grief of God. The lover whose loved one wants to end the relationship knows how Christ felt when Judas betrayed him for money, when all the disciples ran away, and when Peter said three times that he did not know who Jesus is.

Love is central to God’s nature. Love flows among the Persons of the Holy Trinity outside of time and space. Creation happened as a gift of love from the Father to the Son. We are created in God’s image, meaning that we are created so we can love God and so we can love one another. When God speaks of our relationship with him in terms of family—even in terms of marriage and romantic love—he is not taking an experience we know and using it as a metaphor. He is speaking a truth that is not metaphor: he is saying that he loves us with all the passion of human romantic love.

The cross proves that God would do anything for us. Perhaps God allows us the pain of broken relationships in this lifetime so we can look at the cross in a new light. Our minds might not grasp the connection, but our hearts can feel the love of God that would bear a cross and accept its pain and suffering, all for the sake of love.

Breaking up is hard to do. God does not want to break up with his people. Through the message of the Bible and in the life of the Church, God nourishes our loving relationship with him—our faith—so we remain in a proper relationship with him and are not in danger of breaking up with him. For all the messy complicated problems of the Church on earth, it is valuable as a link to God, who pours his blessings into our lives through his Church. J.

The mockingbird

The mockingbird is the state bird of five states—Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas—and is the former state bird of South Carolina. When I lived in Florida, I heard a story about how the mockingbird was chosen as state bird. They said that a collection of birds native to the state was gathered so citizens could judge which bird had the most beautiful song. Proponents of the nightingale were convinced at first that their bird would win, but after a week the mockingbird had become so adept at imitating the nightingale, adding its tune to its own song, that the mockingbird was declared winner of the contest.

I remember one mockingbird that lived in the same neighborhood where I lived that year. It had somehow acquired a knowledge of the (human) classics, as it included famous (human) music in its song. I remember that it sang the ten-note motif of Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony. I cannot remember the other tune it sang, but it was very familiar—perhaps the first seven notes of Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

But for all its talent, the mockingbird is still a bird-brained creature. It has no real judgment, in spite of appearances. Late last night or early this morning (I didn’t check the clock.), I heard a mockingbird going through its routine. Suddenly, in the middle of its string of beautiful calls, it included three squawks of the blue jay. Blue jays do not shout in the dark of night, nor would a blue jay fit its rancid call into a space of the mockingbird song. No, this local mockingbird had chosen to include the blue jay among its imitations, which shows how little appreciation of beauty the bird has.

I once read the following anecdote in Readers’ Digest: a state highway worker drove to a rest stop along the highway to perform needed maintenance. He parked his truck, turned off the engine, put the keys in his pocket, and left the vehicle. Suddenly he heard the sound of the truck’s back-up warning. Panicked, he turned to stop the truck; then he saw the mockingbird, perched on a tree branch above the truck, imitating the back-up alarm.

Maybe birds are not as stupid as we think they are. J.

Remembering John Lennon

John Lennon was the first Beatle.

He was leading a skiffle band when he was introduced to Paul McCartney. Skiffle is English folk music—Beatle fans have heard skiffle-sounding songs such as “Baby’s in Black” on Beatles for Sale and “Maggie Mae” on Let It Be. John and Paul became musical partners, and George Harrison soon joined them. Other musicians came and went, including Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the Beatles were preparing to make their first hit record. The rest, as they say, is history.

Older baby boomers know that “the day the music died” is February 1, 1959—the day Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. For late boomers like me, the day the music died is December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City. I was a college student at the time. I was sitting in a friend’s dormitory room that night when Dan Rubens noticed the open door and called into the room that Lennon had been shot. Dan didn’t know any of us in the room, but he had just heard the news and wanted to share it with someone.

Stereotypes about the Beatles include the thought that Lennon was more adept with lyrics and McCartney was more adept with melodies. This overlooks the fact that Lennon penned some admirable melodies, from “If I Fell” to “Across the Universe,” not to mention his post-Beatles hit “Imagine.” But Lennon definitely had a knack for words, which he demonstrated especially in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I am the Walrus.” The music of the Beatles has remained popular for decades and has reached several generations. In many ways, it defines the popular culture of the 1960s.

John Lennon was the first of the Beatles to marry and the first to father a child. He was also the first to divorce and remarry. Lennon’s own childhood was difficult—his father abandoned the family, and his mother died while Lennon was young. (Paul’s mother also died while Paul was young.) He was raised by an aunt. Although Lennon sang about love, he was distant and cold toward his own family members, as he admitted himself in interviews toward the end of his life. Like most musicians of the time, the Beatles experimented with drugs—first pills to keep them awake and energized for their hours on stage, then later marijuana and LSD. Lennon even had to break a heroin habit in the 1970s.

In 1966, John Lennon commented to a reporter that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. When this remark was printed, it caused considerable controversy. Lennon half-apologized, explaining that he was only stating a fact about the Beatles’ popularity in England and was not claiming to be better than Christ or to deserve to be more popular. Lennon’s own views about Christianity (and religion in general) were well-known even before he wrote and recorded “Imagine,” in which he pictures a world of peaceful cooperation without politics and religion to divide people from one another.

In 1980 Lennon returned to the recording studio after several years of retirement. His single “(Just Like) Starting Over” was rising in the charts when Lennon was killed, eventually reaching the number one spot. Lennon’s last album, Double Fantasy, also made it to number one after Lennon’s death, and it won a Grammy award as Album of the Year. It is difficult to imagine how John Lennon’s career would have continued had he not been killed. Two of his songs were included in the Beatles Anthology of the mid 1990s; Lennon was accompanied by added tracks of Paul, George, and Ringo, making the songs the closest possible approach to a reunion of the Beatles.

The walrus is sadly missed. J.

It’s beginning to sound a lot like….

My youngest daughter jinxed my car radio this week.

We were traveling together Tuesday afternoon, and I was listening to my favorite radio station. It’s an “Adult Contemporary” station which plays hit music from the 80s and 90s up to the present—usually with a minimum of talk, although the morning drive hosts do tend to chatter, and they have give-away contests with listeners phoning in to get their voices on the air. But I digress….

I made a comment about the song that was playing, and my daughter remarked, “You’re lucky they haven’t started playing Christmas music wall-to-wall,” to which I agreed. That was Tuesday.

Wednesday they started playing Christmas music “24-7” as they periodically announced, “from now until Christmas Day.”

I may be a curmudgeon, but I don’t hate all Christmas music. I am fairly tolerant of Christmas music at the right time and the right place. I once knew a man who was retired and who played Christmas music twelve months a year in his basement while he added to his model train landscape and tinkered with the trains. I think that if and when I retire, I might get into model trains. I’d listen to my own favorite music, though—classical one day, Beatles the next, and hits from the 80s some other days… and in December, Christmas music. But, again, I digress….

I will say one good thing about the music I’ve heard on this station Wednesday and today: they are mixing a few carols in with the secular Christmas songs. Christ the Savior is being proclaimed along with Frosty and Rudolph and Santa Claus. My patience with Christmas music is generally exhausted when only the secular songs are played.

There truly are two holidays called Christmas. One marks the coming of God’s Savior to rescue and redeem the world. The other is about gifts and decorations and the winter solstice. Because they happen around the same time, people tend to blend them together. But the tradition of the Church since ancient times has been to celebrate the holiday of Christmas with twelve days, beginning on December 25 and extending to January 5. The four weeks before Christmas are called the Advent Season. When observed in the traditional way, Advent is known for somber hymns and for Bible readings about why we sinners need a Savior. This year Advent begins on Sunday December 2. Tomorrow is not yet even Advent yet: it is the Last Sunday of the Church Year, also known as Christ the King Sunday and as the Sunday of the Fulfillment. We will not be singing about the baby in the manger or the herald angels for another month inside the church.

Yet because of the blending of the two Christmases, the tree will be going up early in December even in the church building; and the children’s Christmas pageant will be in the middle of the month, before school dismisses and families begin traveling to other places for the holidays.

On the second day of Christmas, the radio station will return to its usual music. By the sixth day of Christmas, many families will have taken down their decorations and put them in storage until next November. In our house, the tree and other decorations will remain out at least until after the twelfth day of Christmas; some of the more durable decorations will stay up until Candlemas, also known as Groundhog Day. But once again I digress….

The Last Sunday of the Church year is a time for the Church to consider cosmic eschatology: the glorious appearing of the Lord, his Judgment, and the dawn of his new creation. One of the hymns we will sing tomorrow is the harvest hymn, “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” which begins with talk of the worldly harvest and then shifts into a discussion of the harvest of the earth on the Last Day. When this hymn is sung on Thanksgiving or the night before, people tend to focus only on thanksgiving for earthly blessings. Sung again on the Sunday of the Fulfillment, people will change their focus to that final harvest that awaits us all. Then we are ready for Advent, another way to regard the coming of our King. We will not let the world rush us; we will leave time in the hands of the Lord. J.

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Psalm 96:1).

“…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

The Old Testament and the New Testament both tell God’s people to sing. God created us, and he knows all about us. He knows that music shapes our thinking in a way that words alone cannot do. Children learn the alphabet to the tune of “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” Dementia victims whose memory is so badly damaged that they cannot carry on a conversation can still remember the songs they learned in their youth. Because music aids in memory and even in comprehension, God has told us to sing when we worship.

From the very beginning of the Church, Christians sang. Often they sang words from the Bible. Over time other Christian hymns were composed, such as the classic Te Deum laudumus (We praise you, O God). Historians cannot reproduce the tunes that early Christians used. We know something about how the music sounded because Greek mathematicians wrote about musical intervals and modes. Our major and minor keys would sound strange and foreign to people of the Roman Empire, and their music would sound strange and foreign to us.

During Roman times, a series of songs—mostly from the Bible—coalesced into what is known as the Divine Service or the Mass. Great composers of later times often wrote new tunes to accompany the Mass. The Mass consists of five songs, the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy—Mark 10:47), the Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God on high—Luke 2:14), the Credo (I believe), the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy—Isaiah 6:3, combined with Matthew 21:9) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God—John 1:29). Further comments about each of these will be made in the appropriate places.

Some of the earliest Christian music that can be reproduced today consists of chants arranged by Gregory the Great. These Gregorian chants are sung in the modes of the earlier Greek mathematicians and may approach the sound of the earliest Christians.

Over time Christian singing shifted from the congregation to choirs of professional singers, and most people in the church simply listened to the music. As part of the Reformation, Martin Luther restored congregational singing. He used the style of music that has become known as the German chorale. This music was called bar music, not because it came from the tavern, but because vertical lines (bars) separated the phrases of the singing. The flow of long notes and short notes is almost conversational in the chorales. They avoid an even rhythm, leading some historians to speculate that hymn writers in the sixteenth century did not want people to be able to sway to the music or do anything else that suggested dancing.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a Lutheran organist and choir director (as well as a professional composer and musician often hired by government officials). Along with his contemporaries, he refined church music, preferring only four beats to the bar over the longer phrases of the chorale (hence, “four-four time”). Bach and others of his generation also popularized the major keys which are familiar to Christians today. Bach’s tunes have a mathematical precision, even if they differed from the music theories of the ancient Greeks. The Methodist movement introduced another variation, making church music more emotional and more personal. Of course the twentieth century introduced many new things to Christian singing, such as guitars, drums, microphones and amplifiers, and projection screens to display the words of the hymns.

No doubt every innovation in worship has disappointed some Christians. Gregory’s chants and Luther’s chorales may have been as controversial and upsetting as rock music in the church can be controversial and upsetting for some people. God accepts and encourages diversity among his people. He is worshiped in many languages and many cultures, none of them being wrong and none of them being better than another. This does not mean, however, that in Christian worship, anything goes. Songs, hymns, and spiritual songs belong to the worship service; therefore, they should enhance worship and not inhibit worship.

A congregation’s collection of hymns should resemble the book of Psalms. Not all the Psalms are praise Psalms. Some Psalms cry out to God for help. Other Psalms confess sins and seek forgiveness. Some Psalms teach the history of God’s people. Like every other book of the Bible, the Psalms are about Jesus. They recognize him not only as the One by whom and for whom all things were made; they recognize him also as the righteous man who never sinned, as the atoning sacrifice for sinners, and as the victor over sin, evil, and death. So also the hymns and songs of the Church today should encompass all these themes. Not every hymn should have every theme, of course, but the collection of hymns—and even the choice of hymns for a single service—should in some way contain all these themes.

A service consisting of nothing but praise songs is like a meal consisting of nothing but ice cream and cake. The thought may seem attractive at first, but the problems with that diet become obvious over time. To eat no meat, no vegetables, and no grain would be to deprive oneself of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. To sing only praise would not enable the members of the congregation to deal with the problems in their lives, the enemies they face, the danger of their own sins, and the work Jesus has accomplished to rescue them from sin and evil.

Every service has a theme, set by the Bible readings chosen for the service and the sermon which explains one or more of those readings. The hymns chosen for the service should match the theme of the readings and sermon. Moreover, the traditional Church has several seasons, and different hymns are fit for different seasons. Hymns for Christmas and Easter are more joyful; hymns for Advent and Lent are more somber. Clearly, the hymns for each service cannot be chosen by asking all the members which songs they like the best. Hymns should be chosen by someone sensitive to the moods of the Church year and aware of what the preacher intends to emphasize. If the preacher is not in charge of selecting hymns, the preacher and music director need to communicate and cooperate for the best possible service each week.

Choirs, praise teams, and other music leaders should help the congregation to sing. When they become performers and the congregation becomes an audience, the worship is crippled. Talented and trained musicians can help the congregation to sing. They can introduce new hymns and teach them to the congregation. They can add more difficult music to the service to support the hymn-singing of the congregation and to honor God. Like preachers, church musicians face the temptation of placing themselves at the center of the worship. They need frequently to remind themselves that Christ is being worshiped, that they are honoring him with their talents and abilities, and that the congregation gathered in his name, not in their names.

This chapter has taken longer than expected to write. I appreciate any thoughtful and helpful responses. J.