Thursday, December 31, 2009

At the Close of the Year

At the Close of the Year

Let hearts and tongues unite,
And loud thanksgivings raise:
'Tis duty, mingled with delight,
To sing the Saviour's praise.

To Him we owe our breath,
He took us from the womb,
Which else had shut us up in death,
And prov'd an early tomb.

When on the breast we hung,
Our help was in the Lord;
'Twas He first taught our infant tongue
To form the lisping word.

When in our blood we lay,
He would not let us die,
Because His love had fix'd a day
To bring salvation nigh.

In childhood and in youth,
His eye was on us still:
Though strangers to His love and truth,
And prone to cross His will.

And since His name we knew,
How gracious has He been:
What dangers has He led us through,
What mercies have we seen!

Now through another year,
Supported by His care,
We raise our Ebenezer here,
"The Lord has help'd thus far."

Our lot in future years
Unable to foresee,
He kindly, to prevent our fears,
Says, "Leave it all to Me."

Yea, Lord, we wish to cast
Our cares upon Thy breast!
Help us to praise Thee for the past,
And trust Thee for the rest.

John Newton (1725-1807)
As posted on SongToTheLamb 30 December 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The rich sinner's death

PSALM 49, L. M.
The rich sinner's death, and the saint's resurrection.

Why do the proud insult the poor,
And boast the large estates they have?
How vain are riches to secure
Their haughty owners from the grave!

They can't redeem one hour from death,
With all the wealth in which they trust;
Nor give a dying brother breath,
When God commands him down to dust.

There the dark earth and dismal shade
Shall clasp their naked bodies round;
That flesh, so delicately fed,
Lies cold and moulders in the ground.

Like thoughtless sheep the sinner dies,
Laid in the grave for worms to eat:
The saints shall in the morning rise,
And find th' oppressor at their feet.

His honors perish in the dust,
And pomp and beauty, birth and blood:
That glorious day exalts the just
To full dominion o'er the proud.

My Savior shall my life restore,
And raise me from my dark abode;
My flesh and soul shall part no more,
But dwell for ever near my God.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
The Psalms of David, 1719

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Seven Sayings on the Cross

In this post I have tried to piece together portions of hymns that refer to the seven last sayings of Jesus on the cross. Some are "as is" and some were altered to continue a common meter throughout.

Luke 23:34 Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
Luke 23:43 Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise
John 19:26-27 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!
John 19:28 I thirst
Matthew 27:46 Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Luke 23:46 Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit
John 19:30 It is finished

Behold the Savior of mankind
Nailed to the shameful tree!
How vast the love that Him inclined,
To bleed and die for thee.

"Father forgive," the Saviour cries,
"They know not what they do."
And thus in pleading as He dies,
Has He so spoke to you?

As on the cross the Savior hung,
And wept, and bled, and died;
He poured salvation on a wretch
That languished at His side.

His prayer the dying Jesus hears,
And instantly replies,
"Today thy parting soul shall be
With me in paradise."

Mary 'neath the dying Saviour
Standing near another:
To her He said, "Behold thy son;"
John, "Behold thy mother."

I thirst, Thou wounded Lamb of God,
To be washed in Thy blood;
As I look on the cross and see
That Thou didst thirst for me.

See the Savior on the cross!
Hearken to His voice;
Hear Him cry, "Eloi, Eloi,
Lama Sabachthani."

'Tis done! the precious ransom’s paid!
Receive my soul, He cries:
"Father, to Thy hands I commend
My Spirit," as He dies.

On the bloody tree behold Him
Dying; aloud He cries;
"It is finished! (It is finished!)"
Dismiss His life and dies.

Tis finished, The Redeemer said.
Now we the sentence scan.
Behold the conquest of the Lord,
Complete for sinful man.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rejoicing in the Incarnation

Rejoicing in the Incarnation of Christ, Matt. 2:10

1- My God, my Creator, the heavens did bow,
To ransom offenders, and stooped very low;
The body prepared by the Father assumes,
And on the kind errand most joyfully comes.

2- O wonder of wonders! Astonished I gaze,
To see in the manger the Ancient of Days;
And angels proclaiming the stranger forlorn,
And telling the Shepherds that Jesus is born.

3-For thousands of sinners the Lord bowed his head;
For thousands of sinners he groaned and He bled,
My spirit rejoices—the work it is done!
My soul is redeemed----and salvation is won!

4-Dear Jesus, my Savior, thy truth I embrace
Thy name and thy natures, thy Spirit and grace;
And trace the pure footsteps of Jesus, my Lord
And glory in Him whom proud sinners abhorred!

5- My God is returned to His glory on high;
When death makes a passage, to HIM then I’ll rise
To join in the song of all praise through His blood,
To the Three who are One inconceivable God.

11s. E. L. Schlict, Gadsby's Hymn Book, No. 41

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Don't be so hard on Scrooge

I saw a card that gave the definition of a "scrooge": A scrooge is someone who has the same attitude the day before Christmas as everyone else has the day after Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sin's deceit

Sin's deceit.

Sin, when viewed by scripture light,
Is a horrid, hateful sight;
But when seen in Satan's glass,
Then it wears a pleasing face.

When the gospel trumpet sounds,
When I think how grace abounds,
When I feel sweet peace within,
Then I'd rather die than sin.

When the cross I view by faith,
Sin is madness, poison, death;
Tempt me not, 'tis all in vain,
Sure I ne'er can yield again.

Satan, for awhile debarred,
When he finds me off my guard,
Puts his glass before my eyes,
Quickly other thoughts arise.

What before excited fears,
Rather pleasing now appears;
If a sin, it seems so small,
Or, perhaps, no sin at all.

Often thus, through sin's deceit,
Grief, and shame, and loss I meet,
Like a fish, my soul mistook,
Saw the bait, but not the hook.

O my Lord, what shall I say?
How can I presume to pray?
Not a word have I to plead,
Sins, like mine, are black indeed!

Made, by past experience, wise,
Let me learn thy word to prize;
Taught by what I've felt before,
Let me Satan's glass abhor.

John Newton (1725-1807)
Olney Hymns, 1779

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Secular songs

Seeing that title on the blog of a hardheaded, hardshelled, conservative Baptist, you might expect a diatribe against secular songs. Though such might have its place, you won't find it in the post. Last week while driving to Galveston, I heard on the radio one of my old favorites, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. [For the 1976 recording, enter "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot" in Google and then in the hits you get click on "Play song from"]

Anyway, this got me to thinking about some "old favorites" which I enjoyed over my career of song listening (some which I would still listen to and some I might not). Some are:

"The Last Resort" by The Eagles
"I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones
"Love Hurts" by Nazareth
"Paradise" by John Prine (and others)
"Long Black Veil" by Lefty Frizzell
"Barbara Allen", (old folk song)
And many others

This list may reveal more about me than the songs -- an interest in a song that tells a story, often a sad song, or perhaps even a "negative" story. There is some disconnect, which is founded more in a feeling than the mental assent which I require in my Christian music. (I also get a feeling from the Christian music I enjoy.)

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is modern folklore, memorializing a Great Lakes ship wreck in the mid-1970s. I think its combined tune and lyrics ought to land it among the all-time classics. But I wonder how much "listening time" it actually gets??

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 20

The top twenty most-published Christmas hymns, according to the Dictionary of North American Hymnology.

1. Joy to the World
2. Hark, the herald angels sing
3. Brightest and best of the sons of the morning
4. When shepherds watched their flocks by night...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

res gestae

res gestae noun: facts incidental to a case, admissible as evidence in a lawsuit; e.g., exclamations uttered by a robber during a holdup.

From Latin, literally, things done.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Metrical Index of Tunes

The following from Wordwise Hymns by Robert Cottrill

"Tunes are grouped according to metre. This can be useful information if you wish to sing a particular set of words to a different tune. Perhaps the tune assigned to a hymn by the book is unknown, or more difficult for congregational use. This index will suggest alternatives.

"Each tune has a metre. So many beats per line, and so many lines. For example, the metre for the tune Aurelia above is (“D” meaning doubled.) That tells us that each stanza of poetry has 7 or 6 sounded syllables, alternately, and each stanza has a total of 8 lines. For example:

The chur-ch’s one foun-da-tion (7)
Is Je-sus Christ her Lord; (6)
She is His new cre-a-tion, (7)
By wa-ter and the Word; (6)
From heav’n He came and sought her (7)
To be His ho-ly bride; (6)
With His own blood He bought her, (7)
And for her life He died. (6)

"These words could also be sung to the tune Missionary Hymn or the tune Webb, among others, as they also have the metre."

The Back of the Hymn Book

Friday, December 11, 2009

The art of composition

According to Francis H. Jenks, "William Billings...stands in our musical history as the first self-taught native composer." (The New England Magazine. Volume 17, Issue 5, January 1895) There will always be those who tout William Billings as some kind of eccentric native genius, yet all the while lamenting "What a god-send it would have been to him, what would he not have thought, what possibly have done, had there, by any chance, fallen into his hands some fugues or other compositions, some harmonized chorals even, of Sebastian Bach or Handel!" (The Atlantic Monthly - "Our Dark Age in Music" - Volume 50, Issue 302, December 1882) But such training can ruin as well as enhance genius. I am quite satisfied with undiluted, straight-up Billings.

"Perhaps it may be expected that I should say something concerning Rules of Composition; to those I answer that Nature is the best dictator, for not all the hard, dry, studied rules that ever was prescribed, will not enable any person to form an air...It must be Nature, Nature who must lay the foundation. Nature must inspire the thought...For my own Part, as I don't think myself confined to any Rules of Composition, laid down by any that went before me, neither should I think (were I to pretend to lay down Rules) that any one who came after me were in any ways obligated to adhere to them, any further than they should think proper; so in fact I think it best for every Composer to be his own Carver.

"Perhaps some may think that I mean and intend to throw Art entirely out of the question. I answer, by no means, for the more art is displayed, the more Nature is decorated. And in some sorts of composition there is dry study required, and art very requisite. For instance, in a fugue, where the parts come in after each other with the same notes, but even here, art is subservient to genius, for fancy goes first and strikes out the work roughly, and art comes after and polishes it over." (From the writings of William Billings)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Writing songs

For almost 30 years I have been "piddling" with the hobby of writing songs. Not that writing songs is a waste of time; but mine might be. I do not consider myself a songwriter, but rather someone who enjoys experimenting with songs and songwriting. All my attempts, save one, are intended to be "Sacred Harp style" songs (that is, songs for Sacred Harp singers).

My oldest left in written record, though undated, is from around 1980. It is not an original composition. It is an arrangement merging parts of Old Hundred and Coronation. "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, and crown Him Lord of all, &c." I'll called it New Fifty!* ;-) Following two more arrangements, in 1982 I tried to put down on paper an original tune that I had been singing to myself for awhile. I guess it had some redeeming value, and, with help from the Sacred Harp Book Committee, it remains my only published piece to date. Within a couple of weeks I had churned out another one. After that the process became a sporadic one, with about a dozen from then to 1993. Nothing to write home about -- a few that may be decent and some that shouldn't ever see the light of day. These are songs that actually reached completion. I also have this or that idea scrawled on various pieces of paper that I may or may not be able to find. I have no record of any completed tunes between 1993 and 2004. I'm not sure what I was doing. But recently -- the last 5 months -- I have gone on a spree that includes 14 completed tunes to date (and several unfinished). I really like a few of them, some bear the harsh metrical reality of being framed with no particular text in mind, some are mere exercises in curiosity, and some, well...are just bad. Some are directly inspired by another tune -- e.g. "Legion" is a minor tune inspired by "Unchanging Hand"** -- while many may reveal subconscious imitation of what I like best in songs and hymns. Don't hold your breath waiting for my chef-d'oeuvre. You might asphyxiate.

I admire those who have turned out masterful works of musical art. In the Sacred Harp field folks like B.F. White, M.M. Wynne, J.P. Rees, Edmund Dumas, Sarah Lancaster Hagler, A.M. Cagle, O.A. Parris, T.J. Allen, John W. Miller and on and on -- and many who are still living. As for myself, I am a plodder. I have little training in music and less in composing. I guess that never stopped a fool from rushing in where angels fear to tread. But the process is enjoyable, cathartic, and engages the mind in better pursuits than others it could be wasted on. Try it; you'll like it. Jump in. You'll learn to float, swim -- or drown.

I am not a rebel, but I'm not much of a follower of musical rules. Some I know and don't prefer. Some I don't know. For example, a standard rule in musical composition is to avoid parallel fifths and parallel octaves. Another is that the voices should not cross (alto should not go above the soprano, nor tenor above alto, etc.). Meanwhile, I write horizontally more so than vertically -- looking for four decent tunes that can be sung together rather than three parts that bring out a fourth part, the melody. I do not particularly conceive of the composition vertically, or as writing harmonies. I conceive of the task more horizontally, or as writing melodies. While I don’t want the tune to be an absolute vain jangling of inharmonious sound, I seek to write four parts that I think I would enjoy singing. I seek for the bulk of the tune to be concords, and confine discords usually to passing tones. To me anything but 2nd and 7th is concord. I tend toward the pentatonic scale when writing major, not using or using sparingly the fa (4th in the scale) and mi (7th in the scale). I don't use accidentals. While they may not be anathema to shape note, they are at least a nuisance.

I guess some things are or come close to being rules for me. These are generally attempts to follow the main framework of Sacred Harp tradition. Songs begin and end with a full measure; bass always ends on the tonic; minor tunes always end on the 1-5 dyad (or unison); the standard moods of time are 3 common, 2 triple and 2 compound (2/2, 4/4, 2/4, 3/2, 3/4, 6/4 and 6/8). I guess everything else in up in the air. The spirit of Billings should be good guide for composers – "I don’t think myself confin’d to any Rules for Composition laid down by any that went before me...I think it is best for every Composer to be his own Carver...Nature is the best dictator, for not all the hard, dry, studied rules that ever was prescribed, will not enable any person to form an air." Maybe you'll just naturally carve out something that no man has ever carved before.

An example of a recent attempt, dedicated to the Houston (TX) area singers
Above song © 2009. Click on the image to see a larger version

* Most of my tune names have serious underpinnings, but some, like "New Fifty", may seem a little silly. Some do not reveal the underpinning, as Ogilvie, the brand name of a hair permanent whose sweet fragrance was aromatizing the house while I was writing the tune with that name. A tune needs its own name in case it be separated from the words and joined to another.
** Hold To God's Unchanging Hand by Jennie Wilson (words), F. L. Eiland and Clyde Williams (music).
Hold To God's Unchanging Hand sung by Russ Taff is not exactly like we sang it, but will give you an idea. Another version, by Pastor Jerome Jackson
Some may be able to access a score HERE if you have the right software.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Iowa Baptist history

Some Iowa Baptist history by Brother Josh Davenport, including an 8 minute video presentation at the end of the post.

Monday, December 07, 2009

My, my

If liberal tampering with the Bible weren't enough, here come the conservatives! Conservative politically, that is. Blessed are the conservative in Bible translation tells of political conservatives who want to rinse parts of the Bible to cleanse it from things that might favor the liberals, politically.

Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville -- who calls himself a theological conservative -- says, "This is not making scripture understandable to people today, it's reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda." The reply of Andy Schlafly, founder of, surely sounds as if they have a political agenda. He says, "The phrase 'theological conservative' does not mean that someone is politically conservative."


Friday, December 04, 2009

Searchable hymn index

Timeless Truths Free Online Library

The music section allows the user to sort by lyrics, tune, author, subject, key, etc. The site appears to be affiliated with the Church of God holiness non-denominational body, founded in 1881 by Daniel Sidney Warner. The hymns probably lean toward that tradition, but probably include many that are familiar to all.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thy lovingkindness

Psalm 48:9-10 (metrically arranged) 9s.

We have thought of thy lovingkindness
O God, in the midst of thy temple.
According to thy name is thy praise,
O God, unto the ends of the earth:
Thy right hand is full of righteousness.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Two Sacred Harp links

Vancouver Sacred Harp: Shapenote singing in the Lower Mainland is a new Sacred Harp blog site.

Compositions in the Style of the Sacred Harp on currently contains 46 tunes by four different composers -- Lauren Bock, Aldo Thomas Ceresa, Gregory Mulkern, and Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg.

(and a third added later: Shapenote Singing in the U K

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The glory of God in creation and providence

The glory of God in creation and providence.

My soul, thy great Creator praise:
When clothed in His celestial rays,
He in full majesty appears,
And, like a robe, His glory wears.
Great is the Lord, what tongue can frame
An equal honor to His name?

In Thee my hopes and wishes meet,
And make my meditations sweet;
Thy praises shall my breath employ,
Till it expire in endless joy.
Great is the Lord, what tongue can frame
An equal honor to His name?