Saturday, April 30, 2011

With the power off

"Contemporary Christian artists almost always use instruments in their recordings and concerts. Their music is instrumentally conceived, and without instruments (in traditional a cappella settings) the music doesn't work effectively. Instrumentally accompanied church music provides the singers/congregation with harmonic and rhythmic backgrounds. In such an environment, there is much less need for singers to employ and appreciate harmony. Praise teams to a great extent exist to provide, promote and perpetuate harmony for the congregation. When churches embrace the contemporary sound, they are led to make accommodations — trained singers, sound systems, instrumental accompaniment, vocal and instrumental percussion, and the like. I find it interesting that among instrumental churches of various descriptions that I have visited, I don't hear much real singing by the congregation going on. I have thought on many occasions that if the electrical power were cut off, there would be very little sound of singing by the congregation. The congregation increasingly is playing the role of observer rather than participant."

Arthur Shearin is a director of concert choir and former music department chairman at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Quoted in article "Take notes: Church music lacks true harmony, singing experts say" by Tamie Ross in The Christian Chronicle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jehovah our righteousness

JEHOVAH our righteousness.
Jer 23:6

My God, how perfect are Thy ways!
But mine polluted are;
Sin twines itself about my praise,
And slides into my prayer.

When I would speak what Thou hast done
To save me from my sin,
I cannot make Thy mercies known,
But self-applause creeps in.

Divine desire, that holy flame
Thy grace creates in me;
Alas! impatience is its name,
When it returns to Thee.

This heart, a fountain of vile thoughts.
How does it overflow,
While self upon the surface floats,
Still bubbling from below.

Let others in the gaudy dress
Of fancied merit shine;
The Lord shall be my righteousness,
The Lord forever mine.

William Cowper (1731-1800)
Olney Hymns, 1779

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Sunday

We approach the day many Christians and the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and various & sundry events that have no connection (e.g. Easter egg hunts) or a contrived connection (e.g. sunrise services). Amidst is all, let us with true hearts glory in His triumphant resurrection, remembering also that in every baptism we preach the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; that in the memorial Lord's Supper we imply His resurrection through "shew(ing) the Lord's death till he come"; and that EVERY first day of EVERY week should be a poignant reminder of the lesson of the empty tomb -- He is not here, He is risen!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The voice of God regard

Sinners, the voice of God regard;
'Tis mercy speaks today;
He calls you by His sacred Word
From sin's destructive way.

Like the rough sea that cannot rest,
You live devoid of peace;
A thousand stings within your breast
Deprive your souls of ease.

Your way is dark, and leads to hell;
Why will you persevere?
Can you in endless torments dwell,
Shut up in black despair?

Why will you in the crooked ways
Of sin and folly go?
In pain you travel all your days,
To reap eternal woe.

But he that turns to God shall live
Through His abounding grace:
His mercy will the guilt forgive
Of those that seek His face.

Bow to the scepter of His Word,
Renouncing every sin,
Submit to Him, your sovereign Lord,
And learn His will divine.

His love exceeds your highest thoughts,
He pardons like a God;
He will forgive your numerous faults,
Through a Redeemer's blood.

John Fawcett (1740-1817)
Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion, 1782

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book reviewed

My book, Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing Among the Baptists, is reviewed by Keith Harper in The Journal of Baptist Studies, Volume 4 (2010) (p. 91).

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Announcing numbers at singings

Awhile back on Fasola Discussions there was a brief but intense discussion about announcing and repeating the song numbers at singing conventions. Sounds like something simple enough to have no impassioned supporters or detractors, right? Wrong.

At Sacred Harp singings anyone who wishes is given an opportunity to call a number, stand in the "hollow square" and lead it (or "teach the class a lesson"). Some people come to the square and announce their numbers clearly and distinctly. Others may speak in a way that is less audible. When this happens someone may ask for the number, and someone may repeat the number loudly.

Knowing the page number of the song being sung is a necessary part of the democratic process of joining in sacred song. If you don't know the number then you're left out -- at least to begin with. After a song is started experienced singers will often know where to go. Beginners will still be left out. I believe it is a given that numbers MUST be repeated in such circumstances. Herein in the rub. Who will repeat it, how often and how loudly?

It has been suggested that there are some problems:

1. Loud calling or re-calling of the number disturbs the spiritual moment of preparation to singing.

2. Loud calling or re-calling of the number negatively affects sound recordings that are being made.

3. Loud calling or re-calling of the number should be undertaken by the officers of the singing or someone approved/appointed to that task (front row tenors, for example).

4. Loud calling or re-calling of the number can be more hindrance than help if the person re-calling the numbers is getting the numbers wrong.

To these stated problems I reply:

1. Even if this be true (though I don't understand it), not knowing the number certainly disturbs the spiritual moment and even the SINGING moment. So we either have two competing "spiritual moments" that cancel each other, or we have to decide the lesser of two evils? For comparison, might it be more or less spiritual for a minister to mutter his text so few could understand or state it and clearly so all who wish may read along?

2. I'm sure this can be true. But singings are for SINGING. Listening, recording, et al. are merely by-products. The recording of a singing should not trump the singing itself. Hopefully a happy medium can be achieved, but singing comes first.

3. This is not a universal tradition, but apparently held as appropriate in different areas. I don't think many will object to the convention taking the lead in this area. If this is the practice of a certain region or convention we should abide by it, and the convention officers should see that the service is actually being provided. Under this tradition, the convention officers should be notified if it is not, and they should make certain -- to the best of their ability -- that singers have the opportunity to know the page numbers of the songs being sung. (I say to the best of their ability because there are situations like folks not hearing because they or folks next to them are talking, people who have significant enough hearing loss that they will not understand the number regardless, etc.).

4. This is true when the numbers are called wrong. That is basically the same situation as not knowing the number to start with.

It is incumbent on leaders at Sacred Harp singings to learn to announce their numbers for all to hear (again to the best of their ability). Some folks are capable of being more distinct and articulate than others. For some perhaps the quiet muffled announcement is ignorance, misunderstanding, or just the thought that the front row WILL repeat their numbers. Some may have been taught this. If so, their teachers performed a disservice to the Sacred Harp community. Do not assume someone will or should repeat your song number. I was taught to announce the number loudly and clearly. I hope I accomplish that. To you leaders I say, "Do you just want those standing right in front of you to sing?" Or do you expect help from the larger group? Announce your number to whomever you expect to sing with you. Stand up, announce your number clearly before you come forward, and again when you are in the square. Speak the numbers distinctly by saying each number separately -- four, six, eight (468). Even turn around and say it once to the altos who are behind you! Someone pointed out that 3 digit song numbers can be repeated 4 times in less than 10 seconds. Everyone is entitled to locate the number being sung before the singing of it starts. Proactive leaders announcing numbers distinctly will go a long way toward reducing the need of loud repeating of numbers.

Lastly, let us all be considerate of one another and seek to have the best singing each time we come together.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Early American composers

Early American composers "were the products of a homegrown system of music education that had its own teachers, its own apprenticeships, its own publications, and its own artistic standards. The foundation of this musical system was a body of indigenous music that had been rejected by the nineteenth-century sacred music establishment. For the Sacred Harp tradition, the stone the builders rejected had become the cornerstone." -- Neely Bruce, "The Sacred Harp as Experimental Composition," p. 18

Despite being rejected by musical elitists, these old tunes are still being sung several hundred years later.