Category Archives: Music

‘Be Thou My Vision’ (martial version)

Here’s the best-loved Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” done by… I don’t know whom. A male group. I chose this version because it includes the often-skipped third verse, beginning, “Be Thou my battle-shield…”

The original could well have been known by Father Ailill, the narrator of my Erling novels. It’s often attributed to the sixth-century Saint Dallan, though some scholars date it to the eighth century. Pre-Viking in either case.

It was first translated into English in 1905, but the singable verse version was done by Eleanor Hull in 1912. The tune would not have been used by medieval monks, but is an Irish folk tune called “Slane.”

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

Glenn Yarbrough

The Hobbit as his table

We’ve had news of the death of several public figures this year: Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, and Elie Weisel to name a few. You may have missed the news of the death of a folk singer back in August. Glenn Yarbrough, whose 77th birthday is coming up January 12, began singing in college after some encouragement from his roommate, Jac Holzman, and  Woody Guthrie, who was a visitor and eighteen years Glenn’s senior.

Glenn sang the lead song in the Rankin and Bass production of The Hobbit. I’d like to say–I think I’d like to say this–that I internalized “The Greatest Adventure” and made it my life song. I don’t think a fair perspective on my life would say I had broken the mould of my life and created someone new. I’m not like Bilbo was before his adventures, but I’m not like he was afterward either. It’s very likely that I have not “stopped thinking and wasting the day.”

The bridge of Glenn’s song has always held me. I’ve even nicknamed myself Raindream because of these words.

A man who’s a dreamer
And never takes leave
Who thinks of a world that is just make-believe
Will never know passion,
Will never know pain,
Who sits by the window will one day see rain.

I have needed this kick in the pants repeatedly, but like the believer who loves to feel conviction while neglecting to repent, I can’t say I’ve acted on it. At least, not often.

I know I’ve heard more of Glenn’s music, but I don’t remember the context. Perhaps my parents had one of his records. Maybe I heard it through Pandora at some point. I hope he died knowing the Lord.

“Now a Thousand Christmas Lights are Lit.”

Tonight, another Norwegian Christmas song you can’t understand, from Sissel. Because it’s good for your education.

“Nå tennes tusen julelys,” is the name of the song. It means “Now a thousand Christmas lights are lit.” It paints a picture of Christmas lights being kindled all around the world. It goes on to talk of the Christmas star, and then moves on to a hope that the light of Christmas will bring peace to the world. I think it’s very beautiful.

Happy St. Stephen’s Day. And Boxing Day.

‘I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve’

Tonight, another classic Norwegian Christmas hymn. This one, “Jeg Er Så Glad Hver Julekveld,” is probably the best-known original Norwegian carol. Which isn’t saying much; you’ve probably never heard it. But it’s famous to us. I had to memorize it phonetically when I was a kid, for a Christmas program in church.

The title means, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve,” and that’s what the translation is called, if you can find it. The singer (clearly a child) is saying how much he loves Christmas Eve, and the reasons are all about Jesus. How the star shone forth and Jesus was born, and how Jesus lives in Heaven to hear our prayers. How his mother trims the Christmas tree and fills the room with light, explaining that Jesus came as a Light to enlighten the world.

It should really be done by a children’s choir, but I couldn’t find a video like that. So this one will have to do.

Glade Jul. Merry Christmas.

“Oh How Beautiful the Sky”

For your Christmas (Jul) edification: One of Norway’s most popular Christmas hymns — “Deilig er den Himmel Blå,” which when found in English translation is usually rendered “Oh, How Beautiful the Sky.” It’s actually a Danish hymn, written by Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, a prominent but eccentric Danish cleric and educator (he’s mentioned in Catherine Marshall’s novel Christy).

The gist of the thing is that the sky is beautiful, and delightful to look at. The stars are twinkling and shining, and they turn our thoughts to Heaven. The Wise Men followed a star to Bethlehem, and we have God’s Word which, like the star, will lead us also to Christ.

The choir here is the boy’s choir of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. St. Olaf is buried there (we’re not sure where). I visited it once. The emblem on the boys’ robes is the coat of arms of the church, either the cathedral itself or the diocese. I’m pretty sure.

“My heart always returns”

What shall I blog about on the evenings when I haven’t got a recently finished book to review? That’s going to be my personal dilemma for a while. I picked up a book on the Inklings. It’s excellent and full of points of interest, but it’s about as long as The Lord of the Rings, I think (that’s one of the interesting aspects of reading on a Kindle. Sometimes you’re surprised by the length of a book you bought, an occurrence that never occurs in bookstores). Anyway, I’ll have to actually talk to you until I’ve finished this book. Which means I’ll have to think.

I thought I wouldn’t have to do that anymore, now that I had a master’s.

Anyway, it’s Advent, so a Christmas song from Sissel is always in order. I’ve probably posted some version of this before, but I think I’ve run out of new Sissel Christmas stuff. She bears repetition. This is one she’s recorded and performed many times. The title, “Mitt Hjerte Altid Vanker” means, “My heart always returns.” The singer is saying she constantly turns her thoughts back to Christ and His birth. I like this arrangement, which incorporates a theme from Edvard Grieg in the bridge. This recording was done in Iceland.

Worshipping at The Voice

I heard a local radio host recall his reaction to seeing part of The Voice (season 11, ep. 23) last night. He said the singer was leading worship with “To Worship I Live (Away),” written by Israel & New Breed. He noted the audience’s participation. He said judges were teary eyed.

Here’s how Amanda Bell of Entertainment Weekly described it. “There’ve been a lot of hymnal-style ballads to hit the stage this season, have there not? Christian Cuevas has made no secret about his allegiance to family and faith, and obviously, that spirit of purpose has served him well thus far — his performance last week caught the attention of Lady Gaga herself and the iTunes downloading community.”

For Cuevas to sing Christian praise music in a music competition venue is certainly a witness to his faith. I don’t wish to criticize his choices or motives, but for the radio host to suggest the audience and judges were worshipping the Lord along with him confuses emotion with worship simply because of the lyric being sung. Would he say the same about a masterfully performed Whitney Houston or Rihanna song that brought the audience to their feet? Of course not, and yet the response is the same. Here’s what Bell said when thinking through predictions for next week. “Christian Cuevas… took a big risk on a song that might get his own insides moving and grooving with the holy spirit, but was otherwise pretty unremarkable for those of us who aren’t familiar with the gospel he was singing in multiple languages.”

The Voice is a music show, and viewers will respond to strong performances.

As I remember the story, Jascha Heifetz and George Gershwin were talking about the pop music of their day, saying someone could write a perfectly scandalous song that should offend everyone who heard it (or maybe it was a ridiculous mess of a song, not scandalous), but if it had that emotional pull of the catchiest pop music, it would be a hit. Heifetz wrote the 1946 hit “When You Make Love to Me (Don’t Make Believe)” to prove it could be done.

Modern worship music easily fits this description. Familiar sounds and repeated words guide us through emotional patterns, which in church or Christianized settings we call ‘worship.’ That’s not what we mean by the word ‘worship,’ but let me suggest that’s actually what it is. When an audience is moved by Beyoncé or a cover artist, regardless of the song, they are worshipping. They may be revelling in the look and sound of the singer, the lyric of the song, or the tone and tension of the music. It doesn’t matter what focuses their adoration; it only matters that they are adoring in that moment.

So, yes, Cuevas’s performance did lead the audience in worship, but it was only worship of the living God for some. For most of them, it was the idolatry of music.

Romanian Choral, Folk Music

If Halloween turns your thoughts to Dracula’s Transylvania, then I have a bit of a remedy for you. This is a recording of part of the Suită Corală din Ţara Oaşului by twentieth century Romanian composer Dariu Pop. This may be only one of the folk songs in the original suite of songs, but both sound and visuals are wonderful.

The ‘Well-listened and Well-read’ Diana Krall

In 1995, Terry Teachout wrote the first article for jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall for a national publication. He talks about it and shares his thoughts in a post today.

Twenty years after we met, Diana sent me an e-mail thanking me for writing about her in the Journal. “Of all the many pieces I’ve written through the years, I think I might just be proudest of that one,” I replied. “It means the world to me to know that I was able to help when it mattered.”

From that piece, Teachout offers a reason for calling Krall “well-listened and well-read.”

Like so many younger musicians, Ms. Krall is intensely aware of jazz’s rich tradition, and knowledgeable about it. “My idea of a fun evening,” she says, “is to just sit around with my records and put on one after another: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Miles Davis—anything I can get my hands on, really.”

It ain’t me, babe. But it’s a Minnesotan.

The big news on the literary front today (you’ve doubtless heard already) is that a Minnesota native (unfortunately not me) has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The somewhat mystifying choice is Bob Dylan.

I’ll admit I don’t get it. In fact I never “got” Dylan. Even his much-praised lyrics do nothing for me.

But then I pretty much didn’t get anything that happened from 1965 to 1980 or so.

In other news, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to Keith Richards.

Kidding.

Jack the Beowulf Singer

Jason Craig and Dave Malloy have written a rock opera based on Beowulf, just what you didn’t know you never wanted. A. M. Juster describes it.

We meet the dimwitted hipster Beowulf and the snarkier Hrothgar, who are backed up by a chorus of four female “warriors” who resemble strapping Cyndi Laupers in football pads and Goth makeup. We hear pulsing but mediocre rock, which at least drowns out such dull refrains as “Hey, it’s that guy,” “It’s my body,” and “That was death and then they died.”

It has a few perks, but Juster was not thrilled by the whole.

On another horrific, somewhat more gruesome, note, Otto Penzler has compiled The Big Book of Jack the Ripper. Steve Donoghue says it’s very good. “This editor is an old, practiced hand at picking these kinds of stories; his anthologies are always masterworks of combining old favorites with carefully chosen new surprises.”

The real payoff of Penzler’s book is its opening section, “The True Story,” and the main reason is clear: the raw events of the true story are more bizarre, more sordid, and more horrifying than any concoction a writer could dream up.

(via Prufrock News)

Skenandoa

I got to thinking about the old song, “Oh Shenandoah,” this weekend, for no important reason. It’s one of The Divine Sissel’s favorite numbers (as witness the video above). She says she learned it from a Norwegian sea captain, which is no surprise, since one of its many permutations over the years has been its service as a sea shanty. It’s certainly one of America’s most beautiful native songs, and also one of its most versatile and mysterious.

In fact, one has to ask, “What in Burl Ives’ name is the song about, anyway?” It addresses Shenandoah, which we all know to be a river and a valley in Virginia, but then it talks about “the wide Missouri,” thousands of miles away. This is the question I set out to answer, sparing no expense in consulting a sophisticated new technology called Wikipedia.

Well. Turns out it’s not about the Shenandoah Valley (or river) at all. There was a guy named Shenandoah. Continue reading Skenandoa