Category Archives: Music

Teachout on Composer John Adams

Terry Teachout talks about what appears to be the good, though difficult, operas of John Adams:

His operas are intended to function not as conventional stage dramas but as mytho-poetical statements that are illustrative of larger ideas about the condition of man. Doctor Atomic, for instance, attempts to retell the Faust myth in specifically American terms, with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who directed the research-and-development program that led to the building of the first atomic bomb, cast in the role of the all-too-human genius who sells his soul and lives to regret it.

This Morning, I Woke and Sang

“When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies,

I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.

“Should earth against my soul engage, and hellish darts be hurled,

Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, and face a frowning world.

“Let cares, like a wild deluge come, and storms of sorrow fall!

May I but safely reach my home, my God, my heav’n, my All.” (Issac Watts)

“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,

And cast a wishful eye

To Canaan’s fair and happy land,

Where my possessions lie.

“O’er all those wide extended plains

Shines one eternal day;

There God the Son forever reigns,

And scatters night away.

“No chilling winds or poisonous breath

Can reach that healthful shore;

Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,

Are felt and feared no more.” (Samuel Stennett)

Behold the host

Phil asked me what my favorite Lutheran hymn is. That’s a no-brainer. “A Mighty Fortress” all the way. Oddly enough, I prefer it in a praise team arrangement, and I don’t think I can say that about any other hymn. This is a hymn you need to stand up and wail on.

My other Lutheran favorites—it will not surprise you to know—are Scandinavian hymns. Below is one I always think of as Norwegian, but in fact it’s Danish, the work of Bishop Hans Adolph Brorson. Its original title is Den Store Hvide Flok, which means “The Great White Host.” I think it’s particularly appropriate for All Saints’ Eve. Exactly the kind of hymn that wouldn’t go over in our day, as it takes it for granted that suffering is a necessary part of life.

The melody is a Norwegian folk tune arranged by THE MAN, Edvard Grieg. YouTube performance here.


Behold the host arrayed in white, Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright,

With palms they stand—Who are this band

Before the throne of light?

These are the ransomed throng, the same That from the tribulation came

And in the flood Of Jesus’ blood

Are cleansed from guilt and shame,

And now arrayed in robes made white They God are serving day and night,

And anthems swell Where God doth dwell

‘Mid angels in the height. Continue reading Behold the host


I cast around for a Lutheran hymn for tonight, a good hymn in the Lutheran tradition not written by Martin Luther, and I came back around to one of his again. Maybe it’s predestination. Happy Reformation Day and Happy Halloween.

Lord, keep us steadfast in your word;

curb those who by deceit or sword

would wrest the kingdom from your Son

and bring to naught all he has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, your power make known,

for you are Lord of lords alone;

defend your holy church, that we

may sing your praise triumphantly.

O Comforter of priceless worth,

send peace and unity on earth;

support us in our final strife

and lead us out of death to life.

If God had not been on our side

A hymn by Martin Luther, perhaps inspired by Psalm 124.

If God had not been on our side

And had not come to aid us,

The foes with all their power and pride

Would surely have dismayed us;

For we, His flock, would have to fear

The threat of men both far and near

Who rise in might against us.

Their furious wrath, did God permit,

Would surely have consumed us

And as a deep and yawning pit

With life and limb entombed us.

Like men o’er whom dark waters roll

Their wrath would have engulfed our soul

And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.

Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat

That they could not devour us;

Our souls, like birds, escaped their net,

They could not overpower us.

The snare is boken–we are free!

Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee,

Who madest earth and heaven.

Gathered from the Heedless Winds

I’ve been posting hymns from Martin Luther this week as we approach the anniversary of his nailing a few disagreements to the door of a new Wittenberg church, thus making him the world’s first blogger.

I wish I could give you the melodies for these, because I’m sure they carry the words better than their rhythm alone. This one is a sober hymn which needs a quiet tune to bring it home.

Flung to the heedless winds

Or on the waters cast,

The martyrs’ ashes, watched,

Shall gathered be at last.

And from that scattered dust,

Around us and abroad,

Shall spring a plenteous seed

Of witnesses for God.

The Father hath received

Their latest living breath,

And vain is Satan’s boast

Of victory in their death.

Still, still, though dead, they speak,

And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim

To many a wakening land

The one availing Name.

Music Influences You

As if you didn’t know, LiveScience has the goods on it.

For all you gym rats, here is exactly what listening to music does for your workout, Karageorghis said. First, it reduces your perception of how hard you are working by about 10 percent during low-to-moderate intensity activity. (During high intensity activity, music doesn’t work as well because your brain starts screaming at you to pay attention to physiological stress signals).

Secondly, music can have a profound influence on mood, potentially elevating the positive aspects of mood, such as vigor, excitement and happiness, and reducing depression, tension, fatigue, anger and confusion.

Thirdly, music can be used to set your pace . . .

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands

A hymn of Martin Luther’s

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,

For our offenses given;

But now at God’s right hand He stands

And brings us life from heaven;

Therefore let us joyful be

And sing to God right thankfully

Loud songs of hallelujah!


No son of man could conquer Death,

Such mischief sin had wrought us,

For innocence dwelt not on earth,

And therefore Death had brought us

Into thraldom from of old

And ever grew more strong and bold

And kept us in his bondage. Hallelujah!

But Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,

To our low state descended,

The cause of Death He has undone,

His power forever ended,

Ruined all his right and claim

And left him nothing but the name,–

His sting is lost forever.

Hallelujah! Continue reading Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands

Postmortem on a good weekend

Taken all in all, it was a pretty nice weekend.

My major problem was with an earworm. I got intrigued by Coldplay’s song, “Viva La Vida,” as heard on the iPOD commercials. So I checked it out on YouTube, and found the lyrics. Religious references. Interesting.

So I dug deeper, and discovered (as I should have guessed from the beginning) that it’s an anti-Christian song (or at least anti- any form of religion that teaches damnation).

Apparently, in Chris Martin’s world, people who believe there’s a Hell think they rule the world. Believing in final Judgment is arrogant. Believing, on the other hand, that you’re your own supreme authority and will never have to answer to God, testifies to a becoming modesty.

(By the way, the line that says, “Now I sleep alone” is a lie. I know I’m unreasonably criticizing a perfectly good metaphor. I’m sure he doesn’t sweep streets either. But in my opinion any guy who’s married to Gwyneth Paltrow gets diminished tolerance for complaints about his sleeping arrangements.)

So I played the video for Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” a couple times to wash the earworm out. The apotheosis of Doo-wop, that song.

Robbinsdale held its annual Whiz Bang Days celebration this weekend, and in connection with my usual walk to the Chinese buffet for lunch, I also browsed through the merchant tables. I came away with some cheap DVDs and a touch of dehydration which (I suspect) caused the passing hip pain I endured Saturday night.

Sunday I was all better again, and that was good, because it was another Viking day. Norway Day at Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis. And yes, we did some fighting. I started poorly, but improved as the day wore on. Which goes to show that if I ever get called on to fight with real swords in a post-EMP* world, I’ll do fine as long as I can survive being killed in the first few fights. Continue reading Postmortem on a good weekend

Nature Bore

I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse, to get an earworm without even hearing the song first. I got this week’s earworm from Mark Steyn’s Song of the Week: “Nature Boy.”

“Nature Boy” is a particularly aggravating earworm for me, because I find it kind of pretty. It’s the lyrics I despise. There’s a fair number of such songs on my proscribed list—“Imagine,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Green, Green Grass of Home.” I’m particularly handicapped by being a former lyricist. Because of that, I actually listen to lyrics (I think there are about six people in the country who share such a curse). This has caused me considerable suffering over my lifetime.

“Nature Boy,” according to Steyn (and I have to believe him, although it strains credulity) was written by a very odd duck named eden ahbez (no capital letters). He was, we are informed, a sort of 1940s proto-hippy, wandering around Los Angeles in a robe and sandals, with long hair and beard, living on fruits, vegetables and nuts. Somehow he managed to pass a grubby manuscript of the song to Nat King Cole’s manager, and by chance Nat actually looked at it and liked it. And so “Nature Boy” became a national hit in 1948.

There was a boy

A very strange enchanted boy

They say he wandered very far

Very far

Over land and sea…

A little shy and sad of eye

But very wise was he.

It’s very clear from eden ahbez’ bio that the “strange enchanted boy” he’s describing is himself. The guy wrote a song about himself, and how wise he was.

Steyn doesn’t go into great detail about ahbez’ belief system, but it seems to have been much the same kind of Buddhist/Hindu/New Age stew that we’ve grown so sadly familiar with in our own times. So it shouldn’t be surprising that such a man would write a song in praise of himself. Humility really isn’t an important virtue to people who believe that the ultimate truth is that they are God. Or god. Or goddess. Or part of god.

It’s just rare to see it stated so baldly.

And what is the wisdom that Nature Boy has condescended to share with us?

The greatest thing

You’ll ever learn

Is just to love and be loved in return.

Bold stuff, huh? Love is the answer. Love is all you need. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

Not a fresh insight. I can think of Someone two thousand years before who said that the chief commandment was to love God, and the second was to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It puts me in mind of the 1960s comedian Jackie Vernon. Vernon was famous for doing his routines completely deadpan, and making most of his jokes about himself (he was an inspiration to me. No, let’s be honest—he was my role model). He had a routine (if I’m crediting the right comedian) about looking for the meaning of life. He told of hearing a rumor of a wise man who lived on top of a high mountain, who could tell him the Answer. So he saved his money, traveled far (over land and sea, I have no doubt), climbed the high mountain, and finally flopped down, exhausted, at the wise man’s feet.

“Tell me the meaning of life,” he gasped.

“Life,” said the wise man, “is deep well.”

“What?” Jackie replied. “I spend all my money, come all this way, climb this mountain, wear myself out, and all you tell me is that life is a deep well?”

“You mean life isn’t a deep well?” asked the wise man.

That’s how I see Nature Boy philosophy.

Christ talked about love too. But He didn’t just tell us to love each other and everything would be all right.

He understood that none of us can love anyone enough to fix his/her heart, and that no love we can receive from each other can fix what’s so desperately wrong with our own hearts.

Instead of just gassing about love, He went into battle against evil, laid down His life, and conquered Death itself.

He even did Nature Boy one better, by having two natures.