Category Archives: Music

“Lo How a Rose”

Here’s another Sissel song for your Christmas delectation. It’s an old German hymn, but I’m not sure she’s singing it in German here. I’m not sure what language she’s singing. I don’t think it’s Norwegian. Pay no attention to the closed captioning, which is in Spanish and no help at all.

But it’s nice.

“What Child is This?”

Tonight, because I care (and because I don’t have any thoughts) I offer another Christmas song sung by the incandescent Sissel Kyrkjebø. On top of it being one of my favorite Christmas songs (“What Child Is This?”) this clip also shows the singer at her loveliest.

Sissel has a blog of her own, over here (discovered by Phil, to my eternal shame). But it’s pretty dull. Just irregular posts about where she’s done concerts and how nice everybody is, and pictures of her and her friends. Where, I ask you, are The Things the Public Craves? The interesting and instructive anecdotes of childhood abuse? Long disquisitions on Viking history and Norwegian folklore? The film clips of sword fights? Panegyrics on Andrew Klavan?

No, I have to do all that stuff myself. Because I care. Because I’m determined to make Sissel a star.

No need to thank me, Sissel. The work is its own reward.

But if you insist, I have a few suggestions.

The Apple Tree

My church’s choir is singing “Jesus Christ, The Apple Tree” this year. It’s a beautiful, traditional song. I can’t remember where I’ve heard it before, perhaps the same place you’ve heard but can’t remember too.

The apple has been used in many works of art as a symbol for sin or evil. I’m told the reason we think of the forbidden fruit, that unnamed fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as an apple is the fact apple and evil are spelled the same in Latin, malum. So Adam is shown with the apple of sin in his hand or at his feet as he is driven from the Garden of Eden. But in this song, Jesus Christ is called an apple tree (cf. Song of Solomon 2) in part because he is the second Adam, the one who is taking sin away from us, the one who is bearing the burden of our curse in order to save us from ourselves. That’s why we can sing:

The tree of life my soul hath seen,

Laden with fruit and always green:

The trees of nature fruitless be

Compared with Christ the apple tree. Continue reading The Apple Tree

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