Category Archives: Music


Last week, I risked offended our readers and my fellow blogger by recklessly posting a poem lightly referred to by one of the world’s finest, Michael. Let me attempt to make up for that misjudgment by posting something beautiful, a bridal march.

Not in praise of praise music

I note that the bloated plutocrats who run television have chosen to put “House” opposite “Chuck” on the schedule tonight. Thus am I torn between two monosyllabically titled series that I especially enjoy.

I’ll have to go with “House.” “Chuck” is great, and even has a hot girl character named Walker, but Gregory House is the one character on television with whom I most identify. The pain of losing “House” will be greater than that of losing “Chuck.”

Someday (probably when I’m old, blind and deaf) I’ll get Tivo.

I went to a different church this past Sunday. Actually I’ve gone to this different church for the past two weeks. I was contemplating changing my membership (same national church body, different congregations).

As you may have noted from occasional blog posts of mine, my mild enthusiasm for what is called “praise music” in church has cooled over the years to indifference, and has now settled into plain loathing. Some people hate the music, but I can live with the music. It’s the lyrics that scratch my chalkboard. There are exceptions (I can think of exactly one, which we never use in our church anymore), but praise song lyrics are pretty generally amateurish, banal in sentiment, incoherent in theology, and repetitious. Some of them are like a slap in the face to anybody who’s ever attempted to write a decent song lyric. Continue reading Not in praise of praise music

“O Holy Night”

This a cut from Sissel’s first Christmas album, which became the largest selling album ever in Norway (and still is, if I’m not mistaken). I think they sold copies equal to about half the country’s population.

Sorry there’s no live performance footage. But it’s the song for tonight.

She’s singing in Swedish, for some reason.

Don’t ever say I’m not broadminded.

“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.