Category Archives: Music

Voces8: “Be not angry, O Lord”

Ne irascaris Domine satis,
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae.
Ecce respice populus tuus omnes nos.

Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.
Sion deserta facta est,
Jerusalem desolata est.

Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.
Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
    Zion has become a wilderness,
    Jerusalem a desolation. ( Isaiah 64:9-10 ESV)

Imagine No Bad Songs

Inspired by the mayor of New York City, who said the song “Imagine” was an inspirational song about treating each other better, writer Matthew Walther suggests that the unifying banner under which we can all gather could be disdain for this song.

Start with the word salad of Marxism, anarchism, and existentialism. Nowhere is there even the faintest hint of how any of the hypotheticals we are being asked to consider might be realized. Instead Lennon does the political equivalent of telling us that the real magic was inside us all along.

This terrible song offers “a vision of a reality in which ‘lol nothing matters’ is elevated to a first-order principle.”

I’ve always hated “Imagine.” It’s as silly a song as “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime.” It’s abyssmal. I can barely listen to Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and “Bewitched, bothered and bewildered” has to be about singing under the influence–does anyone like that one?

Let’s unite in our disdain for overly popular songs. What’s your pick? (via Prufrock)

A dishonest ad

Public school in Anacortes, WA, 1904. Photo in public domain.

In the time of quarantine: My private peeve today: A public service ad on IMDb.

I’ve been streaming TV on Amazon Prime, which also gives me limited free access to the IMDb channel. Only you have to put up with ads. I can live with ads.

But there’s one public service ad they’ve been running that annoys me. I don’t know if it’s been running anywhere else.

It’s an ad for some kind of educational organization. It features various colorful vignettes of little kids having a wonderful time learning in school.

My tolerance for cute kids is limited, but I can handle that. It’s the music that annoys me.

What they play over the ad is Pete Seeger’s classic folk/protest song, “What Did You Learn in School Today?”

The overall effect of the ad is to say that public schools are magical places, where the kids learn good, wholesome things.

Which is pretty much the opposite of what the song is about. The song goes back to the 1960s. Pete Seeger, the composer, was the godfather of the American folk music movement, which was really huge in the early ‘60s. I was a big fan. I wasn’t, however, aware back then of the basic purposes and motivations of the movement. Most (if not all) of its leaders (especially Seeger) were communists and fellow travelers.

The lyrics of the full song portray a dialogue between a parent and a little boy who has come home from school. Asked what he learned in school today, the boy tells about how he learned that “Washington never told a lie.” And how war is glorious and relatively safe, and “someday I might get my chance.”

In other words, according to the original song, the public school is a brainwashing center that indoctrinates children into unthinking loyalty to the capitalist system, and prepares them to be cannon fodder in useless, imperialistic wars.

The ad I’ve been seeing on IMDB is dishonest on two levels. First of all, it pretends that the song is not satirical, but sincere.

Secondly, now that the Left has taken over the educational system, it attempts to use a protest song as propaganda for perpetuating a new establishment.

Requiem for the Living

Before we all got sent to the bench for several games, before we started murmuring about whether we’d get to play again this season, the choir in my church had been preparing to join other choirs for a late April performance of Dan Forrest’s marvelous Requiem for the Living. Now as ever, mankind must to recognize his need for good, restorative rest.

I have loved John Rutter’s Requiem for many years. I bought the CD in college, when I was buying music like that, and maybe I heard it on the radio prior that, I don’t remember. It’s enchanting. Forrest’s piece will be second favorite now. I hope you enjoy this recording.

The composer writes his piece tells “a narrative just as much for the living, and their own struggle with pain and sorrow, as for the dead.”

The opening movement sets the traditional Introit and Kyrie texts- pleas for rest and mercy- using ever-increasing elaborations on a simple three-note descending motive. The second movement, instead of the traditional Dies Irae, sets Scriptural texts that speak of the turmoil and sorrow which face humanity, while yet invoking musical and textual allusions to the Dies Irae. This movement juxtaposes aggressive rhythmic gestures with long, floating melodic lines, including quotes of the Kyrie from the first movement. The Agnus Dei is performed next (a departure from the usual liturgical order) as a plea for deliverance and peace; the Sanctus, following it, becomes a response to this redemption.

The Sanctus offers three different glimpses of the “heavens and earth, full of Thy glory”, all of which develop the same musical motive: an ethereal opening section inspired by images of space from the Hubble Space Telescope, a stirring middle section inspired by images of our own planet as viewed from the International Space Station, and a closing section which brings the listener down to Earth, where cities teem with the energy of humanity.

The Lux Aeterna which then closes the work portrays light, peace, and rest- for both the deceased and the living. 

from the program notes shared on danforrest.com

The words are latin. Here’s the translation pulled from this recordings page.

Continue reading Requiem for the Living

The Lark Ascending

Perhaps Britian’s most popular work of classical music, The Lark Ascending draws a listener to a quiet, comfortable seat. You can listen to it through the link.

Ralph Vaughan Williams composed The Lark Ascending in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War One. With hindsight, the work has assumed a deeper significance in the UK’s national consciousness. A haunting ‘pastoral romance’ for solo violin and orchestra, it has become a symbol of the calm before the storm, perhaps of the summer countryside in the last days of peace before thousands of young men were sent away to their deaths (though suggestions that the piece was written while Vaughan Williams watched troops setting out for France are probably apocryphal).

‘O Sacred Head, Now Wounded’

The Ao Naga are a tribal group in northeastern India. They were converted to Christianity in the late 1870s. This is the Ao Naga Choir with the Passion hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

“O Sacred Head” is a very old Latin hymn traditionally attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. However (I’m disappointed to learn) it’s now generally attributed to a 13th Century poet named Arnulf of Leuven (whose name suggests Norman ancestry).

Arrangement by J. S. Bach.

I love this hymn. For Lutherans (and, of course, for many others) Christocentricity is the chief test of theology. If Jesus isn’t the Center, then it’s wrong.

Through all history, people have sought the secret of the universe. Christians declare that the secret is not an equation, not a formula, not a hidden talisman or precious stone or treasure, but a Person. When you get to the end of all questions, when you draw back the final curtain of the universe, you find Personality.

And of course, we always knew this was right. All our great stories declared that the King must save his people; the Father must save his child; the Prince must save the princess. The answer is Someone.

A blessed Good Friday and Easter to you.

‘Now Thank We All Our God’

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany during the 30 Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city, and so a place of refuge, but the number of refugees strained local resources. Rinkart took many into his own home, and had to scavenge for food and supplies. The city was overrun by enemy armies three times.

And then came the plague. Rinkart was left as the only pastor in the city, doing as many as 40 or 50 funerals a day, including that of his wife. He himself did not live to see peace.

Nevertheless, sometime before 1648, he sat down and wrote a poetic table prayer that began, “Nun danket alle Gott,” “Now thank we all our God.” Soon after a tune was composed by Johann Cruger. Our English translation came from Catherine Winkworth in the 19th Century.

More on the hymn here.

I’m not sure who’s singing in the clip above, but the venue is the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The Dream I Knew

While still I may, I write for you
The love I lived, the dream I knew.
From our birthday, until we die,
Is but the winking of an eye

W.B. Yeats wrote fondly of his native Ireland and the pagan faerie roots he supposed it has. These lines from his poem, “To Ireland in the Coming Times,” published in 1893. Composer Thomas LaVoy arranged the last stanza into this choral piece, performed by The Same Stream.

I cast my heart into my rhymes,
That you, in the dim coming times,
May know how my heart went with them.

‘Mockin’bird Hill’

I still haven’t finished reading the book I’ll review next. It is a mark of my desperation for material that I’m going to post a music video that represents an utter betrayal of my younger self.

What you see here is a clip from the old Lawrence Welk TV series. It features the popular singers, The Lennon Sisters, doing “Mockin’bird Hill,” a song popular in the 1950s. Patti Page had a big hit with it. I remember that my mother and her sisters were fond of it.

What nobody told me at the time was that it’s a Scandinavian song – arguably Norwegian. It was first recorded by a Swedish accordionist named Carl “Calle” Jularbo in 1915, but it sounds suspiciously similar to a Norwegian folk tune, “Norska Bondvals” (Norwegian Farmer’s Waltz). In the clip, the accordionist introducing the song is Myron Floren, a Norwegian-American who was a regular on the Welk show. He was the single major star at Norsk Høstfest in Minot for many years until his death, which was years before I ever attended.

I like the song, but still hate myself for posting it in this incarnation, because of my childhood. My parents loved Lawrence Welk, and my brothers and I despised him (and all his works and all his ways, as we Lutherans say). We had a conspiracy to blind our parents to the program’s existence. It was broadcast on Saturday evenings in our area, but there was another channel that showed Tarzan movies at the same time. My brothers and I loved Tarzan. So when the folks fired up the Remote Control (which consisted of having one of us change the channel for them), we would zip past the channel showing Welk, hoping they wouldn’t notice.

Sometimes it worked.

Now that I’m old, I rightly ought to be learning to appreciate Lawrence Welk’s oeuvre. Sometimes they run his programs on the public television station. I’ve long been a confirmed fuddy-duddy. I ought to appreciate them now.

But honestly, I can’t. I’ll admit that some of the girls are pretty. But that “Champagne Sound” (Welk’s personal trademark) just leaves me cold. Too processed. Too polka-based. And those obligatory, rictus-like smiles on all the performers, who were known to be paid minimum union scale regardless of their popularity with the audience.

Too much ancient bitterness there. Too much blood shed, to wax hyperbolic.

I don’t even like Tarzan that much these days.

‘Look For the Silver Lining’

In case you missed the memo, today is the last day of 2019. That doesn’t make it the end of the Teens Decade (even though Dennis Prager says it does), but that’s not a fight I want to have right now. In any case I’m more than ready to ashcan this one.

2019 was a year in which I hoped for much, and (mostly due to my own mistakes) ended up with my teeth scattered in the gravel. On top of that, we suffered a tragedy in my extended family – which I’ll not discuss right now – last weekend, just to wrap it all up in an ugly, asymmetrical bow.

I’m bemused by the memes going around pointing out that we’re about to enter the new Roaring Twenties. I kind of like that. Both my parents were born around 1920, and I grew up among people to whom that year was recent history – because it was. So I’m more comfortable with the Jazz Age than with whatever Age we’re shambling into now.

I looked for songs that became hits in the year 1920, and here’s one: “Look For the Silver Lining.” From the musical “Sally,” which debuted that year. Music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey and book by Guy Bolton, who was P. G. Wodehouse’s regular collaborator. There’s are a couple songs with Wodehouse lyrics in the play, “Joan of Arc” and “The Church Around the Corner,” recycled from earlier flop shows. “Sally” was a big hit, and made a star of its female lead, Ziegfield Girl Marilyn Miller.

It’s not a bad message to start a year with, even a century later.

‘A Thousand Candles In the Gloom’

It being Christmas Eve, you probably expected a Christmas song from Sissel. And you shall not be disappointed.

But wait! There’s myrrh! (As the meme says.)

Below is my quick translation of the lyrics. The original hymn is Swedish, music and words written in 1898 by Emmy Kohler.

A thousand candles in the gloom

Shine all around the earth,

And heaven’s stars are smiling down

To hail the Savior’s birth.

In palace and in cottage low

The news goes round tonight

Of He who in a stable born

Is God and Lord of Light.

Thou shining star of Bethlehem

So bright and fair above

Remind us of the angels’ song

Of light and peace and love.

To each poor lonely heart on earth

A beam of blessing send

So they may find the way that leads

To Bethlehem again.

Christmas Blogging

Pastor and author Ronnie (Kringle) Martin asked for five favorite Christmas songs that are not hymns. I offered these:

  1. Christmas Waltz (Bonus French version)
  2. One Cold and Blessed Winter (O Bambino)
  3. Christmastime Is Here
  4. White Christmas
  5. Gloria, by Charlie Peacock

And that got me thinking about Christmas things.

How many Christmas songs do we play that don’t have anything to do with Christmas? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a new cute video from Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé) is a winter song, not a Christmas song, but then “Silver Bells” is a Christmas song, and it has very little to do with it.

“My Favorite Things,” “It’s a Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman”? Not Christmas songs. How did “My Favorite Things” get on the seasonal playlist anyway?

Maybe the same way a movie set in December with Christmas trees, perhaps with a Christmas party, gets labeled as a Christmas movie. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or a movie set near Christmas? Is Home Alone one? (BTW, the score from Home Alone has good Christmas music. “Star of Bethlehem” is marvelous.)

Dixie-Ann Bell writes, “5 Reasons Little Women is a Great Christmas Movie” She enthuses over the theme, and oh my word! I tucked the main theme from this Thomas Newman score into my head years ago and forgot where I’d heard it. I don’t remember where I thought it was from; I think I ruled out Emma and Sense and Sensibility.

Continue reading Christmas Blogging

‘In the Bleak Midwinter’

The nice thing about December is that if I can’t think of anything to blog, I can post a Christmas music video. In my case, that usually means something from Sissel.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is in keeping with the weather, in my neighborhood. Poem by Christina Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst. Orchestration by a bunch of heretics in Salt Lake City.