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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Crossing the Bar


Click for the sheet music to Crossing the Bar

Click here to hear Crossing the Bar (music by Samuel Beazley).

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

The poet Tennyson felt that the twilight of his life was at hand.  Looking over a harbor (some say a sandbar in the Thames River), he set the scene to poetry, describing a longing for serenity in death.

I first heard Crossing the Bar from a dear mentor in ministry and music, Mike Reeves.  At the time, I was Mike’s intern at the Dalton Gardens, Idaho church of Christ.  I already enjoyed singing, but Mike tapped into something and from those days till now I live James 5:13 (“Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.”).  You couldn’t go an hour without hearing Mike’s tenor voice lift up a song to God.  Some of Mike’s favorite songs (and he likes all kinds) had fallen out of popularity with the general church going public and, as such, were a completely unknown genera to me: the male quartet song.

If you look in Great Songs of the Church II (and many other older books), you’ll find several songs for “special events,” or with the notation “for male quartet.”  Some people might understand better if these songs were described as TTBB (tenor, tenor, bass, bass).  These songs typically have tight, colorful harmonies, the melody is usually in the second tenor (what would look like alto), and the second bass part is mercifully low.  To sing these songs as written is to sing a man’s song, designed for men’s voices.  One should note that the notes in the upper staff (in the old hymnbooks, written with an obscure C clef on the 3rd space) are not written for the female register.  Of course, a song can be transposed and rearranged to be sung by a full chorus (SATB), but the treble (higher) parts of male quartet songs are written an octave lower than in a song for Soprano and Alto singers.  This doesn’t actually cause a male singer to sing lower, it simply reflects where his voice is already singing.  So, with the treble notes being so close to the bass notes, the harmonies are naturally tighter and more aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  I reflected this in the typesetting of Crossing the Bar by using what’s called an “octave clef.”  One can use any clef (G, F, C) and add the numeral 8 to the top or bottom of that clef symbol.  This indicates that the music is to be sung/played either an octave higher (top) or lower (bottom) than one would typically expect with that clef.  For example, the first note in the first tenor part is a C.  Typically, one with think of this as C-above-middle-C, but since the clef we used indicates everything should be lowered by an octave, this is not C-above-middle-C, but it is – in fact – middle C.

I haven’t reflected on the lyrics of Crossing the Bar in this post.  I’ll probably do that later.  For now, though, what do you think of the poem and music to which it was married?

Look for a few more male quartet songs to follow.  You’ll probably never hear them sung, but you’ll be enriched by exposure to them – I know I have been.  I’m thankful for people like Mike who make our lives more full by showing us that music is inside of us, it’s something to be made, not just listened to as others perform it.

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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Jesus’ Name My Rosary


Disclaimer:  I’m not trying to be “Anti-Catholic” in this post, nor am I against promoting prayers.  There is some theological reflection in this post, but it’s also full of religo-sociological thoughts that reflect the lyricists, editors, and the audience for which they labored.  If this post causes someone to question his beliefs, however, I don’t consider that a bad thing.  If we never question our beliefs, we’ll never refine them and grow into an understanding of them.  Christians never need to fear the truth.

To see this song, click here.
To hear this song, click here.

My latest hymnal purchase was Choice Gospel Hymns published in 1923 by the Gospel Advocate Company of Nashville, Tennessee.  Churches of Christ have supported Gospel Advocate as a publishing house since 1855.  David Lipscomb himself was the editor-in-chief of the flagship publication (“Gospel Advocate”) for nearly five decades.  The Gospel Advocate has represented a conservative viewpoint throughout its existence.  Anyone who has studied churches of Christ or the American Restoration Movement knows that two distinctives are the rejection of overtly manmade systems of belief and practice and, accordingly, the rejection of instruments of music in worship.  It’s because of those distinctives that I find this particular song to be an oddity: “Jesus’ Name My Rosary.”

If you look at the musical score, you can’t help but notice the first two measures are all piano music.  While many hymnal editors took advantage of previous songbooks and would simply copy already-typeset pages for inclusion into their new books, that’s not the case here.  The type is consistent with the rest of the book and the copyright information tells us that this song was exclusive to this book, that this was its first appearance.  When that’s the case, one seldom finds music arranged for piano playing in a hymnal that is designed with a cappella singing in mind.

The text was adapted (it doesn’t say by whom, though. One of the editors?) from a poem by Episcopalian clergyman William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877).  These Pennsylvania Muhlenbergs are descended from Henry Muhlenberg (d. 1787), a Lutheran missionary to America (it’s worth it to read their family story – fine people).  William was the author of a book of religious poetry and wrote the following lyrics:

Jesus’ name shall every be
For my heart its Rosary.
I will tell it o’re and o’re,
Always dearer than before.

Ave Mary may not be
For my heart its Rosary;
Jesus, Savior, All in all –
Other name why should I call?

Morning hymns and evening lays,
Noontide prayer and midnight praise,
Heart and voice, and tune and time,
Jesus’ name they all shall chime.

Ever new and fresh the strain;
Of all themes, the sweet refrain:
Time will bring what it may along,
Jesus still th’ unchanging song.

Redolent with healing balm,
Pleasure’s charm and trouble’s calm;
All of Heaven my hope and claim,
Grace on grace in Jesus’ name.

In my soul each deepest chord
Ring it out, Our Savior Lord;
Jesus, the eternal hymn
Forth from saint and seraphim.

Breathe it, then, my every breath;
Linger on my last in death;
Jesus – Rest in paradise;
Jesus – Glory in the skies.

The song in Choice Gospel Hymns leaves out any adaptation of the first two lines verse two, which – to me – made the whole thing make sense.  “Rosary” is a Roman Catholic prayer device that is rooted in worship (“veneration”) of Mary.  So inextricably is the rosary tied to Mary-worship, that to complete a rosary cycle one must pray 14 “ave Marias” (a worship prayer to Mary, commonly known in English as “Hail Mary”) and a “Salve Regina” (hail the Queen of heaven).  Obviously biblical passages like Revelation 22:8f and Matthew 4:10 forbid the worship (“hailing”) of anyone but God, so how is the term “rosary” used here?

The lyrics read, “Ave Mary may not be For my heart its Rosary; Jesus, Savior, All in all – Other name why should I call?”  In this poem we are taught that praising Mary would be calling into question the all-sufficiency of Jesus as our mediator into the throne room of God (the Bible says, “and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” I Timothy 2:5).  Instead of using Catholic rosary beads, this song suggests we use the name of Jesus to word our prayers.  This song encourages us to make the theme of our prayers be Jesus.

Too often our prayers are focused on me, myself, and I.  I do wonder what the results would be if we recorded our prayers and counted the times we used first person references vs. how many times we spoke about Jesus.  Just like the song says to exalt Mary is wrong, remember that it’s equally wrong to exalt ourselves in our prayers.  Prayer time is not the same thing as sitting on Santa’s lap and saying, “Yes, I’ve been good, Old Man, and I want X, Y, Z.”  Prayer is quality time spent with our Heavenly Father, prayer is adoration and worship time, prayer is about thanksgiving.  Look to the psalms and see how many of them are addressed to God.  Many of the psalms do nothing more than (should we say, “nothing less than”?) enumerate the great qualities of God.  When was the last time I prayed like that?  You? Just like you and I compliment those we love, we should compliment God, we should sing His praises, we should tell ourselves, tell others, and tell Him just what a majestically awesome God He truly is.

So, are you going to hear Jesus’ Name My Rosary next Sunday?  Probably not (if you do though, I’d love to hear about it!).  Musically I think this type of song has run its course.  I’m not sure how many people ever heard this song, to be honest with you: songs with piano music don’t seem to be high on an a cappella church’s list of favorites.  But at least listen to the music once, reflect on the lyrics – allow the main message of the song to realign your prayer life to be more Jesus-focused.

What else about this song hits you?  If you see any other interesting moments in this piece, be sure to comment below.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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My Letter to the Speaker


Disclaimer:  I voted for McCain (yes, it seemed like a lesser-of-two-evils vote. I would do it again, knowing the alternative).  I support – with my vote – a conservative agenda for government.

I’m not loudly political, but occasionally I do write to my Representative in Washington, D.C. or other federal officials.  This morning I felt moved enough to write to Speaker of the House Boehner (contact him here), regarding the funeral arrangements of Frank Buckles, the last American WWI veteran, who just passed away.  According to Daily Kos and NationalJournal.com, Speaker Boehner has decided against allowing the body of Frank Buckles to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda (here’s a list of those who have been honored this way).  I happen to think it would be a grand way of honoring not only Buckles, but also his comrades and fellow heroes who served with distinction.  Below is a copy of my note to Speaker Boehner regarding this matter.

What are your thoughts?

——————————————————————————

Dear Mr. Speaker,

I recently read an article that indicates that you are unwilling to allow the body of Frank Buckles, the last US veteran of World War I, to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Wouldn’t this be a moment to celebrate a now-passed generation, those men and women upon whose hard-working shoulders we have stood for more than eighty years?  Wouldn’t this be the time to reinvigorate our sense of national sacrifice, paralleling it to the honorable service of Mr. Buckles?  If Americans truly are a people who rise to the challenge, why not challenge us to live up to the legacy of our forefathers?  Mr. Speaker, I do not ask you to give us a hero, for Mr. Buckles – and countless others alongside him – have already done that on battlefields, in classrooms, from church pulpits, in laboratories, in backrooms, around dining room tables, and in the halls of government.  As they have given of themselves, they have become hero material.  I ask you, Sir, to honor the memory and life of this one hero, as representative of an entire generation of heroes.

Mr. Speaker, please reconsider your position regarding Mr. Buckles’ funeral arrangements.

Sincerely yours,

Levi Sisemore,
Floydada, Texas

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Blogging?


Sometimes I have a thought (or two, or three) that is in need of development.  Sometimes I have developed thoughts in need of expression and articulation.  This blog will play host to some of that articulation.

Part of my idea for this blog is to center around church music.  I have a collection and I’d like to share it with the world.  One of the highlights of my year is teaching at The Singing School at Abilene Christian University.  It’s worth it to me to box up 200+ church music books, just so my students can actually see what their instructors are talking about.  Sometimes I wish that I could spend a few moments sharing why each of those books is special, what unique features they have, and why they’re worth having in a collection.  For the most part, though, the classroom is not the place for that.  For the last year I’ve tossed the idea about creating a personal blog to share my collection.

Some of the books I have are for sale.  As I post information about books for sale, I’ll let you know which they are.  This is a great way to build a library.

I also enjoy personal epiphanies on a semi-regular basis.  These may involve things which you’ve already come to grips with, but they’re new to me.  These may be political, sociological, or psychological, but often as not they’ll be theological.  If this blog makes you think about something for the first time, or in along novel lines of inquiry, then I will consider it a success.  On the other hand, if it’s simply a repository for my thoughts, I’ll probably be happy with that, too.

I thrive on feedback (who doesn’t?): let me know what you think; share this blog with others who might find it interesting.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The “Last” Hymnal


I love hymnals.  What can I say?

I’m sure my wife wishes she could believe that Choice Gospel Hymns (1923) would be my last hymnal.  She has nothing against song books, but – you see – we’re running out of room in my office to store them.  As of today I have seven bookshelves full of hymnals and books on various aspects of church music.  From a recent buying and hunting spree there are an additional ten books at my feet, waiting to be catalogued.  I have another four boxes (sixty or so books) that I’m not looking to keep (more on that later).

Choice Gospel Hymns is a very important book for me right now.  I’ve spent years developing a collector’s list of hymnals from the churches of Christ in the United States.  I’ve talked with hymnbook compilers and editors, church music experts, songleaders, and music teachers – all to get their personal list of the pivotal, defining books from which the church has sung.  I’ve had most of them for years now, but in the past few months I’ve gotten closer and closer to my goal: to own every one of them on the list.  Granted, the three earliest ones (1865, 1882, 1882) had to be reprinted, but I still owned them, I could still look at them and hear the voices of past generations of worshiping saints.  Choice Gospel Hymns, however, had continued to evade me.  No matter where I looked, I couldn’t even find much record of the book, let alone a copy for sale.  Last week that changed.  Unless something goes terribly awry, in a few days’ time my list will be complete.  I will be able to put a check mark next to “1923 Choice Gospel Hymns (Charles Mitchell Pullias, Gospel Advocate Co.).”

No, Choice Gospel Hymns won’t be the last hymnal I buy (in fact, I wrote to two publishers today for more information on their upcoming books), but it will feel good to have a complete collection.

P.S. I still have to buy Hymns for Worship, Revised (1995).  I already have the original (1987), so it doesn’t really count that I don’t have Revised.  Does it?  Oh well, maybe that will be my “last” hymnal.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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