Category Archives: Music – January 2018

A Favorite Psalm

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“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my heart pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  Where can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2

This is one of my personal favorites.  The beautiful imagery speaks of a desire to know God that is equivalent to thirst.  The deer’s search for water is central to its’ very existence, and our lives depend upon God in the same way.  My study Bible (the Life Application Bible, NIV version) calls Psalm 42 and “antidepressant.”  I agree, it’s a wonderful way to lift up your spirit;  and yes, there is a musical version:

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Martin Luther Quote on the Psalms #2

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“The Psalter is the book of all saints, and everyone, whatever his situation may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation and apply to his case so exactly that it seems they were put in this way only for his sake …”

Martin Luther

Martin Luther, Church, Pray

 

A New Song– Earth and All Stars

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“O Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”  Psalm 98:1

As I was lying in bed the other night, unable to fall asleep (don’t worry, my doctor says it’s just age-related) this song kept running through my mind.  The theme comes from Psalm 98, and I find it uplifting and somewhat humorous.  The lyrics were written by a Lutheran minister, Herbert Brokering for the 90th anniversary of St. Olaf’s College (Minnesota — the land of Lutherans!).  For me, they express the joyful experience of seeing God and praising Him in everything around us — he made it all!  Here’s what Brokering had to say about his composition”

“I tried to gather into a hymn of praise the many facets of life which emerge in community.  So there are references to building, nature, learning, family, war festivity.  Seasons, emotions, death and resurrection, bread, wine, wind, son, spirit … have made great impressions on my imagination.”

If you don’t know this hymn, I’ve attached the link below.

Martin Luther and the Book of Psalms

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“Where does one find finer words of joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving?  There you look into the hearts of all saints, as into fair and pleasant gardens, yes as into heaven itself.  There you see what fine and pleasant flowers of the heart spring up from all sorts of fair and happy thoughts toward God, because of His blessings.”

Martin Luther

The Book of Psalms was the songbook of the Israelites.  Many churches still chant or sing the Psalms today. A multitude of  hymns and Christian songs are based on a particular psalm. Luther called this book “the Bible in miniature” and took particular comfort in reading the Psalms. His most famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress, is a paraphrase of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble

Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake  in the heart of the sea;

though the waters roar and foam though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

What’s your favorite Psalm?  Is it used in worship or a song that you love?  I’m hoping our authors and readers will weigh in on this.

Music as a Dynamic

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In one of Michele’s previous posts, she asked about the songs that “move” us.  It’s a fact, music can move us into a different place mentally.  Calm music soothes;  boisterous music ramps us up;  patriotic or spiritual music inspires and uplifts.  Music affects our mood and our spirit, and singing together gives a sense of unity.

 

On a Via de Cristo weekend, music is used consciously, as a dynamic, to move the retreat weekend along.  Thursday evening, people don’t know one another and many are a little nervous.  What’s going to happen?  Why did I agree to do this?  The musicians select light, well known songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” or “Rise and Shine” so that people can easily participate and feel comfortable.

As the weekend progresses, the speakers choose songs that mirror the theme of their talk.  The weekend becomes more intensely spiritual and so do the songs.  Songs like “As the Deer,” “Abba, Father” and “Just As I Am” become part of the repertoire.

By Saturday night, the group is feeling excited and at ease with one another.  A community has been created.  It’s time for joyous, upbeat music like “Shake a Friend’s Hand” and “Dancing Heart.”  These songs involve participants in a physical way, encouraging moving around, and even touching one another.

“De Colores” is the theme song of the weekend.  It’s sung over and over on the way to meals.  This Spanish folk song rejoices in God’s creation and reflects the inner joy of the retreatants as they bask in the presence of God’s love.  I’m including it here at the end, and hope others who have been on a weekend (some of our authors are even weekend musicians) will share the songs that have become meaningful to them through Via de Cristo.

 

Amazing Grace — The Musical

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Recently my husband and I went to Washington D.C. to celebrate our anniversary (46 years!) by visiting the Museum of the Bible.  While there we also attended a performance of Amazing Grace at the World Stage Theater (also located at the museum).  It’s the story of John Newton, a slave trader who converted and wrote the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace.  I’m not sure how historically accurate the play is (the program stated some characters presented were fictional), but I plan to read Newton’s autobiography, Out of the Depths, as soon as I can get it from the library.  That may be another post.  Certainly there were talented actors and singers, amusing moments and great staging.  If you go, you’ll enjoy the show.  However, one review I read called the music “competent, but not inspiring.”  I would have to agree.  Not one song in the entire musical came close to the song it was all about, the one that was sung by cast and audience together at the very end. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  Here it is:

 

Why Lutherans Sing

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This article was originally posted in The Lutheran Ambassador, the AFLC magazine.

Lutherans are known as “the singing church” and Martin Luther has been called “the father of congregational singing.”  But why do we sing?  Is it simply our tradition?  Is it an appropriate way to express our emotions of gratitude and love toward God?  Is it a biblically sanctioned part of worship (Psalm 66:1-2)?  Does it help bind us together as a community?  The answer is yes to all these questions about communal Christian singing in the Church.  However, there is another excellent reason Lutherans sing:  hymn singing is an important part of our Christian education.

Maybe you thought the children were just having fun singing all those Sunday School songs.  They are having fun, but they are also learning about important people in the Bible (Father Abraham), the essentials of the faith (Jesus Loves Me), the proper response to God’s love (Praise Him, Praise Him, All You Little Children) and what it means to be part of the church (We Are the Church).

Setting words to music is an aid to memorization.  Young people often learn the books of the Bible (in order no less) by singing a song.  Adults who participate in a Lutheran liturgy discover they’ve memorized many Psalms and other portions of scripture by taking part in the worship service.  Well chosen hymns also serve to reinforce the theme of the sermon and the readings of the day.  And in times of crisis in our lives the comforting words of hymns bring the reminder of God’s eternal concern for His people to our minds and hearts.

Good hymns teach.  They help us understand the different church seasons (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel).  They prepare us for communion (Let Us Break Bread Together).  They tell us about the attributes of God (A Mighty Fortress). They convict us of our sin (Amazing Grace). They explain theological concepts (The Church’s One Foundation) and give lessons in how to serve (Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling) and be more generous (We Give Thee But Thine Own). Some hymns are almost a sermon in themselves (Salvation Unto Us Has Come)!

Church music can touch our hearts and sink into our souls in a way that is hard to explain or understand. Church music can lift us up into the very realm of God’s presence.  No wonder Luther called it “a fair and glorious gift of God.”

I Am the Bread of Life — Book Review

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A few months ago when our theme was “Food, Feasts and Gluttony” I purchased a copy of I Am the Bread of Life by Sister Suzanne Toolan and Elizabeth Dossa.  Sister Suzanne is the composer of the song, as well as many others and is also a gifted teacher of music.  The book is made up of a series of essays –some are biographical, others Sister Suzanne’s thoughts on topics such as Silence, Liturgy, Ritual, Celebrations, and some contain practical advice on prayer, music and liturgy.

I Am the Bread of Life

As a Lutheran, I didn’t agree with everything in the book, but much of the material on liturgy resonated deeply with me.  It’s obvious that to Sr. Suzanne, music is a spiritual practice. She took care to make sure her students understood what they were singing.  She felt the music should encourage their faith. She speaks about liturgy not as something to study, but as a beloved and thoughtful discipline.  Here are some of her quotes:

“A good hymn is almost instructional.”

“Entertainment or liturgy as theater has no depth to it.”

“There is a unity of spirit in the singing.”

“The Liturgy is about leading the congregation to the Real Presence.”

Sister Suzanne is an amazing woman, and anyone interested in the liturgy and music of the church will enjoy this read.

 

Music that Takes You Back

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My mother died just a few days ago, and I started thinking about my childhood — when I was very small, mom would sing to me;  silly songs or popular songs of the late 40’s and early 50’s.  Songs like “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?,”  “Yes, I have no Bananas,” or “Happy Trails to You” take me back to that time. (Does anyone else remember these, or am I just really, really old?)

Music connects us with other times and places.  “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles takes me back to the days of watching American Band Stand as a young teenager;  “Hey, Jude,” (Beatles) “Leaving on a Jet Plane,”(Joni Mitchell) and “I Second that Emotion”(Smokey Robinson) take me back to college days, playing records in the dorm.

There are plenty of hymns and Christian songs that take us back to significant times and seasons in our spiritual journey as well.  As a child, I sang “Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam” in Sunday School and “Beautiful Savior” in church.  “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” recalls singing in the car with my young daughters.  “A Mighty Fortress” is, of course, for Reformation Day; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” — Advent, “Silent Night” — Christmas, “O Sacred Head Most Wounded”–Lent and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” — Easter.  For Lutherans, the liturgy is a constant that binds all those songs together as we walk through the birth, life and death of Christ and the seasons of the church year.

Like Michele, I’m going to give our authors and readers a challenge — what song takes you back to an important time in your life with God?  I hope to see some posts and comments about the music that takes you back this month.

 

Sing a New Song

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“Happy New Year!” is the common cry of the day, but I prefer to wish people a blessed new year. Not everything that happened in 2017 was happy. On an international and national scale, there were natural and man-made disasters of all sorts, leaving many people homeless and some mourning those dear to them who were lost. On a personal front, my mother died on Easter 2017, I had unexpected heart surgery in July, and without having planned or thought about it, as a result of the surgery, I went from being a classroom teacher to an administrator.

But there have been blessings: My second granddaughter was born in May; the change in job is definitely better for my recovery (way less stressful, and fewer hours!), and I am finding that the new job is actually where I am supposed to be at this time in my lfe. I recognize God’s hand in all that has come to pass.

So as we enter a new calendar year, with no idea what may be in store, may we always remember to praise God, and with the psalmist, sing a new song:

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Have a blessed new year, knowing wherever it leads you, God is with you always.