An important message…and a pretty cool song from The Piano Guys plus one.
An important message…and a pretty cool song from The Piano Guys plus one.
Today’s post comes from one of my favourite sites: Mere Inkling – a writer who always has much biblical wisdom to share, and many insights into the writings of Lewis and Tolkien. Enjoy!
“Have you ever written something that inspired a musician to compose new music? J.R.R. Tolkien hoped to do so one day, and had he lived to hear the scores of the Lord of the Rings trilogy created by Howard Shore, he would have been in awe.
I was reading Tolkien’s correspondence last week and came across a fascinating letter he wrote to a musician who was requesting permission to write a serious composition based on The Hobbit.
This would have been quite different than the quaint “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” made famous by Leonard Nimoy. (I wish their choreographer had read the book, so we could have been spared the tiny T-Rex arms sported during the chorus by the dancers.)
Anyway, returning to more serious musical ventures, in 1964 Tolkien received a request for permission to write a “Hobbit Overture.” It came from British composer Carey Blyton (1932-2002) who would become best known for his song “Bananas in Pyjamas.”
Tolkien’s response to the composer’s query is fascinating, on several levels. First, he is gracious in extending his permission, without any restrictions. And, in 1967 Blyton did compose “The Hobbit” Overture, opus 52a. It appears on the CD, British Light Overtures 3.
Secondly, he shares his unspoken desire that his work might someday inspire music. Then he makes a curious comment about the illustrations of Pauline Baynes, which would similarly grace the work of C.S. Lewis.
After that, Tolkien describes his own, musically impoverished, upbringing. Finally he expresses his deep appreciation for good music, despite his lack of knowledge on the subject.
And Tolkien accomplishes all of this in just a handful of sentences!
You certainly have my permission to compose any work that you wished based on The Hobbit. . . . . As an author I am honoured to hear that I have inspired a composer. I have long hoped to do so, and hoped also that I might perhaps find the result intelligible to me, or feel that it was akin to my own inspiration—as much as are, say, some (but not all) of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations. . . . .
I have little musical knowledge. Though I come of a musical family, owing to defects of education and opportunity as an orphan, such music as was in me was submerged (until I married a musician), or transformed into linguistic terms. Music gives me great pleasure and sometimes inspiration, but I remain in the position in reverse of one who likes to read or hear poetry but knows little of its technique or tradition, or of linguistic structure.
It is common for people of sincere Christian devotion, such as Tolkien and Lewis, to express an appreciation for the divine capacity of music to touch the human spirit.
Martin Luther, for example, wrote much about music. “Music is God’s greatest gift,” he proclaimed. He was not only a composer of hymns, but also an acceptable player of the lute, which he used to accompany his children during their family devotions.
Music is deeply intertwined with the heart of Christian worship.
C.S. Lewis on the Subject of Music
One of the modest challenges in contrasting fellow Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis results from the significantly different natures of their literary corpora. While they both wrote fantasy, though of a vastly different magnitude, Lewis’ vocation as one of Christianity’s chief modern apologists necessitated that he defend the faith in diverse contexts. Thus, he wrote numerous essays and a number of texts addressing a wide range of considerations that his friend Tolkien never discussed in print.
Because of this distinction, it is relatively simple to discover what Lewis thought about the nature and powers of music. Typical of the man’s practical orientation, Lewis appears little interested in the abstract attributes of music. What interests him is its confluence with human existence. The following profound insight comes from his essay “On Church Music.”
There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect.
Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.
But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.
This discussion about church music is particularly interesting due to Lewis’ personal dislike for much of the music used in worship, which I’ve written about before.
Lewis described his own church music pilgrimage in “Answers to Questions on Christianity.”
My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches . . .
If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament [holy communion], and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.
I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
In “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis addresses this notion that we must look beyond the music itself, to assess its influence on our humanity.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Lewis recognized the deep influence and mystery with which music communicates and inspires. It is no accident that Narnia’s creation itself comes through Aslan’s song.
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool.
It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer.
Returning to “On Church Music,” Lewis expands on the importance of our intentions as we approach music.
It seems to me that we must define rather carefully the way, or ways, in which music can glorify God. There is . . . a sense in which all natural agents, even inanimate ones, glorify God continually by revealing the powers He has given them. . . . An excellently performed piece of music, as natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man, will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be. But that is a kind of glorifying which we share with the ‘dragons and great deeps,’ with the ‘frost and snows.’
What is looked for in us, as men, is another kind of glorifying, which depends on intention. How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and the disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know. But it is on the intention that all depends.
When it succeeds, I think the performers are the most enviable of men; privileged while mortals to honor God like angels and, for a few golden moments, to see spirit and flesh, delight and labour, skill and worship, the natural and the supernatural, all fused into that unity they would have had before the Fall. . . .
We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills,’ and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.
At the outset of this column I declared Tolkien would have been “in awe” of the musical score written to accompany the Lord of the Rings movies. Lewis too, I believe, would have been impressed by the scores composed for the three Chronicles of Narnia films made thus far. We owe a debt of gratitude to three composers: Howard Shore,* Harry Gregson-Williams,** and David Arnold***.
An Historical Postscript
In the spirit of Lewis and Tolkien, who appreciated the importance of music, we’ll close now with another engaging quotation from the wry pen of Doctor Martin Luther.
I wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.
The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”
* Howard Shore has nearly a hundred credits as a composer, conductor and orchestrator on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). In addition to the Tolkien cinema projects, he has also worked on a number of other very successful films and ninety-six episodes of Saturday Night Live. Shore won three Oscars for his work on Lord of the Rings.
** Harry Gregson-Williams has nearly a hundred credits on the IMDb, including a number of box office successes, a variety of popular video games, and several productions in the Shrek series. He won awards for his work on the Chronicles of Narnia series and another of my favorite films, Kingdom of Heaven.
*** David Arnold, wrote the score for the third Narnia film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He has seventy-three credits listed on IMDb, ranging from this year’s Independence Day: Resurgence, all the way back to a BBC made for tv picture entitled Mr. Stink.
I’ve really enjoyed following some blog discussions about hymnals in recent weeks (which you can find at the end of this post). In the space of around 30 years most church congregations have moved away from using them at all. Those piles of well-thumbed and well-sung collections of hymns have disappeared from church foyers and from the experience of many church-goers. In fact, if you are under the age of twenty you may have no memories at all of singing from a hymn book.
Last night I pulled out my little, moth-eaten, blue hymnal at the dinner table. My ‘elderly’ teenagers and twenty-year-old were bemused by the little tome. And while not entirely oblivious to the contents, they did find my rendition of the drawn out and repetitive phrase from “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” quite amusing: ‘And Crow… ow.. ow.. own Him! Crown Him! Crown Him! Crown Him and Crown Him Lord of All’. (Who said hymns were easy to sing, and not repetitive?)
Whenever there is a great cultural shift in the way something is done there will naturally be losses, and gains. (The internet itself is one giant case in point. While it allows me the opportunity to write and share with people on the other side of the world it can also distract me from giving good attention to the people under my roof!)
And of course we shouldn’t forget two things: the church has done without hymn books before – when people repeated or memorised the lyrics; and, the collection of hymns we have used in church in the last few hundred years are not actually the ones referred to in the Bible, in Ephesians 5:18-19. Those hymns and spiritual songs have been lost forever.
For me, the move away from hymn books has meant the loss of something tangible, a bound book of songs for the church, which have been agreed on and published for their value in helping us praise God, in spirit and truth. People could own or borrow a hymn book and look up songs and reflect on the lyrics. As a child who loved words, I spent many a Sunday service pouring over the hymn book (especially if the sermon was very long or over my head). I devoured both the poetry and theology they contained. They challenged me to learn new words and concepts about God. I was also fascinated by the names of the hymn writers and the years they lived, and wrote, as well as the number of hymns written by each person. This little blue book was something of a little Blue Box, bigger on the inside, and a portal to the rich history of the church for the past few centuries. (If you understand this Doctor Who reference, you may like to visit my old Blue Box Parables blog, on finding Christ in popular culture.)
While I have been brought up on hymns, (and learned to sing harmony because of them, and probably learned to read music from the hymn book on the piano at home) I am not mourning their loss. I have been part of the movement of change, and spent the last few decades looking for spiritual songs and hymns which will edify and teach us well. Alongside this new body of songs, most churches retain the ‘good old hymns’ in their repertoire, hymns that are biblical and continue to encourage people today. Modern adaptations of hymns also help keep the ones worth singing alive (while those full of obscurities and archaic phrases are happily shelved for good).
The authors of the following posts have explored these losses and gains in much more detail and you can read them at your leisure. But to close, I will quote myself for a change, and refer you back to a post written in the defense of new songs in 2012.
In a nutshell, I argued that new songs say that God is doing something here and now, not just a few hundred years ago: “. . . it also comes down to the concept of “renewing our minds”. By hearing the gospel explained in new and fresh ways, our understanding of God and the gospel of His grace is strengthened and deepened. That has got to be a good thing.”
You will find that Tim Challies also picks up this point in the third post below (which is his own response to his first post about things we lost when hymn books were set aside). The second and fourth links below are other people’s responses to Challies’ original post.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please comment below. Blessings!
Come all you who thirst! This is a song by Bethany Dillon based on Isaiah 55. Beautiful and encouraging.
This is just astounding.
There must be so many other instances, which we have not yet discovered, where music has the unique power to unlock and overcome problems in our physical bodies, minds and emotions. Thank You for the music!
What can worship leaders, pastors and creative leaders do to help Christians experience the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas? http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching
Christmas can be a stressful time of year, and Christians are not immune to the pressures and demands of this season. Many Christians find it difficult to significantly engage with Christmas on a spiritual level. Have you ever heard a Christian say “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas?”
The Christian experience of Christmas should be much richer, more distinct and more meaningful than the Christmas experience promoted across our culture. But for this to happen, Christmas must become more than just a birthday party for Jesus and a time for family reunions.
For Christians to gain a deeper and richer appreciation for the Christmas season as a Christian event (rather than just a cultural one) we must take a step back and look at Christmas in the broader context of the historical Christian calendar.
For centuries believers have followed the Christian Year as part of their spiritual formation and discipleship. According to this ancient tradition, Christmas was celebrated as a twelve-day feast, not just a one-day event. This celebration was the culmination of four weeks of spiritual preparation and anticipation known as Advent.
The well-known Internet Monk blogger Michael Spencer illustrates the difference between Advent and Christmas. He says, “Christmas is joyous, but the joy comes after weeks of waiting, watching, lamenting and calling upon God. Advent is that season of waiting; of looking for the signs and promises of the Saviour in the Scriptures and in the world.”1
I believe that rediscovering the spiritual rhythm and preparation of Advent will help Christians experience the true meaning of Christmas.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas – when our culture is shouting at us to “spend!” “buy!” and “consume!” – the season of Advent teaches us to slow down and reflect on God’s story and our place in it, it teaches us patience, and cultivates within us a child-like sense of anticipation and longing. Advent does this by helping us to remember the historical silence of the Scriptures between the Old and New Testaments and the expectation of a soon-coming Messiah. Advent also helps us to anticipate Jesus’ future return and the eventual completion of His work in redeeming and renewing all of Creation.
Advent spirituality is about recognising that we are living in the “now, but not yet…” between the inauguration and fulfilment, between promise and completion. During Advent, the words of John the Baptist ring in our ears “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,”2 as we eagerly await the Messiah’s return. For Christians, Advent is a time for spiritual preparation, reflection and repentance, which directly opposes our culture’s penchant for busy-ness, over-spending and over-indulgence in the lead up to Christmas.
Christmas is more than just a celebration of Christ’s arrival. In the light of Advent, Christmas becomes the fulfilment of the expectation that builds throughout the Advent season. At Christmas, we remember that God broke through into our earthly dimension. Through His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ worked to restore the earth and all creation from within, according to God’s good plan and purpose. Our response as His followers is to join with Him, today and every day, in His ongoing work of restoring the world unto Himself, until the day that He returns.3
In this way, Christmas calls us to a tangible response as followers of Jesus: to live out ‘incarnational spirituality’4 – an expression of Christian faith that embodies the life of Christ into the world in which we live. The prayer of the Christmas season is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”5 It is a reminder that “the work of restoring creation has begun,”6 and that we are called to join in that work, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit.
By understanding and integrating these historically important Christian ideas into worship gatherings leading up to Christmas, worship leaders and pastors can help those they lead to discover a deeper and more significant Christmas spirituality. That is, where faith overflows into tangible and intentional expressions of incarnational Christianity – a faith that is in the world but not of it.
Worship leaders and songwriters can help their communities experience Advent by choosing and writing songs, prayers and using language that focuses on the expectation of Christ’s coming; and saving the celebration of his arrival until Christmas Day.
Worship leaders can research, read and learn more about the seasons of Advent and Christmas in order to help their congregations wrap their Christmas experience around God’s story, not the story of commerce, culture and consumption.7
As worship leaders and creative influencers, we have the opportunity to shape the ways in which our worshipping communities experience Christmas, and ultimately influence the kind of Christianity the live out between Sundays. As we learn and immerse ourselves in the rich meaning of the “Christian Year” and prayerfully contextualise the themes and ideas of these seasons into our worship gatherings, I believe that Christmas can once again become a primarily Christian event in our churches – one that encourages us in our faith and empowers us in our witness as we remember, experience and live out the Truth of Christmas.
1. Spencer, Michael; http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-michael-spencer-helps-us-prepare-for-advent (Accessed on 1 December 2011)
2. Matthew 3:3b (See also John 1:23 and Isaiah 40:3) (NIV)
3. For a balanced and insightful look at the role of Christians as restorers, see “The Next Christians” (DoubleDay Publishing, 2010) by Gabe Lyons.
4. Webber, Robert “Ancient-Future Time”, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004, page 61-71.
5. Matthew 6:10 (NIV)
6. Webber, page 61
7. Robert Webber’s book “Ancient-Future Time” would be a great introduction to understanding Advent, Christmas and the entire Christian calendar.
THIS ARTICLE CAME FROM http://worshipsessions.com.au/site/teaching
WordPress.com users published more than 595 million posts in 2016. That’s slightly more than I managed to publish, but I do love the way much of my older content continues to be useful and encouraging to people all over the globe. Here are my top 5 most viewed posts this year. If you have only just followed me, you might like to check out why they are still popular.
5. How to Encourage your music team even when you’re not the leader
How great would it be if every single player and singer and sound technician took up the opportunity to positively influence the way their team functions. Consider the following list, 10 ways team players can be more encouraging members of their music team. . .
4. All of Creation Sing with me now, the veil is torn
Without being zapped or burnt to a crisp we sinful humans can now see the “glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Mercy Me’s song All of Creation gets quite a mention as well.
3. The Conundrum of Keys, Capos and Congregational Singing
This post contains four rules of thumb that I find work well when selecting singable and playable keys for church singing.
2. The Cross Has Made You Flawless
This post generated quite a lot of discussion – around the song Flawless. See what you think. In Christ we stand before our heavenly Father as perfect, flawless people. We are wrapped up in Christ’s righteousness.
1. Never Alone
This most viewed post shares a congregational song, Never Alone. It has a simple melody (great for church singing) and the lyrics bring such comfort. Christ is with us! We are not alone . . . no matter how alone we may feel.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
(NLT Matthew 28:20)
Thanks for reading in 2016! Merry Christmas!
Some more fantastic festive music for you from the Piano Guys:
You can find the album here on iTunes
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