From Mere Inkling – Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and music


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!

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Music

“Have you ever written something that inspired a musician talbumo 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.

luteMartin 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.

https://mereinkling.net/2016/08/02/tolkien-c-s-lewis-and-music/

 

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What to do with ‘Jesus, Son of God’

Following on my recent conundrum about keys, capos and congregations I’d like to explore the dilemma I am having with this great Chris Tomlin song, and the best key to sing it in at church. Firstly, have a listen and read the words (on the video, or scroll to the end):

In this version, it is played with Capo 4 in G, which means that, at pitch, they are singing in key of B (which has five sharps – the reason they are using a capo).

Since the lyrics of this song are just too good to pass up, we found the best way around the issue of the range, is to sing it in D. This means the range of the melody falls between D and A, which most people can manage! Unfortunately, it also means that the melody in the chorus ends up lower than it is in the verse – but in order for the greatest number of people to sing it well together (which is the point), we decided to go this way. It seems to be working well!

A few other thoughts about this Key choice:
1. If you are into adding harmonies with backing singers, you can easily add some harmonies above the melody in the chorus (a third or 5th above). You could even teach some to your congregation.
2. Some male singers could jump up the octave to help build a crescendo in part of a verse or chorus. This could be modeled by your male song-leader.

Let me know how you go. Here are the lyrics again:

Jesus Son Of God

Verse 1

You came down from Heaven’s throne
This earth You formed was not Your home
A love like this the world had never known
A crown of thorns to mock Your name
Forgiveness fell upon Your face
A love like this the world had never known

Chorus

On the altar of our praise
Let there be no higher name
Jesus Son of God
You laid down Your perfect life
You are the sacrifice
Jesus Son of God
(You are Jesus Son of God)

Verse 2

You took our sin You bore our shame
You rose to life You defeated the grave
And a love like this the world has never known
‘Cause You took our sin You bore our shame
You rose to life You defeated the grave
A love like this the world has never known

Bridge

Be lifted higher than all You’ve overcome
Your name be louder than any other song
There is no power that can come against Your love
The cross was enough
The cross was enough
(The cross was enough)
(The cross was enough)

Ending

The cross was enough
The cross was enough

Hymn books: what we’ve lost and gained.

blue hymn booksI’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!

https://www.challies.com/articles/what-we-lost-when-we-lost-hymnals

https://gregoryktyree.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/what-we-gained-when-we-gave-up-our-hymnals/

https://www.challies.com/articles/what-we-gained-when-we-lost-the-hymnal

https://chrislinzey.com/2017/04/09/hymnals-we-dont-need-no-stinkin-hymnals/

https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2012/07/31/new-songs-say-god-is-doing-something-now/

The Indispensable Need for Unity

unityThis is a great discussion of the importance of unity in the Body of Christ, reblogged from Veritas et Lux.

The Devil’s Hatred of Unity:  Make no mistake.  The devil despises unity.  He will do whatever it takes to divide family and friends. He will pull out all the stops to divide a church or ministry.   And he will work tirelessly in order to divide a country.  One of the things that Satan hates the most is a unified church family.  Note several reasons for the devil’s utter antipathy of unity.

First, when God’s people are united, the body of Christ works as God intends – harmoniously.  Paul speaks of this unity in 1 Cor. 12.  ”But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that they may be no divisions in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (ESV).  Here we see that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  God is honored and glorified when the body of Christ works in a harmonious fashion; when the people of God are mobilized and faithfully exercising their God-given spiritual gifts.  Satan on the other hand, loathes the very notion of unity with a devilish passion.

Second, when God’s people are united, the gospel goes forward in great power.  We see this demonstrated most vividly in the book of Acts.  In Acts 1:8, the apostles receive a promise; a promise of the Holy Spirit’s power that will accompany their ministry as they faithfully proclaim the gospel to the nations.  In Acts 2, the day of Pentecost arrives and Peter preaches a bold sermon that results in the conversion of 3,000 people (Acts 2:41).  As the people of God devote themselves to the purposes of the church (Acts 2:42), God faithfully “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).  In Acts 4:4, we witness the conversion of 5,000 more people as they sit under the preaching ministry of Peter.  This pattern occurs over and over in the book of Acts.  When the people of God stand united, the gospel goes forward in great power – all the more reason for the devil to despise a united church.

Third, when God’s people are united, Christ’s agenda triumphs over people’s personal agendas.  Here’s a principle to remember: Rejecting bickering results in rejoicing together.  When personal agendas are set aside for kingdom purposes, Christ’s agenda prevails.  So the devil will work strenuously to pit believer against believer.  Woe to the church who passively sits by while the personal agendas of carnal people win the day.  When personal agenda strike at the core of the local church, the devil has gained a major victory.

Fourth, when God’s people are united, God is greatly glorified.  When forgiveness is at the center of a church family and grace marks the ministry, people are encouraged and God receives the glory.  When selfish agendas are cast aside, God is glorified.  When “pet projects” are shelved in order to defer to a higher purpose, God is glorified.  Paul notes, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 4:15, ESV).

We have uncovered some reasons why the devil hates unity.  But it does not end here.  Satan not only hates unity; there is something he loves, namely, division.  The devil relishes a people who are divided.  He is eager to promote division, especially in the church.  So notice several reasons for the devil’s love of division in the church.

The Devil’s Love of Division 

First, when the church is divided, effectiveness fades.  Nothing could be more plain.  When people are at war, the troops lose strength and effectiveness wanes.  Quite honestly, division takes work.  And while the people who are engaged in division grow weak, it is the faithful efforts of shepherds that are ultimately affected.  I often wonder if people who spark division really understand how pleased the devil is with their work.

Second, when the church is divided, ministry morale declines.  This principle is related to the previous one.  For whenever division takes root in a church, ministry morale by definition will be on the downgrade.

Third, when the church is divided, the flesh is stirred to action.  I have learned from experience that when a group fosters division in a church, their sinful activity has a stunning effect.  It actually brings out the worst in people.  It serves, if you will, as a sin catalyst – igniting the flesh in people who moments before were faithfully serving God.  It is no wonder that the devil has such a passion for division.

Fourth, when the church is divided, the gospel is tarnished.  I was never much of a math student but here’s an equation I understand and have seen firsthand over the years.  Gossip + division = a lack of love.  And if we take John 13:35 seriously and affirm that people will recognize that we are disciples because of the love we show one another, it stands to reason that a divided church actively and aggressively tarnishes the gospel.  Francis Schaeffer rightly notes that the “final apologetic” is our love for one another and the unity expressed in the context of relationships.  I’m convinced that Satan is perfectly happy to see the gospel being proclaimed by a divided church – because the luster of the gospel is being adulterated which results in a weak, tepid, and ineffective message.  May God help us!

Fifth, when the church is divided, the Holy Spirit is quenched and grieved.  When Jesus prayed the High Priestly prayer in John 17, he said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21, ESV).  In other words the Trinity, has from all eternity been in perfect fellowship and unity.  So when disunity invades a church, it strikes at the core of who God is.  Division militates against what is precious to God, namely, unity.  The Holy Spirit, therefore, is quenched and grieved when division puts a stranglehold on unity.

Sixth, when the church is divided, God is not glorified.  Of course, whenever a church is divided, God is not honored.  And when God is not honored and glorified, we find the devil grinning ear to ear.  I heard a pastor say a few days ago that he “does not believe in the devil.”  Now the arch-enemy of our souls is really smiling.  He’s not only managed to spark division in the church; he’s convinced one of the leaders in the church that he is only an imaginary enemy.

So we come back to the primary assertion, namely, there is an indispensable need for unity in the church of Jesus Christ.  A church that fails to live up to the biblical ideal is a disobedient church; a church that is marginalized; a church that is weak and ineffective.  May God give us strength to obey the mandate before us.  May we stand side by side in unity all for the great name sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.