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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SoundMan Super Hero

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I’ve come across some great resources for church sound engineers recently. Here is one of them to read, then one to watch (at the end). Blessings to you in your ministry, to the praise of His Glorious grace!

SoundMan needs love. The church sound person is almost always a volunteer. This is not his full-time gig. During the week he’s repairing cars, selling insurance, cub reporting, peddling groceries, and on Sunday he becomes something other than a car repairer, insurance seller, cub reporter or grocer. He becomes -voila!- SoundMan! No one on the worship team cares anymore that he knows a Ford carburetor from one made by Chevy, or that he can tell you about the various whole life policies and their intricacies, or that the tomatoes are particularly good today. They just want excellent sound, and SoundMan had better come to the rescue. Bet on it, Sweet Polly Purebread prefers SoundMan over Underdog when she’s at the microphone.

Assuming that no local SoundMan wants to disappoint a frightened public that depends on him, I have some thoughts- the SoundMan Code- that will help him/her (yes, there is SoundWoman) do the job better and, when necessary, fake it convincingly.

1) SoundMan does best when no one knows his secret identity. That is, no one in the auditorium should be aware that there is anyone actually running sound. The better you do your job, the more invisible you are. You must strive to be the Clark Kent of your church. If anyone (other than guys like me) comes to you after the service and says ‘nice sound!,’ you have failed. It’s like someone saying “Aren’t you Superman with glasses on?”

2) SoundMan looks like other humans but he is different. He knows he is different. He has a responsibility at all times in all circumstances to be mindful of the fragile nature of the situation so that he can spring into action to quell any disturbance before the humans are even aware of it. That is, SoundMan does not close his eyes and sink into deep worship during the service. He runs sound like Nehemiah’s men rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem- they had a sword in one hand and a tool in the other. SoundMan never takes his mind or his eyes off the stage. He remains at his post with his hands on the mixer, always at the ready.

3) Soundman doesn’t simply wait for evil to happen and fight it. He anticipates. He prepares. He knows, according to the service plan, what should happen next and is prepared to make it go without a hitch. He knows when the pastor is going to introduce a video and has his finger on the play button ready to make a smooth segue from pastor to screen. And he has the volume adjusted so it is both ON and is at the proper level. He runs through the segue before the service to ensure that he is prepared. SoundMan is a Boy Scouts dream.

4) SoundMan knows his powers and uses them for good. He knows also what powers he does not have and does not insinuate himself into decision-making that does not involve him. SoundMan is not the worship leader. That is a job for WorshipLeaderPerson! He doesn’t need to help plan the song selection for the worship time or the topic of the sermon. He must use his powers at the console to make others look good. SoundMan cannot fix flat notes or make the bass player stop acting like a lead guitarist. He must accept the humans with all their foibles and make them sound as good as he possibly can. SoundMan’s job is to make good sound. That is all.

5) SoundMan is humble. He has an “aw, shucks” quality about him. This is because he knows a) there is a limit to his powers and b) he is not one of the humans but must be kind to them. This makes him approachable, friendly and teachable. When someone complains about the sound, he doesn’t react against them. To SoundMan this would be tantamount to kicking a small dog. Rather, he treats them kindly and accepts their comment, even when they have no idea what they’re talking about. SoundMan must be above revenge.

6) SoundMan knows how to use his equipment. When no one is looking he is studying his gear and practicing so that, when they are looking, he will not shame himself. SoundMan has read the owner’s manual for his console front to back. He knows what all the buttons and knobs do. He has read the Church Sound Survival Guide (written by this pos writer, available here) and, because of that, has a working knowledge and understanding of all things pertaining to his responsibilities. He keeps his gear in good working order.

7) SoundMan has a sidekick. He does not do everything by himself. His sidekick is an usher, a people counter, a mother-with-a-crying-baby ouster. He does not take upon himself any of the responsibilities of the church that would keep him from his first job, which is Good Sound. Even when he must communicate with his sidekick, he never takes his mind or eyes off the job. He cannot. The humans are depending on him.

8) If you are willing to slip into the outfit and become SoundMan, you must also be willing to live by the SoundMan Code and accept all the responsibilities of being a church hero. None but the brave.

This article originally appeared in Christian Musician magazine. Bob Kilpatrick wrote the classic worship choruses “In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified” and “Here Am I (Send Me To The Nations)”, has a daily devotional on the KLove radio network and has a new book coming out with Zondervan in 2010. His website is at bobkilpatrick.com

And here is a short and helpful training video on running a sound check which you may like to share with your crew:

http://www.musicademy.com/2014/10/run-effective-sound-check-church/?hvid=2iGXe4

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTwb4VaB3Oo

 

‘Humility’ + ‘musician’ = Great combination

IMAG2157-1I had the privilege of being asked to organise a team of 7 musicians, most of whom I did not know, for a friend’s wedding on the weekend just gone. We had just one practice before the day, yet I am pleased to say the result was pretty great! (Out of interest, the songs we led were “Beautiful Saviour” (Stuart Townend), “This Life I Live” (Michael Morrow, EMU) and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”).
But why should I be surprised that it worked well? The team was comprised of committed Christians who have learnt to balance their musical zeal with a great deal of humility and selflessness. So when it came to figuring out how to work together as a team, and how to best arrange the music, we were on the same page.
It’s like when you meet Christians from another place for the first time and have an instant affinity, an easy friendship. This comes because we have a dad in common, our heavenly Father! We are united in Christ and share a family resemblance in our attitudes. When there is a servant heart, a willingness to (musically) do less, to be restrained and to wait on each other, there is much unity and it can lead to a beautiful harmony.
This is certainly the challenge for all Christian musicians: to move from pride, insisting on our own way and seeking our glory, to an attitude of humble servant-heartedness. It is worth reminding ourselves of this every time we turn up for music practice at church.

Nb.  In the process of working with this team I happened to meet a fellow blogger who opened with the question “You’re Seven Notes of Grace aren’t you?” (he was married to one of the musicians). Small world! (I felt famous!) I hadn’t even realised he lived in the same city. You might like to visit some of his reviews over at Eternitainment: “Eternitainment seeks to bring this Christian worldview and the beliefs of modern entertainment together for a heart-to-heart chat, to hear what each is saying. Eternitainment invites you to listen in and join the conversation.” 

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