Musical Training: Why We Do It

The newly refurbished Schantz organ

“…Although he suffered many hardships, the old Bach did not settle for gloomy works, but rather wrote pieces that irradiate an irresistible, contagious joy.” ~ Isabelle Demers, from program notes at her organ concert.

Tom, Will and I were able to go hear the amazing Isabelle Demers play last month. It was an unforgettable concert. Waiting for the concert to begin, I mulled over why it was that we were helping our son to train on the pipe organ. What does Generation Gaga care about beauty and truth? Who will sit and listen to such concerts when William is my age? When so many Christian churches have adopted cheesy karaoke, poorly written musical schlock and rock ‘n roll house bands in “worship”,  why bother? What’s the point?

Then Isabelle began to play that night. Whether the organ thundered or breathed its brooding tenderness, our hearts were lifted upward. I saw it on the faces of those around me, and I felt tears come to my eyes as I was reminded that in the darkness of our life and times, God is still there. Bach had it right. Even in old age, he didn’t settle for writing gloom, but after he took his pen and wrote JJ (“Jesu Juva” – Jesus, help me) at the beginning of his compositions, he wrote music that expressed an “irresistible, contagious joy.”

It takes great courage in the West today to train to be a serious musician. We are witnessing the collapse of Western civilization economically, morally, politically and spiritually. But I am thankful that amid the decay and the shaking of our foundations, God continues to gift individuals with music. This glorious music reminds us that we can have contagious joy because Christ has conquered sin, He has risen, and He sits at God’s right hand in all power and authority. God is in control. He is the source of all that is beautiful and good in this world. Music breaks through the barrier that separates us from the spiritual realm and offers us a glimpse of eternity. (Whether that is a vision of eternal hell or eternal heaven depends on the music you choose.) That’s why tears came to my eyes at Isabelle’s concert. That’s why we give our children a chance to study music.

Here are photos of the unbelievable instrument William will have the honor of playing in January at the concert. The organ’s refurbishment by the Schantz Organ Company was completed this past Easter. It is the largest organ in the state.

One of the pieces Will is going to play is “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”   I remember this hymn from childhood as the choir of Mount Olive Lutheran would often use it at their Christmas concert. The choir would come in from the narthex, each holding a candle, and, without accompaniment, sing out this very old hymn dating back to the 5th Century. As we enter the season when we remember especially the Incarnation, the words are a powerful reminder of the gift of Jesus, God’s Son.

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!


8 thoughts on “Musical Training: Why We Do It

  1. Sam says:

    That hymn is beautiful. What deep, rich lyrics. We have such treasures of worship as Christians, it is tragic that it has been replaced by “I’m lost without you” repeated 500 times.

    Tomorrow is the feast of Christ the King, so I thougt I would also share an appropriate hymn.

    Hail Redeemer, King Divine

    Hail Redeemer King divine!
    Priest and Lamb, the throne is thine,
    King, whose reign shall never cease,
    Prince of everlasting peace.

    Angels, saints and nations sing
    “Praised be Jesus Christ, our King;
    Lord of life, earth sky and sea,
    King of love on Calvary.”

    King, whose name creation thrills
    Rule our minds, our hearts our wills
    Till in peace each nation rings
    With thy praises, King of Kings.

    King most holy, King of Truth,
    Guide the lowly, guide the youth
    Christ thou King of glory bright
    Be to us eternal light.

    Shepherd King, o’er mountains steep
    Homeward bring the wandering sheep;
    Shelter in one royal fold
    States and kingdoms, new and old.

    Christus Regnat!

  2. Jeanne Bourgeois says:

    What would church be with out singing those wonderful hymns? I dont know how many people realize how hard it is to play the organ. It is a gift. I am grateful our church has an gifted organist. Thank you . Jeanne B.

  3. Margaret L. Been says:

    I agree! How I wish there was more great music in our churches today. The fine arts can glorify God like nothing else man can offer up! I look forward to Heaven, where I know I’ll once more hear an organ playing, and sing great music like I did in my Milwaukee Chorister years!

    For me, the pinnacle of that experience was when we performed the Berlioz Requiem with the Bel Canto Chorus and the (very early!) Milwaukee Symphony! I believe that was in 1967.

    We have family members who are in a church which is not a Bible teaching church–yet I love to visit there because of the great music tradition.

    Also, I’m thankful for having had early music training–not only for the appreciation it created, but for the discipline which has applied to everything I’ve ever needed to do since I was a child.

    When our children were little, I often reflected on how my years of violin and piano practice (which I sometimes wished I could skip, as I loved to play outside) prepared me for life–even for constantly changing diapers and cleaning up messes! 🙂

  4. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    What you said, Margaret, about the non-Bible preaching church where they have the “great music tradition” was ironic and true. Tom has said for years that the only calls he gets to play the great music – laden with Scripture and based on the Bible – are from such churches that now serve as little more than museums for this music. (At least somebody is preserving it.) Meanwhile, the “Bible-preaching” churches are staging shows like “A Peanut Butter Christmas”, “The Rockin’ Angels” complete with rappers on “stage”, or some musical show where they actually sell tickets to pay for the acrobats, live animal show, lighting, smoke machines, etc. You have to find a mainline church if you want a Lessons and Carols service with Scripture and traditional carols, let alone the Messiah done with any degree of respect.

    It presents a real dilemma for those who have musically talented children. Musical excellence should have never been abandoned by those who claim to preach the Bible. But it was because too many churches lusted after cultural relevance. Rather than set the tone, they chose their music based on the trash of popular culture, and we have lost untold riches in hymns and sacred music as a result. Because of this, these churches now lie about who God is by dragging him down to the level of man in their music, rather than lifting him up with reverence and due honor in musical offerings. It’s disgusting, but not surprising in that we are in the last throes of the West as a whole.

  5. carolynb says:

    Excellent point Margaret and Ingrid – yes!!! It is a painful irony that the older hymns and doctrinally rich music is most often found at “churches” that don’t even preach the true Biblical gospel and are in fact teaching a different gospel (Galatians 1:8)… “churches” that are holding people captive with vain traditions and dead religion based on human works and man’s righteousness.

  6. Carol Blair says:

    Ingrid and Margaret:

    >>>>only non-Bible preaching churches have great music anymore; music laden with Scripture and respectful treatments of great classic works . . . ***Exactly right!!!***

    In 1998 I was living in Chicago and was a member of a well-known “conservative” church there. The music had been changing – going more contemporary — and I was sorry to see that happening. One Sunday morning the special music was given by a young woman – whose presentation could only be described as a *physical, sensual performance.* I was shocked at what I was seeing, and I thought to myself, “Is this really happening in THIS church?”
    When she was finished, my perceptions were confirmed by what happened next:
    ***wolf whistles.*** In a Sunday morning service!
    And I was even more horrified. Later that day I wrote a letter to the pastor and music director, protesting what had happened that morning, as well as the general direction the music was going. The pastor wrote me back a letter that was simply an ad hominem attack on me. He never answered my concerns about the music. I was so upset that I did not go back to that church for 3 months, and during that time I visited a number of other churches in the city. Most were “non-Bible-preaching” churches. Indeed, far from it. Most were “inclusive.” But the music, oh, the music — was ***beautiful.*** And the services were *reverent.* In one mainline Presbyterian church, the choir sat in the front, but *below* the level of the congregation, so they could not be seen when they sang. Even soloists. And I thought to myself many times, “Why is it, that I have to choose between Bible preaching and good music? It shouldn’t be this way!” But it was – and is – that way.
    So today, in Texas, I attend a church that preaches the Bible, but I have joined a special choir at a “mainline” church, for the high quality of their music. I have learned the Magnificat, the Song of Simeon, Bainton’s “And I Saw a New Heaven,” entire Psalms set to music, several versions of the Gloria Patri, and much more. And we are accompanied by a pipe organ! It has truly been an enriching experience.

    And Ingrid — your second paragraph, above, is beautifully written and is ***right on target.**** (Actually, your whole comment is excellent, but ESPECIALLY the second paragraph! 🙂

  7. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Carol, I know exactly what you’re talking about. That’s what our family has had to do as well. Will’s playing organ and piano for a Sunday School at a church that wants his services for their traditional carols. It’s not our church, but it’s valuable experience, and he does all for the glory of God. You have to piece together what you can to hear and participate in things like sacred oratorios and hymns. You are unlikely to find 2 of 5 major requirements in a local church now because of so much that is wrong. If the preaching from the pulpit is sound, the music many times is not – either because it’s pop music or because it’s poor, non-doctrinally based choruses and songs that are shoddy musically and/or lyrically. Why do we think we ALWAYS need to re-invent the wheel? I’m not opposed to modern hymn writing, but when the Majesty hymnbook in Baptist churches is 3/4ths stuff written by Patch the Pirate (Ron Hamilton) and his friend Mr. Garlock, and the vast majority of the great hymns of the last 2000 years are missing, that’s not an improvement.

    That’s not a slur on these good men, but it is a protest of vanity hymnals. The old hymnals not only had a rich variety of sources for their hymns that spanned all of Christianity, they also contain Scripture readings, Psalmody and often confessions of faith as well as the Divine service liturgy.

    Hymnals today are primarily shoddy because in many denominational traditions they have long ago abandoned the GOOD traditions and arrogantly assumed their way was more relevant. If you read the hymns of Paul Gerhardt from the 1600’s, you will find out just how relevant they will always be. He lost four of five children as well as his wife, lost his job as a pastor of a large church and ended up in a small town where he wrote many of his best hymns. Why are these hymns discarded? I want an answer, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Garlock. . 🙂

    Please click here to read the text of just one of Gerhardt’s hymns. Google Gerhardt and hymns for many more that draw your heart to Christ.

    Here is his bio:

  8. Bobby says:

    Excellent points. In February, I’ll mark ten years since my first voice lesson, with a 24-year old master’s student from Mississippi, and she has grown from master’s student to Orlando resident, to hating “living out of the suitcase” where she returned to the Midlands, earned her doctorate, college professor, found a fine young man, and they are newlyweds living in Kershaw County’s beautiful horse country.

    While we haven’t met for a lesson in two years, our friendship is one that’s rock solid, and my music tastes in this decade have gravitated towards the serious music where in 2011 I did not attend a single pop concert, and only needed earplugs for church for the absurd “business meeting” services with an arrogant “minister”.

    Two years ago, I sang in the choir at a mainline church (not my church, but the one of my Sunday School teacher’s son and daughter-in-law; she’s enduring throughout her cancer ordeal, but she’s fighting well) for a one-off in Händel’s Messiah, Part I. Today’s Life Enhancement Centres have abandoned serious sacred work in favour of the latest songs from Vivendi (Brentwood), Warner Music Group (Word), Sony and The Michael Jackson FamilyTrust (Sony ATV, which acquired EMI, and also Provident, a Sony imprint).

    What all posters have mentioned about church music reminds me of a warning that Meredith (my teacher’s friend) wrote me early in my vocal training about what has happened to churches!

    I am indeed thankful that my thoughts of music changed after college graduation when I signed my first contract with the Mississippi Squirrel. The more beautiful I heard her sing, the more beautiful I began singing where three and a half years after my first lesson, I made it clear musically I was headed towards the classical angle. Friends have said I have a beautiful voice, even though I haven’t taken voice in a while, and it’s hard to find time to sing where the only times I sing are in Summer Chorus the past three years (Die Jahreszeiten, Mass in C Major, Mozart’s Requiem), plus one-offs at the friend’s church (2009) and the special Candlelighting Chorus (2010) at the State House.

    The current Baptist Hymnal (2008), also called Worship Hymnal, is full of modern pop junk from the firms listed above. And this is the first time I’ve heard of the “five major requirements” — makes me wonder what they are.

    There’s a difference between the processed junk with high-fructose corn syrup, factory-farmed meat, and junk food and the whole foods of organic fruits and vegetables, free-range and grass-fed meat, and what I find at the health food store. They all correlate with churches too. When we had a minister who wanted the serious material, congregations objected. What gives?

    Oh well — my 2012 concert calendar will start with orchestral concerts with real material, not the modern stuff.

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