Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who Has Been Good to You?!

We recently attended a concert of a local children's choir, Anima, formerly known as the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus. It is one of the more famous of such groups around the country, making its mark during its glory years under the directorship of Dr. Doreen Rao. Some of you may have run across music from Dr. Rao's choral series, much of which is quite good. The group continues now under the leadership of Emily Ellsworth.

This may seem off-topic for this blog, but one of the things we share in common is a love for our heritage and a desire to preserve our culture and teach children well. This is primarily, of course, about the heritage we receive as Christians, and so I don't want to confuse the Two Kingdoms here. But as we are "in the world" even as we are not "of it", I think most of you also seek to be preservers of what is good in our national culture as well. Especially where it intersects with our church culture.

One of those selections is the "Johnny Appleseed Grace". I learned it at Camp Lone Star when I was in 8th grade, when I first started going to church. Lutherans love to sing it. We have slightly different versions of the tune in different parts of the country! Most of us refer to it by it's first line, as if it is a hymn: "Oh, the Lord's been good to me." It is one of my younger son's favorite mealtime graces.

Guess what? The Anima chorus sang an arrangement of this Americana standard as their closing number. But they changed the words to "The earth's been good to me." And made the audience sing that line every time. I guess such was to be expected from a group whose 'holiday concert' was themed "Voices from the Earth". Still, if you feel you have to sing something to appease the pagan kids' parents because the choir sang a couple of Christmas carols, why don't you write your own words instead of torquing with someone else's?

This is more than just abusing the lyrics. (What's next: a Gaia version of "Silent Night"?!) It is also about a community arts organization that is supposed to be nurturing cultural literacy - the reason public school allow Chrsitian choral repertoire in the curriculum - changing the core meaning of Johnny Appleseed's famous ode promotes cultural IL-literacy. It reminds me of the politically correct re-imagining of history.

Christians today are like frogs in a big kettle. Every day the world around us becomes more evil. Perversion 'mainstreamed' into our military. "Faith-based" advertisements banned from the Ft. Worth transit system. Shiny new abortuaries built 'proudly' in the middle of our communities.

This Christmas, I long even more for our Lord's return. Yea, I will merrily sing and play as we celeberate the birth of our King, and rejoice in the salvation He came to bring. But we live in a night that is getting deeper and darker every year. "E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Ah, Advent. Prepare, prepare! The busiest weeks for most of us are actually done now. I always get a chuckle when people come up to me the week before Christmas and say "you must really be busy right now!" I enjoy telling them that the first two weeks of Advent are much more hectic for me than the last two. Even with all my summer worship planning, the need to finalize arrangements, book practices, and get music to musicians at the same time Advent services and the school Christmas program are added to my plate puts me in overdrive.

But Advent is a wonderful season - definitely worth talking about. And yet it is so short while we are so busy that we church musicians and pastors don't talk about it as much as we should. So what's working for you?

Here's a few things that have been Advent blessings at Bethany so far this year:

*A Bach Cantata (#140, Wachet Auf) for our first Advent Vespers.

*The return of Schalk/Vajda's "Light the Candle", which we sing for the lighting of the Advent wreath.

*The wide amount of variety available at Liturgy Solutions for this time of year. It really is amazing how much Advent music we've got up on the site. Drawing from the catalog, I've used settings by Hildebrand, Blersch, Johnson, and Sonntag so far this year.

*Our Schola Cantorum kids kicking off our second Advent Vespers with Allan Mahnke's "Fling Wide the Gates". (Yes, we sing lots of things around here that aren't LS - chuckle)

*Our sermon series: "Christmas with Isaiah", which runs from the beginning of Advent through Epiphanytide, using the appointed Old Testament lessons from the Three-Year Lectionary.

*Singing "Prepare the Royal Highway" with the 'old' setting from LW. (Still using the LSB text). The people really love this hymn, and we've tried it with the LSB/LBW rhythm, but folks prefer it in 4/4. Here's a video using my arrangement from "Hymns for the Contemporary Ensemble", published by CPH. That series has been discontinued, but I'm thinking about starting that project up again at LS.

Speaking of LS projects, look for several new instrumental arrangements for congregational accompaniment to be uploaded by New Year's. These are for woodwinds & keyboard and are by professional composer/arranger Terry Herald, whom we are proud to introduce as the newest composer in our 'stable'. Welcome aboard, Terry!

So, that's a taste of what's working for me right now. What's working for you?