Saturday, March 26, 2011

Moody Men's Collegiate Choir

Last Thursday night, Nick and I attended a concert of the Moody Men's Collegiate Choir at Fellowship Bible Church here in Texarkana.  The choir sang a number of great hymns celebrating the power of God and the saving work of Christ.  There is something quite amazing about the blending of strong male voices.  Both the depths of the basses and the strength of the tenors give such choirs real punch.  The song selections were outstanding. In a day when Psalms are all too often neglected (or tied to painful tunes) and traditional hymns are forgotten, hearing this choir sing Psalms and hymns was encouraging.

They also had some popular music in their concert, and a couple of comedy skits.  The choir director, Dr. H. E. Singley, said that many of the singers had never heard the song "When I Fall in Love" until they learned it in their choir.  That song, made famous by the great Nat King Cole, is a good one for Christians to take and bring into our world, for it fits the Christian worldview quite well. 

This choir will be going to Egypt and Jordan in the late spring and early summer.  Our prayers go with them and our appreciation for their God-honoring music.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Christian Music and Worship at LRBC

Yesterday, the family and I had the great privilege of attending worship at Little Rock Bible Church.  I would have loved to have heard a sermon from the senior pastor, Lance Quinn.  I don't know him, except through his contribution to and expansion of the book The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Documented, and Defended by my former pastors David Steele and Curtis Thomas.  (That book has convinced many a Bible student of Calvinistic soteriology.)  But instead of Pastor Quinn preaching, the sermon was given by George Lawson, the student ministries pastor.  Normally, I cring at hearing a "youth leader" preach.  I felt encouragement and conviction, but no cringing.  Pastor Lawrence's sermon was tremendous.  It was on evangelism and was thoroughly Reformed and Biblical, and it included quotes by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and R.C. Sproul. 

For purposes of this blog, I want to celebrate the great music we heard and participated in.  All too often, Reformed worship includes deep, but obscure hymns sung to tunes that are dirgelike and extremely hard to sing.  (You would never find yourself whistling the tunes while working on your car or scanning a T.S. Eliot poem.)  On the other hand, my wife and I attended a college chapel worship service recently that had music that was most unappealing.  I think it is called "Praise and Worship" music, although it leads me to neither response.  It was repetitive, shallow, tuneless, and pounded out with loud drums.

Claude Goudimel was a great Dutch Christian and leader in the Dutch Reformation of the long-time agos.  When Abraham Kuyper was showing that Calvinists and the Dutch also produced artists in his classic Lectures on Calvinism, he cited Goudimel as an example.  I am sure that Brother Goudimel produced some lively, singable tunes.  They just got lost. The ones that I usually experience are hard to sing, obscure, and often leave me dragging.  I call them the "Tunes of the Unknown Singer:  Known But to God."

Back to yesterday's worship:  I was thankful to enjoy a mix of more recent Christian music, along with older, but familiar hymns.  Yes, there was contemporary Christian music in the service, including one song by that Christian hipster, James Montgomery Boice, Presbyterian theologian and pastor, who died a decade ago. His hymn was built upon a paraphrasing of Romans 8.  And the Little Rock Bible Church had an orchestra, but instead of the musicians putting on a performance fit for either the "Screaming and Hollering" youth music crowd or the "Round Mouth" grey-haired concert goers, the music was fitting for a worshipful environment and fitted for enhancing the songs.  Trumpets, after all, ought to be used in every "Regulative Principle" group.

All in all, I was thankful to find that what I kept thinking must exist, does exist.

Nick's European Tour and My Music Listenings

Nicholas, on the left, with classmates and friends touring the Parthenon

The music scene around the House-household has been all-together too quiet this past week. Nick left last week to go with some of his fellow students and others on a tour of Greece and Italy.  With his MP3 player full of the eclectic range of his musical interests, I am sure he has been listening to lots of music.  Hopefully, he has been able to experience some of the music of the Mediterranean world.

Meanwhile, back home, I have been listening closely to the 1980s song hit "Some Old Side Road" by the late Keith Whitley.  It is hard to believe that he and I would be the same age, if he were living.  His talent was incredible and potential unfulfilled.  Ralph Stanley discovered Whitley and another boy by the name of Ricky Skaggs.  These two kids were performing old Stanley Brothers songs so well that Dr. Ralph thought the music was coming from old recordings. Stanley hired the two boys who had to balance their playing with Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys along with high school.  (If I had the talent, I would trade all my high school for a year of perforning alongside of Ralph Stanley.)  Just as Skaggs went on from the bluegrass beginnings to play traditional country music for a good many years, so did Whitley.  Even in the days when he performed with Stanley, alcohol was a demon for him.  Keith was incredibly talented, married to the lovely and talented Lori Morgan, and successful.  Alcohol sent him to an early grave.  My consolation for him is the great gospel song he wrote titled "Great High Mountain."

You don't have to move that mountain

Just help me Lord to climb it
You don't have to move that stumblin' block
Just show me the way around it

We must climb a great high mountain
To reach God's gracious kingdom
In His words you'll find the strength
If you will just believe them

Well, the way is filled with pitfalls
And sometimes we may falter
You can have His grace, my friend
On your knees down at the altar

You don't have to move that mountain
Just help me Lord to climb it
You don't have to move that stumblin' block
Just show me the way around it

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Letters from the Music Teachers and Others

Dear Mrs. Presley,
I had to discipline young Elvis in class today. He wiggles and squirms too much during the singing; he is overly concerned about fixing his hair; and he distracts the other students, particularly the girls.
The Music Teacher

Dear Mrs. Lewis,
I regret to inform you that your son, Jerry Lee, has been removed from the piano class.  After repeated warnings, he continued to play in ways that are inappropriate for a piano and he continually puts his feet on the keys.
The Principal

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Cash,
The principal and I have decided to move John R. from music class into shop.  He does have some potential in the baritone section, but he tends to sing in a monotone style and sings out of the side of his mouth. We think he might be much better off working with his hands.
The Music Teacher and the Principal

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Webb,
After having taught your daughter Loretta (Lynn) in music class, I have come to the conclusion that she cannot be a part of our choir.  She seems unable to enunciate her words properly.  Usually, this comes out in her inability to pronounce the "g" sound in words ending in "ing," such as loving, living, working, drinking, etc. She simply must have some speech therapy before she can return to music class.
The Music Teacher

Dear Mr. Monroe,
Bill's vision problems are hindering his ability to read music, but the more serious concern is his voice.  We have no soprano slots open in the choir for young men. After his voice changes, we can reconsider
The Music Teacher

Dear Mrs. Stanley,
I am sorry to inform you that Ralph is failing music.  His voice does not exactly...blend well with the choir. I think you should encourage his interest in agriculture, especially in raising pigs.  I have also notified the counselor of some of his particular comments.
The Music Teacher

Counselor to Music Teacher:
You are exactly right. Young Mr. R. Stanley has an unhealthy and morbid view about death and graveyards. His brother, Carter, shows the same tendencies, but with an emphasis on the death of his mother.  I am concerned about where these two boys are headed.

Dear Mrs. Parton,
The multi-colored coat you made for Dolly does not fit in with our choir outfits.  Therefore, she will not be able to participate in our upcoming concert.
The Music Teacher

Principal to Music Teacher:
Please drop Jennings and Nelson from your fifth period music class.  They have both been expelled from school.
The Principal

Note to Principal:
If Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington, dont get that hair cut off, they cant come back to my gym class. I done told them twice.
Coach Skinner

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Country Legend: Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson's Greatest Hits sung alongside a host of Country Legends

In the late 1980s, people began discovering, or actually rediscovering, traditional country music. Singers like George Strait, Randy Travis, and Alan Jackson awakened large numbers of people to country music and drew huge crowds who fell in love with their traditional country sounds and styles of singing.

With the popularity of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in 2001, once again people rediscovered traditional music. Periodically, when these rediscoveries take place, the music listening public seems astounded by the new music, featuring acoustic guitars, fiddles, and steel guitars. The songs, emphasizing loves lost and loves found, heartbreak and happiness, and cheating and fidelity capture the range of human emotions and experiences. The emotions of the songs resonate with the souls of people. Even people who have never lived in the country or in the south and who do not have ties to a little country church, music on the front porch, or falling in love with the girl next door find themselves attracted to the music.

So, no matter what trends come and go, no matter what extravagances occur in the music industry, and no matter whatever harmful actions are taken by music producers, traditional music will survive. It will periodically re-emerge and appeal to whole new crowds of people.

There are, however, some singers who have always sung traditional country music. Before Elvis and after Elvis, before the Beatles and after the Beatles, and before the advent of the orchestrated, violin dominated Nashville sound and after that, some folks stuck to singing traditional country music. In fact, it is something of an oxymoron to call it “traditional country music.” If it is, in fact, country music, it is traditional.

Saying this is not to criticize other music genres, artists, and tastes. Beethoven was great, but he wasn’t country. And it is true country music that we speak of here.

Stonewall Jackson is a true country singer. Of course, with a name like Stonewall Jackson, a man would have to be tied to the deepest rooted parts of southern life. Jackson began singing in the 1950s. He was quite a popular country star during much of the time from the 1960s to 1980s.

The whole period from the 1950s through the 1980s was a golden age for country music. That time period encompasses the careers of the greatest of country singers. The art of the music was defined by the combination of technology—records and radio—and ideology, by which we mean defining beliefs about the music. The temptation to change the style of the music was always there, and the pressure of trying to appeal to newer, younger audiences was always present. But the heart of country music was middle class, hardworking folks who had grown up in a time when entertainment largely consisted in picking up WSM’s Grand Ole Opry on a Saturday night.

Country fans were loyal and solid. When they heard an artist sing, they politely applauded the new songs, but they expected to hear the old songs. If a number one hit from 1963, sung a thousand times by a singer was not sung, the country loyalist felt cheated.

These were people who listened to country music on the radio, who watched the Saturday afternoon country music shows, and who made a pilgrimage or two to the Opry at the old Ryman auditorium in Nashville. Because these kind of people were the bedrock country fans, they never grew tied of the traditional country sounds.

The vast majority of those country artists are now gone. I can remember hearing Tex Ritter sing “I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven” on the Opry. All of that generation that included Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, and Ernest Tubb are now dead. In the past several several years, we have lost Porter Waggoner, Billy Walker, Charlie Walker, Hank Snow, and (quite recently) Hank Locklin.

Thankfully, we still have some legends around, like Ray Price (who in his eighties is still performing), George Jones, and Stonewall Jackson.

This CD collection of Stonewall Jackson’s hits sung by him with is friends is a gem. Over a dozen of the artists who appear on these songs have died since these songs were recorded. This collection is a virtual “who’s who” of real, roots country music.

Great Jackson hits like “Don’t Be Angry” (which every husband needs to sing to his wife every day), “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water,” and “That’s Why I’m Walkin’” are all here. And yes, of course, his great hit “Waterloo” is the concluding work where he is accompanied by a vast throng of singers.

These selections may not often be heard on the radio and this CD may not be found in your local stores, but it is worth getting hold of. If you never have heard of Stonewall Jackson the singer, or if you, like me, have been a fan for many decades, you will enjoy this collection of music.

"Stonewall Jackson and Super Friends" can be ordered from
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop .