Sunday, March 19, 2006

On a Lighter Note

One of the sopranos in my choir gave this to me today and since the three of us are involved in church choirs I thought everyone would appreciate it. It is sung to the same hymn tune as Immortal, Impossible, God only Wise and this version is attributed to Dr. Austin Lovelace.
"Immoral, impossible, God only knows
How tenors and basses, sopranos, altos,
At service on Sunday are rarely the same,
As those who on Thursday to choir practice came.
Unready, unable to sight read the notes,
Nor counting, nor blending, they tighten their throats.
The descant so piercing is soaring above.
The melody only a mother could love.
They have a director, but no one know why,
No one in the choir deigns to turn him an eye.
It’s clear by his waving he wants them to look,
But each of them stands with his nose in the book.
Despite the offences, the music rings out.
The folks in the pews are enraptured, no doubt,
Their faces are blissful; their thoughts are so deep.
But it is no wonder, for they are asleep."

43 comments:

Michael Dodaro said...

There's one slip-up in this post, Ray. They're gaining on you! In the introduction you already quoted the hymn as Immortal, Impossible, God only wise. As I recall the actual hymn begins: Immortal, Invisible, God only wise.

Ray said...

You're right, Mike. When I posted that I had just finished talking to my wife about how the choir sang that morning. We did an a capella piece with the sopranos coming in alone for the first phrase. The lady who gave me that poem, who happens to be a librarian and should be literate, messed up on the words big time - twice. I was not too happy with her.

Jason Silver said...

Perrrfect. I love it.

We did liturgy (albeit contemporary) in the last two Sundays at church. Thought you'd all be quite fascinated.

I chose the Anglican, with a smidgeon of Celtic liturgy two weeks ago. Responsive readings, read prayers, colours, scriptures.

Lotsa fun! And the congregation was enthusiastic.

~Jason

Michael Dodaro said...

Amazing! Did you have a procession? A procession changes everything.

scribe said...

Don't forget the incense and censers. There's an art to swinging a censer without bopping someone in the head.

What about chant? What's a liturgy without chant?

Michael Dodaro said...

Holy Smoke!

Ray said...

So Scribe, have you ever seen anyone bopped on the head????

Michael Dodaro said...

I'm not so concerned about being bopped on the head by the censer, but that smoke is hard to sing through. I always seem to end up following the guy with the bomb. A big breath of incense and you're likely to cough up breakfast when you start the processional hymn.

scribe said...

Mike--your priest is using the wrong incense. He shouldn't use Black Flag.

Ray--I've never been bopped on the head with a censer (I'm usually well out of range), but a few times the priest has come close to bopping someone when he whirls around too quick in close quarters. I will have to mention that to him...

scribe said...

Here are pictures from our parish's feastday. The liturgy is a hierarchical liturgy conducted by our bishop. Click on each of the pictures to get a larger picture.

http://www.stbasilthegreat.org/feastday_06.htm

Ray said...

Scribe, the one picture at the bottom reminded me of pictures of the Last Supper.

scribe said...

Now that you mention it, it does look like that. Whenever there is a special gathering of monks, priests or bishops, they are always seated at a head table facing the rest of us.

In that picture, our priest is the one wearing glasses and with a short beard and sitting to the left of the bishop. The next picture shows our priest, the bishop posed with young Anthony, one of our altar servers. The boy, who is Lebanese-American, has been serving the altar since he was six.

The pictures show the bishop being dressed with his vestments before entering the altar area and shows his blessing the outside of the church. Other photos show two of our parish men were ordained as readers. The picture of the eagle rug is the seal of the bishop which is taken with him to all his parish visits. The eagle design shows the eagle flying over church architecture--this symbolizes the role of the bishop which is to watch over all the parishes.

The bishop brought with him some deacons from the cathedral to help with the service. They had great voices and the bishop also is a very good bass singer.

Michael Dodaro said...

Our priest may be using Black Flag because he'd like to exterminate me. He knows I'm usually right behind the censer.
Nice pictures of your church, Scribe. The all night feast sounds like a great idea right before Lent, like an Orthodox Mardi Gras.

scribe said...

The feastday that the pictures illustrate was back in January. It was the feastday of St. Basil.

We don't have a Mardi Gras, or anything like it. We have Meatfare Sunday (two Sundays before Lent) and Cheesefare Sunday (one Sunday before Lent). At these two Sundays, we eat up all the meat and cheeses in our houses so that there's none left over when Lent starts.

The all-nighter we do is at Pascha (Easter). That service goes all night, after which we have a party and then in the afternoon a feast!

At monasteries, though, there are other all-night vigil services.

Ray said...

First I want to point out that Jason hijacked this thread. But, at least he came back.

Scribe, you mentioned ordained readers. I would assume they one's who read Scripture during the service. How does the ordination fit in? What is involved with ordaining readers? My son-in-law was recently ordained a Baptist minister, which is rigorous process. It involves intensive study, a detailed written doctrinal statement, then an "inquisition". Actually, he had to go before a council of pastors who quizzed him on his doctrinal statement and were allowed to ask any questions they felt appropriate. Like defending a doctoral thesis. Do readers go through special training and certification?

scribe said...

The role of reader (or sub-deacon) is considered the first step towards priesthood.

In the absence of a priest, an ordained reader can conduct a "reader's service", which is a shortened version of the Divine Liturgy without the Eucharist.

A reader has to study all the services and be able to put them together properly in the right seasons, feastdays, etc. This website shows all the different services a reader does in a liturgical year.

http://www.saintjonah.org/services/horologion.htm

In most parishes, readers learn on the job. At the seminary in Jordanville, NY, readers and choir directors can learn liturgics at the annual Summar School of Liturgics.

Scripture readings are always chanted (only the priest chants the Gospel reading).

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful!!

Our parish choir enlightened us with a marvellous rendition of "Immoral, impossible, God only knows" - we loved it! By the end, many of us were in tears from laughter!

Having been in choirs myself, I can definitely relate, but that's part of the fun of being a chorister!

Thanks for the lyrics!

Jason Silver said...

Hey everyone, haven't heard from you in a long time-- interesting, I'm attending a liturgical Anglican church now-- and LOVE it.

Praise God.
Jason Silver

Michael Dodaro said...

Well this is a surprising development that you have been found by history and tradition. I couldn't be happier for you. Quite a lot of interesting things to discuss, most of which have been on a religion discussion at work. This blog hasn't been quite the same since you stopped posting and getting us all revved up. Another interesting coincidence: a fellow named Jason Silver turned up on the alias at work. I pinged him right away, but, of course, he is not you. You are an original! Let's talk.

Ray said...

Jason, every so often I do check Mike's blog just to see if maybe he's posted something new. I've often wondered what happened to you.

So, what style of music is used at this new church? Tell us more about it. What about this church makes you love it?

Jason Silver said...

Since our conversation a couple of years ago, my mind has been on liturgy, and how to somehow strike a balance between contemporary input into worship, and historically reliable worship references... you know, I wanted to find the middle group between liturgy and contemporary music.

In the process, as I read, talked with various people from both sides, etc, I was continually struck with how contemporary worshippers "tend" to make the whole worship experience about their tastes, their appreciation of it, their connection to it, their emotions, you get the idea... it was self-centered.

Now, I'm not saying this is always true. I tried very hard as a worshiper to not let it be self-centered in my own participation... but the infrastructure is so well laid out to make it all about me, that it's a constant battle.

Liturgy is timeless. It's about reading scripture together, weekly participation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, it's universal-- in that many, many churches are sharing in the exact same service.

And most importantly, it's not subject to our whims and moods. Regardless of what I think "the lord is telling me," worship remains the same. There isn't the same pressure on the pastoral staff to put on a show, with a "timely and spiritual" message. Sure, the priest gives a sermon, but it's not the central purpose of the gathering, just a 10-15 minute aside.

I haven't taken the time to review all I've said above, but I hope you get the gist of what I'm trying to communicate.

Love you guys,
Jason

Michael Dodaro said...

Jason,
You have found my heart, and your comments reflect my own pilgrimage, years ago. I was confirmed in a liturgical church when I was in high school, but very soon after my confirmation in the Lutheran Church, my quest led me to a church that was more what I needed then. It was church in the Alexander Campbell/ Barton Stone tradition. The people were wonderful in the church in Klamath Falls, Oregon that became my spiritual home. The elders tried to follow only the Bible in order to get back to Christianity at its purest form. They were railroaders and loggers, and they met in a simple concrete block church. One family had adopted Indian children and raised them as their own. The principal Bible scholar, sometimes preacher, also worked at a hardware store and then at a metal products supplier to support himself and his family. He knew the Bible and could teach its truths with authority and love, but without the dogmatic forcefulness of many Evangelicals.

The worship services were mostly teaching and discussion format, which suited me fine. I wanted to learn, and I had lots of questions and youthful opinions. The hymnody was in the American revival tradition. We sang from shape-note hymnals. No instrumental accompaniment was permitted in church because the music in first century synagogues where Christianity spread was vocal music only. I learned that the temple worship of the Hebrew psalms used instrumental music, but not the synagogues of later eras. Occasionally a teacher who understood the shape-notation would instruct the rest of us in sight reading from those books. Most people were already good singers. The patriarch in one of our families had sung in the Stamps-Baxter Gospel Quartet. You can still hear this kind of music in the American South, but it’s getting rarer now that currently popular forms are in fashion. The music in my church took some getting used to after the historic hymns in the Lutheran Church, but I learned to sing in that idiom. People sang the harmony parts. Sometimes this music sent me to the seventh heaven.

Music really led me through many denominations of the church. When I went to the University of Oregon, my voice had developed very well through church singing. I easily got into a choir of music majors who knew more theory and technique than I did. I had no idea of the renaissance experience I would have there. The university choir sang the historic church music divinely. At the holidays the director took us to his Congregational Church to join the church choir that he also conducted. The Congregationalists were the educated elite of the 1960s. A retired minister there was avidly studying Hebrew. The joyful vigor of Mozart especially opened my ears and eyes to the liturgical splendors of the historic church. Mozart’s brief masses are timeless, and they contain an ennobling core of theology that communicates the Incarnation very well even in Latin, which I quickly began to understand.

Since the experiences of those years, some forty years ago now, I have always been in a choir. I’ve sung in community choirs and churches. My wife likes to joke that after being married to me for twenty years, she can find her way to any church west of the Cascades. Currently I’m singing in an excellent choir in a Catholic Church on Mercer Island in Seattle. The music and liturgy in this church are more traditional that most Catholic Churches anymore. The congregation supports a thriving Catholic School and many outreach ministries. The upheavals of the priest sex scandals have not left us unscathed, but the liturgy goes on. We’ve had quite a thoroughfare of priests and bishops lately, some with strong personalities, but the liturgy is what holds the worship together. The deacons and choir singers in this church have outlasted many administrations of priests. Currently our resident priests are Africans. The priest shortage has affected everybody, and Africans are conservative, so they tend to be assigned to conservative parishes. They do liturgy just the same here as in their native countries, and it unites us across a wide cultural divide.

At work I am a participant in several email discussions of religion. There is a Christian list where Evangelicals are most active. Some of them aren’t willing to concede that I’m even a Christian, so anti-Catholic are they in their contemporary vision of the church. Trying to explain to them that Sola Scriptura is a doctrine that would not have been comprehensible before the Reformation is arduous duty. They don’t think they have tradition in their churches and are unwilling to even contemplate that the doctrines they take for granted are only the traditions of an American subculture less than one hundred years old. Many are as theologically illiterate as they are musically illiterate. The Calvinists on the other hand are doctrinally astute. They will argue election all day. Ask them about the 25th chapter of Matthew, and they will turn it on its head to evade the implications that human volition and conduct have anything to do with salvation.

Another discussion spun off from this list when a bunch of atheists invaded and began to criticize the Christians. The debate was ferocious for several weeks until too many Evangelicals wanted their private doctrinal discussions returned to normal. Now we have another list where Christians, Hindus, and Muslims hold out for God against those who have been reading Dawkins, Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins.

Finally there is a Catholic and occasional Orthodox discussion where tradition is revered.

I’m starting to ramble. I’m on vacation this week, so I have time. Hope we can continue this discussion. Maybe we need a new thread. Jason would you like to write something to get us thinking?

scribe said...

Hi Jason--

Scribe here. Glad you're back.

Liturgy is more than just reading Scripture together and the weekly (or daily) participation in the Eucharist. It's not limited to just us believers and what WE do together. Then it becomes a man-centered work again in a communal sense instead of in individual sense that's now common in too many evangelical churches. Liturgy is first and foremost dialogue with God. In an Orthodox liturgy, all the readings and singing are directed that way.

The reason why the Orthodox church has kept its liturgy mostly unchanged for the last 1500 years is so that the liturgy should be the same today as it was centuries ago because it is the service for all believers in all ages.

Read the first chapters of the book of Revelation--it is liturgical. The Orthodox liturgy is like that.

The Eastern Orthodox liturgy is the most intact and ancient of all the Christian liturgies. If you're really want to explore liturgy, you ought to check out an Orthodox liturgy. Find one that's in English and in a non-Westerized parish. (You can always tell if an Orthodox parish has been Westernized--it'll have pews, which are a fairly recently innovation in the Church--only 400 years old. The ancient liturgies followed the Jewish custom of "standing before the Lord" when you worship. A westernized parish usually does not have authentic Orthodox liturgies.) So find the really traditionalist Orthodox churches (either Russian or old calendar Greek jurisdictions.) There should be numerous Orthodox churches in Canada.

Orthodox hymns are well known for their beauty, profundity and etherealness. There are never any musical instruments used, only choirs. Probably a good place to start exploring Orthodox liturgical music would be with Sergei Rachmonioff's "Vespers". There are numerous recordings available on this. You could probably check out a CD of it from a good library. His Vespers is so beautiful.

Ray said...

In keeping with the title of this post... on a lighter note, going Orthodox, Jason, means giving up your guitars and for me, giving up my bass trombone.

Michael Dodaro said...

Well, singers win in the end. It was once pointed out to me that even angels don't sing. Nowhere in holy writ do angels sing. Only us!

But why should music be confined to liturgy for Christians? It's like food, Karen. After church on Sunday Orthodox people have a feast. I've been there, and the food is amazing .

Why shouldn't music be like the feast after church where everybody can have fun? Even trombone players and guitarists.

Scribe said...

Going Orthodox doesn't mean giving up your guitar or trombone. You just don't use them in church. The human voice only is used for praising God--in church during liturgy, not a mechanical thing.

The Orthodox know how to play musical instruments very well. After all, Rachmoninoff was a famed pianist and he's just one famous composer from Orthodoxy. Orthodox countries are full of wonderful musicians with instruments, playing folk tunes or whatever.

That said--still, Orthodox church music is the most beautiful.

Scribe said...

Besides that, sometimes after the Nativity liturgy and at our feast, some folks bring their guitars and sing Christmas carols.

Jason Silver said...

Wow, I have a hard time accepting that, but who knows-- maybe God is taking me there... it doesn't seem to jive with what I see in Scripture, but I'm always learning. :) Look at where I am now!

Love you guys.

Hey- I'd love to post a new article to this blog -- can I be given permission?

Jason

Ray said...

Psalm 150:3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

I'm with you, Jason, on this one. My Bible has many references to the use of mechanical instruments used to praise God.

And as further proof that my trombone is sanctified, the German word for trombone is pausanne, which literally means big trumpet. So, when I use my trombone in church, I am fulfilling Ps 150:3.

Gabriel will play the trombone in the end as indicated in Revelation. It says he will blow a trumpet and in order for it to be heard it will have to be big trumpet - big trumpet = trombone. The bass trombone is the loudest wind instrument, only Jason's electric guitars are louder if amplified with enough power. Gabriel plays the bass trombone.

Mike, you are right, we do not read of angels singing.

scribe said...

If you've ever heard a good Orthodox choir, you don't need instruments. These are vocal orchestras and they can do amazing things. Trombones and guitars don't sound nearly as good. Instruments get in the way and drown out the people's voice. Worship with music should not be a concert, as I've seen in some churches. When church music gets turned into a concert, that removes the people from participation and makes them equate worship with passivity. That's the problem with instruments. I don't suggest it should be banned, but the eastern churches never made use of them. The ancient synagogues didn't use instruments (as far as I know) but cantors.

I don't know of any mention of instruments in worship in the New Testament. Someone take a look.

In the liturgy of Revelation, the people are not playing instruments, but singing praises and declarations. As for angels playing trumpets, are they playing an accompaniment to a hymn or are they playing a tucket, which is a signal?

Ray said...

Well Scribe, if you were a dispensationalist as I am, I would accept your assertion that the NT doesn't mention instruments in worship. I believe you are correct, all references to worship type music in the NT speak of singing, there is no mention of instruments as in the OT. But, since you do not see the OT times and NT times and today as different dispensations, then your argument won't work. Actually, there is not much in the NT describing worship. We are to worship in spirit and in truth, and we see it can involve prayer, admonition and singing. But, there is no outright dictate that says the OT practices of worshipping with harp and timbrel and trumpet are now forbidden. There are many laws in the OT that are not specifically addressed in the NT that we still keep. Maybe we can become more licentuous since the NT doesn't forbid certain things/

I will concede that the reference Gabriel blowing a trumpet is in the context of sounding a signal, not as worship. Just thought I'd try to sneak that one past you.

But, I have to agree with you 100% that church music should not be a concert and that the focus should be on the vocals. I'll take it a step further, the focus should be on congregational singing since that actively involves everyone as opposed to a choir or cantor or priest doing most of the singing. When someone else does the singing it can become a concert or performance.

Back in medieval times up until about the mid 1800s, the serpent was a popular church instrument used to accompany choirs. It is a mellow, woody instrument that easily blends in with vocals. Maybe the blending quality is what made it popular. When I play my trombone with the congregational singing, my goal is to blend, not be heard. I should be part of the fabric of sound. Now, I do get frustrated with my trumpet playing friend at church since he sees himself more as a Gabriel, playing to be heard above the voices. Recently, my wife was not feeling well and not able to sing in the choir a couple times. Her only critique was the piano was too loud. Not good.

BTW, the trombone is the one instrument that most closely resembles the human voice. So, I will assert it most definitely has a place in worship.

Ray said...

Another thought just struck me. Scribe you have commented in the past that Orthodox worship involves the oldest consistent worship practices of all of Christianity and some of it predates the NT going back in to the OT times as the source. So, if instruments were not only allowed but encouraged in OT worship and current Orthodox liturgical worship is a continuation of OT practices and forms, why not use instruments? Are you saying God made a mistake in the OT and you are making a correction of his error in your currrent liturgical forms?

scribe said...

Ancient Christian worship took most of its cues from OT Temple worship and synagogue worship. It followed Tradition. Were there instruments used in the Temple? Only cantors were used in the synogogues.

Perhaps the praising with harp and cymbal, etc. mentioned in the Psalms had more to do with spontanteous public/personal celebraton that occurred outside the Temple and whenever David composed his psalms, which could have been anywhere. Certainly no one would object to such spontaneity. But what was done musically inside the Temple which was a much more formal setting? That's what the ancient Christian worship resembles in its liturgies.

As for a Orthodox choir becoming entertainment as opposed to congregational singing, that's hard to do because of the nature of the liturgy. The choir functions much like the role of the cantor in the synagogue--which is moving the dialogue along-- but no one treats that as entertainment, nor could they.

Ray said...

Scribe, I didn't mean to imply that your Orthodox choir is mere entertainment. You have described it as dialog, so I assume the congregation takes an active role. I was thinking more in terms of some churches where what little congregational singing there is, tends to be weak, and the focus is on more specifically a worship team comprised of singers and instruments, or maybe a more traditional choir. Regardless of the style, if the congregation tends to be more passive, then they may not be truly worshipping as God would have us to do.

We really don't know much about the music of ancient biblical times. It does follow that the early NT church most likely used the same music as used in the temples or synagogues. We do know that the Psalms were their main hymnbook. With all the references in the OT to using instruments to praise God, I find it hard to believe they were used only in informal situations and not also in their corporate worship.

Ray said...

Uncle... Scribe has my arm twisted behind my back forcing me to give up.

One of my pet peeves is using canned music accompaniment. I hate it. We had a soloist at church today use a tape. She sang a few notes on key and eventually caught up when she came in wrong in a few places. Needless to say, it wasn't conducive to worship.

But, the flautist did a wonderful job playing a Christmas song that was well known and in a way that was God honoring.

Which leads me to a critical point. Whenever I play an instrumental solo in church I choose a piece that is well known to the congregation and play it in what I would call a respectful manner. Minimal ostentation and ornamentation. The focus is on the underlying text - I usually have the words running through my head as I play since that actually helps me set the proper tone or mood or emotion.

Ray said...

2 Chronicles 7:6
And the priests attended to their services; the Levites also with instruments of the music of the LORD, which King David had made to praise the LORD, saying, “For His mercy endures forever,” whenever David offered praise by their ministry. The priests sounded trumpets opposite them, while all Israel stood.

Doing a search with an online Bible will result in innumerable references to the use of musical references in OT worship and praise toward God.

scribe said...

Sounds like King David had a thing for guitars since he made them for the priests to strum on. Wonder if this was carried on past his time into Temple worship down through the ages. As for trumpets--again, were these tuckets or accompaniments?

Also, in the Bible whenever there is reference to worship in heaven, what are the people in heaven doing? Playing instruments with the angels or just singing?

Well, Russian Orthodox (in the wealthier parishes) do use bells during the liturgy and quite elaborately. If we have an instrument that would be it.

But other than bells, musical instruments would sound really, really out of place in an Orthodox service. Organs just drown out a choir, a congregation and just about everything else. Rock music is unthinkable and would sound like the service was being trashed.

The early Church in the east (and probably also in the west) didn't use musical instruments, but they used chanting as words must be used for the liturgical dialogue, just like the cantors in syngogues. Most Orthodox still don't, only the westernized do. But they know not what they do.

The question should be asked is what is the purpose of the music in worship? Why music at all?

Here's some articles about liturgy and worship, one Catholic, one Orthodox:

http://www.adoremus.org/1101musicliturgy.html

http://www.monachos.net/library/Early_Christian_and_Byzantine_Music

Ray said...

Scribe, those are excellent questions. And I was thinking of the same questions this afternoon. We should discuss that. I'll post a reply tomorrow.

Jason Silver said...

Hey everyone,

Scribe, this is a little weird to me-- I'm not intrigued by these questions at all. They seem to be missing the whole point, really.

I'm still planning on trying to post an article (if I can figure it out!) but have been both under the weather and holidaying so haven't had a spare moment.

Just didn't want you to think I'd forgotten to respond.

Jason

scribe said...

Well, Jason, I guess I was just wondering aloud about the whole phenomenon of music--why it exists at all and why it's early history was often connected to worship. Why it appears in all cultures.

It's like when you study a little historical linguistics, you soon see that certain words have come down to us relatively intact from tens of thousands of years ago. How did these words begin? Under what circumstances? Why were certain sounds associated with certain objects or actions?

So it is with the beginnings of music. A voice teacher once commented to me that singing, for instance, is "long talking" and talking is "short singing." I think there's something rather deep about that statement, as both have to do with the poetic impulse. The question I must ask is: "What does music mean?"

Like words, the whole musical legacy associated certain styles or spirit of expression with worship, while other styles can be seen as a secularization and some as even perversion of that spirit.

There is a devilish-style of music, but is the Devil musical or is he simply taking what was a sacred means of expression and twisting it until it is emptied of any idea of the sacred? After all, he cannot create, but is the spirit of total negation.

That's what bothers me about much of our Contemporary Christian music. There's no real sense of the worship legacy or understanding of the purpose of music in worship. Some contemporary styles are relatively benign, though appealing to a rather secular sense of sensual entertainment and not especially worshipful. Then there are other styles employed that do not belong in a worship setting at all.

CCM seems to be yet another mode of secularizing worship, where self-pleasing individual styles proliferate everywhere and leads to the fragmentation of worship. In time, there is no common worship as the music no longer forms a common language.

Jason Silver said...

I will say no more-- this will be the focus of my article.
Jason

Michael Dodaro said...

Jason,
I sent an invitiation to the email address in your profile. Maybe that is not an account you look at often, so please take note and reply to that message. Then you will have authorization to post.

Jason Silver said...

I didn't get one-- can you send it to the address, jasondsilver@gmail.com?

Thanks,
Jason