Music and Worship

8 Best Versions of ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’

For those who are Protestants today is a big holiday (and I am not talking about Harvest Festival, American Evangelicalism’s version of Halloween) because 495 years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. So in celebration of Reformation Day we present the eight best versions of the hymn of the reformation, Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott [A Mighty Fortress is Our God].

Kaisermarch – Wagner

Portions of the hymn appear out of nowhere interspersed with lengthy “Wagnerian” interludes in celebration of the election of Wilhelm I as Emperor of Germany in 1871.

En blanc et noir – Debussy

The hymn appears in the middle of the second movement underpinned with dissonant piano chords in a march-like rhythm (almost as if viewing the world “through a glass darkly”). This movement was dedicated to Debussy’s friend Jacques Charlot who died in World War I.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Chris Rice

An acoustic laid-back version of the hymn with a folk-like character.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Jim Martinez

A jazz version of the classic hymn done by a great pianist, Jim Martinez. I had the pleasure to play with Jim a few times and he has some very creative jazz arrangements of hymns which I highly reccomend: http://www.jimmartinez.com.

Les Huguenots – Meyerbeer

In the first appearance of the melody in the opera, a choir in the background sings the hymn and are identified as martyrs fighting for the protestant cause in France.

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A Mighty Fortress – Sovereign Grace

A combination of the hymn and Psalm 42 but with a marked change to the original melody as to be unrecognizable (in a good way) except for the words.

Reformation Symphony, Movement 4 – Mendelssohn

Opening with a less stately rhythmic structuring of the hymn melody on the flute, the final movement of this symphony develops fragments of the hymn in high Romantic-era fashion.

BWV 80 – J.S. Bach

While Bach did not write the hymn, his arrangement of the hymn is the one all other composers and hymnwriters since Bach reference back to, making it the BEST version.

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Hip-Hop, Pop Music, World Music

Music Matters (October 26th, 2012)

A weekly review of music news through the lens of music as gift or god.

A Preview of the Song of the Redeemed?

This video shows an incredible invention where Yuri Suzuki took field recordings from around the world and put them in their geographically correct spot on a vinyl globe. As the globe spins snippets of music from various cultures around the world are mashed together creating something all together new. Is this what it will sound like when all of the redeemed join together in praise of the Lamb (see Revelation 14:1-5)? Interesting thought to ponder.

Alicia Keys Finding the Beautiful and the Good in the Mundane

Alicia Keys new video for Girl on Fire shows her doing normal household chores and taking care of her children. She however makes those things seem glamorous and fitting even for a superstar like her to do. The video is a celebration of home life and the joy which comes from doing things which are common and mundane.  Keys also released an app for children which incorporates the wisdom of a grandmother who introduces them to music from various cultures throughout the world.

Biology and Lady Gaga

Hey little monsters this one is for you. You know that group of ferns which botanists recently discovered? Well… guess what? All 19 of the ferns are being named after your favorite artist, Lady Gaga. According to Rolling Stone:

Among the more eye-popping fern names are Gaga germanotta – a nod to the singer’s real name, Stefani Germanotta – and Gaga monstraparva, which translates to “Gaga little monster,” an acknowledgement of Gaga’s dedicated “little monster” fanbase.

So little monsters be proud because you are now a beautiful fern not just a person idolizing another human being! See announcement video below (Thanks Duke University!).

 

And Lastly… What’s Missing in this Church’s 10 Year Celebration?

Brought to you by The Museum of Idolatry this video is distrubing because there is not one mention of guess who?

 

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Classical, Hip-Hop, Music and Culture, Pop Music

Music Matters (October 19th, 2012)

A weekly review of music news through the lens of music as gift or god.

Beliebers, Lisztomania and a Misdirected Sense of Awe

PBS Idea Channel took a look at the reasons why people have extreme emotional responses to art (that is, if you are comfortable with categorizing Justin Bieber’s music as art) and how the cult of personality plays into the fandom of artists. A lot of interesting things to take away from this video such as the sense of awe being directed towards created things instead of God, how art functions as a way to remove people from their current life into a moment of transcendence and how our reaction to art is often times guided by the community which surrounds us. Watch the video below and tell us what you think.

 

Taylor Swift and the Epicosity of New Love

Taylor Swift has been pre-releasing songs from her upcoming album Red on YouTube and this week released the song “State of Grace”. She had this to say about the song:

I wrote this song about when you first fall in love with someone … the possibilities, kind of thinking about the different ways that it could go. It’s a really big sound. To me, this sounds like the feeling of falling in love in an epic way … I hope you like it.

But if you look at Swift’s personal life (which she bases most of her songs on) those first feelings of love are extremely transitory as the title of another song off the album indicates, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” What at first seems like epic love in the end tends to unfortunately, be a disaster for Swift.

 

Does the Acceptance of “Gangnam Style” in America Mean Something?

When I first heard Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on the radio, I found it interesting that American radio stations would play a song which is sung almost entirely in a foreign language. I thought, “Is it possible that the musical palette of Americans could be broadening as we are becoming an increasingly global culture?” This is what Luke Larsen at Christ and Pop Culture explores in this thoughtful article. He states:

Somewhere between our subconscious spirit of American Exceptionalism and monolingualism rests a clear unwillingness to engage with media that is not in English. We respect ideas and concepts from other countries, but aren’t usually ready to open up to the world.

Then encourages all of us to leave behind our misconceptions about other cultures and embrace other human beings:

If we have any desire of reaching out to people outside our homes both personally and culturally, fear of “the other” — of people unlike ourselves — has to be a trait we learn to leave behind.

God has created so much beauty in the world that for a nation to ignore all the beauty which other cultures produce leaves us with a narrow view of God’s creative work through humanity.

Lecrae and Christian Art Being Truthful

Recently, there was some controversy over Christian rapper Lecrae’s inclusion of the secular rapper Big K.R.I.T. on the track “Mayday” from his Gravity album. In this article I wrote for Christ and Pop Culture, I explored the conception of the song as well as the lyrical content finding that the song presents K.R.I.T.’s wrestle with the gospel not his denial of it. I further argued that Christian art should aim to be truthful about our fallen state and that we are all wrestling with sin as we try to live under the gospel.

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Music and Culture

10 Songs About the Moon (Part II)

Covering the best and worst of the music world.

Created by God as the lesser light to rule the night, the moon throughout human history has fascinated us. The moon appears on day four of creation (Gen. 1:16-19), the Israelites were commanded to conduct sacrifices every New Moon (Numbers 28:14), when it no longer gives its light it is a sign of the end of the age (Matt. 24:29) and then at pivotal point of history, the moon blocks out the sun (though there is some debate over this) as the savior of the world took on all the sins of the world (Luke 23:44-45). However, in Western societies the moon evokes not the image of Jesus on the cross but is most often associated with people gone mad (this why we have the word lunacy with the root word “luna” for moon) and romance. The following songs mostly fall into one of these two categories with some exceptions, where the moon is seen as a metaphor for believers in Christ reflecting the image of God to an unbelieving world.

Can’t Fight the Moonlight – LeAnn Rimes

Walking on the Moon – The Police

Black Moon – Wilco

Brother Moon – Gungor

Harvest Moon – Neil Young

Bad Moon Rising – CCR

Blue Moon – Elvis Pressley

Lunar – David Guetta

Song to the Moon – Dvorak

Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe

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Jazz

Apocalyptic Romance: ‘Blue Moon’

In this series we explore music which places the need for significance and transcendence into romance and love.

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The singer’s fear of being alone is also our fear…

[/pullquote]Originally sung by Connee Boswell, Blue Moon is a jazz standard which has been covered by some of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, from Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Elvis Pressley. A story of loneliness unfolds in Blue Moon with the protagonist’s “dream” and “prayer” is for “a love of my own.” Opening with a wailing violin portamento underscored with harp-like figures from the piano and continuing in descending chordal motion expressing the singer’s forlorn state, the blue moon symbolizes the impossibility of finding love. Then in a surprising twist of fate suddenly appears the one who will remove the disgrace of loneliness (“And then there suddenly appeared before me/ The only one my arms will hold”). An ascending piano line through this passage exemplifies the elevating exhilaration the vocalist feels drawing close to the lover and then in a moment of utter ecstasy the singer declares with the highest and longest held note of the song that the moon has turned to “gold.” What was once the protagonist’s enemy has been transformed with dramatic musical/poetical changes signifying the new found love and no longer is the moon characterized by loneliness but now is coupled with romance.

 

While we can celebrate and rejoice that the singer has found someone who loves them, we must concede that their loneliness will never end. One day the moon will turn back to blue as the lover passes away or finds another whom is more desirable, attractive, interesting or exciting. The singer’s fear of being alone is also our fear and so engrained into our cultural milieu that we desire to be connected with others at all times through smartphones, social media and the internet. Yet these methods for building community seem to distract us from building deep, loving relationships with others as most communications between people are reduced to quick notes given out erratically throughout the day without much purpose. We want our relationships to be instantly gratifying and able to take away our feelings of loneliness without much effort on our part. To say that our God given desire for community with fellow human beings has been skewed is an understatement.

In a hyper-connected age where one can easily purchase the company of a friend, we fail to realize that it is impossible to never feel alone. Think of the Psalmist who cried out to God “Where are you?” or Job who wondered why God had abandoned him or Elijah looking for God in the natural disasters surrounding him or most powerfully, Jesus on the cross asking “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” Since the fall our interconnectedness with God and others has been severed and any man-made solution to rectify our inward yearning for community will be lacking. Though hope lies in God’s total and complete abandonment of Jesus on the cross so that we are no longer abandoned but we are accepted as sons and daughters of God. Does this mean we will never feel lonely again? No, that will have to wait until the consummation of history where we will be in perfect communion with the triune God and others. However, if we feel alone, abandoned and lonely in our present state, as children of God we can rest in the assurance that God is there with us although we might not think he is.

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Music and Culture

10 Songs About the Moon (Part I)

Covering the best and worst of the music world.

Created by God as the lesser light to rule the night, the moon throughout human history has fascinated us. The moon appears on day four of creation (Gen. 1:16-19), the Israelites were commanded to conduct sacrifices every New Moon (Numbers 28:14), when it no longer gives its light it is a sign of the end of the age (Matt. 24:29) and then at pivotal point of history, the moon blocks out the sun (though there is some debate over this) as the savior of the world took on all the sins of the world (Luke 23:44-45). However, in Western societies the moon evokes not the image of Jesus on the cross but is most often associated with people gone mad (this why we have the word lunacy with the root word “luna” for moon) and romance. The following songs mostly fall into one of these two categories with some exceptions, where the moon is seen as a metaphor for believers in Christ reflecting the image of God to an unbelieving world.

Moondance – Van Morrison

Moon River Andy Williams

Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven

Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra

Moon and the Sky – Sade and Jay-Z

Man on the Moon – R.E.M

Sun and Moon – Phil Wickham

Bark at the Moon – Ozzy Osbourne

Clair de Lune – Debussy

Eclipse from Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

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