So I’m listening to the Writing Excuses Season Capstone, and I’m starting to realize why I’ve never become a professional writer: I have too many hobbies. I have a lot of things I’m interested in and I do well enough at them naturally that I could have chosen any one of them to pursue professionally, but only at the expense of dropping all the others. I sing and dance; I play guitar; I write fiction and non-; I study theology and economics… but none of those turn into money, except at a very high level of development.
Developing one means dropping all the others and taking a gamble, and it’s a gamble I’ve never been willing to take. Which is odd, because I’m not particularly risk adverse. But I am proud. Too proud, for instance, to stay in my parents house for a decade, pursuing a career that might not work out. To proud to risk being accused of failure to launch.
So what have I done instead? I picked the one interest that had low barriers to entry, and easy to monetize early: sitting at a desk, organizing stuff. Small fame there, but a decent paycheck. And that’s how I became the Army Sustainment Officer I am today. It turns out my most lucrative calling is to be a bureaucrat.
That doesn’t erase the itch to accomplish something more… refined? with my life. It just steals a certain chunk of my time. So I am even now looking into refining the roughage out of the remaining hours that I have, so I can set aside time to do pursue one of my old affections. I’m going to have to shove aside one or two of my big three weekend and evening pursuits: church involvement, Facebook, and being a dad.
I expected to read this article on the decline of contemporary praise and worship with a certain level of amusement and agreement. Radio-style praise and worship, especially over the last 20 years has been terribly full of fluff, and the sooner done with it we are, the better. However, I found the article to be singularly unhelpful. Our options aren’t hymns or performance-oriented radio fluff.
I’m a huge fan of hymns. But the great musical innovation of the last century is syncopation, and that is something that has to affect our church music like it affects everything else. The problem with most classic hymns (the best ones – I’m discounting the truly dreadful stuff) is that the meter overwhelmed the lyrics. Even at the time they were written, nobody ever talked that way. But nobody seemed to know how to put together a song that flowed like a person actually talking, let alone appropriately moved by the words they were saying.
That’s the gap that CWM filled: simple songs with simple truths that sound like an actual person talking. And modern hymnodists have taken the hint. How Deep the Father’s Love sounds nothing like O For a Thousand Tongues. I doubt that any new song can be completely devoid of syncopation ever again. Why would it?
I’ll confess that CWM has been declining for the last 20 years at least. It had to – it was being canned for people to put on the radio, and radio just isn’t a good medium for music intended for congregational singing. But there’s an iceberg of modern worship music that never made it to the radio, dating back at least to 1900. There’s good stuff in there, none of it hymns, and lots of it at least as durable. Is that stuff declining too? Or is congregational worship music simply maturing?
Since then, I have lived or existed as one does at School. How dreary it all is! I could make some shift to put up with the work, the discomfort, and the school feeding: such inconveniences are only to be expected. But what irritates me more than anything else is the absolute lack of appreciation of anything like music or books which prevails among the people whom I am forced to call my companions. Can you imagine what it is like to live for twelve long weeks among boys whose thoughts never rise above the dull daily round of cricket and work and eating?
C.S.Lewis, to Arthur Greeves, 5 June 1914
In my ongoing attempt to find something meaningful to do with my life, I’ve taken up making worship lead sheets. I found a lovely program called lilypond that allows you to write sheet music in a programming language, and then spits it out as perfectly arranged sheet music. It’s supposed to be able to generate individual snippets of music that you can throw in to a web page, but that function is buried in an exceptionally bad user interface.
Anyway, I knocked out “Be Thou My Vision” today. First I copied from a hymnal and put in the proper lyrics (hymnals in the 80s and 90s had a terrible habit of arbitrarily changing lyrics, usually for the worse). Then I realized that wasn’t how I play the song on guitar. Guitar strumming has a tendency to pull everything… syncopated So we worked out how to play Be Thou in 9/8 time.
And here’s the completed product:
UPDATE: It turns out that the guitar’s tendency to syncopate has something to do with my complete inability to play in ¾ time. Here’s what I’m actually playing:
Apparently I’m not the only one to see the comparison between music training and math drills.
Really. The goal in life is to think about things that are difficult, work through them and turn them into habits, so that you can think about something else for a change.
Bob Kauflin makes some pretty good points here, and I think it flows nicely with Doug Wilson’s discussion on church organs here. The key element for worship is apparently the words that we use, and in a church setting, they need to be the congregation’s words, not an event they just happened to witness.
A Classical Education designer talks about the classical approach to math and science. It seems like he’s missing something, though, because his theories on teaching it better sound an awful lot like what I’ve heard about the Common Core Curriculum – prioritizing the idea over the execution. I think it’s because he forgets the magic word – Trivium!
Or it may just be that he’s forgetting that most of science is actually history, the same way that most of music composition is actually piano practice.