Music Archives

"Hear the Bells"

Every Christmas Eve, before the kids go to bed, we listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s "Silent Night" as the last thing in the day. Usually I’ll say a little something about remember family far away, or about soldiers deployed during this time. It’s usually short.

However this year, with the Newtown shooting, and getting some inspiration from different sources, I wrote this up. It gives us some perspective; how good most of us have it, how much some people are hurting, and how much God has for all of us.

And I dare you not to cry when you hear the toy piano plink out "Silent Night".

Merry Christmas.

Doug

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    Review: Owl City, "The Midsummer Station"

    Adam Young recently released his third CD, “The Midsummer Station”, with a whirlwind tour of media appearances, including “America’s Got Talent” and the Today show. Taking on the band name “Owl City”, this one-man band has already hit it big a couple of times now. You may have heard this on the radio.

    And, if you watched the movie “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” (yes, a movie about a city of owls), you might have heard this during the end credits.

    Owl City’s previous CDs have had, as their hallmark, whimsical, imaginative lyrics, much like these hits. It’s not the sum-total of his work, but it’s certainly been what he’s best known for. Also, as a Christian, while his lyrics on released material are not overtly religious, he has used words that, understanding his religion, add further meaning to them. For example, the chorus from his song “Galaxies” (another imaginative song):

    Dear God, I was terribly lost,
    When the galaxies crossed,
    And the Sun went dark.
    Dear God, You’re the only North Star,
    I would follow this far.

    Where, elsewhere, the “Dear God” would be simply an interjection for emphasis, here it’s a prayer.

    (I say the lyrics are not overtly religious “on release material”, because he posted his rendition of “In Christ Alone” on his blog. I can’t find it there anywhere, but a YouTube video is here.)

    With this as the backdrop, “The Midsummer Station” marks a few changes in the music of Owl City. First, there’s less of the one-man band aspect. His Wikipedia entry lists the current members as just “Adam Young – lead vocals, programming, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, guitars, bass guitar, drums, percussion, vibraphone”. But on Midsummer, there is collaboration on vocal, writing and producing credits. On the vocal front, the first hit off the CD, “Good Times”, pairs Young with Carly Rae “Call Me Maybe” Jepsen. Blink 182′s Mark Hoppus also appears for the track “Dementia”.

    Secondly, this CD moves Owl City towards more in the way of a rock sound and slightly away from the previous very-electronic sounding, synth-pop music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My kids introduced me to Owl City, and I frankly loves the sound he put together on the previous CDs. So not moving too far from his roots is OK, as is his willingness to experiment with the sound and let go a little of the creative control.

    Thirdly, the lyrics are less whimsical and more rooted in a concrete subject matter, even if the treatment is teenage-ish. Rather that musing about fireflies, Midsummer has two break-up songs, for example, in addition to the upbeat and uplifting songs. Adam said that the song “Dementia” was written when he was having some regrets. But not to leave it completely behind, “Metropolis” is a song that Superman might sing when he gets homesick.

    There is one aspect of Owl City’s music that has not changed with this release; enunciation. Yeah, not something that you typically think of when listening to music. But hey, Mom and Dad (and I count myself as one of you), if you listen to this CD, you will not need a page of lyrics to know what’s being said. And yet, it doesn’t sound enunciated, not like a high school English teacher trying to get you to pronounce your words properly. It’s very natural and, with a combination of the sound mix and voicing, you always know the words. (Listen to one of the videos again to see what I mean.) I appreciate this, and even more so since he doesn’t try to drown out any Christian expression in the lyrics.

    The song lyrics themselves might have felt at home in my high school years of the late 70s. And that may be why I like this CD; it’s a throwback to those fun days, where I can imaging blasting “Good Time” out the open windows cruising down the main drag with some buddies. It has cuts that would cause some teen being interviewed by Dick Clark on “American Bandstand” to say, “It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it; I give it a 90.”

    Some may find certain tracks a bit “cheesy”, and I can understand that. But overall, I like this CD and would definitely recommend it to, well, friends of my kids, as well as old guys like me who did like the pop music scene in the late 70s/early 80s. It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it. I give it a 95.

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      Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss?

      The phrase Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss is found in a song titled “How He Loves” (see full set of lyrics here) which is currently used as a worship song in corporate worship settings. The particular line in question has, understandably, caused quite the controversy in Christian circles with advocates for both its inclusion and exclusion. An alternate version is sometimes used with the offensive portion of the lyric replaced by the words unforeseen kiss. For the purposes of this analysis, HME will refer to Heaven meets Earth, and SWK to sloppy, wet kiss.

      As I see it, there are at least three issues with, or related to, this specific lyric:

      I – Whether by design or by accident, the intended meaning of the lyric is vague and internally inconsistent. This, despite attempts by John Mark McMillan, the author, to define and explain the meaning of the words he used.

      II – Much of the current corporate worship singing methodology, found in the contemporary evangelical church in America, is inconsistent with foundational corporate worship practice. The modern practice, in the West, of interjecting the personal into the corporate, reflects secular influences.

      III – Those who hear, read, or sing the song, whom I will refer to as recipients of the  song, readily misinterpret the author’s intended meaning in both the HME and SWK lyrics.

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        On Christians singing worship via secular liturgies

        How close does the corporate worship singing in your church mimic a secular concert? Does it matter?

        From An Open Letter to Praise Bands,

        …I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you [praise bands] to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

        And then, these axioms,

        1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship. Christian worship is not a concert…

        2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship…

        3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship…

        …This isn’t just some plea for “traditional” worship and a critique of “contemporary” worship. Don’t mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn’t with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we “lead worship?” If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God–that worship is not merely expressive but also formative–then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums.

        Read it all.

        At what point does our worship singing methodology fall in line with the purpose of worship? For that matter, what is the purpose of worship? To energize the singers, individually, so they leave the service feeling better or happier than when they entered? How does a passion for Christ manifest itself in our singing – our corporate singing?

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          The Old Fuddy-Duddy

          I’ve been a bit of a techie for quite some time (I’m in the biz, so it comes with the territory). I’ve had e-mail in one form or another since the late 80s (using dial-up Unix machines). I keep up with what’s going on, even if I don’t buy the vast majority of it. I like what’s happening in the tech world, generally.

          But there’s one thing I’ve not figured out. I’ve always preferred CDs that I can buy and hold. I can play them on a CD player or in my car. Anytime, anywhere. Sure, I’ve had MP3 players for a long time , but I’ve always pulled the audio from the CD first and then copied it to my player; first an old RIO player, then a Sansa, and these days an iPod Touch. Never an issue.

          But for some reason, huge music publishers are trying to figure out a way to do exactly that; the same thing I’ve been doing for a decade.

          Apple Inc. (AAPL) is in talks with record companies to give iTunes music buyers easier access to their songs on multiple devices, three people with knowledge of the plans said.

          Apple is negotiating with music companies, including Vivendi SA (VIV)’s Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group Corp. (WMG) and EMI Group Ltd., said the people, who asked for anonymity because the talks are private. An agreement may be announced by midyear, two of the people said.

          The arrangement would give users more flexibility in how they access purchased music. Apple and the record labels are eager to maintain demand for digital downloading amid rising popularity for Internet services such as Pandora Media Inc., which don’t sell tracks and instead let users stream songs from the Web, whatever the device.

          Talk of streaming music providers aside (and I love Pandora), I already have access to my music on multiple devices. This is because I have the physical media and can do with it what I want. Today, not 4 months from now. It’s for this reason I don’t even intend to buy any music from the iTunes store.

          I like the concept of buying just single songs that you like rather than a whole album that you might not like the rest of, but if it requires Apple and at least 5 other music publishing houses to figure out how to get the music you buy onto multiple platforms, did you really buy it in the first place?

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            Rusty Nails (SCO v. 17)

            See ‘ya later, gotta see what the wife’s up to America’s First Black President seeks the help of America’s First Black President.

            ###

            Yes, 3 + 1 = 2 + 2 Carville thinks America’s First Black President should seek more than help from America’s First Black President’s wife.

            ###

            What did you expect, with all the apologizing?

            “Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

            ###

            Tactical Awareness Not always a matter of physicality.

            In 2008, there were almost 10 million cases of identity theft in the US alone, 22% more than the previous year. While people are getting better at recognizing identity theft, and minimizing the damage, the best solution is to prevent it from happening in the first place by following these steps.

            ###

            Christmas Shopping Kudos From an e-mail sent by Sheplers (Western wear), not shying away from mentioning the unmentionable holiday this season.

            ###

            Holiday MP3 Store? From Amazon.com, a partial screenshot of their “Holiday MP3 Store”. In perusing the ~46 MP3 albums listed, it appears that the unmentionable word “Christmas” is mentioned 36 times. Of the remaining titles, a Christmas related word (e.g., Noel, Santa, etc.) is listed 6 times. Hmmm, 42 out of 46. Now, what “holiday” is that, again?

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              Where’s the Line To See Jesus?

              A song inspired by a 4-year-old’s question, after seeing the line to see Santa.  From the website:

              While at the mall a couple of years ago, my then four year old nephew, Spencer, saw kids lined up to see Santa Claus. Having been taught as a toddler that Christmas is the holiday that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, he asked his mom, "where’s the line to see Jesus"? My sister mentioned this to my dad, who immediately became inspired and jotted words down to a song in just a few minutes.

              And thus began a year-long try to get someone in the music industry interested.  Failing that, Becky Kelley recorded it herself and the family created their own video for it

              Since then, they’ve done the recording up better, with full instrumentation, and created a new video for it.

              And now you can buy it in iTunes.  Wonderful song.

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                Need a Little More Life In My Day

                This song has been going through my head the past week, so now I’m sticking it in yours.  :)

                "Life in My Day"
                Newsong
                More Life (2003)

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                  Enter the Seraglio

                  Saturday night my wife and I went to the symphony. One of the pieces we heard was Symphony no. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev. In the program notes, one of the things we were informed about this symphony was that it borrowed heavily from an earlier work a ballet entitled The Prodigal Son. Furthermore we were informed that the third movement borrowed from a section of the ballet which introduced (for sex appeal) a seductive dance by a female dancer/love interest, added to the story to increase popularity apparently. So when the the third movement came around, I was expecting seductive or melodic patterns that would fit a seductive dance. Yet I got a surprise. The third movement, to my ears, was quirky humorous and, well, goofy. To my minds eye, the exotic dance would feature a grinning minx with strident makeup, mismatched pigtails, a flouncy dress, and a puckish grin and attitude.

                  Here’s my point. While this is on occasion what I might find captivating and perhaps seductive … I think of myself unusual in this regard. I’ll freely admit, for example, in the Magic Flute, I’m more interested in the Popageno/Popagena love story than Tamino/Pamina story. What do you think of humor and puckish elements as part of seduction?

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                    The Secret of Christmas

                    We had many Christmas music albums growing up.  Every time the Firestone or Goodyear companies put one out, or another compilation hit the stores, my dad (a self-described "Christmas-aholic") would get it.  The first one home each evening would put a stack of LPs on the record player spindle and get it started.

                    We knew each version of the songs, which song by which artist followed which (we’d start singing or humming the next cut immediately after the previous one finished), and we even knew where to expect a skip in the record.  The pops and crackles became as much a part of the song as the singer, the arrangement and the lyrics were.

                    We had our favorites, and we also laughed at some of the awful renditions.  (You haven’t lived until you’ve suffered through John Wayne singing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".  We love it just for how awful it is.)  One of my dad’s favorite secular Christmas songs from our LP collection is this little-known song done by Bing Crosby, "The Secret of Christmas".  He liked it so much that I remember one afternoon he sat us down in the living room and had us write down the lyrics (one kids listened to the first line and started writing what he heard while the next kid was listening to the second line, etc.).  For a secular song, it really does a wonderful job of driving home the point that Christmas is not just a December 25th thing, and that one of the secrets of Christmas is not just smoothing things over at the end of the year, but it’s what you do the other 364 days that really matters. 

                    Now, as a Christian, I have my own thoughts on how best to do this (and with who’s help I am able), but Christian or not, this is a song for everyone, and a message for us all. 

                    It’s not the glow you feel when snow appears.
                    It’s not the Christmas card you’ve sent for years.
                    Not the joyful sound when sleigh bells ring,
                    Or the merry songs children sing.

                    That little gift you send on Christmas Day,
                    Will not bring back the friend you’ve turned away,
                    So may I suggest the secret of Christmas
                    Is not the things you do at Christmas time,
                    But the Christmas things you do all year through.

                    I found out recently that this song was done in a movie ("Say One For Me", 1959).  This is a YouTube clip from the movie with Bing singing the tune.  It’s not the version that was on our LP, but I like the video for this one better. 

                    The Secret of Christmas

                    (The LP version is also on YouTube, as well as many other versions including those by Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews, and a fantastic acapella version where one guy sings all 4 parts.)

                    And, for those of you who know my dad, this is one of the reasons he’ll tell you "Merry Christmas" just about anytime;   Christ came to redeem the whole year.

                    Merry Christmas!

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                      All-Nations Christmas Festival

                      A video from my church’s All Nations Christmas Festival.  This group is from the Eretrean congregation.  It includes their pastor.

                      That night also included Christmas celebrations from our Spanish, Vietnamese, and Asian Indian congregations, as well as groups that were French African.  That was a great night.

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                        Behind the Scenes with Third Day

                        Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Third Day and their road pastor, Nigel James, while they were on tour. My article about the band and their pastor was published this morning in the Bristol Herald Courier. Check out the article and leave a comment and let me know what you think.

                        Recommended resource:

                        068489: Lesson From The Road: Devotions With Third Day Lesson From The Road: Devotions With Third Day
                        By Nigel James / Authentic Books
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                          What Would We Do Without Studies?

                          They spent money on this?

                          Sexual content on television is strongly associated with teen pregnancy, a new study from the RAND Corporation shows.

                          Researchers at the nonprofit organization found that adolescents with a high level of exposure to television shows with sexual content are twice as likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone as those who saw fewer programs of this kind over a period of three years. It is the first study to demonstrate this association, RAND said.

                          Next week, RAND comes out with their study that gravity leads to falling.

                          The suggested remedy is equally obvious.

                          A central message from the study is that there needs to be more dialogue about sex in the media, particularly among parents and their children, said Anita Chandra, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND.

                          Although the Hollywood culture is certainly a major contributor to the oversexualization of the media (and they could do their part, but won’t, and will whine publicly and loudly if you suggest they do), parents still need to be the gatekeeper.

                          As my kids would say, "Thank you, Captain Obvious!"

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                            "Put Your Hand in the Hand"

                            Don’t know how it got there, but this song was going through my mind this weekend, so I thought I’d plant it in yours as well.  :)  Video’s OK, but it’s the music that I’m really passing along.

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                              As a worship leader, I am always on the lookout for new worship music. The Christmas season is particularly challenging as the congregation can get a little tired of singing the same Christmas carols week after week. That’s why I was really excited to receive Savior – Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man from Sovreign Grace Music.

                              It would not necessarily be fair or accurate to call this a Christmas album. Most Christmas albums I hear focus more on the Christmas season than the birth of Christ. But these twelve songs are purposely focusing on the incarnation of Christ rather than the holiday season. As a result, Sovreign Grace has provided us with a worshipful album that celebrates the immeasurable gift God gave us when He sent His Son to Earth for us, to live and die for us.

                              The CD starts strong with Christ the Lord Is Born Today which is a song of celebration focusing on the birth. This thought is echoed through Hope Has Come which reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ through his life, death, and resurrection. There are also songs of reflection such as How Sweet The Day, which reminds us the redemptive purpose behind Christ’s birth. Another standout track is Glory Be To God (the lyrics were written by well-known hymnist Charles Wesley) that offers another upbeat song of praise of the promised savior.

                              It’s rare that I could say this about any CD I listen to but there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. They are all good and are songs that I could envision singing in a worship service any time of year, not just at Christmas.

                              These are very straightforward arrangements and easy to play. Sovreign Grace has also made it easier for churches to start using the songs by offering free lead sheets and guitar sheets on their website.

                              If you’re looking for a frsh set of worship songs for either personal or corporate worship, I highly recommend Savior – Celebrating The Mystery Of God Become Man.

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