Find the Music, Sing the Song

1,1,1,5    1,1,5- 

2,5,4,3   2,1,2-

1,1,1,5.  1,1,5-

2,5,4,3   2,2,1-

Four very simple lines of music heard this morning very powerfully brought my former wife to mind.

This little bit was played on the piano with a simple broken chord figure in the bass. It is used in my church as “travelling music” before and after the children’s sermon, while children come to sit with the preacher and then return to their seats. Very quiet, very background; just a few measures to cover the silence. 

The powerful reminder of Stephanie -who is a very fine pianist and piano teacher – is that I couldn’t help contrasting the rather mechanical “music-box” version I heard with the way Stephanie would play it. I mean no disrespect to our organist, who is a fine musician (although not primarily a pianist). Also, the electronic instrument she was playing is hardly capable of capturing the subtle expressiveness available in an natural piano.

But Stephanie has a particular gift, passion, drive and ability for lyric expressiveness. She can take the simplest phrase, like the ones I quoted at the start, and make it sing. I instantly heard what she would have done, and the difference it would make. 

Now when I said it was a gift, I didn’t really mean the ability was a gift to her, she worked hard for it. It is a gift to everyone who hears her.

Contemplating this returned another memory, dating all the way back to High School Choir, where we sang a LOT of Bach chorales. Everyone should. But a frequent feature of that sort of music is that the tenor line (that’s me) will often find a note on which to park, and will pretty much stay there for the rest of the piece. “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”  comes to mind.

One of the points drilled into us was that if this line sounds boring, that is our own fault. Perhaps it is that we want to be singers, when we should be learning to be musicians.

Our job was to take that one note, and find all the music in it that could be found, and bring that to the surface. Do it right, and that repeated one note will almost stand as a solo. Then having found the music in that note, sing that song in a way that serves the entire piece.

The problem is not the note. It is my job to find and reveal the music. I have discovered that as one of the great joys of singing “inner voices” in choral harmony. 
And since “music is life,” this must relate to the rest of what I do.

My job, in all the mundane “single repeated note” lines of life, is to find the Music in that line, and proclaim it. Not to demand a more complicated part, where my lack of a musician’s heart can be hidden behind a composer’s many notes, but to find and express the song in THIS line. It’s there. 

Find the music. Sing your song.

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Some Thoughts on “No-Fly / No-Buy”

For decades, for pretty much all my adult life, I have been a pretty standard political conservative. Had high hopes for the “tea party” wing of the party when it started up, even went to a few rallies. Over the last 6 years or so, my enthusiasm has been waning – to the extent that I no longer can call myself a Republican, and have deep suspicion of my own conservative leanings. My knee just doesn’t jerk that way anymore.

 But this is not the place to explore that. Instead, I wanted to comment on the recent/current doings in the House of Representatives, and one contentious idea in particular: that being the proposal that a person who is on a “watch list” or a “no fly” list by ineligible to purchase a firearm. Continue reading

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Sunlight, Compost, and a Reasonable Faith

Time I write at least a little about depression. Not much; the very subject is, well, depressing.

But there have been a few bright spots in it. Occasionally, I still see one.
Those who know me well probably know that I have struggled with a low-grade chronic depression for as long as I can remember. There have been some seasons of relief, and a couple that bordered on suicidal. But as a whole, if the average “emotional temperature” bubbles along at 98.6, I average closer to 90. Sometimes it’s lower, but it is decidedly above room temperature. And I am happy about that…
… at least most of the time. Continue reading

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From Personal to Political: some thoughts

I rarely post political; so it only seems fair that I warn you up front that this is aiming there, for better or worse.

Over many relationships with many people, some family, and some not, I have noticed that most people have a few “hot-button” issues. In some relationships, I think the term “land-mine” is more appropriate. I expect you have noticed the same. I have a few myself

Continue reading

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“Paradise Lost” (but trying to understand the map)

“Bid welcome your new landlord – whose mind will not be changed by tome or place.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, or hell of heaven. What does it matter where I am? What matters is that I am and shall remain…”


Here at least we shall be free. Here we are beyond his almighty envy; he will not drive us out from here. Here our reign is secure. And what we won is worth it, in my view, even if our kingdom be in hell.
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

“Paradise Lost”, book 1, lines c254 – c264
Prose edition by Dennis Danielson


I don’t read nearly as much or as well as I once did. But I am working on tying up a few loose ends, one of which is that I never read Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

I know many of my friends do not have this failure on their record. I specifically would value your point of view on the thoughts below. Continue reading

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Life – as seen from “Music Theory for Beginners

Last September I drove to Nebraska to visit my parents.

As old people will do –and that includes all three of us now- we were reminiscing about the old days, including those days when I was a very poor piano student of a good lady named Mrs. O’Dell. Both my younger sister and I studied with her, which involved both a private lesson in actual playing, and a group theory lesson every week.

My mother recalled Mrs. O’Dell saying how unusual it was to have two children from the same family who both preferred theory to playing. We were always odd folk.

One of the things I remember is the idea that music is among other things, the management of tension and resolution. Yes, other arts work with this as well, good story-telling for example, but I never learned to do that. Stay with me.

There are a lot of ways to build and resolve tension in music.

  • You can start a pitch at “home” and raise it up (like stretching a rubber band between two points, and then pulling it up), then lower it back to home. “Amazing Grace” is like this, feeling very peaceful, and, well, resolved, when it gets back to its home note.
  • You can do it with rhythm. Think of three quick beats in a row, and repeat that cluster three times: “applepie – applepie – apple pie” Now release that tension (perhaps in your belt, caused by all that pie) by taking a nap: “applepie – applepie – applepie – Sleeeeep” (get a good LONG nap!) See how resolved and peaceful that is?
  • Or you can do tension and resolution by harmony.
    Think of the traditional ending in some church hymns, where everyone sings “A – MEN” on 2 chords.

Most music will combine all these techniques and more, all through the piece.

The management of tension and release is very close to the heart of music.

Life is like that, too. Seasons of tension and release, stress and resolution.

But here’s the thing… NOBODY goes to hear concerts of resolution. Or tension either.

They go to hear and wonder at the MUSIC. Life is filled with music, music is filled with life, with tension and release.

May your life be beautiful, filled with music.

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Time to Start Writing Again

It’s been awhile! I had wondered where you had been!

no, wait. That’s not right, I’m the one who was gone.

I’ve been on a self-indulgent departure from writing, and it is high time I quit it.  Quitting, that is. I need to stop that. I need to write. Obviously. My brain has been turning to mush.

When I took up this blog silliness, I said that on of the influences was that of my father. How when he dropped me off in the dormitory at Univ. of Houston back in 1973, he told me to write every day. Write something, it didn’t matter what. Schoolwork, letters, journal –anything. Just keep putting words on paper for the mental exercise of it. He led me to the idea that if I am not writing, I am not thinking; at least not in any form worthy of the name. I may be observing random thoughts fly across my brain, but unless I am trying to capture them, make them responsible to other thoughts, they are no more like a trained and powerful team of Clydesdales than are a herd of wild donkeys romping in a meadow.

I won’t say that “to write is to think” – I’ve read some of my own stuff before, and know what mindless drivel I can generate. But at least if one writes mindless drivel, it shows itself for what it is. You may or may not recognize it, but put it out on the internet, and someone is likely to point it out to you before long. I take that as a kindness

To write may make it possible to think. And perhaps that is why I have been avoiding it.

I’ve been a mess, and didn’t want to think.

But it is time for me to pay attention to Ephesians 5:14, paraphrased in a song I use to know as
“Awake O sleepers, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you life!”
Time I trusted that.
Time I woke up.
I need to write again.

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