Wednesday Listening

Today I listened to the Symphony 7 by Antonio Dvorak for the very first time in my life. I had the opportunity to play violin II in the 8th symphony in All-State orchestra as a high schooler, and of course know and love the 9th symphony (New World). For whatever reason, however, I never have explored beyond those.

Folks, this is a worthy piece of music to invest some time in. IMSLP has several versions of the full score to follow along with – which is so helpful as an orchestrater to see how Dvorak builds and layers the colors he uses. Need examples of “dovetailing” between instruments? Here’s your piece.

The recording I listened to is a 1995 recording by the Czech Philharmonic that was available on Apple Music. Also on that recording is “Vodnik” – the Water Goblin. Beautiful and scary, and what a story… (Thanks to “That Classical Podcast” for the heads-up regarding Vodnik!).

God takes care of details

It’s amazing how perfect God’s timing is in medium-to-large issues as well as amazingly small details. This past Sunday in particular was one of those days where God’s providence stood out. Our wonderful drummer Alonzo was sick, but it happened to be a Sunday when my brother (a drummer and worship leader) was visiting with his family. Wow.
For me personally, I know that sometimes Sunday afternoon and evening can be a lonely time in the heart of church musicians. Was what we do effective, impactful, or not? Did it help to edify the congregation in worship? Is it even “ok” to wonder about that or is that my own pride and vanity coming into focus? (Or is it perhaps the lies of the Enemy looking for an place to take root?) Well… this evening I received two separate emails from members of the congregation – each with a word of Godly encouragement for the ministry of music that we provide in the worship services – never praising the music itself, but for the way that it lead us to hear, to sing, and to receive the Word of God in our hearts. This is encouragement for everyone involved in the CSPC music and worship ministry to hear!
I started this post thinking that supplying a drummer was the “medium” issue and the encouragement was the small detail… but now I think I may have had those items reversed. Either way, God has very practically reminded me of his timing, providence, and extra-personal “I-know-all-your-insecurities-and-still-choose-to-reach-you” grace abounding. The God who created the universe and breathed life into the cosmos cared deeply and personally enough to send a couple of emails and a drummer.

Book Notes: Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel – Ray Ortlund

I recently finished reading Ray Ortlund’s book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel this week – and was freshly moved by Ray’s weaving together of the entire biblical narrative: God’s creation and Eden, the first marriage, the fall and our ensuing brokenness and sin, and the incredible grace of the Gospel. The second section, “Marriage in Genesis,” was particularly compelling to me – and I will be revisiting it.

I highly recommend this book.

Read my highlights here: Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel – Kindle Notes

Worship Matters Quote…

This quote from Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters struck me this week – I hope you find it helpful as well:

Although we never know exactly how people are going to respond during a meeting [time of worship], we tend to reap what we sow. If our leadership focuses on musical experiences, we’ll reap a desire for better sounds, cooler progressions, and more creative arrangements. If we sow to immediate feelings, we’ll reap meetings driven by the pursuit of emotional highs. If we lead in such a way that we’re the center of attention, we’ll reap a man-centered focus, shallow compliments, and ungodly comparisons. (Worship Matters, pg. 59)

Hymn: “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place”

How sweet and aweful is the place
with Christ within the doors,
while everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,
each of us cries, with thankful tongue,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear your voice,
and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God,
constrain the earth to come;
send your victorious Word abroad,
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see your churches full,
that all the chosen race
may, with one voice and heart and soul,
sing your redeeming grace.

– Isaac Watts. (Read more about this hymn at

Music Review: Let All Things Now Living, arr. Duane Funderburk

This arrangement by Duane Funderburk (mp3 and pdf sample) was our prelude for this past Sunday morning, and here are some takeaways:

  • The parts are well-written for each instrument – everyone playing will enjoy their contribution.
  • The parts are not for intermediate players – you need players who are advanced on their instrument.
  • You will need some rehearsal time to really achieve an ensemble with this piece – and it is well worth it.

Musically, this is an exciting arrangement that manages to stay true to the meaning and the spirit of the text. It also ends beautifully with a recap of some of the earlier musical episodes, finishing in a graceful andante. When used in a service of worship, this softer ending helps to defuse the tendency to applaud the skills of the players, and it instead helps the congregation to consider what the song is about, rather than how well it was played.

Mr. Funderburk has several other arrangements in this same series, and I look forward to working on them and using them in upcoming worship services.

Being articulate. >

For the last week, I have been working on the closing sequence of music for our upcoming Christmas program at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. The music for the program is celtic in style and is borrowed at least in part from my father’s 2003 album, “Irish Christmas.

When working day in and day out on arrangements, taking ideas and bringing them from the mind into notation, playing the audio on the computer and on the piano over and over and over again, it is so tempting to push towards the end and finish the piece! However, I have learned two valuable lessons as an arranger:

  1. Sometimes it’s best to walk away, rather than force a creative issue. I am not saying that creativity should only flow from us, and that it doesn’t require work. However,  we sometimes get stuck in a bubble and need to regain the perspective of the bigger picture. That means we give ourselves permission to say, “that’s one idea, and it might be fine, but I reserve the right to not commit to it at this point.”
  2. I have been living and breathing this music, but nobody else can hear that mental soundtrack. Getting the notes written on the page isn’t the end of the work. That’s like framing a house, wiring some lights and slapping some plumbing together and saying, “done!” It is now time to think through each part, considering the idiosyncrasies of each instrument, and communicate the details necessary to bring the soundtrack to life.

You might skip this next list if you are not an arranger – here are my steps to finishing the parts using Sibelius 7, and I do them in order to prevent having to fix things that I already fixed:

  1. Set the title, copyright info, composer info, and other global text items.
  2. Assign the rehearsal marks that would be the most helpful in rehearsal.
  3. Assign dynamics, slurs, and articulations for woodwind instruments. It is usually best to not use the “simile” indication – besides, it is trivially easy in software to assign articulations to large swaths of music. Use the Keypad to assign articulations, not the Symbols chart. Trust me.
  4. Now assign dynamics, slurs, and articulations for the brass and percussion parts.
  5. Now assign dynamics, slurs/bowing, and articulations for the strings. Match the depth of bowing information to the abilities of your players and the time you have for rehearsal. Generally, the more advanced the players, the less bowing info they will need. However, the more limited rehearsal time you have, the more bowing information is helpful. This assumes that you know what you are doing when it comes to bowing. If you don’t, it’s time to learn or find a string-playing friend.
  6. Would the parts benefit from a few well-placed cues? If so, go ahead and put those in now in the full score. (Home Ribbon: Paste as Cue)
  7. Go to the Parts ribbon and set the default Part Appearance page margins for All Parts – I typically need to give the bottom margin more space on the first page to accommodate the copyright text.
  8. Now open up each individual part and clean it up: Adjust the positions of the staves to minimize problematic page-turns and minimize the number of pages needed if possible. Watch for collisions and awkward spacings. If the stave spacing is jumping around in a part in a way that you don’t like, go to House Style: Staves: Justify when at least 100%. That will basically turn off the automatic spacing.
  9. Now go back to your full score and make it look the way you want. Feel free to “Hide empty staves” when you need extra room on the page. Think about page turns, upcoming instrument additions, etc, as you work through the layout of your full score. It is going to be your only tool in rehearsal, so you better think through the rehearsal process itself and what you are going to want to see at each moment in the music.

Good, articulate communication conveys information in an efficient manner. Mark Twain was quoted as writing, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” When we musicians who are working as messengers of the Gospel give time and attention to detail, we are doing several key things: We are working hard to be faithful stewards of our own musical gifts, we are being respectful and considerate of the time and the talents of the musicians we are working with, and we are communicating the creativity, power, and joy of excellence when used for worship of God. It’s so much more than accents, slurs, up and down bows – it is our refined craft, and the knowledge that it is an offering of our heart to God, who deserves and demands our very best.