While reading a child’s version of the biography of Johann Sebastian Bach to my students recently, I was struck with how much Bach learned from the “masters.” When practicing and perfecting his art, Bach intentionally sought out music written by those who preceded him whose works were masterful and worthy. Bach’s method of learning music in this way provides a powerful example of the way in which we should learn and teach music.
Every Maundy Thursday evening during the stripping of the altar, the choir at my church sings a version of Psalm 22, the Psalm that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s a poignant piece for that part of the service and a look at the way in which the Psalms continually point us to Christ. This repetition of the same psalm at the same service every year also ensures that the psalm becomes familiar to the congregation and offers members words of Scripture to pray in times of need.
During our recent spring break vacation at the beach, my husband and I encountered several people walking along the sidewalks, beach, and paths carrying speakers playing loud music, most often loud and obscene rap music. The lyrics of these songs told us how Satan was trying to influence the thoughts and minds of those who were listening to them. Satan was working through these explicit lyrics to draw people away from Christ.
A day or two before Ash Wednesday, I remarked to my husband, “I can’t wait for Lent.” In a dreary year of isolation, anxiety, moral quandaries, political polarization, disease, and death, compounded all the more by the last few months of gloomy, wintry skies and cold weather, I am ready for spring. Lent means that spring is coming and that Easter is drawing ever nearer. It is a yearly routine that remains unchanging even in the face of a pandemic and societal disruption.
How horribly unfair movies are toward Christianity.
I am speaking generally, of course. But Hollywood is not a hotbed of orthodox Christian thought and practice. Movies often show the very opposite of what the Church teaches, but more than that, they often portray Christianity and traditional worship services as boring, dull, and humorously bad.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m a rule follower.
I hate making decisions, and rules tell me exactly what I should do. They are easy to follow because I don’t need to think about anything. If it’s a rule, I follow it. All of this makes me a good sight-reader. To me, it’s comforting to know that all the notes and harmonies and rhythms are laid out there and simply need to be followed.
Music-making doesn’t have to be serious. It can also be hilarious.
If you teach music in any capacity, think about the times it has most brought a smile to your students’ faces. For me, it’s when ridiculous silly songs and silly voices are used. Take for example the song about the tree in the wood. You know the one: “The nest was on the branch and the branch was on the tree and the tree was in the hole and the hole was in the ground …” Even my most reticent third graders will break into a giant grin and start singing heartily when that song is in the lesson plans for the day. They think they are just having a good time. I know that they are learning to sing and to love music.
“Mrs. Greenway,” a first grader asked me yesterday, “do we ever listen to any Early Age composers?”
In our school, each music class concludes by listening to a piece of art music (generally known as “classical” music). We learn about one composer and one composition written by that composer every week. Each composer falls into one or two of the following categories: Early Age, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or Modern Day.
Thou camest to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
So writes Martin Franzmann in my school’s hymn of the year: “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” (LSB 834). With strong and striking text, he could almost be predicting our 2020 world of “poisoned air” and “reluctant breath,” thanks to the awful virus. It may be a novel coronavirus, but there is nothing novel about sickness and death, though it is fresh in our minds these days. Since our first parents partook of the fruit of the forbidden tree, our air has been poisoned, our breath both reluctant and short, and our despair, indeed, dark.
“Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
This is a common saying, especially in education. The exhortation to repeat, repeat, repeat hopefully is prevalent in our Lutheran schools. Only through repetition does one learn and retain something. You are only reading this right now because someone drilled you on your ABCs and phonograms. In music, we drill note names and scales and rhythms.