Beautiful Music

“Requiem for the Living”

The text below is the lyrics and Dan Forrest explaining his “Requiem for the Living.”

“Overall, the work is a prayer for rest (“Requiem”) for the living, as much as for the deceased. It’s a ‘grant US rest’, even more than a ‘grant THEM rest’.

The whole work is tied together motivically by the opening three notes that you hear- they form the basis of all the development in the first movement, the pitch material of the accompaniment figure in the second movement (alluding to the traditional Dies Irae plainchant, even though I’m not using the Dies Irae text), the opening of the fourth movement (obviously) where the descent goes one note farther, and starts to find a destination/goal/’rest’ if you will), the recap moments throughout the fifth movement, and then, in one last gesture, the final three notes of the entire work are those three pitches, now ascending (instead of descending), as if reaching the heavens.

The first movement pours out the grief of the Requiem and Kyrie prayers, facing grief head-on and grappling with the sorrow that is common to all human existence.

1. Introit – Kyrie
(Choir)
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Hear my prayer, for unto Thee all flesh shall come.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy;
Lord have mercy.

The second movement bitterly portrays the problem of pain that we all wrestle with, and which causes a crisis of faith for many people. It expounds on the ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ refrain from Ecclesiastes, with no small amount of anger and bitterness and ‘rage against the machine’. The middle section quotes Job, who is the best biblical example we have of the problem of pain, and even he says, in his darkest moment, it would have been better if I hadn’t been born.

2. Vanitas Vanitatum
(Choir)
Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas!
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.
Lacrimosa,
et locutus est, pereat dies in qua natus sum.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!
(from Ecclesiastes)
Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest.
Full of tears,
(from the Dies Irae)
he said, Let the day perish wherein I was born.
(from Job 3:2-3)

The third movement is the Agnus Dei, out of its traditional order, because at that point in the narrative, I need to see the Lamb of God, who died to redeem mankind from all fallenness- this vanity and pain and sorrow and destruction.

3. Agnus Dei
(Soprano solo)
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis, dona eis requiem.
(Choir, and solo)
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem, miserere nobis,
dona eis requiem.

Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us; grant them rest.

Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world,
grant us peace; have mercy on us; grant them rest.

It’s only after recognizing the Lamb of God that we can then turn, in this narrative, to the Sanctus. It becomes a response to the Agnus Dei, instead of prelude to it as in the normal liturgical order. Interestingly, I see the phrase ‘heaven and earth are full of Thy glory’ as not merely a worship moment, but actually a part of the Divine answer to the problem of pain. Looking to Job again, God’s answer to the problem of pain is literally, “Look at my works of creation- see my transcendent power and majesty” and of course Job is then humbled by the realization. So my vocal score includes a quote of Job 38 at the top of this movement- where God says to Job ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth…when the stars sang together for joy?’ As you can see, then, this movement depicts the wonder of the heavens and earth (pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua) as a Divine answer to the problem of pain. My setting of the Sanctus text is literally a depiction of God’s wondrous glory in three different places: the universe (inspired by that Ultra Deep Field picture from the Hubble Telescope), earth as viewed from the orbiting International Space Station (there are fantastic videos on Youtube where you can see the lights of cities (and nations!) at night, territorial boundaries, rivers, the northern lights, thunderstorms, and all sorts of things), and finally, mankind, God’s wondrous image-bearers, who demonstrate his glory even more directly than all the rest of the wonders of the heavens. There are three sections to the piece which are inspired by these three thoughts- an ethereal section for the Hubble image, a warmer section that starts to “come down to earth” with more motion that eventually grows very majestic, and then a bustling energetic final section, coming right down into the middle of a city, teeming with the life and energy of a metropolis full of these image-bearers who are an even more wondrous part of creation than the heavens themselves.

4. Sanctus
(Choir)
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest!

The final movement is simply an arrival at rest and peace, not just in the realization of the ‘eternal light’ which God offers those who seek him, but even here and now, for us, the living, on earth- our Requiem, our Rest, is found in Christ. I purposely quoted ‘Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you….REST’, because it’s the answer to the Introit’s prayer for rest. The answer to that prayer is already given, there, in Matthew 11- Christ is our rest. I purposely, then, lined up the English word ‘rest’ with the return of the Latin word ‘Requiem’ in this final movement- you can see it in the score, or hear it in the performance when the tenor solo ends and the choir begins again, ‘Requiem aeternam’.

5. Lux Aeterna
(Soprano solo, and choir)
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine:
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum: quia pius es.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
in the company of Thy saints forever:
for Thou art merciful.
Let perpetual light shine on them.

(Tenor Solo)
Come unto me,
all ye who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.

(Matthew 28:19)

(Choir, and soprano solo)
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Dona nobis pacem.

Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Grant us peace.”

Calvino on reading the Classics

. . . to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure, different from (though one cannot say greater or lesser than) the pleasure of having read it in one’s youth. Youth brings to reading, as to any other experience, a particular flavor and a particular sense of importance, whereas in maturity one appreciates (or ought to appreciate) many more details and levels and meanings.

A Classic Fundamentalist and Popular Culture

When it comes to responses to popular culture, it is common to read or hear people make a distinction between a classical fundamentalist and a cultural fundamentalist. People tend to describe a classical fundamentalist as someone concerned only with doctrine and they claim that classical fundamentalists of the early 20th century were concerned only with doctrine. Conversely, people tend to describe cultural fundamentalists as those who later added cultural taboos to doctrinal concerns. These people now exhort present-day fundamentalists to return to the days of classical fundamentalism, so that the focus is only on doctrine (actually, only five doctrines) with little to no concern for such cultural things as music, dancing, or drinking. Let’s take a look at a classical fundamentalist and see if these modern-day definitions and exhortations relative to the past are correct.

Reuben Archer Torrey was a writer, editorial committee member, and later chief editor of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century. By his own admission, R.A. Torrey had at one time espoused higher critical views of Scripture. He eventually denounced higher criticism and admitted he had been wrong. After doing so, he publicly countered liberal theology and later became involved in grassroots fundamentalism, not only by his writings in and editorship of The Fundamentals, but also through his involvement with W.B. Riley’s World Christian Fundamentals Association. R.A. Torrey was a classical fundamentalist.

Throughout his years of ministry, Torrey had the privilege of preaching across the United States and around the world. He became known not only for his plain, clear manner of preaching the gospel, but also for his unequivocal denouncement of the popular cultural enticements of his day.

“In no uncertain terms he denounced dancing, card-playing, theatre-going, drinking, and smoking, for he himself had once engaged in these worldly pleasures and he knew thoroughly their pernicious effect upon the spiritual life of the Christian. Again and again he was criticized for declaring the truth regarding these things, but . . . he did not hesitate to utter it” (Torrey and Alexander: the story of a world-wide revival, George Thompson Brown Davis, 248).

In his book On Prayer (found here and here), Torrey answered such questions as “Should Christians dance?” or “Should Christians go to the movies?” with the question “Will it please God more for me to go than for me to stay away?” He wrote that indulging in such things as dancing and movie going “does not please God, and therefore they rob prayer of power. . . . If there is anything, no matter how innocent it may be in itself, or how much can be said in its defense, that robs prayer of power, I am going to give it up.” Torrey continued, “The Christian who dances, goes to the theater, plays cards, attends movies, and does a multitude of other things that are not pleasing to God, cannot be a man or woman of power in prayer.” In that same book Torrey recognized that “None of us can be conscience for someone else. However, they are not at all difficult to decide if we decide on the Bible basis of doing things that would please our Father, and leaving undone those things that would not please Him.”

In a biography of R. A. Torrey (R.A. Torrey: Apostle of Certainty, Roger Martin) this issue of popular cultural taboos and personal conscience as it relates to classical fundamentalism is nicely summed up on page 147.
“Speaking on topics such as smoking, dancing, gambling, and drinking . . . met with considerable resistance, because a large share even of Christians engaged in at least some of these activities. The people regarded these as ‘conscience questions.’ Torrey agreed. And when questioners asked him, ‘Are not these things wholly a matter of the individual conscience?’ Torrey replied, ‘Yes, and that is where I am trying to put it – on your conscience’!”

Should Music be Beautiful?

Philip Glass and purveyors of modern, minimalist music say No.

The most important thing to understand for a listener new to “modern” art music . . . is the need to shift their paradigm of judgment from beautiful/ugly to interesting/boring. To approach much of art music after, say, WWI with beauty as one’s primary criteria for liking something is to misunderstand the motivations of many of the most prominent composers working over the past century. For many 20th– and 21st-century composers, the working out of compositional processes . . . is an end in itself, and composition is a quest for ingenuity and freshness of construction, rather than attractiveness to the ear.

—————

Glass points to one key reason when he describes his early music as “addictive and attractive.” Bluntly, “You could get high from it, and people did.” It is no coincidence that he formulated his musical concepts in the ’60s, at a time when they were both postmodern and countercultural. The incantatory, repetitive style of his electronically amplified music was not dissimilar in effect to that of the rock-and-roll with which his baby-boom fans were closely familiar—and to which many of them liked to listen while under the influence of mind-altering drugs. In addition, it was harmonically simple enough to be intelligible to listeners suckled on three-chord pop songs who were unfamiliar with the greater complexities of classical music.

“The Truth is Hard”

I’ve always taken the view that works of art are not just things that we enjoy. They can convey truths about the world more vividly and to greater effect than ordinary philosophical prose can because they don’t just deal in ideas but show the emotional reality of them. And I think that our society has gone terribly wrong because people have not been confronting the great issues — the loss of the Christian faith, the inability to confront Islam, the loss of the sense of the sacredness of the sexual relation, and the exposure in particular of young women both to external predation and to this moral decay. All these things are real.

– Roger Scruton

Iron Sharpening Iron

“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). This iron-sharpening-iron metaphor, when illustrated pictographically, reveals the various images it conjures in peoples’ minds. A Google image search of “iron sharpens iron” produces pictures such as clashing weapons, red-hot metal being pounded, or a conflict of some sort. When images such as these appear in conjunction with metaphorically sharpening another person, the iron-sharpening metaphor can become skewed and the results disastrous. These images demonstrate a misunderstood process, misidentified purpose, or misplaced prominence regarding the roles of the sharpener and what is being sharpened in the context of an ancient iron-sharpening-iron procedure.

The Old Testament reveals that iron was used for such things as a bed (Deuteronomy 3:10-12), chariots (Joshua 17:16-18; Judges 1:19; 4:3), rods (Psalm 2:9; Daniel 2:40), fetters (Psalm 149:8), and idols (Daniel 5:4). However, Proverbs 27:17 is better understood in the context of iron tools (Deuteronomy 27:5; Josh. 8:31; 2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3; Isaiah 10:34; Amos 1:3), weapons (1 Samuel 17:17; Job 20:24), an engraver’s pen (Job 19:24), and nails (1 Chronicles 22:3; Job 19:24) because these are items that needed to be sharp in order to be useful. These iron implements needed proper sharpening, sometimes repeatedly, or else they were useless.

Understanding the Process
When iron sharpened iron, one piece of iron did the sharpening while the other piece was being sharpened. Some have contended that iron cannot sharpen iron because they are both of a like substance. This may be true, unless one piece of iron is in some way different than the other. The source of the iron, its composition and shape, and the temperature to which it had been heated affected its hardness, usefulness, and purpose. During the sharpening process, one piece of iron was in a form different from the other and was being used differently than the piece of iron that was being sharpened. If both pieces of iron were used in the same way toward each other–such as the clashing of two swords in battle–the result was that both became dull. Two iron swords hitting or scraping against each other did not have a sharpening effect. Sharpening was accomplished when two pieces of iron were of a different quality, shape, and purpose. In order for that sharpening to occur, the tool or weapon first had to be taken out of service.

Continuing to work or fight with a much-used and battered piece, or putting back into service a seldom-used tool or weapon, did not sharpen that implement. Using it did not sharpen it. It had to be taken out of service in order to be sharpened because it could not be in use and be sharpened simultaneously. Therefore, an axe while being sharpened was not at the same time felling a tree. A sickle while being sharpened was not also cutting grain or grass. Swords and daggers while being sharpened were neither attacking nor defending as if in a conflict. During the sharpening process the axe was still, the sickle idle, and the dagger out of commission. There was a time and place for those things to be used for their intended purposes, but that was not while they were being sharpened. Likewise, the piece of iron doing the sharpening was not being used to chop, slice or cut.

The sharpening iron was not used in the same way as the iron implement it was sharpening, nor did it become like the sharpened piece. If the piece of iron being used as the sharpener was wielded like an axe or sword it ceased to be the sharpener and became a very ineffective tool or weapon. Imagine trying to chop wood with a file, clear brush with a whetstone, or stab someone with a grinding wheel. The sharpener was not like what it was sharpening; it was not used in the same way, nor did it have the same purpose. In the sharpening process only one piece of iron became sharper, and it could only become sharper if it was not in use. The only purpose, then, of the sharpening iron was to improve the piece of iron which it was sharpening.

Identifying the Purpose
An iron implement used for its intended purpose eventually needed to be sharpened. If neglected, misused, or left idle, it also needed to be sharpened. It was not available for use while being submitted to the sharpening process. The purpose of this process was to get it back into service in a better condition than when it was taken out of service. However, this sharpening was not necessarily an eye- or ear-pleasing process. Iron-sharpening did not draw a crowd. Sometimes it even put a person at the mercy of another (1 Samuel 13:19-22). Another con to the sharpening process was that when something was sharpened in the wrong way with an improper sharpener, or by an unskilled person, it became damaged, bent, or even broken–sometimes beyond repair or recognition. Sharpening was a purposeful, yet delicate, process that when done skillfully effected a change for the better in the iron implement.

When rust was being removed, some of the iron came off with it. When nicks and blunt edges were being sharpened, some surrounding iron was removed. If one could measure or calculate the amount of iron in an implement before and after the sharpening process, those two numbers would be different. The amount lost might have been miniscule, but something was left behind nonetheless. The implement paradoxically ended up in better condition than before being sharpened yet with less of itself than it had before.

Even though there was some rubbing of the two iron pieces and some filings were left behind, the purpose of the sharpening process was not to produce friction for friction’s sake, nor was the purpose to reduce the implement to a weakened, puny state rendering it useless or less intimidating. The purpose was not to demean the sharpened piece, but to help it look and perform better.

Placing the Proper Prominence
It was the iron implement–not the sharpening iron–that improved and became sharper during a proper sharpening process. A higher value was placed upon the outcome of the iron being sharpened rather than on the piece of iron used for sharpening. However, just as one skillfully used an iron tool or weapon in order for it to be most effective, the one using an iron sharpener had to be skilled in the use of his iron piece as well.

The skill of a sharpener was revealed by looking at what he had sharpened. He could not be known as a skillful sharpener if he had never successfully sharpened anything. He may have tried to sharpen many things, but unless those things were in a better condition after leaving his hands than before he touched them, he would not be considered skillful or even worthy of working on other iron implements. He perhaps produced a lot of friction, sweat, noise, and filings, but unless the iron implement improved, he failed. In order to be successful, his beveling had to be accurate, motion purposeful, and method precise. His utmost concern had to be the improvement of the tool or weapon being sharpened. The result of the proper use of the sharpening iron was that it brought the sharpened iron into better service, making it look and work better than before.

Some Bible versions and commentaries render the word “countenance” in Proverbs 27:17 as “face” thus implying that the person who was metaphorically sharpened by his friend–not enemy–had undergone a noticeable improvement. He was in a better condition than he was before and others recognized this enhancement of character.

There are people who, through their criticism, fancy themselves as sharpeners of others. However, more often than not, their criticism serves to demean the very people they claim they are sharpening. They fail to understand that a sharpener assumes the high responsibility of being a selfless, skilled, and careful artisan who neither wields the axe nor draws the sword. Likewise, those being sharpened often fail to understand that in order to be sharpened they need to take themselves out of service. Paradoxically, the sharpener has the sharp blade of another applied to himself, but responds to it in such a way as to remove the spoiled parts of the blade, so that it becomes better.

The sharpening process is not a time for slashing, stabbing, or skewering. There are other venues where those activities are necessary. During a proper sharpening process forests are not cleared, fields are not harvested, and battles are not fought. It is a time to be sharpened and to sharpen others.

Apostasy and the Apostatizing Apostates who Apostatize Today

People voluntarily leave religious groups or movements that they formerly supported, agreed with, and promoted. This is nothing new. However, a fairly new phenomenon is when defectors publicly denounce the very group or movement with which they were formerly, and voluntarily, affiliated. These public announcements and denouncements take place through books, blogs, documentaries, facebook pages, and various other media venues. This behavior is so prevalent that it merits its own designation as the “apostasy literature” genre. The platforms used for such purposes are as varied as the religious groups or movements being left and then lambasted.

According to sociologist Bryan R. Wilson (1926-2004) such defectors are “apostates” because they, in part or in whole, relinquish allegiance and cease to subscribe to the teachings, practices, doctrines, organization, and discipline of a particular faith or religion and then ridicule or excoriate their former beliefs and vilify those with whom they were once closely associated (“Apostates and New Religious Movements,” 1994). Dr. Bryan Wilson studied religions, sects, and denominations around the world throughout his career with a particular interest in what he termed New Religious Movements. He detailed how various minority religious groups developed, examined their interplay with society, and tracked either their growth or demise. In so doing, he identified what he saw as universal characteristics of apostates. Although the religious movements from which people separated were dissimilar in doctrine and practice, the manner of departure and subsequent public renunciation demonstrated by these apostates had consistent similarities.

Bryan Wilson noticed that apostasy was a “widespread and common occurrence” as evidenced by the proliferation of religious bodies in Christendom that originated from schism. He observed that those remaining within an organization would view each new schism from their established organization of faith as apostasy. However, he noted that apostasy did not always have to result in the formation of a separate religious group or sect; it could simply be one “erstwhile believer” renouncing his or her “former religious allegiance” (“Apostates and New Religious Movements”).

According to Bryan Wilson’s research, these apostates usually told their stories as though they were victims who were vulnerable to “the manipulation, deception, or coercion exercised by the leaders and members of the movement” with which they were once associated and supportive (“Apostates and New Religious Movements”). Those who left these movements then offered to reveal certain aspects, or maybe secrets, of the movement to which they once belonged. Such revelations resulted in the apostates receiving attention which Wilson believed was unwarranted due to their personal motives, disaffected attitude, and desire for self-justification. In his book The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Wilson wrote that the apostate “seeks to reconstruct his own past, to excuse his former affiliations, and to blame those who were formerly his closest associates. Not uncommonly the apostate learns to rehearse an ‘atrocity story’ to explain” how and why he joined and remained “within an organization that he now forswears and condemns” (19).

These apostates attempted to establish credibility both for formerly associating with the religious group and later renouncing that same group. Doing so relieved apostates of bearing the responsibility for initially joining the group and presented the departure as a coming-to-their-senses decision. According to Wilson’s findings, apostates are basically saying that “given the situation, it could have happened to anyone” and attempt to portray the group–not themselves–as the one who acts with malice. One of the reasons why apostates shift the blame onto the formerly-affiliated group is to help themselves, as victims, reintegrate with those whom they want to influence against the group (“Apostates and New Religious Movements”).

Bryan Wilson thought that apostates could not be regarded “as a credible or reliable source of evidence” because their personal history predisposed them to bias with respect to previous religious commitments and affiliations. Suspicions arose when apostates acted “from a personal motivation to vindicate” themselves and to regain self-esteem, by portraying themselves as first a victim, and later a “redeemed crusader” (“Apostates and New Religious Movements”). Wilson asserted that the likelihood of enlarging or embellishing grievances against the group, in order to present a sensational story that satisfied others, did not lead to objective statements of truth. The proposed unreliability of these modern-day apostates is similar to the attitude toward apostates in ancient times.

In his book Leaving the Fold, Stephen Wilson (no relation to Bryan Wilson) provides the results of his research into apostasy in ancient times. Stephen Wilson defined an apostate as one who leaves and then turns aggressively against the organization from which he or she departed (3) and he discovered that in ancient times the label “apostate” was assigned to people by the group from which they left (117). The person leaving did not claim the apostate label nor was it a badge to be worn with honor. Calling a person an apostate was a serious charge, was usually made on the basis of actions rather than beliefs, and rendered that person as one who lacked credibility. This is different than what is regularly observed in modern times. Stephen Wilson notes that, unlike ancient times, in modern times “there are examples of individuals who openly claim to be defectors or apostates; indeed, in some cases . . . they make a career out of it” (121). It is this is the type of modern-day apostate that Bryan Wilson referred to as unreliable or without credibility.

Bryan Wilson’s conclusion regarding the unreliability and lack of credibility of apostates in modern times is not that far removed from the way they were perceived in ancient times. Apostates were not to be given a hearing, followed, or endowed with credibility when they turned against their former affiliation and attempted to vindicate themselves while at the same time vilifying the religious group that they left.

Wilson conceded that, as of the 20th century, “the charge of apostasy is less frequently heard” than in previous centuries. He attributed this to the religious pluralism and prevalent spirit of ecumenism among “many of the major Christian denominations” resulting in the common practice of people switching their allegiance from one movement to another.” But, even though the charge of apostasy has formally fallen into disuse, a person who departs from a movement known for its “distinctive religious teachings” and “strong sense of specific commitment” will “likely be regarded as apostatizing” especially if that person “then proceeds to ridicule or excoriate his former beliefs and to vilify those who were previously his close associates” (“Apostates and New Religious Movements”).

Apostasy has not changed with the times. It is the same today as it was in ancient times. However, what has changed is the attitude toward apostates granting them a wide and welcoming audience.

What did Gunnar hear?

In the 1950s, Gunnar Urang heard something troubling within Christianity in America: the wedding of popular music styles to Christian lyrics. Others heard it too. However, not all were troubled to the same extent and many were not troubled at all. At that time, churches, youth organizations, and youth leaders desperately wanted to attract young people to Christ and Christianity. One of the means used in their efforts to achieve this end was to mimic the music of popular culture. Gunnar Urang saw this as a troubling development and expressed both problems of and solutions for this growing musical practice by Christians in churches and para-church organizations.

The Problems

Urang understood why these musical styles were being adopted, and he realized they were attractive to many. However, the end did not justify the means and the means inadvertently, yet adversely, altered the message. At that time, Youth For Christ (1957) magazine published an article by Urang in which he likened the use of “sensual harmonies and frenetic rhythms” by Christian musicians to preachers using a “smutty story” and justifying it by saying they were speaking “the language of the people” in order to appeal to them and attract them to the message. What message was this music attracting people to and how did it alter that message?

According to Thomas Bergler, in his 2012 book The Juvenilization of American Christianity, the message being proclaimed in Gunnar Urang’s day was that Christian teens “could have fun, be popular, and save the world at the same time” (148, 158, 162). Bergler observed that this “harnessed the appeal of youth culture to the cart of revivalism” and “once harnessed, this horse began to dictate where the cart would go” (157). Proponents of this harnessing attempted to allay concerns by declaring that pop culture forms were neutral. Bergler discovered that there was “little awareness of the way that a change of medium can change the message it communicates” (158). In addition, there was little concern if or how a medium might alter the message as long as that “medium could be used to get the Christian message to more people” (161). However, Gunnar Urang recognized that music (referring to tune or style) molds religious thought to a considerable extent.

In his book Church Music for the Glory of God, Urang explained that tunes used with children and young people not only mold their taste, but also characterize “the person of the Lord” (108, 109). He proposed that young people should be provided with “proper vehicles for expressing worship of God so that what stays with them through life will not be musical cotton candy but solid food” (123). When music used for the worship of God mimicked certain musical styles, Urang admitted, “Try as we may to close our ears, the feverish rhythm and raucous melody of the world filter through” putting us “on dangerous ground when essentially spiritual words are rendered impotent by an essentially worldly tune” (148). He observed that some music “carries certain worldly associations” that “cancel out the spiritual impact of the words.” He explained that “something is wrong with church music” when musical associations “suggest the music of the world” and “bring to mind the feverish syncopation of jazz and the sensual cloying harmonies of the popular love song” (7, 147).

In Urang’s observation, the styles he heard being adopted and utilized by Christian recording artists seemed to indicate that sometimes they were “more interested in advancing their careers than in carrying on a truly spiritual ministry of song.” He recognized and understood that in order to successfully “sell” music – in what he called “this gospel tin pan alley” – artists had to “reach the lowest common denominator of ‘sanctified’ taste, no matter what that does to the value of the song as worship or instruction” (iv). Many viewed this lowered accommodation as a positive thing, but Urang perceived and expressed the negative aspects of doing so while also proposing solutions.

The Solutions

One of his proposed standards for judging music was to determine if it had a suitable tune because “serious words” are “rendered ineffectual” if the tune does not fit the text (66). One of the questions for determining the suitability of music was to ask, “Do the associations which cluster about the melodic pattern, the rhythm, and the harmony reinforce the meaning of the words?” He saw this as important because “Certain rhythmic arrangements and certain harmonic patterns . . . symbolize for us mental or emotional states” giving it a musical meaning all its own that conflicts with the text. Urang observed that “Some of our songs attempt to translate the Christian message with the wrong musical vocabulary. We ask our young people to sing words of surrender and consecration to dancing rhythm or hand-holding harmony. We ask our children to sing praises to our loving, omnipotent God in music which they recognize from grade school experience as ‘skip’ music.” He asked, “Is the music suitable? Do the associations which cluster about the melodic pattern, the rhythm, and the harmony reinforce the meaning of the words?” (111-112).

Another question he proposed for determining the suitability of a tune was to ask, “Does it add its own authority to what has been expressed by the words or does it defy the text and cry out its own meaning by means of . . . associations?” (8). He saw this as an important question because some music “carries certain worldly associations which tend to cancel out the spiritual impact of the words.” He observed that “The syncopation or off-beat rhythm . . . often suggests the music of the modern dance. And certain kinds of melody and harmony equally . . . carry similar musical connotations” (147). The problem with this, as expressed by Urang, was that when an unsuitable tune was linked with doctrinally weak or wrong words, it could contribute “to a low level of Christian living” (11). He explained that this was possible because “The doctrine in the hymn . . . sings its way into hearts” (51). He concluded that if a congregation “is brought up on a musical diet of vague religious sentiment” or “sloppy theology” then the words of those songs that are sung over and over again become part of people’s memory and vocabulary to the extent that “they will find their brand of religion influenced considerably by the content of the words and the spirit of the music” (69).

As a partial remedy for this problem, Urang proposed a song test: “Having already passed judgment on the words and accepted them, try to take in their full meaning. Recite them aloud; master the emotional tone of the text. Then try the tune. Ask: Does it add its own authority to what has been expressed by the words or does it defy the text and cry out its own meaning by means of distressing associations?” (8). He wrote that churches needed “both better spiritual judgment and higher musical standards, the latter reinforcing the former” (11).

So just who was this Gunnar Urang fellow? Was he a hyper-fundamentalist or a musical ignoramus? No, he was neither of those. When he wrote his book Church Music for the Glory of God in 1956 and his article for Youth For Christ Magazine in 1957, Dr. Gunnar Urang was an evangelical ministering as the Choir Director at an evangelical institution: Trinity Seminary and Bible College in Chicago. In 1958 he became Dean of the College and later the school was renamed Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Trinity College. Urang’s book was endorsed, and the forward written, by an evangelical ministering as music director at another evangelical institution: Don Hustad of Moody Bible Institute.

Gunnar Urang was an evangelical who perceived, understood, and voiced problems and solutions regarding a musical trend occurring within evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the 1950s. He communicated that form matters in music and his writings regarding the effects of a medium on a message preceded Marshal McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message by ten years.

But Gunnar Urang’s arguments fell on deaf ears. According to Thomas Bergler, this was because teenagers “agreed with their youth leaders that most cultural forms were neutral vessels that could be filled with Christian content” (163).

Some arguments similar to Urang’s in the 1950s meet with the same fate today, although it is no longer just the youth leaders who encourage ignoring and dismissing them.