Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bach's Christmas Oratorio: A celebration of three Sundays

In 2013, noted Protestant seminary president Albert Mohler discussed a panel that dismissed rap as "unworthy" for the church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In defending the dismissal of rap, he stated form matters in music, and the Biblical view was of good, beautiful, and of the "very being of God."  Specifically, he compared three composers in his column.
Mozart, in Dr. Mohler's view, was a genius, which interfered with art.  He also called out the Austrian composer's worldview, while it was not specifically mentioned in the original article, was found to have been Freemason-influenced, which Pope Clement XII had banned Catholics from participating.

His evidence was the well-known Requiem in D Minor, which I have sung twice in Summer Chorus, which is called an emotional piece but unsatisfying.  Beethoven, he noted, was deeply rooted in the Enlightenment and pantheism (a belief in many different deities), which the seminary leader calls it the primary reason why his music is highly inappropriate for the church.  However, Johann Sebastian Bach is the perfect example.  He called out the proportion and purpose where form and message are on target with an appropriate mix of all.  When pieces are written that include the note "Soli Deo Gloria" -- Solely for the Glory of God, it fits within his references.

In these words as written by Dr. Mohler, we present to you over the next few days the most appropriate series for Christmas, Bach's Christmas Oratorio.  Rejoice!  The Saviour is Born!  In Other Words celebrates Christmas the most appropriate way, with the greatest sacred musician of all time.

Work Cited:
Albert Mohler, "Thinking About Thinking About Rap -- Unexpected Thoughts Over Thanksgiving,"  December 1, 2013.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Choosing sides

Rod Dreher wonders why we always feel compelled to pick sides, this time in Ukraine:

Do you know who the good guys and the bad guys are in Ukraine? I do not. In Egypt, I was not sorry to see the Morsi government overthrown, but one should not be under any illusions that the Egyptian military are the good guys. Why do we have to pick a side? Are we sure we know enough about what’s going on there to do so? Some of us might; one of this blog’s readers is in Kiev, and he has clear and firmly held opinions about the Yanukovych government. I respect that, but it is clearer to me that America does not need to be picking sides in this fight than it is which side we should pick.

Well, the first thought that came to my mind is that we choose sides because we live in a culture today that forces us to choose sides.  The mentality is everywhere.  We love our sports, and we apply its terminology to everything.  Politics becomes a horserace, and it matters less whether a candidate can articulate an issue than it does that he’s scored points, he’s landed the knockout punch, he’s pulling away from the field or falling back into the pack.  Nobody wants to know about the substance of what’s discussed – they just want to know who wins and who loses.

ESPN’s motto on many of its shows is “embrace debate.”  Doesn’t matter what the issue is, there have to be two sides, and they have to be heard out – often at the top of their lungs.  Even if you don’t have a strong feeling one way or another, you take a side, because that’s what makes good television – and good entertainment.

Reality programming dominates television.  And what is it about reality shows that most often appeals to the viewers?  You have a winner and a loser.  And the viewer must take sides; no sane individual would watch a show like Survivor without developing a rooting interest for or against someone – for that’s the other side of the coin.  If you can’t find someone you like, someone to root for, find someone you hate, and root against them.  It’s just as much fun – try it.

Everything is personal.  You either agree with me, or else.  Whether it’s politics, religion, sports, restaurant cuisine: if you disagree with me, it invalidates not only your opinion on that issue, but on everything else as well.  See it on Facebook, read it on Twitter, it doesn’t matter if it’s your battle or not – the important thing is to choose a side, and make sure everyone else knows which side you’re on.  And if they’re on the other side, judge them for that.

Given all this, is it any wonder that we feel compelled to take sides?  Armed conflict is, for us, another form of entertainment.  War is a spectator sport, to be viewed on television in-between highlights of the Olympics and scenes from the most recent argument on Capitol Hill.  We take sides on those, why not on war as well?  It’s a zero-sum game; there has to be a winner and a loser, and Americans love a winner.

Remarkably, for a culture that seems reluctant to view morality in terms of black-and-white, we seem to have no qualms about doing just that when it comes to choosing sides.  It’s hard for us to believe that both sides in a conflict can be “the bad guys.”  The Egyptian rebels fighting to bring down Mubarak must be right; after all, isn’t Mubarak supposed to be a dictator?  So let’s support them, and the fact that there are some pretty bad dudes among them – well, we’ll look the other way on that.

We abhor a vacuum.  Even in a situation such as Vietnam, where antiwar sentiment was rampant, it’s not as if people refused to join sides.  Many of the antiwar activists were openly rooting for the Vietcong, and the conflict between pro- and antiwar sides became as much of a battle as the war itself.  Not choosing a side – there’s just something un-American about it.

We lead with our hearts, not our heads.  We’ve Oprahfied the way we look at foreign policy every bit as much as we have everything else in our world.  Who’s the scrappy underdog, which side has the most malnourished refugees, let’s cheer on the plucky rebels raging against the big bad machine.

You see how absurd this all is?  So when Rod asks this question – and I think it’s a very good one, a very telling one – why should we be surprised at what the answer is?  It is, after all, the world we created for ourselves. And after all - it's just entertainment, isn't it?

Originally published February 21, 2014

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Opera Wednesday

Have you ever noticed how so many of opera's greatest hits contain no vocal music at all, just instrumental? Here's a prime example of one of the most well-known and loved of such pieces, the meditation scene from Massenet's Thaïs. Odds are if you've heard any classical music at all, you've probably heard this in a concert, and not even realized it was from an opera. Here's one such performance from the violinist Sarah Chang.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

So churches won't open on Christmas Day, but yoga studios, movie theatres, restaurants are, while the NBA and NFL play!

Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, as it usually is once every five, six, or eleven years, has developed into a disturbing fad for many hip Life Enhancement Centres.  Many of these “megachurches,” as they call themselves, full of rock bands and self-help teachings, have set the sad standard for too many churches, typically by reducing themselves to just the one worship service (no Bible study), but many are  locking the doors on Christmas Day Sunday morning and not doing services on Sunday.  Many of these venues are doing a gigantic party on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Why are they giving Sunday over to entertainment the way we've given away Sunday to legalising alcohol sales?  The NBA has four games, the NFL has two games, movie theatres are open for the last of the major releases for Oscar consideration, the restaurants (especially sports bars) are open for the NBA and NFL games on the big screen (remember the early Christmas Day game is on the NFL Network which isn't available in many markets), even Hindu temples known as yoga studios are open for Christmas Day classes (at least two in one city in this state are open for classes when many churches have closed for the day).

And meanwhile, churches stay closed.  I cannot imagine how churches have given away their Sundays to entertainment venues open Sundays when churches are not, as we saw the Sunday after Hurricane Matthew, and now Christmas Day.  Do they even understand their meaning anymore?  Why is the secular allowed while the sacred is taking even the Holy Day off?  Last time one Life Enhancement Centre shut for Christmas, their "Christmas" services consisted of a rock concert featuring the sounds of one group whose name I cannot say playing a fad dance song of the era (no joke).  What might they try this time?

Will they ever get the message?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Opera Wednesday: Ring those bells

Roberta Peters, who made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera at age 20, remains to this day one of the most enduring and most loved of American sopranos. She was also a big hit on television, appearing a record 65 times on the Ed Sullivan Show. Well, why not? She not only had the beauty for television, she had a killer voice as well. If anyone could bring opera to the masses, Roberta Peters could.

In what looks to be a television broadcast dated September 29, 1952, Peters sings the Bell Song from Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé. It's a treat.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Church music regressing?

Churches are posting signs about their choral Christmas shows, as expected.  Some churches are having their annual "Singing Christmas Tree" with an aerial artist flying above the sanctuary and house bands playing rock music.  Other churches are doing full theatrical shows, while many others are having full rock concerts, even replacing church Biblical preaching and teaching with their concerts.  But most churches, sadly, as I drive the hills and dales of our state, have regressed into singing whatever comes out of Warner Music or Universal Music karaoke kits.  It seems the sound Christmas songs we have known as singers are being whisked away because they are not trendy, and do not fit within the postmodern church ideals.  For adults, it may be as simple as a Universal "Christmas music" kit that boasts of being sung in one practice with karaoke accompaniment of the latest album from their mega-star artist.

For children, it may be simply making moves and lip-synching songs that are provided from the two aforementioned secular giants.  Whatever happened to simply having a 25 kid strong choir singing sacred music with the church musician and then doing handbells?  Have we regressed to the point that, as Albert Mohler said over a decade ago, the young boys are not singing in church while young girls are dancing to whatever is the Top 40 hit as church music?  Sometimes, you wonder if a new generation, not knowing of the past, have decided to try again thinking most will not remember the past, and their tolerance is only for whatever comes out of the annals of the entertainment giants, without any knowledge of the masters of sacred music, especially with their government school music courses teaching only Top 40 pop hits because they are "politically correct" as the true masterpieces have religious overtones, which offend the usual suspects of the elites.  And if you only use seasonal references to temperature, then are you offending those who drive Commodores, other Supercars, and play footy?

Think about it.  Whether it is church music regressing as leaders continue to sell out their programmes to the big entertainment giants, or leaders choosing to make dancing to pop music more relevant and take young singers out, leading to a generation that will not sing in church (in those Life Enhancement Centres with loud rock bands, there is no congregational singing, as it is one loud rock concert) or have dance troupes that do the worst of the worst, we have a serious problem.  Why are the denominations and leaders in these cathedrals following along with the fads of Big Entertainment?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Flashback Friday: Are megachurches the problem?

In Steve Skojec's article, which Mitchell linked to some time back, Skojec writes that if people wanted fellowship, they could head over to the “megachurches” that are rampant in today's world. Have people seen the type of services they have in such “megachurches” or even “gigachurches,” as some have been called because of their gargantual size.

The modern megachurch has virtually become a chain-store type of gospel, if any gospel is taught – most often not taught, as instead it has become a self-help centre, engaged often in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a noted heretical movement of the 21st century. Many of these “branches” do not even have a minister in control, and instead have viewers watching the minister's “quickie” sermon (designed to ensure a service does not last more than one hour) on a video, and in some cases popular culture dominates the sermons. One well-known Southern Baptist church here (which in 1956 began a mission on the other side of town that became the church that welcomed a young immigrant family from Taiwan to the area – that church collapsed in 2001 and was sold to a Oneness Pentecostal – apostay alert in denying the Trinity – church run by our city's newly elected mayor) hung billboards outside the main highway with signs promoting a popular culture-based sermon series, which we've mentioned in Our Word many times is the problem with churches today.

Many of these places are located in areas where you would not imagine would be a house of God. The local megachurch is branched in a former grocery store building, and walking into the church's sanctuary, complete with pillars, it resembles a rock concert hall, with a huge stage for the rock band and an intimate theatre-type surrounding for those who attend. Over in the big city just 80km away from the home is a branch of a notorious heretic with his “church beamed via satellite where each branch has its own rock band that plays the same song list in each congregation, and just beams from the flagship the sermon – in essence, a take on the nickname for a brand-new newspaper 31 years ago started by Al Neuharth that has become a well-known publication. These Life Enhancement Centres are often located in former department stores, convention halls, or other large building but not in houses of worship. They play the same service 15 times a week across the state with each building featuring its own local band and small staff, but what is being taught? And what about ministers helping those in need when there are thousands in that place every weekend? They aren't there to help those in need, such as the times I've had to talk with clergy one-on-one during family crises.

Instead of the didactic sacred song of centuries ago that taught God's Word, such as the sacred song that the Pope Emeritus has praised, and too many writers that I've read, especially with my experience over the years with church musicians and singers, the listener is drowned with loud 100dB rock music featuring material from the major church music publishers of today – Sony ATV Songs, Universal Music, Warner Music Group, Oregon Catholic Press, or GIA Publications (yes, Oregon Catholic Press and GIA Publications are both in many Protestant order sheets today), that drill attendees into a trance. Sometimes, those in attendance do not even learn the blasphemous nature of the songs being played in the megachurch services (see Sunday's service at one such venue with a song that I denounced and led to a flame war by those in church who supported the song without understand its questionable lyrics).

These entertainment-driven life enhancement centres are destroying Protestantism on one side, as are heretics pushing false teachings on the other side, which the local Anglican minister wrote a few months ago how the great Anglican split took place in the 20th into the 21st centuries (our part of South Carolina is in the Diocese of South Carolina, an independent Anglican congregation that split from The Episcopal Church). What had me wondering how ignorant mainliners were came during an interview I had with some practicing members of an Eastern New Age religion -- many had been Episcopalians, lost because of the heretical teachings there.

What Pope Francis has seemingly done to Catholics is possibly lean the Catholic Church towards the megachuch philosophy we're seeing in the Protestant world from false teachers such as Osteen, Hybels, and Noble. If he is, he's dangerously close to being heretic.

Originally published October 16, 2013

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Did anyone catch these coincidences?

During the election season, we referenced a 1964 Car and Driver article regarding a mock Presidential candidate in a popular motor racer.  When we researched archives further, we were able to note some very interesting series of photos that I found connected that legendary motor racer and a current motorsport superstar.  Can anyone note the reference?

  5. (Note the livery has also taken a touch of another legendary American motorsport legend. It takes a look at the reverse image car to identify that legend.)
  6. (And this is the car that connects both motorsport legends that raced the national racing colours.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Opera Wednesday

Tis the season, and as a writer at Opera News pointed out some time ago, there is very little opera connected with Christmas other than Amahl and the Night Visitors. The Metropolitan Opera, for instance, seems to rotate an abridged English version of Mozart's The Magic Flute with Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, and while each of these has some very pleasant music, they're more of "family" operas, the kind of thing you do for the week between Christmas and New Year's, than anything that's truly seasonal.

So why not turn to Rimsky-Korsakov and his 1895 opera Christmas Eve? Maybe the story isn't about Christmas per se, but it does take place on Christmas Eve, and there's snow! It also has some lovely music, as demonstrated in this suite drawn from the opera. It's conducted by Ernest Ansermet, with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, in this recording from 1956.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The tables turned

ith INDYCAR's Road to Indy Shootout this week (December 6-7 as I write), the last slot was offered to the Australian Formula Ford champion.  But the winner of that slot will be the driver coming in second.  The reason is the FF champion for 2016, Leanne Tander, is ineligible.  She is 36, 11 years older than the cutoff (25).

Mrs. Tander has now completed an incredible accomplishment.  There have been fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, and siblings winning motorsport championships.  But this is a first among well-recognised titles in motorsport.  The former Leanne Ferrier has now joined her husband Garth, a three-time Bathurst 1000 champion who won the same Australian Formula Ford title in 1997, as the first husband and wife champions of a well-known motorsport championship.

(This is the Supercars video, what Australia heard, in the year that Yanks got the race live with our own crew.  You'll see video of the new Formula Ford champion in this clip.)

Monday, December 5, 2016

One of the longest-running (and still active) franchies in television began in April 1975 with the debut of "Himitsu Sentai Gorenger" on TV Asahi, from Toei, that is now in its 40th season, has run every year since then (the 1978 movie was the only year no television series aired), seems to have taken a hold in the United States, especially since a 1992 series began airing in the United States.

But what kids do not understand is that the franchise was intended for adults, as the original series air time was Saturday nights, which Stateside is the least popular night of television.

However, it seems NASCAR took a hold of that Toei series in running a series of four Chase-themed promos (three of them were well themed, but the last was disappointing compared to the other three, but probably done that way because NASCAR had to finish the theme before the Thanksgiving holiday) that had the Japanese superheroes influence.  Can you see the Super Sentai influence in these videos?

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