Category Archives: Music

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

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#181: Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #181, on the subject of Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration.

I have long been of the opinion that the best way to learn to write songs, initially, is to find someone who already does and work with him, in essence apprenticing as a songwriter.  That’s how I learned, although it occurs to me that I never really wondered how my mentor learned.  Still, I had learned quite a bit of music theory and had attempted quite unsuccessfully to write songs before I met him, and very quickly learned the secrets once I started working with him.  I have since worked with quite a few people who had never written a song before, and taught them the basics of how to do so.  So there might be other ways to get started, but working with someone who already knows what he is doing is a tried and true approach.

img0181Music

Because of this, I’m not claiming that anything I write could ever teach you how to write a song.  I can teach you quite a bit of music theory (I did some of that in Mr. Young’s Music Theory Class on Facebook), but to learn to write a song I think you would have to go through the process with me.  On the other hand, this past weekend I persuaded my youngest son to collaborate on a song, and it came out fairly well, and so I am going to attempt to explain the process that brought about the song here.

I am going to state the caveat I have often stated in other contexts:  all songs are different, and there are many different ways in which they come into being.  When people ask whether the words or the music come first, I always say no, because it does not work that way.  There have been times when I have begun with words that had no music, and other times when I had a melody but no lyric, or even a chord progression or background that was worth forming into a song.  How it happened this time is one example, but it shows aspects of process.

It began while I was driving in the car.  I should credit the Reverend Jack Haberer, because if I recall correctly when we were together at Ramsey High School he put under his yearbook picture, “Secretly desires to be born again again,” and the line has stuck with me over the decades.  It was nagging at me as I was driving, so I pulled a digital recorder from my pocket (I have one on my cell phone and another that is just that) and dictated something roughly poetic.  I do this sometimes with ideas for articles, stories, songs, and tasks I should complete, because I know I will forget quite soon if I don’t, and even with the convenience of recorders that I don’t always think to use too many ideas escape me.

Upon arriving home, I played back the recording and cleaned it up a bit, typing up a document that read

If deep in your heart you remember when–
Did you want to be born again again?
The good news is the news is true:
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.
Even you.

So I had the beginning of a song idea, but I had no melody, no music for it at all.

What I did have was a desire to help my youngest son Adam with his own music.  He happens to be a natural–like me, he picks up instruments and figures out how to get music out of them.  He plays the piano for hours, but has very little notion of the names of the chords or key signatures.  He is learning; he questions me frequently, about what he’s doing on the piano or the guitar or the recently-added cello or other instruments.  He is very creative, but he doesn’t often write what we call “songs”–he does improvisational music, and then tries to remember fragments of it, or he records himself jamming at the piano and uploads it to the Internet but can’t otherwise reproduce it.  I wanted to give him something of an understanding of how I write a song, and so I wanted to collaborate with him on something.  I printed those words and kept them on my desk for a couple hours.

He is notoriously difficult to catch, but while I was rushing about getting his mother ready for work I saw him standing in the living room, grabbed the lyrics, and said something on the order of, “I thought you might like to collaborate on a song.  Here are some lyrics to get it started.”  He took them over to the piano and started playing something and singing something.  I was only half listening as I was otherwise occupied, and by the time I joined him he had worked some of the bugs out of it and I tried to pick up his melody.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the rather stock chord progression he had adopted, even with the unusual stray notes, and the melody was nothing terribly original–but the song had vitality and drive, and that fit it extremely well, so I quickly tried to learn his melody, which probably changed a bit in the process.  He had also doubled the end words, so that Even you was sung four times rather than two.

He then grabbed the paper and ran looking for a pencil or pen.  People who know me will wonder that I didn’t just reach into my shirt pocket and hand him one, but around the house I don’t wear the shirt with the pencils, only the pocket T-shirt, so I only sometimes have a pen available.  He grabbed one from the kitchen, and scrawled words on the page as the pen died in his hands.  Still, there was enough there that we had a second verse, and I got one of my pens and filled it in, with a few tweaks, thus:

There in your mind when you feel abused,
Don’t you get tired of being used and used?
Darkness falls, then the light breaks through.
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

After that, we were talking about a bridge.

That progression I mentioned was A minor, G major (with a suspended 4 frill), F major, E major (with a suspended minor second frill)–yes, quite common, quite boring from a musical theory perspective, and it repeated, playing through three times for each verse.  I wanted to exit into a bridge with an unusual transition, and he had played something I liked (he was on the piano, I was on the guitar).  I started talking about where the chord would be “expected” to go, and before I’d gotten very far he told me what chord to play.  Well, he didn’t exactly tell me, “Play an F major 7 with an added augmented four,” but he told me where to put my fingers and that’s the chord he wanted.  As root progressions go, it was not terribly interesting (from the V of VI to the IV), but the dissonance inherent in the chord was interesting, and he wanted to slow it down so I shifted to a light picking (I tend to avoid tempo changes in my songs, preferring meter changes that achieve the same effect but are more precise).  He sang the next words, You want what you want, creating the shape of the melody for the bridge, and then started spitting out words that he liked as individual lines.  I told him to write them down, because it was obvious we were going to lose some potentially good material if we didn’t do something.  He wrote you got the joy, Jesus got the pain, then crossed out Jesus got and replaced it with He took, and added away to the end.  He next wrote your sin is a stain–redemption sustains, but it was all disjointed.  I said I wanted to invert that line, strike the away, and make pain rhyme with stain, but we needed a line between to make it fit.  He suggested you get what you get, and with a bit of scribbling arrows on the page we wound up with

You want what you want.
You got the joy, He took the pain.
You get what you get.
Redemption sustains, sin is a stain.

I still wanted a second bridge, something that would break out of the ordinariness of the progressions so far, because the other chord in this bridge was a G six nine, and we played it in essence F to G to F to G, returning to the original progression–and the melody was only slightly different from that of the verses, although slowed.

My vision at this point was that we were going to write a third verse related to that idea of sin, do a different second bridge, and resolve it in a fourth and final verse.  The tempo being what it is, the song was moving fast and I thought felt short.  I put forward an opening line for the third verse, Asking yourself why you want to sin, and we started talking about what to say next.  The contrast between losing and winning came to the fore, and I wanted to say something about choosing to lose, but couldn’t fit it comfortably and still get to the word win for the rhyme scheme.  Between us we hammered out the second line, and along the way Adam said that the words to win should flow into the next line, the object won opening that line.  I observed that the second line in previous verses always had the double ending–again again, used and used, and that we should maintain the pattern, to win to win–and then that this would achieve what he wanted, if we made it to win.  To win victory in the opening of the next line.  The rest of that flowed quickly, and we had a third verse,

Ask yourself why you want to sin,
Why you lose, you were made to win.  To win
Victory, and to make it through
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

And now we came to the point where I wanted the second bridge, and I pushed for the resolution from the E major to go to something at least a bit unanticipated, the C major.  I also agreed again to reduce the drive.

At this point we needed a progression, and Adam said that he wanted me to go from the C up half a step, so I slid it into the D-flat major.  That certainly satisfied me for unusual progressions, and he liked it as well–but he said we needed to resolve that, and since I was the expert on that point he left it to me.  I decided I could go from the D-flat to the A-flat to the E-flat, and from there I could get back to the C easily enough (all major) and repeat the progression.  I also recognized that the last note of the melody of the verse was the E, and I could hold it into the beginning of the bridge and start this melody on the same note.  The melodic line at the first chord change was tricky, but I managed to bring it down to be on the G by the time we reached the E-flat chord, which was the common note going back to the C chord, and a leap back up to repeat the line worked.  I wrote the words with the melody at this point, and Adam put them on paper.  I also after the second descent held the G with my voice and changed the chord from the E-flat to the G major, thinking that it would give me the leading tones to get back to the A minor for my final verse.

But–

That fourth verse was supposed to resolve the message of the song.  There were probably a lot of things we could have said, but I had none of them in my mind yet and I realized that the unexpected shift to the G major chord provided a musical resolution to the song, and that the words of what was supposed to be the second bridge resolved the message rather well.  I presented the alternatives to Adam–write a closing verse, or end the song here–and he agreed that this was a decent ending for the song.  Thus our fourth verse never materialized, and our second bridge became instead our coda:

Thank God for what He’s done
To set us free
He gave His only Son
For you and me.

And you should be able to hear the song here on SoundCloud.

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#169: Do Web Logs Lower the Bar?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #169, on the subject of Do Web Logs Lower the Bar?.

I noticed something.

img0169Diary

I don’t know whether any of you noticed it, and there is an aspect to it that causes me to hope you did not, to suspect some of you did, and to think that I ought not be calling it to the attention of the rest.  But it is worth recognizing, I suppose, even if it is at my own expense to some degree.

What I noticed was that some of the web log posts I publish are not up the the same standard I would expect of my web pages.

Certainly it is the case that some of the web log subjects are what might be called transient.  I was quite surprised to see in my stats recently that someone visited the page that covered the 2015 election results for New Jersey.  I’m thinking it must have been a mistake.  Yet at the time it was important information, even if in another year it won’t even tell you who is in the Assembly, because we’ll have had another election.

It is also the case that being an eclectic sort of web log it is going to have pages that do not appeal to everyone–indeed, probably there are no pages that appeal to everyone.  I recently lost one of my Patreon supporters, and that saddens me, but he was the only person contributing as a time travel fan, and was not contributing enough to pay for one DVD per year; I’m sure he is disappointed that I haven’t done more time travel pages, but there has not been that much available to me and the budget has been particularly tight.  With pages about law, politics, music, Bible, games, logic problems, and other miscellany, there will certainly be pages that any particular reader would not read.  Yet that has always been true of the web site, and although the web log is not quite as conveniently divided into sections it does have navigation aids to help people find what they want.

What I mean, though, is that I don’t seem to apply the same standard to web log pages as I would to web pages.

I suppose that’s to be expected.  As I think about it, I recognize that I put a lot more time and thought into articles I am writing for e-zines and web sites that are not my own.  I expect more of myself, hold myself to a higher standard, when I am writing such pieces.  For one thing, I can’t go back and edit them later–which on my own site I will only do for obvious errors, never for content.  For another, something of mine published by someone else should represent the best that I can offer, both for my own reputation and for that of the publisher.  If you’re reading my work at RPGNet, or the Christian Gamers Guild, or The Learning Fountain, or any of the many other sites for which I’ve written over the decades, you might not know any more about me than what you find there.

It’s also the case that, frankly, anyone can set up his own web site, fairly cheaply and easily, write his own articles, and publish them for the world to ignore.  There is a limited number of opportunities for someone to write for someone else’s site, and to be asked to do so, or permitted to do so, is something of a recognition above the ordinary.

Of course, there are even fewer opportunities to write for print, and fewer now than there once were.  Not that you can’t publish your own printed books and comics and magazines, but that those that exist are selective in what they will print, and so the bar is higher.

The web log system makes it quicker and easier to write and publish something.  I suspect that there are many bloggers out there who open the software, start typing what they want to say, and hit publish, as if it were an e-mail.  I maintain a higher standard than that–all of my web log posts are composed offline, and with the only exceptions being the “breaking news” sort (like the aforementioned election results page) they all get held at least overnight, usually several days, reread and edited and tweaked until I am happy with them.  (As I write this, there are two web log posts awaiting publication which have been pending for two days, and I will review this one several times over the time that they go to press.)  But even so, the standard of what I will publish as a web log post is considerably lower than that which I will publish as a web page.

In that sense, the web log becomes more like diary, something in which you compose your thoughts and then ignore them–except that this diary is open to the world.  I think–I hope–all bloggers put more thought and care into their web log posts than they do into forum conversations and Tweets and Facebook posts.  However, while I have read some web log posts that were excellent, I have also read a few that caused me to wonder whether the author was thinking.  I try to keep some standard here, but I admit that sometimes I wonder whether I posted something because I thought it was worth posting or because I wanted to keep the blog living and active.

In any case, if you read something here and wonder why I bothered to post it, perhaps now you have a better idea of that.

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#168: Praying for You

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #168, on the subject of Praying for You.

A number of years ago I was playing quite a few venues and interacting with quite a few other Christan musicians, and something began to bother me.  At first it was that we needed to support and encourage each other, and I took steps to do this, connecting venues with artists as I was able.  However, I realized that no one had ever mentioned praying for me, and I had not mentioned praying for anyone else in music ministry, and that this was something I should remedy.  I sent notes to–well, quite a few people whom I knew were involved in music ministry, and offered to pray for them on condition that they keep me informed of their situation (that’s going to be explained).  A very few accepted my offer; one offered to reciprocate.  Then over the next year or so they all dropped off the radar, as it were, no longer answering my inquiries about their situation, and today I again have no Christian musicians on my prayer list.

And that just is not right, so this is an attempt to fix that.

img0168Hands

On the other hand, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m being exclusive.  I have quite a few Christian ministers on my “friends” list who are not musicians, or not primarily musicians, and quite a few who are not involved in ministry but would want my prayers (and some of you are indeed already getting them, whether you want them or not).  So I am putting this forward as a sort of “open offer”, that anyone who wants me to pray for him (or her or them) should contact me, and I will put you on my prayer list.

However, I have a few conditions.

The one idea that is not a condition is that you pray for me.  I would not feel at all right saying that I will pray for you if you will pray for me–it’s too mercenary, I suppose.  I certainly do not object to you praying for me, and if you wish for me to meet conditions similar to those I am about to state here, I will certainly endeavor to comply.  Nor is it a condition that you support my Patreon or PalPal.me campaigns–a lot of people who need prayer don’t have money, although I’m sure that people who have a lot of money still need prayer (not something I really know from personal experience).  I am certainly grateful to those of you who do support my efforts in any way at all, but I need to assure those who cannot do so or cannot justify doing so that they will not be treated the worse for that.

My conditions are based on II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

What I derive from that is the point that God wants us to agree in prayer, and answers prayers when more of us are agreeing, because that way when He answers there are more of us saying thank You to Him for the answer.  That, though, means that if I am going to pray for you, I also have to know how God is answering those prayers.  So this is how it works.

  1. You must connect with me through Facebook.  If we are not already “Friends” send a “Friend Request”, and I’ll approve it and ask how we’re connected.  Just tell me that you read this post and wanted me to pray for you, along with some idea of who you are (for example, pastor, Christian musician, Christian gamer, reader of my other materials).  I am betting that I will already have some notion of who most people who want my prayers are, but I don’t always connect names to people quickly, so at least jog my memory.  I do not really do e-mail–every few months I download a few hundred letters, throw most of them away, and see if there’s anything important in what remains.  Facebook is the way I communicate.
  2. Tell me enough about your situation that I can pray intelligently.  This is not Romper Room (and I pray for Sally, and Jeff, and Mary, and Mark….).  If I’m to know how God answers these prayers, I have to be praying for something particular enough that you can tell me about the answer.  I have a theological objection to those “unspoken” requests which I should probably discuss somewhere sometime, but as Paul says about people who pray in tongues in public meetings, if I don’t know what is being prayed, how can I say “amen”?
  3. Which of course brings up the final condition.  Probably about once a month I’m going to get a reminder to drop you a note to ask what is happening.  That’s so you can tell me what good things God has done and I can give thanks for them, and so you can update me regarding what I ought to be praying.  If I miss a month, don’t worry–I’m still praying.  If you miss a month, don’t worry, I’ll keep praying for a few months without hearing anything.  However, after a few months I’ll decide that you’re not answering and I’ll drop you from the list.  I can’t very well give thanks to God for answers to prayers on your behalf if you don’t tell me what God has done on your behalf.  You are, of course, welcome to drop me notes between my reminders, either to let me know about God’s answers or to redirect my prayers.  I do not want your impersonal newsletter; I want to interact with you directly, to hear from you what God is doing.  If it’s not worth a few minutes to do that, you don’t really want my prayers.

So that’s the offer.  I should caveat that the only people for whom I pray every day are my wife and myself (she because she deserves it, I because I need it); how often I pray for you will depend on a lot of factors including how many people ask for prayer, how serious I perceive your need, and the limits of the program that manages the prayer list.  Obviously I am offering to pray for individuals, but the offer also extends to individuals who want me to pray for a ministry they represent, such as their band, who thus are promising to keep me informed regarding the band.  I also don’t promise that I won’t give you advice if I think you’re asking for prayer about something with which I can help; it’s free advice, and you can decide whether it’s worth as much as you paid for it without offending me.  You can also ask me to stop praying for you (which I assume you would do if my monthly queries are irksome) and I’ll take you off the list.

I think that covers it.  Any questions?

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#166: A Ghetto of Our Own

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #166, on the subject of A Ghetto of Our Own.

This is not about Christian music.  It is about race and discrimination and prejudice and segregation.  It only happens to start with Christian music.  That doesn’t mean that what it says about Christian music is not true or valuable; it only means that it’s not the point here, and if you’re not interested in the Christian music field you should read that part anyway, because it’s the example.

When I started in Contemporary Christian Music, there was no airplay for it.  The Christian radio stations in the northern parts of the United States considered The Bill Gaither Trio daring and progressive; those in the south played The Speers and Doug Oldman and other artists who were called “Southern Gospel” which meant country that sang about Jesus and avoided any of those modern rock-‘n’-roll tropes–The Imperials went too far, and particularly when they incorporated black singer Sherman Andrus in a “white” gospel band.  “Black Gospel” was also out there somewhere, but mostly in paid programming on Sunday mornings broadcast live from a local “black” church.  The dream of Christian “rock” fans was to have “our music”, Larry Norman, Love Song, Andre Crouch (although some would have niched him as “Contemporary Gospel” rather than “Contemporary Christian” or “Christian Rock”–already the fans were fragmenting) played on major secular radio stations–which in New York generally meant AM Top 40 like WABC or FM Rock like WNEW.

Denzel Washington, two-time Academy Award winner nominated again in 2017
Denzel Washington, two-time Academy Award winner nominated again in 2017

There were a lot of reasons why that wasn’t going to happen, and there is solid evidence that radio station programmers were resistant to including any songs that mentioned God or Jesus in a positive context–but then, there were other reasons as well.  I have the greatest of respect for the artists of those early years, and believe that their abilities were second to none.  However, that was an era in which successful artists in the secular field were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a record, and those amounts were not available in the Christian market.  Besides, the segregation of Christian music was already established–you never heard Southern Gospel on Country radio stations save perhaps on Sunday mornings, and stations that played Tony Randall and Frank Sinatra did not also play similar artists singing hymns.  What we got instead, the big success, was our own radio stations–mostly small stations in the suburbs who could not compete with bigger city stations in the crowded metropolitan markets looking for a niche that would create an audience and sell advertising time.  With the rise of the Jesus Movement, this was at least potentially promising, and such stations could also sell airtime to preachers in quarter-hour blocks to help cover the bills.  They began appearing in the early mid seventies.

It wasn’t only in radio that Christian artists felt excluded.  In 1969 the Gospel Music Association launched the Dove Awards, in essence Grammy Awards for Christian artists who couldn’t win real Grammies because of the perceived secular bias of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, although market share undoubtedly had a big part in that.  Since some of the record labels producing Contemporary Christian artists had also been producing (and were continuing to produce) Inspirational and Southern and Black Gospel artists, the Dove Awards soon had categories for Christian Contemporary and Rock genres.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The expression Preachin’ to the choir refers to anyone delivering a message to people who already know it and agree with you.  Politicians do it all the time:  in the main, candidates for office are not trying to persuade you to their position, they are trying to convince you that they already agree with your position so you should vote for them.  However, the Christian Contemporary music of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by evangelistic music–songs whose focus was on persuading unbelievers to turn to Jesus–and the venues where you could hear these songs were all frequented almost exclusively by believers, people who had already embraced the message.  (This is less true today, but more in the first part than the second:  a substantial percentage of Christian Contemporary music is intended to deliver messages to believers, pastoral/worship and teaching music ministries, with only a small part being evangelistic.)

A guitarist/singer-songwriter named Mark Heard might have been the first to object to this situation in the music field.  In the early 1980s he said that in America we were creating a Christian ghetto, that we were isolating ourselves from the secular world with Christian radio stations, Christian bookstores, Christian decorations, Christian television, all of it sold to Christians and ignored by the world.  Heard took his music to Europe, where there were no Christian venues and the radio stations were all state-run, and focused on competing in the secular market there so that he could reach the secular audience.  Then-major Christian artists Pat Terry and (band) Daniel Amos supported this and followed suit, attempting to create work that would break the Christian mold.  However, there was very little crossover from Christian artists to the secular market, limited to people like Dan Peek whose first solo album had the boost in secular markets that he had been one of the principles in the Pop vocal band America, and his hit song All Things Are Possible was not so clearly a “Christian” song as others on the album.  The Oakridge Boys had managed to crossover from Southern Gospel to Country, but only by abandoning all music with a Christian message becoming effectively a secular band, and when it was announced that Contemporary Christian superstar Amy Grant would be making a secular album (from which she did put a single on the Top 40 charts) there was an explosion of controversy among Christians who did not want to support her in “abandoning her faith” (which she clearly never did despite her rocky marital history).

Part of their argument was certainly that Christians talking to each other do not thereby reach the world, but there was another aspect to it.  In creating our own ghetto, we compete with ourselves but inherently avoid competing with the rest of the world.  On one level the Dove Awards and Christian Charts are a wonderful way for Christians to recognize the accomplishments of each other.  On another level, it’s an admission that we are not good enough to compete in the world, to win Grammies or reach the top of the Top 40 chart–and possibly a decision that we are not going to try.  We give awards to the best Christian musicians, and in doing so say that we do not need to be as good as secular musicians.  We praise ourselves for being second-rate.

Perhaps now that I’ve put that forward, you can understand why it bothers me to see the racism expressed by programs like The American Black Film Festival Honors.  Blacks and Hispanics in the United States have created awards to honor people who perform well but not well enough to earn Oscars, Emmies, Grammies, Tonies, and other awards that are not racially limited.  Those who present the awards no doubt have the honest motivation of a belief that their people, “we”, are being snubbed by “them”, the people who nominate and choose the winners of those other awards.  However, this “ghettoization”, these awards that exclude anyone who is not one of “us”, screams that “we” are not good enough to win awards without excluding those “others”.  It’s like the women’s sports leagues–where there is at least some justification, in the fact that male upper body strength and greater average size give unfair advantages in many sports and co-ed contact sports can be at least uncomfortable.  Yet when Maggie Dubois says that she is the women’s champion fencer and The Great Leslie easily disarms her and responds that it would have been impressive if she had been the men’s champion fencer, it expresses an attitude inherent in sexually segregated sports:  women are not good enough to compete with men, and if they are ever to win they must exclude men from their competitions.  So, too, racially-segregated awards have inherent in them the expression of the attitude that members of this race are not good enough to compete with everyone else, and so must have their own recognition ceremonies for “us” that exclude “them”.

Such awards are definitively racist, that is, inclusive/exclusive based on race; they are excused because they favor “minority” races.  If there were an American White Film Festival award, there would be protests in the streets, but the fact that such programs as do exist favor blacks or Hispanics does not make them less racist.  Worse, they create that same kind of creative ghetto, where members of a minority group are satisfied with being good enough to win these awards that don’t require them to compete with everyone else.

Incidentally, of the twenty actor nominees for the 2017 Oscars (Best and Best Supporting Actor and Actress Motion Picture Academy Awards), six are black–thirty percent.  Given that the United States Census Bureau makes the black population of American less than half that–thirteen percent–that’s an excellent showing.  Blacks do not need their own ghetto awards.  It makes you look racist, and it makes you look inferior.  You are not the latter, and should not be the former.

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#163: So You Want to Be a Christian Musician

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #163, on the subject of So You Want to Be a Christian Musician.

I have been a Christian musician–performer, composer, arranger, founder and/or director of bands–for near half a century now.

It might be argued whether that alone puts me in a position to give advice on the subject.  After all, although I have recorded an album, it would be debated whether I was ever a “successful” Christian musician.  I am not in much demand on the circuit and never have been.  However, from the time I was in high school, later in college, and then during five years as first a disk jockey and ultimately program director of a major Contemporary Christian Music radio station I talked to dozens, possibly scores, of successful Christian artists, and nearly always asked them that question:  what advice do you, as a successful Christian musician, give to anyone who wants to do what you do.  I asked such people as Noel Paul Stookey, Dan Peek, Phil Keaggy, Scott Wesley Brown, Glad, Brown Bannister, Chris Christian–well, I don’t even remember everyone I asked, let alone what they all said.  However, four of them I do remember, and I will give you something of the gist of what they said for your consideration.  I will also comment on that advice, because I think it worth contemplating.  I also think, in retrospect, that it is probably good advice for anyone who knows what he wants to be or do, and particularly for those who want to pursue artistic endeavors.

Larry Norman, perhaps the original nationally known self-identified Christian rock musician
Larry Norman, perhaps the original nationally known self-identified Christian rock musician

I will mention Barry McGuire first–probably the first truly prominent secular musician to become a leading contemporary Christian artist, who had been with The New Christie Minstrels, starred in the Broadway production Hair, and soloed with the hit Eve of Destruction, but whose signature song following his salvation was Happy Road–mostly because I do not think I can articulate what he told me.  What I remember is that the concert somewhere near Boston had ended and he was out among the audience, mobbed by people, but he heard my question and focused his entire attention on addressing it, addressing me and the rest of the audience, as if the question genuinely mattered.  What he said, and perhaps what he did, caused me upon returning home to write a song entitled Mountain, Mountain, about being what God made you to be instead of trying to be something you perceive to be great.  That actually is a good starting point for this, but we will return to it.

I was one of several reporters interviewing B. J. Thomas at Creation ’83.  At that time he was probably the most successful secular artist to turn to Christian music as an entertainer, his song Home Where I Belong introducing the singer of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and I Can’t Stop This Feeling to a Christian audience, and he had a hard time in the Christian music field precisely because he was an entertainer, not a minister.  What he said, though, was don’t think you missed your break, or that you are still waiting for your break to come.  If you are diligent, many breaks will come to you, and if you are good you can make one of them work for you, and if you miss it, another will come.

Ted Sandquist was probably the original contemporary Christian worship leader, with songs like Eternally Grateful, All That I Can Do, and Lion of Judah.  I’m afraid that when I caught up with him after a concert, his answer could have been a wonderful book, delivered orally in under a minute.    He spoke about things he called scope and ministry, and to a large degree was the first person ever to get me thinking of some of the things I discussed recently in the music ministry series–along with whether your calling is to be nationally known or simply serve in a local congregation.  In short, his advice was to think in terms of ministry, whether you are called to it, and what is the nature and extent of your calling.  If you follow this web log, you have already seen the extensive materials I have written on that.

Finally, I caught up with Larry Norman after one of his concerts at Gordon College.  Larry is probably the original nationally-known Christian rock musician, best known for I Wish We’d All Been Ready, Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation, and the album title Only Visiting This Planet.  The intensity of his response was overwhelming, and the focus of it was in the question, why do you want this?

Before I address that further, I should mention two things about Larry that I learned separately from that.  One is that he was known for a gift of discernment, that he could see things about people that they often did not recognize about themselves.  It may well be that he would have given different advice to someone else, but that this was what he thought I needed to hear.  The other is that he had a very hard life as a Christian rock musician.  Often he would play a concert and after the fact be informed that “apparently the Lord did not provide” enough money to pay him.  He was then criticized for subsequently insisting on signed contracts for concerts that could be enforced against those who did not pay what they agreed, and quite specific terms concerning what his hosts would provide such as accommodations.  He rubbed shoulders with people like Paul McCartney, but he did not find the life at all glamorous or enriching.  That might have impacted his view as well.

However, I think that there is a level to that advice that we all need to hear:  Do not want that; it is not something to want.

It came to me recently, as I had again heard a story of some Christian band that had been formed to provide music for one event who then found themselves propelled to the top of the Christian music charts and sent on national and international tours.  The famous story is that of Amy Grant, who at sixteen spent a bit of money on some studio time to record a song for her mother’s birthday, and the recording was heard by Christian record producers Brown Bannister and Chris Christian, who quickly signed her to a major Christian label recording contract and propelled her to stardom–perhaps the first contemporary Christian recording artist to crossover into secular success.  God clearly sometimes chooses some people to be “successful” Christian artists who had made no effort to be that; it makes sense that He has a hand in choosing those whose success appears to be built on years of hard work.  There are equally many stories we do not hear, of people who worked hard to achieve what never came, and of people who hoped maybe that one day lightning would strike, as it were, and they would be propelled to success, to whatever level of fame is found in Dove Awards and Christian music chart-toppers.  If God wants you to be there, He will get you there; it may be that He wants you to work hard at your music and stay where you are, and it should be sufficient motivation for the work that God is pleased with it.

It is also the case that this is not something to want.  The work of a “successful” Christian musician is hard work–constant travel, brief stays in strange places, one performance after another.  I have seen how tired such people often are, but this is what they do, and they will do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.  It wreaks havoc with family life, as either you take your family with you to hotels or more commonly in a camper, or you leave them behind while you travel for weeks or sometimes months without them, sleeping in the “bus”, a modified camper shared with the rest of the band.  Those who make it work either managed to reach a high enough level of success before marriage that they were able to do very short tours and fly to most events, or have other jobs frequently as pastors such that they finish concerts Saturday night and are in church Sunday morning.  And the money is not all that good–better, perhaps, than it was for Christian artists a few decades back, but the entire music industry is changing, in a sense collapsing, so that even the major stars do not make what they once did.

Of course, it is not so much the money as the recognition, that you are on stage, people are listening to your songs on the radio and the Internet, you are traveling the world singing.  That is also called fame.  But then, fame in the entire music industry is not what it was–if you heard a list of the twenty most successful musicians in the world today, it is likely that you would not recognize several of the names simply because styles have fragmented, and no one is truly informed about rock, rap, country, Christian, and the wealth of other genres that command substantial but discrete audiences.  Take it from me.  I might not be a “successful” musician, but I am world famous–as a role playing game author and theorist, defender of hobby games, time travel theory writer, and general writer–and it has almost no cash value and very little impact on my daily life apart from that I have to do the work.  Or hear Paul Simon.  He tells a story of a night when he and Art Garfunkle were sitting in a car in a park under one of New York City’s many bridges, and a song came on the radio–their song, Sounds of Silence, which the disk jockey announced was now the number one song in the country, by Simon and Garfunkle.  At that moment, Art Garfunkle said to him, “Gee, wherever those two guys are right now, it must be a real great party.”  Being at the top of the chart doesn’t mean nothing, but it doesn’t mean much.

Of course, get enough fame, and you have to reorganize your life to insulate yourself against the crowds.  You are not going to get that kind of fame doing this, and the admiration you do get will perhaps bring a smile to your face from time to time, but it’s going to prove to be much less than you imagined.

More on point, though, and connecting what Barry McGuire said to what Larry Norman said:  this is not something you should want.  What you should want is to know God, to become what He made you to be, and to seek to do what He wants you to do in life.  If that includes being a famous or successful musician, He will bring you there; He won’t lead you where you want to go, though, only where He knows you will become the best you He made you to be.  One thing I needed to learn over the years was that had I been a successful Christian musician early in my life I never would have been any of these other things–I never would have written the role playing game or become involved with the hobby gamers whose lives I have in some small way touched, never would have undertaken to write about time travel, never would have studied law or written about politics, never would have become chaplain of an international online organization, never would have done most of the things for which I am recognized.  There was so much of who I am that I never would have discovered, that no one would have known, had God moved me in a straight line to what I always thought was the only thing I could do well–music.  He wanted me to become the teacher, the writer, the influence that I am.  I might have been a great musician, but I would never have been anything else.

Peter Hopper was the drummer in a band called Rock Garden, who played their penultimate concert at Carnegie Hall.  I never talked with him despite having a more than passing acquaintance with the band’s rhythm guitarist Dennis Mullins, but a few weeks after that concert, after they had played their farewell concert, I heard him speak about it.  It was what he had wanted all his life, and as he sat on stage playing for the crowd he looked around and said, is this really what I wanted?  Why did I want this?  He told us that God promises that if we seek Him He will give us the desires of our heart, and said that in his experience God had done that, given him what he had always wanted, so he would be able to see how empty it really was, and how the only thing worth desiring was God.

So don’t want this.  Don’t want to be a musician, or anything else for that matter.  Want to know God, and to find His path for you.  That’s the only desire in life that is guaranteed to be fulfilled and to satisfy.  It is also the only path that will bring you anywhere worth being.

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#151: A Musician’s Resume

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #151, on the subject of A Musician’s Resume.

I am a musician–always have been, a music major in high school, my kindergarten teacher dubbed me her “little songbird”, and I tell people that English is my second language.  I am good at it (I do not believe God intends for us to denigrate our abilities by lying)–but I don’t get as many opportunities to do something with it as I would like.

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I belong to several online Christian musician groups, and periodically I see notices seeking someone for a band.  I am always a bit hesitant as to how to respond to these.  For one thing, I am particularly bad at self-promotion and do not like to do it; for another, I have sometimes been rejected without explanation or, worse, completely ignored, and that hurts.  (Rejected with an explanation is always better, even if the explanation is offensive.)  Beyond that, well, when you have as much experience in the Christian music field as I have, you also have a lot of questions going into just about any opportunity.  Sometimes I think that the people trying to form bands haven’t really thought through any of it, and the questions confuse them.  So to resolve all of these matters, I decided I would put details about my experience, abilities, and hopes here, and in future refer people here who want to know more about me.

This is something of a confusing and oversized page, because it really is attempting to accomplish three different goals:

  1. Convey something of who I am to to anyone seeking musicians for solo appearances;
  2. Open the door to musicians who might be interested in becoming part of a reformed Collision;
  3. Communicate my availability to any band looking for someone with one or more of my talents.

While those goals are not completely compatible, they overlap sufficiently that three separate pages would be highly redundant.  Thus there is much here that is of no interest to persons in connection with any one of those, but hopefully everything that any of them would want to know is here.

It seemed best to begin with a list of bands in which I have been a member, and what my part in it was.  I am undoubtedly omitting a number of them, but the list is extensive even so.  I fronted[1] for all of these, but always shared the position with other members of the band.

Band Experience

  • The Last Psalm, evangelism pop-rock band; founder, director, arranger, primary composer, lead and supporting vocals, electric rhythm and second lead guitars, keyboards.
  • The Agape Singers, Luther College official ministry and promotional ensemble; student director, soloist and supporting vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, contributing composer/arranger.
  • Jacob’s Well, pop-rock band with unfocused ministry for playing local coffeehouses; contributing composer/arranger, lead and supporting vocals, bass guitar.
  • Aurora, formed to support evangelistic outreach meetings; contributing composer/arranger, supporting vocals, bass guitar.
  • Topsfield Fair Evangelism Band, semi-official Gordon College ministry band formed for evangelistic support; contributing composer/arranger, lead and supporting vocals, bass guitar.
  • TerraNova, evangelism pop/rock band; director, arranger, primary composer, lead and supporting vocals, electric rhythm and second lead guitars, second bass guitar, saxophone.
  • Cardiac Output, teaching ministry band; founder, director, arranger, composer, lead and supporting vocals, electric rhythm and lead guitar.
  • 7dB, unofficial worship band at the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh which was exploring other ministry directions; co-founder, co-director, arranger, contributing composer, supporting vocals, third guitar (rhythm, lead, and impact), second bass guitar, keyboards, flute.
  • Collision, evangelism rock band arising from 7dB dissolution; co-founder, director, arranger, primary composer, lead and supporting vocals, instruments as 7dB but eventually moving to bass guitar only.
  • Silver Lake Community Church Worship Band, not ever really given a name, I was asked to help the worship leader organize musicians for leading music in services; directed as a vehicle of teaching him to direct, supporting vocals, bass guitar, rhythm and lead guitars, piano.

I have also done a substantial amount of solo work[2], and filled in as requested in other bands, most recently on lead/rhythm guitar or bass guitar for several of the monthly Relentless worship services at the Bridgeton Assembly of God church.

Notes on Musical Abilities

  • As a composer, I have written hundreds of songs in many styles, from choral to rock to country to jazz.  Dozens of these are still in my repertoire.  I tend to write when I have the opportunity to perform, crafting songs to fit the available ensemble.
  • I generally have avoided doing covers without a good reason (I consider audience participation a valid reason), and so as an arranger I have always found a way to make any song significantly different from the original.  I am particularly good with vocals, having worked with as many as six parts or as few as two.
  • My vocals are tenor–I was first tenor in New Jersey All-state Chorus twice, and have had voice classes and lessons including a session with one of the top voice teachers in the country; I have coached voice.  My comfortable range runs from low C (middle of bass clef) to high A (middle of treble clef); my effectively useful range extends maybe a minor third above that, a fifth below it.  I am very good on pitch and blend, and can keep a part well enough that if someone else loses theirs I can jump to it to put them right and then return to mine.
  • Some people rave about my bass guitar playing; it seems easy to me, except when I have to play a complicated part and sing a different complicated part at the same time.  I manage.  I have played several different kinds of bass guitars over the decades, but currently own a Carlo Robelli six-string which I tune to B Standard; I probably have access to a four-string acoustic bass guitar if needed.
  • I am an excellent rhythm guitarist who can name any chord you can play and probably play any chord you can name.  I finger pick and chord frill easily and understand how the position of the chord can impact the flavor of the music.  I am a passable lead guitarist who prefers to let someone else do the lead work and coach them if they need it, providing second lead support for double leads, back-and-forths, and similar passages.  I have never been able to find (or afford) effects boxes that I liked/could use, but I have done some cry off the guitar itself, and designed and built a channel changer box I use to switch to a louder channel on the amplifier as needed.  I have or have access to several electric guitars, none of them noteworthy, and one non-electrified acoustic guitar.
  • I consider my keyboards playing passable, useful for a band that doesn’t need a full-on keyboard player but wants keyboards for occasional use.  I’ve taught beginner piano and coached more experienced players in understanding different keyboarding styles; I write keyboard parts when necessary for a particular player to capture a particular sound.  Some of my songs were written on and for the piano as the primary instrument.
  • As to other instruments, flute and saxophone have been mentioned, and there are a score of others I have played and could play again.  My saxophone is badly in need of repair, but I have access to flute, violin, viola, ocarina, dulcimer, and probably other instruments I’m not remembering.

If you hand me an instrument I’ve never seen before, within an hour I will play you a song I wrote for it.  I’ve done it with the fife, tin whistle, recorder, dulcimer, and several other instruments.  I am no longer very good at tuba and don’t have one, and my trumpet playing has never been good and the trumpet needs repair, but if you’re looking for someone who can fill in with odd instruments, I probably fit the bill.

Equipment

As mentioned, I have or have access to a six-string bass, a couple of six-string guitars, a flute, and several other miscellaneous instruments; I also have access to a midi keyboard (seventy-six keys).  I have several amplifiers and quite a few speakers, a few low-end microphones, a sixteen channel mixing board, and miscellaneous equipment such as cables and mic stands.

I also have a sound guy who will probably come with me (Hi, Mike) who has a fair amount of equipment as well, and knows people from whom he can borrow more.

Minstry Considerations

I have written extensively about the relationship between music and ministry in previous entries on this web log; I have included a list of relevant articles at the end.  My own ministry is specifically that of teacher.  Although I would hope that would be integrated into whatever is ahead, I have long considered evangelistic bands very important and have worked with many, and I have also worked with pastoral/worship ministry bands.  If I’m joining your band, I’m supporting your ministry.

All of the previously mentioned bands were ministry bands.  I have undergraduate degrees in Biblical Studies from Luther College of the Bible and Liberal Arts (formerly) in Teaneck, NJ, and Gordon College in Wenham, MA (plus a Juris Doctore from Widener University School of Law, and a lapsed membership in Mensa).  For about the past two decades I have been the Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, an international interdenominational Christian organization; I have published several books on Christian life, most famously Faith and Gaming about integrating our leisure activities with our Christianity.  I taught Biblical Studies at a fledgeling Bible College in Pitman[3], and continue to do so online through the auspices of the Christian Gamers Guild.

I was an on-air personality on one of the nation’s leading Contemporary Christian Radio stations[4] for half a decade, where I interviewed many artists and others in the Christian music industry, taught Bible online, and otherwise ministered to the listeners.

My Hopes and Expectations

I have done a lot of solo work, and am certainly willing to sing and play solo anywhere that wants me.  It is not what I prefer for two primary reasons.  The more important is that it is so limiting, because there is only so much one person who is not able to use computer-generated musical accompaniment can do alone on stage.  The lesser is that I don’t like to feel like I’m putting myself forward, so I insist on sharing the stage and the spotlight with others.  I have long told my band members that everyone in the band is there to make everyone else in the band look good, not to worry about how they themselves look because that’s the responsibility of everyone else in the band.  It’s easier to do that if there’s actually a band, and I’m not alone in the spotlight.  When I do solo appearances, I try to include some time teaching, because that is ultimately my ministry.[5]

If I “had my druthers, I’druther” reform Collision.  For one thing, the band has a name and a following including an extant album.  For another, I like the concept, the minstry purposes, the goals.  But I’m not wedded to this, and if someone is interested in including me in whatever ministry they are doing, that’s something I will seriously consider.

The vision for Collision is to be the band people tell other people they need to hear, to do music that is on the rock side of contemporary, and to use it to proclaim the gospel as an evangelistic outreach.  My expectations are that everyone plays an instrument; I’d like several vocalists, but understand that not everyone can sing.  The ideal instrumentation was conceived as lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, drums, and a “fifth instrument” that floats between keyboards and other instruments as needed; at our height we replaced the rhythm guitar with keyboards quite well, and lost the fifth instrument, but ran two voices (we were adding a rhythm guitar/vocalist just before we started losing people).  Again, though, it’s flexible:  if the Lord provides a different collection of musicians, that’s what we will use.

I expect that any Christian band will have some ministry purpose, and will have some understanding of what that purpose is, sufficient to articulate it to me.

My Limitations

  • I am getting old and have had two hernia operations; I can’t easily roadie the heavy equipment anymore, although I do have a hand truck to help with that.  I also struggle with asthma, and so have to avoid smoke, dust, and pollen as much as possible so I can keep breathing.  It also limits my physical exertions somewhat, but not as much as it might.
  • I am terrible at self-promotion.  I am not a salesman.
  • I do not have a space for a band to practice.  Collision practiced in my living room when we did not have a drummer, but with the drummer we had to set up on the front deck, which is very much weather-sensitive.  Whatever we do, we will have to practice somewhere else.
  • I am located just outside Bridgeton, New Jersey (Hopewell Township), a stone’s throw from the Delaware Bay if you’re Sandy Kofax.  I can get transportation, but probably can’t travel much farther than an hour for weekly rehearsals, less for more frequent ones.  Otherwise, my schedule can be kept fairly open, and I can almost always be where I promise to be (e.g., barring medical emergencies and transportation failures).  I expect that I would be able to arrange to tour, if the tour was going to pay for itself.

I have worked with seasoned professionals, and have trained rank amateurs, and am open to discussing options with anyone who thinks I might be good for whatever they are doing, or that they might like to work with me.

My Questions

  • Where and when do you expect to practice?
  • What kind of music are you doing, and are you open to including compositions by the members?
  • What is your sense of your ministry, your ministry goals?
  • What are your hopes for the band’s future–are you wanting to stay local, hoping to go national, or what?
  • How is the band organized–is there one person who makes all the decisions, or two or three people who are in charge jointly, or is it the theory that all the members participate in all the decisions?  Or indeed, are different aspects overseen by different members–one musical director, one financial manager, one booking agent, and so forth?

So if you think I’m your guy, be ready to answer those questions and get in touch with me.

*****

Here are those hopefully helpful articles about Christian music and ministry:

*****

Footnotes:

  • 1  I use the word “fronted” to mean that I would speak to the audience, such as introducing songs and band members; it also usually included sharing some teaching or testimony.

  • 2  When I perform solo I usually play an acoustic guitar and/or an acoustic piano if one is available on site; I sometimes play an electric guitar and/or electric piano.

  • 3  The school was named The Institute of the Great Commission, and was started by a local church named The Rock; I taught one term, but then a church split undercut the funding and the school laid off half of the four-member faculty.

  • 4  WNNN-FM, licensed to Canton, NJ, with studios in Salem.  Sometime in the late 1970s it was reportedly number twelve on a list of such stations, and when I was program director I was informed by one of the major label radio relations people that we were one of the fifty stations she contacted every week.  It was sold and pirated for parts a few years after my departure.

  • 5  My teaching is readily available on many posts on this web log, but #121:  The Christian and the Law is particularly significant as an example of a teaching from a concert, and #88:  Sheep and Goats as something I taught at a service which was not a concert.

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#150: 2016 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #150, on the subject of 2016 Retrospective.

Periodically I try to look back over some period of time and review what I have published, and the end of the year is a good time to do this.  Thus before the new year begins I am offering you a reminder of articles you might have seen–or might have missed–over the past twelve months.  I am not going to recall them all.  For one thing, that would be far too many, and it in some cases will be easier to point to another location where certain categories of articles are indexed (which will appear more obvious as we progress).  For another, although we did this a year ago in web log post #34:  Happy Old Year, we also did it late in March in #70:  Writing Backwards and Forwards, when we had finished posting Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  So we will begin with the last third of March, and will reference some articles through indices and other sources.

I have divided articles into the categories which I thought most appropriate to them.  Many of these articles are reasonably in two or more categories–articles related to music often relate to writing, or Bible and theology; Bible and politics articles sometimes are nearly interchangeable.  I, of course, think it is all worth reading; I hope you think it at least worth considering reading.

I should also explain those odd six-digit numbers for anyone for whom they are not obvious, because they are at least non-standard.  They are YYMMDD, that is, year, month, and day of the date of publication of each article, each represented by two digits.  Thus the first one which appears, 160325, represents this year 2016, the third month March, and the twenty-fifth day.

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Let’s start with writings about writing.

There is quite a bit that should be in this category.  After all, that previous retrospective post appeared as we finished posting that first novel, and we have since posted the second, all one hundred sixty-two chapters of which are indexed in their own website section, Old Verses New.  If you’ve not read the novels, you have some catching up to do.  I also published one more behind-the-writings post on that first novel, #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One 160325, to cover notes unearthed in an old file on the hard drive.

Concurrent with the release of those second novel chapters there were again behind-the-writings posts, this time each covering nine consecutive chapters and hitting the web log every two weeks.  Although they are all linked from that table-of-contents page, since they are web log posts I am listing them here:  #74:  Another Novel 160421; #78:  Novel Fears 160506; #82:  Novel Developments 160519; #86:  Novel Conflicts 160602; #89:  Novel Confrontations 160623; #91:  Novel Mysteries 160707; #94:  Novel Meetings 160721; #100:  Novel Settling 160804; #104:  Novel Learning 160818; #110:  Character Redirects 160901;
#113:  Character Movements 160916;
#116:  Character Missions 160929;
#119:  Character Projects 161013;
#122:  Character Partings 161027; #128:  Character Gatherings 161110; #134:  Versers in Space 161124; #142:  Characters Unite 161208; and #148:  Characters Succeed 161222.

I have also added a Novel Support Section which at this point contains character sheets for several of the characters in the first novel and one in the second; also, if you have enjoyed reading the novels and have not seen #149:  Toward the Third Novel 161223, it is a must-read.

Also on the subject of writing, I discussed what was required for someone to be identified as an “author” in, appropriately, #72:  Being an Author 160410.  I addressed #118:  Dry Spells 161012 and how to deal with them, and gave some advice on #132:  Writing Horror 161116.  There was also one fun Multiverser story which had been at Dice Tales years ago which I revived here, #146:  Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships 161220

I struggled with where on this list to put #120:  Giving Offense 161014.  It deals with political issues of sexuality and involves a bit of theological perspective, but ultimately is about the concept of tolerance and how we handle disagreements.

It should be mentioned that not everything I write is here at M. J. Young Net; I write a bit about writing in my Goodreads book reviews.

Of course, I also wrote a fair amount of Bible and Theology material.

Part of it was apologetic, that is, discussing the reasons for belief and answers to the arguments against it.  In this category we have #73:  Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts 160413, #76:  Intelligent Simulation 160424 (specifically addressing an incongruity between denying the possibility of “Intelligent Design” while accepting that the universe might be the equivalent of a computer program), and #84:  Man-made Religion 160527 (addressing the charge that the fact all religions are different proves none are true).

Other pages are more Bible or theology questions, such as #88:  Sheep and Goats 160617, #90:  Footnotes on Guidance 160625, #121:  The Christian and the Law 161022, and #133:  Your Sunday Best 161117 (on why people dress up for church).

#114:  St. Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles 160917 is probably a bit of both, as it is a response to a criticism of Christian faith (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, but impacting all of us).

There was also a short miniseries of posts about the first chapter of Romans, the sin and punishment it presents, and how we as believers should respond.  It appeared in four parts:  #138:  The Sin of Romans I 161204, #139:  Immorality in Romans I 161205, #140:  Societal Implications of Romans I 161206, and #141:  The Solution to the Romans I Problem 161207.

Again, not everything I wrote is here.  The Faith and Gaming series and related materials including some from The Way, the Truth, and the Dice are being republished at the Christian Gamers Guild; to date, twenty-six such articles have appeared, but more are on the way including one written recently (a rules set for what I think might be a Christian game) which I debated posting here but decided to give to them as fresh content.  Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s Bible Study continues, having completed I & II Peter and now entering the last chapter of I John.

Again, some posts which are listed below as political are closely connected to principles of faith; after all, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are inextricably connected.  Also, quite a few of the music posts are also Bible or theology posts, since I have been involved in Christian music for decades.

So Music will be the next subject.

Since it is something people ask musicians, I decided to give some thought and put some words to #75:  Musical Influences 160423, the artists who have impacted my composing, arranging, and performances.

I also reached into my memories of being in radio, how it applies to being a musician and to being a writer, in #77:  Radio Activity 160427.

I wrote a miniseries about ministry and music, what it means to be a minister and how different kinds of ministries integrate music.  It began by saying not all Christian musicians are necessarily ministers in #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect 160724, and then continued with #97:  Ministry Calling 160728, #98:  What Is a Minister? 160730, #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle 160803, #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry 160808, #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry 160812, #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor 160814, #106:  The Teacher Music Ministry 160821, and
#107:  Miscellaneous Music Ministries 160824.  As something of an addendum, I posted #109:  Simple Songs 160827, a discussion of why so many currently popular songs seem to be musically very basic, and why given their purpose that is an essential feature.

In related areas, I offered #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry 160903 explaining why recored companies are failing, #129:  Eulogy for the Record Album 161111 discussing why this is becoming a lost art form, and #147:  Traditional versus Contemporary Music 161221 on the perennial argument in churches about what kinds of songs are appropriate.

The lyrics to my song Free 161017 were added to the site, because it was referenced in one of the articles and I thought the readers should be able to find them if they wished.

There were quite a few articles about Law and Politics, although despite the fact that this was an “election year” (of course, there are elections every year, but this one was special), most of them were not really about that.  By March the Presidential race had devolved into such utter nonsense that there was little chance of making sense of it, so I stopped writing about it after talking about Ridiculous Republicans and Dizzying Democrats.

Some were, of course.  These included the self-explanatory titles #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey 161104, #124:  The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions 161105, #125:  My Presidential Fears 161106, and #127:  New Jersey 2016 Election Results 161109, and a few others including #126:  Equity and Religion 161107 about an argument in Missouri concerning whether it should be legal to give state money to child care and preschool services affiliated with religious groups, and #131:  The Fat Lady Sings 161114, #136:  Recounting Nonsense 161128, and #143:  A Geographical Look at the Election 161217, considering the aftermath of the election and the cries to change the outcome.

We had a number of pages connected to the new sexual revolution, including #79:  Normal Promiscuity 160507, #83:  Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body! 160521, and #115:  Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference 160926.

Other topics loosely under discrimination include #87:  Spanish Ice Cream 160616 (about whether a well-known shop can refuse to take orders in languages other than English), #130:  Economics and Racism 161112 (about how and why unemployment stimulates racist attitudes), and #135:  What Racism Is 161127 (explaining why it is possible for blacks to have racist attitudes toward whites).  Several with connections to law and economics include #105:  Forced Philanthropy 160820 (taxing those with more to give to those with less), #108:  The Value of Ostentation 160826 (arguing that the purchase of expensive baubles by the rich is good for the poor), #137:  Conservative Penny-pinching 161023 (discussing spending cuts), and #145:  The New Internet Tax Law 161219 (about how Colorado has gotten around the problem of charging sales tax on Internet purchases).

A few other topics were hit, including one on freedom of speech and religion called #144:  Shutting Off the Jukebox 161218, one on scare tactics used to promote policy entitled #80:  Environmental Blackmail 160508, and one in which court decisions in recent immigration cases seem likely to impact the future of legalized marijuana, called #96:  Federal Non-enforcement 160727.

Of course Temporal Anomalies is a popular subject among the readers; the budget has been constraining of late, so we have not done the number of analyses we would like, but we did post a full analysis of Time Lapse 160402.  We also reported on #85:  Time Travel Coming on Television 160528, and tackled two related issues, #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem 160515 and #117:  The Prime Universe 160930.

We have a number of other posts that we’re categorizing as Logic/Miscellany, mostly because they otherwise defy categorization (or, perhaps, become categories with single items within them).  #92:  Electronic Tyranny 060708 is a response to someone’s suggestion that we need to break away from social media to get our lives back.  #93:  What Is a Friend? 060720 presents two concepts of the word, and my own preference on that.  #112:  Isn’t It Obvious? 160904 is really just a couple of real life problems with logical solutions.  I also did a product review of an old washing machine that was once new, Notes on a Maytag Centennial Washing Machine 160424.

Although it does not involve much writing, with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer Gazebos in the Wild, a Pinterest board which posts photographs with taxonomies attempting to capture and identify these dangerous wild creatures in their natural habitats.  You would have to have heard the story of Eric and the Gazebo for that to be funny, I think.

Of course, I post on social media, but the interesting ones are on Patreon, and mostly because I include notes on projects still ahead and life issues impeding them.  As 2017 arrives, I expect to continue writing and posting–I already have two drafts, one on music and the other on breaking bad habits.  I invite your feedback.

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#147: Traditional versus Contemporary Music

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #147, on the subject of Traditional versus Contemporary Music.

I have probably had this discussion with quite a few people over the decades, but the one I specifically remember was Luterano, whom I knew only by that screen name through a small forum sponsored by a Lutheran Bible, book, and gift shop.  The short version of the story about what brought me there is that the editor of a now-defunct site called The Gutenberger had read my now somewhat outdated article Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E.L.C.A. and after some discussion invited me to write a piece for them, which was (preserved on my site) In Defense of Marriage, and this was the forum to which he directed his readers for discussion of the articles.

The discussion is about “new” “contemporary” Christian music being sung in churches and worship services, as against the older “traditional” songs found in our hymnals.  In these discussions I am usually defending contemporary music against someone who just does not like it, but who couches their dislike in claims that such music is itself wicked.  Luterano was different.  His view was that contemporary Christian music was simply bad, in the sense of being poor quality.  The music was trash, the lyrics pablum, the theology often weak, and the focus usually on the singer and not on God.  The songs just weren’t good Christian worship songs.

I should also mention that although I do not actually know anything about Luterano outside our forum discussions, my impression from those was that he was a young Lutheran seminary or Bible college student who was very serious about the Christian faith, but also the Lutheran definitions of it.

img0147hymnal

My defense of contemporary Christian music is not that it is better than traditional music.  I have a long history with traditional music, and have sung even some of the great works like Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, and Mendelsohnn’s Elijah.  I have been known to break out into singing selections from some of these quite spontaneously; they are wonderful–and there are many other wonderful pieces that are less well known.  I have also sung Ives’ 67th Psalm, Poulenc’s Gloria, Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom–also all wonderful pieces.  However, these are not songs which your average person is likely even to enjoy, let alone be able to sing.  As we discussed in web log post #109:  Simple Songs, people need songs they can easily learn and sing.  That usually means songs with which they are already familiar to some degree.  The Reformers knew this, and frequently wrote Christian lyrics for popular folk or drinking songs, many of which are still preserved in our hymnals.

That is, of course, an important point:  all “traditional” songs were once “contemporary” songs.  They were of a style and manner that was familiar to and comfortable for the people of their time, and they had lyrics which touched something in the lives of those people.

That is also probably why older established churches sing a lot of older “traditional” hymns and newer fellowships tend toward the “contemporary” music.  A fairly high proportion of those who attend the established churches grew up in those churches or churches very like them.  I know most of the hymns in the hymnal of my present home congregation because they have been in hymnals in Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Assemblies of God, Methodist, and other denominational churches I have attended over the decades, and I learned them.  There is perhaps a bit of nostalgia to them; there is, more importantly, a high level of familiarity–if you’ve been singing, or at least hearing, a song since you were in preschool of course it will seem easy to you, while the same song to someone who has never heard it might be very challenging.  I love both melodies for Crown Him Lord of All, but I would not say that either is an easy song for someone unfamiliar with it.  And it is not simply whether or not the congregant knows this particular song–those of us who have sung barbershop know how barbershop harmonies work, those who have sung madrigals understand the structures of madrigals, those who have sung Bach chorales are familiar with that kind of song, and those who have not sung or oft heard these different kinds of music find them something of an alien landscape to be negotiated with difficulty.  If a song is already like songs with which people sing along on the radio, the familiarity of style and feel will make it easier to sing.  Many, perhaps most, newer fellowships, contain a lot of people who are new Christians, who did not grow up immersed in churches and singing the songs established denominational Christians have always loved (and let’s face it, even among us there are some for whom In the Garden and At the Cross are those beloved traditional hymns and others for whom the real traditional hymns are Onward Christian Soldiers and Immortal, Invisible, depending on the histories of our own churches and upbringings).

But shouldn’t we be encouraging these new Christians to learn and sing the “good” songs instead of the “trash”?

Well, yes–but how do we decide which are which?

Face it, most songs in any category are trash.  Even most of the songs that were the number one songs on the top forty charts in the nineteen fifties and sixties today have at best a nostalgic appeal to people who are sixty and seventy years old.  The best of those songs, probably relatively a handful, have a “retro” appeal to today’s listeners.  However, in some sense the “best” of them survive the test of time, and are remembered and passed on to the next generation, sometimes redone by a new ensemble.

What makes them best?  That’s complicated.

One would like to think that the songs which combine the best music with the best words would be the ones that survive.  Regretably that is not so.  Many songs which are musically interesting with truly wonderful lyrics die on the vine, as it were, forgotten before they are remembered.  For a song to succeed at all, it must primarily touch something irrational in the hearers.  People have to connect to the song in some way, and if they do they will sing it or listen to it, and continue to do so for the rest of their lives.  And those songs are the ones that capture the attention of the generation–and then it gets complicated.

It gets complicated because at least some of those seemingly great songs are embraced because they capture something vital in that time and place, something unique to those people–and those songs fade away as the world changes away from them.  The next generation does not find the same connection and does not keep those songs, and if the generation after that does not revive them, they’re gone.  Of course, some songs will capture the hearts of several generations, and they’ll wind up in hymnals being preserved; if they skip a generation they’ll often return.  Still, over time they drop from use.  Bach is known to have written over four hundred “chorales”, effectively hymn settings; if your hymnal contains five, that’s remarkable.

In fact, in our debate Luterano exclaimed that the Lutheran hymnal contained one hymn from the third (maybe he said fourth) century, as demonstration that there was great music with great words before the modern contemporary material.  I observed, though, that we can be fairly certain that during that century Christians sang more than one song during worship; the fact that this one has survived all those generations certainly attests to its appeal to believers across the years, but it also tells us that some unknown number of other fourth century tunes were lost as they were replaced by what were then contemporary worship songs, until only one from that time remained.  In the same way already songs from the Great Awakenings are being culled, leaving only those which still speak to us today; songs from the Jesus Movement are vanishing from memory.

The contemporary songs have no better claim over the older ones than that they are contemporary.  That means that they have a familiar style and feel.  It also means that they speak to many believers where we are in this time.  Some of them will continue to speak to believers for another decade, another generation; some might still be in whatever we use for hymnals in a hundred years.  Very few will last longer than that–and by then, they will have joined the ranks of the “traditional” music, as a new kind of contemporary music dominates in the new kinds of churches that exist then.

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#144: Shutting Off the Jukebox

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #144, on the subject of Shutting Off the Jukebox.

You may have seen the story:  someone complained to a restaurant about being subjected to the music during dinner.

I have much sympathy with this attitude.  I often find in public places that I am subjected to music I don’t want to hear–crying-in-your-beer country songs about adultery, popular rock songs about drug use, bland elevator music about nothing at all.  I would like to replace it all with music I enjoy, rather than risk having those “earwigs”, the songs that get stuck in your head for hours that you don’t like but have heard often enough that they stick with you once you are reminded of them.

But it wasn’t that kind of music to which the patron objected.  It was Christmas music.

img0144jukebox

Again, call me sympathetic.  There is a lot of music played this time of year I really find offensive–all those terribly secular songs like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, or Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, that have nothing to do with the real point of Christmas.  Yet when it comes down to it, those were exactly not the songs to which the patron was objecting.  The restaurant was playing “religious” Christmas music.  I don’t know what in particular was being played–the Robert Shaw Chorale offers quite an extensive collection of sacred Christmas works, but so do Amy Grant and Casting Crowns, in a very different style.  What the patron recommended, though, was replacing Christmas music with “holiday” music, which I presume means songs like Silver Bells, Jingle Bells, maybe Deck the Halls, instead of perhaps The First Noel, Silent Night, or Joy to the World.  And so it seems that exactly the kinds of songs he finds offensive are the ones I would prefer, and the ones he would prefer are the ones I find offensive.

And that’s why we have our freedom of expression laws.  As we noted, the point of Ray Bradbury’s wonderful Fahrenheit 451 is precisely that if we permit everyone to veto any expression he finds offensive, there will be no expression left.  We can turn off the jukeboxes and retail store sound systems, and protect all our customers from the possibility that we might play something that offends them.  While we’re at it, we can shut off those music-playing-while-you-are-on-hold telephone systems, too.

We will be the poorer for it, of course.

As far as playing religious Christmas music, it should be noted that religious Christians are the reason we celebrate the holiday.  I know that people are going to object that many religions everywhere celebrate a holiday on or near the winter solstice, and Christians only put Christmas there to usurp the holiday celebrations that were already happening–but that’s not what I mean, either.  In the nineteenth century people were expected to work six days a week, with time off on Sunday for church, and the Federal government followed that pattern.  However, late in the century it was observed that on Christmas Day so many Federal workers called out “sick” in order to go to church that it was impossible to run government offices on the skeleton crew that reported for work.  Thus a decision was made simply to give everyone the day off with pay, and it was soon put into law (along with New Years Day, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving Day, which had previously been established as a national day of Thanksgiving but not a holiday).  Banks followed suit, because there were certain things banks needed to do when they were open that could not be done if the government was closed, and gradually the rest of the world caught up.  We can debate the ethics of Christians calling out sick to go to church, but the fact is that it was that action which gave us paid holidays.  Very few Christians go to church on Christmas Day anymore, but at least we celebrate it with our music and other festivities.  So if you don’t like the religious music, at least say thank you that there were enough people who thought the day was important enough to warrant a religious celebration that the rest of us got a paid day off work.

But beyond that, every single one of us has to tolerate some music we don’t like, because every single one of us dislikes something others like–whether it is a distaste for Beethoven or Beatles, for Rap or Rock, for Country or Classical, show tunes or ska, Ives or Jazz, there is no music that pleases everyone, and “no music” does not please everyone, either.

The jukebox worked on something of the “majority rule” system:  the owner tried to stock it with the records people were most likely to pay money to hear (the origin of “Top 40” radio), and the people picked the songs they wanted.  Not every public facility can accommodate everyone’s tastes, and so the owner or manager or someone in an executive position (even if it’s only the night waitress) picks something.  In some places, those choices are based on scientific consideration of what kind of music will get customers to spend more money; in some they are based on what the management thinks people will enjoy; in some it is based on what the manager likes, or what is available.  Most of us have no say in what kind of music people play in the establishments we frequent.

The person who complained was within his rights, and certainly in some sense was right to do so:  the management of a retail business of that sort should be aware if his music is hurting his business, and so needs to know the opinions of his customers.  It was not, however, entirely unpredictable that a large number of customers, and an even larger number of people in the outside world, would enjoy the Christmas music and encourage the owner to continue playing it.

The customer who doesn’t like it will have to decide whether the benefits of eating there are worth the aggravation of music which he does not like, or whether there is another restaurant which caters to people who want different music, or no music at all, whose food, service, and prices are as good.  That’s the way it works.

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