Monthly Archives: November 2013


If I had to come up with a word that describes Charles, it would be “thoughtful.”  Not the first definition – considerate in the treatment of other people (although he was that, too) – but this definition: “showing careful thought.”


A lover of music, Charles read my Tuesday Tidbits article every week, and every week he carefully thought about it and discussed it with me.


One Sunday during coffee hour, he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, and it was my article!  He referred to it as we talked.

When I wrote about hymnist Lowell Mason last March, Charles related that he had visited Mason’s church in Medfield, Massachusetts.  He went on to tell me more than I ever knew about the composer!

Charles’ comments weren’t always positive.  Indeed, he was especially eager to let me know if he took issue with anything I wrote!  When I defined “hymn” in a series on Singing with Understanding, he wondered why I needed to tell everyone what a hymn was!

In a later article describing different types of hymn tunes, Charles thought I gave cursory treatment of plainsong.  He wanted more!

When Charles’ health began to fail this past year, and he was unable to come to church, he wrote me letters to discuss my articles.  Letters!  I’d say that describes a thoughtful and intentional person.


 He also had specific comments about my organ playing: “That postlude was a little loud, wasn’t it?”  or “ I really enjoyed your prelude this morning,” or “You got some interesting sounds from the organ today.”


Charles was a musician, and sang in the choir here for many years, and in his previous churches in New Jersey and Pittsburgh for over 30 years.  He loved singing the hymns, and recently lamented to me that he was disturbed that his voice would sometimes give out while singing.  I know that his voice is now strong as he sings with the heavenly choir!


Charles told me his favorite hymn is “Be Still, My Soul.”  In his honor, here is this week’s Music Notes. 



“Be Still, My Soul”

Words: Katharine von Schlegel

Music: Finlandia, Jean Sibelius

“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  Isaiah 30:15

Spiritual revivals have always been accompanied by an outburst of song.  This was especially true of the seventeenth century Pietistic revival in Germany when congregational singing was rediscovered.  Katharine von Schlegel was an outstanding woman of this revival movement. 

Jean Sibelius was Finland’s best-known composer.  His music is often characterized by a nationalistic fervor.  This hymn tune is an arrangement of one movement of “Finlandia,” depicting the majestic natural beauty of the composer’s native land. 

 The third stanza is especially appropriate for Charles’ day of remembrance.

 Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.


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THE FIRST SONG OF ISAIAH – Water of Salvation


Hymn 2030 – Sing the Faith Hymnal – from Isaiah 12:2-6 

 2. Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. 

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.

 3. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.

 4. And on that day you shall say, give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

 5. Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world.

 6. Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Chapter 12 of the book of Isaiah points us toward Advent, the day when the peace of God will finally be established upon the earth, and the nations of the world will wage war no more.  The First Song of Isaiah begins with an individual’s song of praise for God’s salvation (verse 2). The two parts of the song are linked (in verse 3) by a promise to the people that on the day of judgment they will know in abundance the joy of God’s salvation.  The song continues in a communal voice (verse 4), praising God’s acts of salvation, and calling on the people to live in expectation of the day of salvation and, to make the kingdom of God known here and now.Zion is exalted because the “holy one of Israel” (verse 6), has actually chosen to live in her midst.

Water is a powerful thing, whether it the lack of water, as in the drought of 2012, or floods as in the recent typhoon in the Phillipines. In the Hebrew Scriptures, water is a common motif, often used as a metaphor for salvation or the presence of God with individuals and communities:

 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1)

“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you…” (Psalm 63:1)

In Isaiah 12:3, the “wells of salvation” from which the people will draw seem to reflect both salvation and divine presence. Another passage in Isaiah speaks of the salvation and presence of God as water for those who thirst:

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water. . . . so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this (Isaiah 41:17-20).

 The wells of salvation, the water of God’s gracious presence, are bottomless, endless. They are the waters that give life to a world that is dying of thirst, and wholeness to those overwhelmed by the floods of destruction.

 The water of forgiveness, of liberation from all that holds us in captivity, of refreshment of souls that are parched for grace, is the same water of which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well: “those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

 During Advent, the season of anticipation and hope, the water of salvation that flows with the presence of God is coming again to the world in endless supply for our deepest needs, and the needs of the world.

 I hope you will join heartily in singing with the choir this First Song of Isaiah, and that it will provide you with new meaning of the joy of salvation.


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THE PSALMS: No other poetry has been set to music more often.

Much of the music I choose for worship, both choir anthems and congregational hymns, comes from the Psalms. As I explored my reasoning for this, I found a comment by Ancient Music historian Theodore Burgh:

“If we were able to step into the biblical period, we would find a culture filled with music capable of expressing a great variety of moods and feelings, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, faith and doubt.”

Continuing my exploration, I found much of interest to me, and, I hope, to you. Here is a small sampling.


  1. a sacred song or hymn.
  2. any of the 150 songs, hymns, or prayers contained in the Book of Psalms.
  3. a poem of a similar nature.

TYPES OF PSALMS (from Hermann Gunkel’s pioneering work on the psalms)

  1. Songs of praise for God’s work in creation or history
    1. typically open with a call to praise
    2. describe the motivation for praise
    3. conclude with a repetition of the call.
  2. Communal laments, in which the nation laments some communal disaster, usually include
    1. address to God
    2. description of suffering
    3. cursing of the party responsible for suffering
    4. protestation of innocence or admission of guilt
    5. petition for divine assistance
    6. faith in God’s receipt of prayer
    7. anticipation of divine response
    8. thanksgiving
  3. Royal Psalms, dealing with a king’s coronation, marriage and battles
  4. Individual laments lamenting the fate of the particular individual who utters them, by far the most common type of psalm
    1. typically open with an invocation of Yahweh
    2. the lament itself
    3. pleas for help
    4. often end with an expression of confidence.
  5. Individual thanksgiving psalms, in which the psalmist thanks God for deliverance from personal distress

The biblical poetry of Psalms uses parallelism as their primary poetic device. Parallelism is a kind of rhyme, in which an idea is developed by the use of repetition, synonyms, or opposites.

  1. Synonymous parallelism – two lines expressing essentially the same idea: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
  2. Antithetic parallelism – two lines expressing opposites:“The LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm. 1:6)

No other poetry has been set to music more often than the Psalms. Ida Prentiss Whitcomb describes the importance of the Psalms through the centuries:

“…the Crusader has chanted them as he ascended the Hill of Zion; and the victorious general was welcomed on his return by a hallelujah chorus. The sailor on the dark night at sea, the shepherd on the lonely plain, the little waif upon the street, have alike been cheered by the music of the Psalms. The boatman on the Rhine, and the soldier by his campfire have been softened, and the sad have been cheered by these sweet inspirations to faith, penitence, thanksgiving, and adoration.”

Watch for more about the Psalms in the coming weeks. Your comments are welcome.


  1. Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” was adapted for the musical Godspell.
  2. The first book printed in North America was a collection of Psalm settings, the Bay Psalm Book (1640).
  3. Ancient musicians, both singers and instrumentalists, were trained to be professional musicians with their average training lasting five years.

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