Sweet Hour of Prayer – New mp3 available

September 18th, 2009 |

Since I became one of the song leaders at our church I have learned many phenomenal old hymns that I had never heard before. One that really blows me away is “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” An absolutely beautiful hymn in every way.

I decided on the way home from work today that I wanted to record my own rendition of this classic tune. From the first time I heard it I thought it would sound great played in an old, lamenting folk style so that’s how I approached it on this recording.

I hope you like it.

Download the mp3 here.

Here is a wonderful, traditional version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Stunning.

Why does every Rock idiot want a string section?

April 22nd, 2009 |

I’ve been in full obsess mode for the past few days. This is apparent from the fact that my desk is completely covered in food wrappers, empty coffee cups, and scribbled-on sheet music.

I’m working on writing and arranging the parts for a nine piece string section that will be in a song called The Groom and the Bride. This is by far the most epic sounding tune I’ve ever written and to say that I’ve bitten off more than I have the education to chew would be a gross understatement.

The process of arranging the strings is melting my brain. Did you know that the viola is written in the alto clef? Did you know there was such a thing as an alto clef? Yeah, me either. That is one of many puzzling things I’ve come across while trying to organize this mess.

One of the main things that scares me to death about writing string parts is that I don’t know anything about orchestral instruments. I just have to trust that when my orchestral software tells me that the viola can’t go lower than C3 that that’s actually true.  

I worry that my string parts won’t make any sense to real string players. Like if someone were to hand me the music for a guitar part and everything was played one note at a time on the low E string I would know that this person was utterly clueless about guitar. That’s what I’m afraid will happen to me when I hand these charts to the string section.

Brecker

April 17th, 2009 |

When I was in college it was said that there are two kinds of tenor sax players in the world, the ones who want to be John Coltrane and the ones who want to be Michael Brecker. I wanted to be Michael Brecker, and I believe Michael Brecker wanted to be John Coltrane.

As much as I love great pop songwriting, and soulful singing, and punch-you-in-the-mouth guitar playing, there are few things that will reduce me to a puddle of sloppy tears faster than the immeasurable virtuosity and expressiveness of Michael Brecker’s playing.

One of the tunes I’ve been using to pull my sax chops back together is one of Brecker’s tunes called Itsbynne Reel. This was always one of my favorites and it’s a real pain in the neck to play.

I was looking for a free version of this tune on the net so I could have something to play along with and I found this very unorthodox rendition on You Tube. You must listen to this. This is musical mastery of the highest order.

There is a long, solo accordion bit at the beginning that you might want to skip. Go straight to 2:45 and strap yourself in. Here is a transcription of the album version of the tune if you want to follow along with the head.

I was actually brought to tears twice today listening to music. Here is the other thing that made me a girl. This is Jonny Lang on Leno last night. Thanks to Jeff H. for the heads-up on this.

Vocal Exercises

January 10th, 2009 |

Here’s my first attempt at vlogging.

The American Gospel

January 3rd, 2009 |

New Years Eve after Riley went to bed Angel and I stayed up watching TV just because we’re grown ups. TBN (one of the Christian [I use that term because they use that term] networks) was doing a best moments of 2008 type of thing. I took the bait.

I think it came across as more of an our favorite heresies of 2008 type of thing, or maybe a reasons not to watch in 2009 thing. We also checked in with the INSP network to see what kind of curses they were cooking up.

After about an hour of switching back and forth between these two channels I told Angel “I believe that if we were to keep watching this all night we would eventually see some preacher deny the deity of Christ or deny the existence of God.” Angel said “If you keep making me watch this garbage you’ll never be allowed to touch me again.”

In one of these clips “prophet” Kim Clement said that the position of prophet was never God’s idea. This is coming from the same guy who a few months ago prophesied that there would be no recession. Nice work.

Over on the INSP network Mike Murdock was doing his usual thing: loving money, dramatically pausing, and using the word stupid a lot. He raised the question “If God is in control of everything, then why…” and he filled it in with stuff like “do we need to punish a rapist? do we need to punish criminals?” His point was that God was not in control everything.

He wasn’t presenting the question like “I’ve often been asked…and here is the answer.” He was presenting it like “Why do people believe that God is in control of everything when we can plainly see that he’s not?” The point of his statement was unmistakable.

He also said that he’s heard preachers pray over the offering asking God to bless those who can give and those who can’t. Murdock said if “If God is going to bless those who can’t give then why give?”

I’ve heard Murdock say that he’s traveled all over the world and has never seen anything more beautiful than a hundred dollar bill. He said he’s also never seen a woman more beautiful than a hundred dollar bill.

How can a network that calls itself a Christian network allow a man like this on their airwaves? He’s one of their leading spokesmen!

I’ve wondered if he would preach the same way in an impoverished part of the world. If the prosperity gospel is the true gospel then shouldn’t we preach it the same way all over the world? Can you imagine him standing in front of a group of starving people telling them that God will prosper them if they’ll give $58 a month to his ministry? Or telling them that God has promised many miracles to them if they’ll give a one-time gift of $1,000? Or that God will wipe out their credit card debt if they’ll make their donation on their credit card?

This is the American gospel and it is a false gospel. Do we really believe that Christ died on the cross so that we might have more money? Do we really think that Christ suffered the most heinous act of wickedness in all of human history so that I might be free from the outrageous interest rate on my Visa?

These men trample the truth under their feet with no idea of what Christ actually accomplished on the cross. It’s disgusting.

God does not promise you wealth in this life. He does not promise you perfect health in this life. He does not promise you a problem-free existence in this life. He promises you eternal life and to declare you innocent of your sin. At Calvary he took my sin and wickedness and placed it on Christ and he took Christ’s perfect righteousness and placed it on me. Christ became the curse so that I could be free from the curse.

That is the heart of the gospel. The true gospel.

We hear people say “I’m a good person. I’ve never killed anybody.” And they think that being a good person will find them favor in the eyes of God. But they don’t realize that there is no act of kindness, or philanthropy, or mercy that isn’t seen as complete manure in the eyes of God if they haven’t repented for their sins and aren’t trusting in Christ alone for their salvation.

The thing they see as an act of kindness to their neighbor is only an act of great pride in thinking that this will earn them any merit with God when they have completely rejected his command to repent for their sin. If it took God putting to death his own son to merit your justification before a holy God then what makes them think that giving to the United Way is going to amount to anything at all?

It’s only after we have recognized our guilt before God, and repented for our sin, and acknowledged that Christ is our only hope that our good works are actually seen as good in the eyes of God. Because we know that we cannot merit our own salvation.

Preparing the Pipes

December 22nd, 2008 |

I’ve been practicing my guitar incessantly lately in preparation to go into the studio and start on the album. All of the hours I’ve spent with the guitar got me thinking about the fact that I’ve been spending very little time working on getting my voice in shape. My routine for getting my voice in shape has always been something like downing a cup of scalding hot water and them humming for a couple of minutes. I figure I’d better come up with a little better approach than that.

I started looking around on the web for some simple vocal exercises and techniques for getting my voice up to speed. I’ve found a bunch of stuff and have begun to put these things into practice. One of the guys who seems to show up the most often in a web search for vocal training is Brett Manning. After seeing what this guy is capable of I can easily understand why he is so popular.

Check out this video. Fast forward to about 1:28 and check out this mind-boggling display of range and control.

Going To (fix the guitar in) Memphis

November 22nd, 2008 |

I’ve been doing some work on my thumb-picking the past few days. Specifically, I’ve been working on the main guitar part for my song Going to Memphis. I realized a while ago that there was a fatal flaw in the way I played that part.

I always thought that song felt really square and flat-footed but I never knew why. I figured it was probably due to the fact that the drums were programmed and just couldn’t swing like a real drummer would. But it turns out that wasn’t it. It was the guitar.

That song was the first song I’ve ever written that used that style of guitar playing so I was very new to it at the time. I thought it was pretty cool that I could do it at all so I was pretty thrilled with it back then. But now I’ve gotten a lot better with that type of playing and now I know why it didn’t work right.

The thumb part was playing half notes going from the root to the fifth. But to really be stylistically accurate it should have been doing quarter notes from the root, to the third, to the fifth and back to the third. That’s how the guys who really play that style do it.

So a few nights ago I decided to try and figure out how to do that. The chord voicings I used don’t really lend themselves very well to the new thumb part so it’s taken quite a bit of practice to get it right but I’ve at least got it in the ballpark now. It swings much better this way and feels much lighter.

Click here to hear the mp3. This is one pass through the chorus with the original guitar part and one pass through the chorus with the new guitar part.

Click here to download the full version of this song.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

November 14th, 2008 |

Last night Angel and I watched “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” This is a documentary about how Intelligent Design has been maligned in academia. I found it interesting for the most part.

Evolution is something I’ve taken a keen interest in over the past year or so. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on understanding the arguments on both sides of the issue. I recently read Michael Denton’s “Evolution: A Theory In Crisis” and found it incredibly fascinating. Denton is a Molecular Biologist and he raises some very serious problems about the theory of evolution, and he’s not a Creationist.

The thing I’ve learned is that it takes just as much faith (if not more) to believe in evolution as it does to believe in God. But most people don’t realize this. Here is why I think that’s the case. Take an average Joe who grew up in a family that went to church on Mother’s Day, Easter, and Christmas and who was also educated in the United States in the last forty years. He can probably give you a pedestrian explanation of evolution and a pedestrian explanation of the first three chapters of Genesis. He knows that an overwhelming majority of scientists fully support the theory of evolution. He also know that the preacher on TV who is stealing people’s money fully supports Genesis, and so does his grandma. What will he be more likely to believe? Evolution of course.

The majority of what average Joe knows about the Bible seems highly unlikely at best. The majority of what he knows about evolution seems at least plausible. But what I’ve found is that the more you dig into Scripture and the more you study its claims the more believable it becomes. And the more you study evolution and its claims the more unlikely it becomes. The fantastical elements of the Bible are widely known but the fantastical elements of evolution aren’t.

I guess it’s worth mentioning that, as a Calvinist, I would say that no matter how much a person studies Scripture, unless God has opened their eyes to it, the Bible will always seem ridiculous. But just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean that I don’t deal with doubt. One of my favorite scriptures is Mark 9:24 “I believe, help my unbelief.”

In the movie “Expelled” Richard Dawkins berates Christians in his usual way. We are stupid. But then in speaking about the origins of life he proposes aliens as one possible explanation. The aliens, being a highly evolved and advanced life form, seeded us on this planet. To average Joe I would think that the likelihood of aliens planting us here ranks about equal with a God who created us. Please don’t call us stupid and then talk about aliens. Besides, this just pushes the origin of life question back even farther.

Dawkins was asked what he will say if he ever has to face God. He said something like “Why did you so effectively hide yourself from us?” I’m not sure if he thinks he will squeeze this question in before or after he bows before God to declare Him Lord. I would propose that God would probably ask Dawkins “Why did you try and hide yourself from Me?”

The Atheist Debate

October 13th, 2008 |

I watch a lot of videos on You Tube about atheism. I’ve watched hours of interviews with and lectures by the most brilliant atheists around, such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins.  I’ve also watched hours of videos posted by random You Tube atheists decrying Christianity. I know a lot more about evolution and Darwin’s theory than most average white males because I’ve studied it quite a lot. If there’s is a show on T.V. about the origins of the earth I always watch it. I regularly read the blogs of at least two atheists.

I am really trying to do my part. The vast majority of Christians don’t really take an interest in atheists. I do. I want to know what their arguments against religion are. And not just the arguments that most Christians are aware of, I’m talking about the hard questions that atheists raise. I want to know what those are. In fact, I do know what they are because I’ve searched them out.

One phrase I come across a lot is “Fundamentalist Christian biblical literalist.” In layman’s terms this means “People who blow up abortion clinics.” In fact, “fundamentalist” anything means you blow stuff up.

A couple of months ago I heard a caller on NPR say that John Hagee (I am not defending John Hagee in any way, shape or form. That man falls way on the opposite side of the theological map from me) views the end times the way he does because he believes a literal interpretation of the book of Revelation. This made me laugh. There is not one Christian on the planet who believes that all of Revelation is to be read literally. Have you read Revelation? Revelation is written in a highly stylized fashion. Does anyone really think that Jesus was literally standing at the door and knocking in Revelation 3:20? Nope. Not to mention all the beasts with horns and stuff.

Does anyone really think that God literally made David lie down in green pastures in Psalm 23? Nope. Does anyone really believe that God literally breathed fire out of His nose? Nope. Does anyone really believe that Jesus is literally a gate? Nope. No Christian believes that every single word of the Bible is meant to be taken literally.

When I write a song about going to Memphis does that song literally mean that I’m going to Memphis? Did I record the vocal in the car on the way there? How many takes was it before I got the keeper?

However, when I write a blog post that says I went to the zoo with my family does that mean that I literally went to the zoo with my family? Yes it does.

The key is knowing the difference between when I’m writing lyrics with an underlying meaning and when I’m giving an actual account of real events.

By the way, I think I’ve mentioned this before, I do believe all the fantastical accounts in the Bible of the parting of the Red Sea, and the story of Jonah, and the story of the flood, and all of Christ’s miracles, and all the stuff that seems so unbelievable. I’m not saying that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally. It is. But not all of it. And I think that to many Christians it is obvious when it is and when it is not to be taken as historical and future fact.

Back to the atheists. I’ve seen many debates between believers and the aforementioned brilliant atheists. The one thing that always bothers me is that the guys debating on the side of Christianity never seem to have their theology in order. They often have their philosophical, historical, and existential rhetoric down pat but their theology seems shaky. They never seem to be able to deal with the charges leveled against the Old Testament.

The magic sword in the hands of the atheists always seems to be the book of Leviticus. Why can’t the Christian debater ever tackle this issue head on? It seems like if you have a solid grasp on the entire scope of redemptive history you should be able to knock this one out of the park.

The atheist debaters always seem to be able to put the Christians on their heals when they ask how a God who is loving, merciful, righteous, and holy would ever command the severe punishments for sin He commanded to the Israelites.

For a theologian these are not all that hard to answer. Why don’t the debaters take on this question from a theological perspective? Certainly it’s not going to change the atheist’s mind but at least answer the question biblically.

I’ve heard many non-believers say that Christians claim that God is tolerant. Then they say, “If God is so tolerant why would He…” fill in the blank with whatever a tolerant God should allow. Here’s the answer. God is not tolerant. Not at all. Christians who say that God is tolerant are wrong.

Another one goes something like this, “If God is a of God love then why…?” Here is the answer: God is a God of love and mercy and all of that but He is also a God of incredible wrath and judgement.

The Leviticus issue usually goes like this: “How can you say that God is righteous when He commanded the Israelites to punish sin and unbelief with such ferocity?” Here is the answer. Actually, this hasn’t been the answer (or anything even resembling it) in the debates I’ve seen but it should be at least close to this. God is holy. Holy beyond anything we can comprehend. And we should see from the incredible fierceness of the punishments He demands that the sins we see as trivial are deserving of the most brutal punishment imaginable. If we don’t see sin as flying in the face of a holy God then stoning probably seems barbaric. But when we start to understand God’s holiness then we see why sin deserves death.

Has the world ever seen a more brutal punishment of sin than Calvary? Nope. Nor will we ever.

Is this going to ease the way atheists look at our God? Nope. That’s not the point. I just think that the debaters should have a theologically sound answer to the question.

That is my criticism of the Christian debaters. Here is my criticism of the atheist debaters. Explaining the origins and evolution of human morality while ridiculing and mocking billions of religious people is probably not the best defense of your morality.

Playing Purdie

September 23rd, 2008 |

One of the first things I remember my saxophone professor teaching me in college was that every musician needs to learn to play the drums. He said that Jazz was made up of three parts. In order of importance they are rhythm, melody, and harmony. Nobody cares how many notes you can play or how perfectly they fit over the chords if it doesn’t swing. I took his advice to heart and have now been playing the drums for probably about seventeen or eighteen years.

One of the most valuable things I’ve found about playing drums (from a singer/guitar player’s perspective) is the ability it has given me to play complex guitar parts while singing over them. Obviously one of the hardest things about playing drums is learning to have one part of your body do one thing and another part do another thing and another part do another thing and so on. This same discipline applies to singing and playing at the same time.

A few weeks ago I talked about the Purdie Shuffle. Since then I’ve been practicing it almost every day and I’m finally starting to get it. This is a beautiful beat and for someone who is not really a drummer it is much, much harder to play than it sounds. I still don’t have it swinging like it should but I’m at least in the ballpark. The next step is to get to the place where I can freely change up the kick pattern, but that’ll take a while.

Here is a short mp3 of me playing a simple version of the Purdie Shuffle.

Download the mp3 here.