Reading Jeremy Begbie’s article on music in this issue reminded me of one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I took music theory in college because I knew a little bit about music and thought I could get a good grade with a minimum of effort. How difficult could music theory be? It turned out that I knew a lot less about music than I thought I did.
Hymn writer Charles Wesley, the younger and less celebrated of two brothers whose work led to the forming of the Methodist Church, is being honored at a London exhibition celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth in December.
High on the list of people I have most admired is Mstislav Rostropovich, the great Russian cellist who died in April. I admired him first for his courage. In 1970 Rostropovich expressed his support for artistic freedom and human rights in a letter to Pravda, the state-run newspaper of the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviets stripped him and his wife of Soviet citizenship.
Those who discovered Joanna Newsom’s full-length debut The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City, 2004) fell without exception into two camps: either they ran screaming from her Betty-Boop-on-helium voice and tales of bridges, balloons and beans or found themselves enchanted and amazed.
The nation’s largest a cappella congregation within the Churches of Christ has decided to add a worship assembly on Saturday evenings that will make use of musical instruments. Statements on the Web site of Richland Hills Church of Christ in the Fort Worth, Texas, area said the decision came after a lengthy period of fasting and prayer.
In the two-CD effort Why Not Sea Monsters? Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament,(CarpetSquare) Justin Roberts steers clear of any ham-fisted agenda while staying faithful to the power and majesty of the Bible stories, and making them his stories. On the “Hebrew Scriptures” CD, Roberts gets things off to a clever start with “Why Not a Spark?” Singing in a style that suggests John Lennon, James Taylor and Glenn Tilbrook, Roberts lays out the tale of creation as if God were a smiling child in a swirling cosmic sandbox: “On the fourth day / God said, Where are the stars? / Where’s Mercury, Venus and Mars?/ Where’s all those old rusty cars? / Wait, that’s later!”
The British band Delirious has always been smart, drawing comparisons to U2, Radiohead and Blur. With the album The Mission Bell, the band shoots for added lyrical depth and force. “Our God Reigns,” a key-of-D dirge built around spare acoustic guitar, keyboards and thunderous percussion, may be the hardest-hitting piece, tacking issues like abortion and the AIDS pandemic. (“My Chinese take away/ Could pay for someone’s drugs.”) “Love Is a Miracle” alternates between smoldering, soulful verses and wide-open, gospel-flavored choruses, while “Paint the Town Red” rocks as hard as anything Delirious has ever cut.
One of Salman Ahmad’s earliest gigs was a talent show at King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he was studying to be a doctor. Moments after he strummed his first chords, Islamic fundamentalists barged in, smashed Ahmad’s guitar and drum set, and broke up the show.
Elvis Presley shook hands with Richard Nixon in 1970, but it wasn’t much more than a fleeting photo op. When Bono got together with President Bush for lunch at the White House in October, however, they spoke for nearly two hours about debt relief, AIDS and other issues.