A Journey Well-Ended

This is a true story. It’s a story about friendship and saying goodbye, and the songs and meanings that connect us. In this case, it’s “It Is Well With My Soul”. This is from my mom’s blog at PraiseNotes.com. She’s a piano teacher that specializes in teaching students over Skype and she loves the hymns. Enjoy!

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My neighborhood is prone to adventures. I do not mean the stuff of storybooks, of exotic locales, of great deeds and daring, all with happy endings. No, not those kind of adventures, but the kind that a mind-your-own-business, busy-at-work, up-to-my-eyeballs-in-projects person would rather avoid. Adventures like the next door neighbor pounding on the door at two in the morning pleading for help because her boyfriend was threatening her life; an adventure like coming home to the street blocked off, SWAT teams patrolling around our home and neighborhood and the police helicopter circling overhead; an adventure like discovering the gate busted open by policemen chasing a fugitive who decided to make a quick escape through the backyard. Mind you, thanks be to the Lord, this did not all happen in one week, or month, or even year, but nevertheless, they are the kind of adventures that can unnerve and drive one to prayer.

And to prayer I did go. It was a simple prayer, but, believe me, very heartfelt: “Lord, please send me Christian neighbors.” God answered that prayer in an unforgettable way.

It began with a phone call from my former roommate from Bible college. “Kim, I just moved my parents to your city, and I think it might even be in your neighborhood. Where do you live?” I told her my street address. I was shocked to hear her say that she had moved her parents across the street two houses away from my home!

Jane N.

Jane

From that day on, a precious friendship began to grow with my new neighbor, Jane. Over the next short years we enjoyed: “tea time” (that always included prayer); sharing our concerns and hopes; playing the piano; sharing our favorite hymns. Her husband was also a dear friend. There were times I would look out my front window and see Rod working unbidden in our front yard, helping us in our feeble attempts at gardening. Jane and her husband eventually moved out of our neighborhood and relocated to a different state. We continued to stay in contact with one another and maintained a close friendship.

A few years later, I received another phone call; this time it was from Jane. “Hi, Kim, my husband and I flew in this morning, and we are here to visit family and friends to say good-bye. I have pancreatic cancer and the doctors have given me only a few weeks to live. Can I come over in an hour to see you?” As she spoke these words, my heart dropped with sorrow as I contemplated this coming loss. I was also anxious and feeling overwhelmed to see her on such short notice, not knowing what I should say or do when she arrived. I wanted to comfort them, but I was not sure how. When Jane and her husband arrived it was obvious what I needed to do. I asked what hymns were their favorites. As I played my piano, we sang the hymns that had inspired, comforted and taught them so much of the Savior’s love. We then prayed together for the last time. Singing the hymns filled our hearts with gratitude towards God, and we found relief for our suffering souls. When Jane left that day, she said good-bye and said that she would see me in heaven. We hugged and both shed tears as we knew we were ending a journey here on earth.
A few weeks later I played the piano at her memorial service. Though I didn’t know most of the people at her memorial service, we were one in Christ and sang together the hymn “It is Well with my Soul”.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

(Refrain)
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

For thousands of years, the saints have passed from the church militant to the church triumphant surrounded by family, friends and pastors, who offer the comfort, first and foremost, of the Word of God, but also of singing the hymns of the faith—those songs that are so infused with poetry and doctrine that they, by the work of the Holy Spirit, give comfort and life, even to a dying soul. May the Lord in his mercy preserve these songs for the generations to come who will one day sing with my dear friend Jane, “It is well with my soul!”

A beginner piano arrangement of “It Is Well” is available in our online store.

 

Please visit Praisenotes.com to learn more about my mom and her music.

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Check Out This Hauntingly Beautiful Finnish Song

Tuomas Holopainen is the musical genius behind the internationally acclaimed powerhouse Nightwish, a Finnish symphonic metal band. Tuomas is classically trained and is the primary songwriter for many of the bands greatest hits. This is the first single released off of his solo album, and the cover art is from the artist who illustrated the Mighty Ducks comics. Take a listen!

Christian Music Sucks Because It’s Fake

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I’ve always had a problem with Christian music. I used to wonder why, and then it hit me: it’s because it sucks. While this is now obvious, the real question is, why does it suck?

Michael Gungor from the band Gungor (which I had never heard of prior to this), wrote an excellent article on why Christian music generally sucks. It’s because it’s fake. From his article:

The false emotion that I’m talking about might be familiar to some of you. There’s just something more believable about the whispery sexy voice that is singing about sex on the mainstream radio station than the voice that copies that style of singing while putting lyrics in about being in the arms of Jesus. And it’s really not even the style or the lyric that is the problem to me, it’s the fact that I don’t believe that the singer is feeling the kind of emotions in singing that lyric that would lead to that style of singing. It’s that same kind of creep out that you feel when somebody gives a really loud fake laugh. It’s just weird and uncomfortable feeling.

There’s a pretension with a lot of Christian music that puts such an emphasis on the moralistic qualities of the music. “Hey, listen to this because it doesn’t describe explicit sex acts! Yay!” While there’s a point to that, when the music is reduced to just what it isn’t talking about rather than what it is talking about, the whole thing just crumbles.

This is what most Christian music centers around, or at least what the marketing centers on. Many evangelical Christian parents get their teens Christian music because it’s clean and “teaches good values”. But this destroys the soul of music. It makes Christian music literally the only genre that is defined by what it isn’t. And when you define something, not by what it’s contribution and worth is, but by its negative qualities, it’s impossible for that thing to have any value. It’s very definition limits itself. It’s really hard to make something great when your definition of greatness is, “Not awful.” Because of this, most Christian music can only be really great because it’s not really bad. Which actually makes it suck.

This concept plays out at Christian concerts as well, where the whole, “Don’t be bad” attitude really plays out. Gungor talks about this phenomena:

We just were part of one of the biggest tours of the fall in the Christian music industry…

But you know what made me sad? That empty bar every night.

Even though these shows were all sold out, I would imagine that the bartenders at all those clubs were like “oh man, Christian night… that means no tips for me.”

Sometimes the promoters would just buy out the bar so there wouldn’t be any liquor sales at all.
I’m not saying that I wished that everybody was getting hammered at the show… But for crying out loud, buy one beer. Or heck, if you don’t drink beer, buy a Coke.

But here’s what is super weird about this situation. I bet you if you took all of those Christians that came to the shows and split them up and had them go to “secular” shows, A LOT of them would have bought a drink. It’s the fact that there is this assumption among all of the Christians there that having a drink at a Christian event is sort of a questionable thing to do.

He’s talking a lot about the evangelical Christian culture that shuns alcohol, and as he goes on to kind of rant about, it doesn’t seem to have much Biblical basis. But in many ways, doing this at a Christian concert is just a reflection of what the music is about: not being bad. Gungor continues on about how fake Christian music really is dishonest and uncreative. We talk about innovative music that Christians make as “creative” because, as he points out, there is so much uncreativity in the industry that we have to point it out when we see it. What he says is entertaining, so I’ll quote him once more:

Do you notice that nobody really uses that word about other types of music?…

Nobody goes to an art gallery and says, “boy, that painting is so creative.” Why? Because it’s art! Of course it’s creative! Why else would it be there? It’s very nature is creativity. Or like Lisa pointed out to me today, “that would be like saying, I love your house, it’s so architectural.”

It’s interesting that the Christian music scene has become so dominated by mediocrity that anything breaks free from the norm is hailed as groundbreaking. It’s time to get away from a definition of music that is purely moral and start producing stuff that’s got real value. Of course, I am well aware that there are lots of Christian artists out there who make good music. But this is directed at the Christian music industry in general. The ones who make sucky music.  By the way, this is one of Gungor’s music videos. I like it; it’s not defined by what it isn’t. (I highly recommend reading the original article. It’s long but good.)

3 Radio Hits That Can’t Compete With Their Covers

Take that, pop radio hits!

Take that, pop radio hits!

Have you ever heard a song on the radio and thought to yourself, “How can anyone listen to this piece of mechanized auto-tuned garbage?” No? Well, to each his own. Nevertheless, there’s certainly a lot of music out there that boggles the mind as to why it’s popular. Most modern music sucks. This is a well-documented fact by scientists and funny little men in white coats running around with clipboards. Of course, there’s plenty of catchy music that has some value. But every once in a while, some lesser known artist comes along and covers a popular song and just knocks it out of the park. Here are 3 great examples of radio hits that can’t compete with their covers.

#3. I Need Your Love by Calvin Haris ft. Ellie Goulding

Covered by: Madilyn Bailey

Synopsis: The original song by electro pop artist Calvin Harris (with vocals by Ellie Goulding) is kind of catching and fun by itself. Madilyn comes in and sweeps the song off it’s feet with accompanist Matt Coco. She has a very nice bluesy kind of voice that and style that lends a slightly more melancholy interpretation to the song and the result is very pretty. Take a listen!

 

#2. I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift

Covered by: Tyler Ward, Lindsey Stirling, and Chester See

Synopsis: This cover should get an award for “most improved.” The original song by Taylor Swift is just awful. It’s so awful, in fact, that a goat also covered it and still sounded better than Taylor. However, Tyler Ward and the ever endearing Lindsey Stirling (who would have made the list with her fantastic cover of Rihanna’s We Found Love if I hadn’t already covered it in 3 Songs You Should Drop Everything And Listen to Right Now) managed to take this little ditty and reinterpret into a pleasant melody that’s actually nice to listen to.

 

#1. You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful by One Direction

Covered by: The Piano Guys

Synopsis: Lets face it…at some point, you’ve gotten a One Direction song stuck in your head and instantly felt a piece of your adulthood crumble into immaturity. No one really wants to be humming a boy band droning on about the clueless beauty in the room. But The Piano Guys take this song and completely revolutionize it. This cover is amazing. That’s why it’s #1. Because it’s good. Let it bless your eardrums with it’s eclipsing creativity!

 

That’s it, folks! I would put more Lindsey Stirling in here…but there are other musicians in the world. Give a like and follow and I’ll respond. Thanks!

3 Musicians You Didn’t Know Influenced the World

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There’s a lot of really great music out there. Often, we take it for granted without really investigating the origins of the melodies we enjoy so much. Each artist is influenced by someone else, and that someone else had someone who influenced them, ad infinitum. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, yet each song has it’s own unique character. Here, then, are 3 musicians that you had no idea influenced the world with their music.

#3 Jackson C. Frank Sings the Blues


Who? 
Jackson C. Frank has been called the most important forgotten singer of the 1960’s by David Fricke (music editor for Rolling Stones magazine). A folk singer who only recorded a single album during his career, Jackson C. Frank had greater success in Britain and Scotland than he did in America. When he was 11, a school fire injured him and killed several of his classmates, causing deep psychological scars that later influenced his music. He went to London and recorded his one and only album, which immediately became so popular that he was asked to a number of radio performances, which helped establish himself in the London folk scene. (Source)

How Did He Influence the World? Frank recorded his album with Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel fame. He must have made quite the impression, because his hit song,  The Blues Run the Game, was covered by Simon and Garfunkel. Furthermore, Frank’s influence in Europe cannot be pushed aside. His songs from 1965 were still bringing him royalty income until his death in 1999.

#2 Rufus Payne teaches a country legend to play guitar

Who? Rufus Payne is not a well known name by most in modern day America. Better known as “Tee Tot”, Payne was a simple small town musician who played his music on the street corner to entertain passers-by. He worked odd jobs in town and played songs with a couple other local musicians. He made quite the impression on a young 12 year old boy, who heard him and determined that he would learn guitar from him. That young boy was Hank Williams, the quintessential country legend. It’s well-documented that Payne taught Williams not just guitar, but how to see the world as an artist. (Source)

How Did He Influence the World? Payne’s influence on Williams was vital to his development as a musician. Without his teaching, Williams would never have become the musician that he was, being a somewhat awkward guy that probably would have become a doctor or lawyer without someone awakening a musical interest within him. And without Hank Williams’ influence, another great artist would never have experienced inspiration. Who was that, you may ask?

Only folk legend Bob Dylan. 

#1 Arthur Alexander Helped Start the Beat

Who? Arthur Alexander was a musician who wrote a number of galactic hits that he never really profited from. The reason for this is that he influenced a lot of other popular artists so much so that they covered his songs and popularized them. Born in 1940 in Alabama, Arthur Alexander recorded his first album when he was 20 years old, and didn’t follow up with a second album until 1972. It’s said that he eventually left music and worked as a bus driver at a center for disadvantaged kids. (Source)

How Did He Influence the World? Alexander had a huge influence on the popular musicians of the 1960’s and 70’s. Rock n’ roll giants The Beatles were one of his biggest fans. Lennon idolized him and McCartney said that they wanted to sound like Arthur Alexander. Their songs Anna (Go to Him)Soldier of LoveA Shot of Rhythm & Blues were all Arthur Alexander songs that they covered. Bob Dylan also covered an Arthur Alexander song, and not to be left out, so did The Rolling Stones. And finally, yet another rock legend who found him inspiring, Elvis covered his song Burning Love in 1972. Few artists in history  have been covered by such popular acts and then forgotten, which probably makes him the most influential artist in history that nobody has really heard of.

That’s it, folks! Do you have an artist that you think deserves recognition? List them below in the comments (to comment with your Facebook, click the Facebook icon in the upper right corner of the comment box!

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3 Songs You Should Drop Everything And Listen To Right Now

Lately, I have had 3 very specific tunes constantly running through my head. It’s been great listening to my mind’s radio recently, because luckily, I love these songs! I highly recommend each of these, so let’s dig in!

The Gospel by Geoff Krieger

This song is sweet, succinct and catchy. A buddy of mine did some of the instruments and production for the song, and it turned out very well.

Why It’s Good: I love this song because the chorus draws some very specific allusions to the Bible that I find very comforting. The chorus says, “And soon, this mortal wave will part for us, then you and I will cross the sea on holy dust. In time, the storms of life will pass us by, and broken hearts will heal when they know the gospel.” The theme of “you and I” is reinforced by the introduction of group vocals, which provides support to the theme and message.  The melody gives a sense of hope and the words tell you that there is hope and eventually, this life will be over and we will go to another place. For Christians, that is a blessed reminder.

Where can I hear it? Visit Geoff’s Soundcloud. You’ll be glad you did. The Gospel – Geoff Krieger

We Found Love by Lindsey Stirling

This song has also been dominating my mind lately. In case you have not yet experienced Lindsey Stirling, go check out her YouTube page. Seriously. She’s absolutely incredible and one of my all-time favorite artists. About a year ago, she covered Rihanna’s “We Found Love” after a trip to Kenya that profoundly affected her. She took a pop song that was pretty mediocre and turned it into something that’s really beautiful.

Why It’s Good: The combination of the African harmonies and drums with the very Western sound of Lindsey’s violin creates a melodious juxtaposition that’s simply sweet. The melody awakens a sense of possibility and adventure, as the vocalist (Alisha Popat) sings about finding love in a whole new place. The original version says, “We found love in a hopeless place.” Lindsey, after her experience in Kenya, changed the lyrics to “We found love in a holy place/ We found love in a whole new place.”

Listen to it on YouTube, or watch it here:

Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer by Keith and Kristyn Getty

This song is such an encouragement. It’s a modern hymn that is all about trusting Jesus through life’s trials and it’s a wonderful reminder of our beautiful Savior and His work.

Why It’s Good:  “Jesus draw me ever nearer / As I labour through the storm. / You have called me to this passage, / and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.” Just read those words.  That’s why it’s good.

Listen to it here. 

Christian Music: Escapism?

Today, I was perusing Spotify, looking for tasty musical treats to satisfy my melodic palate. I have a playlist labelled “Hymns and Worship”, and I like to include adaptions of old hymns on this list. The old hymns have incredibly rich theological content but for the contemporary music taste, sometimes they need to be livened up a little bit. (Side note before I get into the meat of this post: my mom arranges and updates hymns as part of her musical magic. Check out her website for some great hymns: www.PraiseNotes.com).

As I was on this musical journey earlier today, I ran into a problem. Obviously, when you are searching for new adaptions of old music, you’re bound to find versions that you just don’t care for. I get that; it’s a consequence of looking for something new. My problem occurred when I once again came to the conclusion that much of what “Christian music” has to offer is a watered down mush that has no distinctive qualities. Every song that I came across started the same way. Maybe you’ll recognize it…a somewhat ethereal synth chord echoes out over the barren landscape of the forming song… tremulous guitar notes start pinging away, like rain drops on a tin roof. A rich baritone male voice starts slowly intoning the words (or, if you’re in the mood, a harmonious female alto) at half the intended tempo. It sounds like a nice song, right? Except when it is the intro for almost every. single. Christian. song. ever.

I was looking for hymns because I love the words and some of the traditional melodies are very powerful. Christian music today seems to do it’s best to divorce thought from experience. The words of the hymns are set in a musical atmosphere that takes precedence over what is actually being said. The focal point of the composition is very transcendental, as if the point is to arise out of your body and meet Jesus in some otherwordly place. It would be interesting to see what cultural forces brought us to the place where the most intellectually prosperous religion produces music that’s precise purpose is to drive out all intellectual thought. You see this in many contemporary worship songs, where phrases are repeated over and over again to the point where they become meaningless drivel (“Jesus, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, ad infinitum.”)

The point in bringing this up in regards to the hymns is that many hymns are not meant to be sung as transcendental anthems (Onward Christian Soldiers, anyone?). It would be great if there was some real quality stuff out there, that produced hymns with the words as the central focus, and without a transcendental flavor to them. Maybe there is some recording artist out there who does a really good job with the hymns. I would love to discover them.

I’ll end with this. While it’s not the style of worship music I’m discussing, the approach to the lyrics is similar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhYuA0Cz8ls

Thoughts?

SDG.