Friday, May 30, 2008


I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song
and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face,
and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call
that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again,
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way,
where the wind's likea whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn
from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lake Michigan

Bryant and I recently spent some quality time on the shore of our beautiful Lake Michigan, and I was inspired to re-post some thoughts from last summer. Here they are:

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul . . ." Psalm 23:2. Lake Michigan presents stunning evidence of God's care for the sons of men; in it God has provided for both physical and spiritual renewal of His creatures.

Physically, we barely comprehend how dependent we are on this superbly designed entity. We recognize easily enough that no one can live without drinking water and using it for hygienic purposes. Commerce and trade with distant states and countries is made possible through vital waterways. The water supports a world of life forms which produce oxygen and build up the food chain. The lake constantly renews itself and purifies the environment through the natural processes God set in motion. Had a human artist or engineer conceived such a marvel—such beauty, such efficiency, such utility—he would be an object of worship. His name would never die on the lips of human beings.

"The voice of the LORD [is] upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD [is] upon many waters, Psalm 29:3. This is as close to mysticism as I come. I know only that God's voice makes itself heard without doubt in the glory of the waters. Christianity is not required for humans to acknowledge this, intentionally or inadvertently. Real estate along the water sells for a significantly higher price than property located elsewhere. Created in the image of God, hardwired with His aesthetic, the human spirit is instinctively attracted to and responsive to this beauty.

Those waters not only restore my equilibrium, they absolutely unchain my spirit. I am reminded of the words of our Savior: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." I am convinced this is one way God gives rest to his creatures. In its wholly unconstrained effect, the compelling cadence of westbound waves rolls the weight from my shoulders and pulls the tension from my muscles. My eyes can find nothing but delight in the rocky shore and the blue jewel of the marina. My mind searches the heavens in wonder at the Creator and consummate artist who invented this transcendent experience for the human creature. Surely it was created only for me!

All heartsick people come to the water. The mere sight of those great waters floods the soul with balm and healing, no matter how heavy the burden. I observe the faces of those who pass by, and it is plain that many seek healing for a wounded spirit and restoration of soul. We all find some measure of it there, in the majesty of God's creation. To regenerate and unconverted alike, the waters testify to the genius of their Maker and shout His praise aloud. Lake Michigan is a powerful communiqué to those who have ears to hear.

Overview: Lake Michigan, the second largest Great Lake by volume with just under 1,180 cubic miles of water, is the only Great Lake entirely within the United States. Approximately 118 miles wide and 307 miles long, Lake Michigan has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline. Averaging 279 feet in depth, the lake reaches 925 feet at its deepest point. The lake's northern tier is in the colder, less developed upper Great Lakes region, while its more temperate southern basin contains the Milwaukee and Chicago metropolitan areas. The drainage basin, approximately twice as large as the 22,300 square miles of surface water, includes portions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Lake Michigan is hydrologically inseparable from Lake Huron, joined by the wide Straits of Mackinac.

References: Great Lakes Atlas, Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995

Friday, May 23, 2008

Go, Lovely Rose

I love this poem not so much for its content but for its incredibly clever use of language and metaphor. This is another poem that has lodged itself in my inner being through the medium of music, impossible to forget. Enjoy the artful, carefully crafted work of Edmund Waller.

GO, lovely Rose--
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that 's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.

Then die--that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

By Edmund Waller 1606-1687

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now..."

My favorite CD, If There Were Dreams to Sell, contains a miniature setting of this Housman poem that I consider a half-carat masterpiece. Hint: Get the CD! Richard Hickox is the baritone, and the orchestral colors (especially oboe) complement the richness of his voice most beautifully. This poem always comes into my head at this time of year; Bryant doesn't understand why I'm compelled to stop in mid-stride (while jogging) and revel in the fragrance of apple blossoms. But, you know, apple trees only bloom once in the year! Then the blossoms are gone, not to be seen again until we're all a year older. Carpe diem!

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Music in the Old Testament, Part I

I’ve decided to begin a study of the use of music in Old Testament worship. OT worship was practiced only by the nation of Israel (children of Abraham), God’s chosen people, and perhaps a few proselytes. Surrounding nations could also recognize and fear the Most High God, because they saw how He blessed His people (when they lived in obedience to God’s law) and what great things He did for them (such as the victories in Canaan).

The role of the Levitical priesthood is a most interesting one. Levi’s descendants were the people to whom God entrusted the protocols for His worship—protocols carefully devised by God Himself and revealed to the prophet Moses. These included the ceremonial laws for blood sacrifices, guidelines for art and artifice used to beautify the worship environment, priestly attire, purification rituals, and regulations for daily life.

For the Israelites, the act of worship did not cease upon their exit from the temple. Every aspect of life was a continuation of the sanctification begun with the offering of sacrifice and prayer. This idea surfaces in Apostle Paul’s consciousness in writing Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

I Chronicles 9:33—And these are the singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free: for they were employed in that work day and night.
This comes from a passage describing King David’s work in organizing the Levitical priests. Music was so important to the worship of the Most High God that the singers had no other job. What highly developed music that must have been; surely it was far from primitive. Anyone whose involvement in the arts has been significant knows how much diligence is required to perform well and skillfully. The arts and humanities are glorious gifts of God to human beings; we give back to God edify fellow Christians with the right use of those gifts. We would do well to recognize that the worship of our God is the best and highest use of the arts, and to reward skilled artists accordingly.
II Chronicles 5:13—It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endures for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
This passage describes the dedication of the Temple. God unambiguously made His pleasure known when His people praised Him skillfully. No mention is made of the secret motives of talented musicians. The narrator notes carefully that the musicians sounded “as one,” a prime goal of musical ensemble to the present day. For an ensemble to sound “as one,” tremendous mastery, discipline and sensitivity must be developed in the musicians. These were not people who just decided to pull together some “special music” at the last minute.

II Chronicles 20:21—And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
This reminds me of Scotland’s historic “bagpipe intimidation” tactic, except that praise singers don’t seem very intimidating. This doesn’t indicate whether they were simply for show on dress parade or actually visited the battle scene. I would suspect the former . . .

The Book of Psalms is the “hymnbook” of Israel. Many of the Psalms were written by King David, some by Asaph, a leading-edge Levite, and others by anonymous authors, but all were meant to be sung. The quality of poetic expression, especially in the King James Version, is very lovely. Some, like Psalm 148, practically sing themselves off the page.

Parenthetically: we as Christians should rethink singing the Psalms and teaching them to our children. Additionally, these rich Psalm texts offer wide opportunity for young composers. To be continued . . .

Monday, May 12, 2008

i thank You God

i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite which is yes (i who have died
am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;
this is the birthday of life and love and wings:
and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing
seeing breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginably You? (now the ears of my ears awake
and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e. e. cummings

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I Am in Need of Music

I just sang a beautiful setting of this poem by David Brunner over the weekend with a small choir; my brain continues to caress these lovely objects over and over.

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

by Elizabeth Bishop