Concert Etiquette

In a rare scheduling mistake, I ended up missing one of my children’s concerts.  This is the first time it has happened while working for RadioShack.  While we were in New York, at one time I had three jobs.  I was a pastor, music teacher and worked at RadioShack.  Several times during my three year tenure as music teacher, I had a concert that I was directing the same night as the girls had a concert.  One time the choral director, let me come for a dress rehearsal and I appreciate her willingness to accommodate me.

Because I had a degree in music and went to all those recitals and performances as well as teaching music, I have some pretty high expectations of what a concert-going crowd should do.  I even remember the girls doing a song called Concert Etiquette Rap while they were in elementary school.  They had a very cool choral director.

Pam suggested that I write this after going to the concert this evening.  Because we live in an increasingly casual culture, school concerts aren’t what they used to be.  So, directly from the home office in Martinsville, VA, here are ten rules for concert etiquette (Before you look, take the quiz) (after you look at them, they will seem like common sense.)  Actually these are from the National Association of Music Education.

  1. Refrain from talking — This is the first and greatest rule.
  2. Refrain from unwrapping noisy candy wrappers during the performance — If the composer had wanted to include crinkle paper noises to the music, he would have included it in the parts.
  3. Turn off watch alarms, pagers, and cell phones — enough said!
  4. Do not wave at your child during the concert
  5. Do not take flash photography
  6. Do not walk down the center aisle with your video camera
  7. Do not leave as soon as your child’s portion of the program is over — (my comments — I find this to be highly inconsiderate)
  8. Applaude a appropriate times — there are times to clap and there are times to be silent.  Wait until the director lowers his/her arms at the end of the piece.  This signifies that the musical selection is over.  (my personal pet peeve is clapping for a performer in the middle of the song.  Acknowledge the performance at the end — this isn’t American Idol.)  The exception is if you are attending a jazz ensemble concert.  Then, by all means clap when the individual finishes their solo.
  9. Do not leave the auditorium during the music — Yes, there will be emergencies.  In consideration of the performers, wait until there is a break in the music.  At most school events the selections aren’t long at all.
  10. Go to the concert expecting the best.

If you follow these simple and common sense rules, you will make the performance more memorable for everyone.

Farewell, Larry Norman

larry-norman-only-visiting.jpgThis morning as I was checking my regular blogs, I learned of the passing of Larry Norman. For those of you new to Christian music, Larry was a pioneer. Anyone who plays or sings contemporary gospel music owes a debt of gratitude to Larry. Some of the songs he wrote are “I’d Wish We’d All Been Ready,” “Sweet Song of Salvation” and a whole lot of others. Even though it’s been years since he’s been in the limelight, he will be missed. Here is Larry’s farewell to all of us who are “only visiting this planet.”

I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.

My brother Charles is right, I won’t be here much longer. I can’t do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.

My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.

I’d like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

Goodbye, farewell, we’ll meet again
Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.


Music Monday

Here is a great new song to learn for Easter Sunday.  While there are some great resurrection songs out there, this is a new one and it is penned by (no surprise) Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  Our choir will be singing this in our worship service as part of our Easter Celebration.


My Thoughts on "Sweet Singer of Methodism"

First of all, I want to thank Larry Smith for an excellent article (editorial) on Charles Wesley and the state of music in the church today. Like I mentioned before, I think he hit the nail on the head and you can see that I agreed with what he wrote, because it was a balanced article. I liked how he described the Wesley hymns, balanced — objective truth and subjective experience, which doesn’t surprise me, knowing that they gave us the The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist Albert C. Outler in his introduction to the 1964 collection John Wesley (ISBN 0-19-502810-4).

Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. The four sources are:

  • Scripture – the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)
  • Tradition – the two millennia history of the Christian Church
  • Reason – rational thinking and sensible interpretation
  • Experience – a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ

In practice, at least one of the Wesleyan denominations, The United Methodist Church, asserts that “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’” (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church-2004, p. 77). — from Wikipedia

So, a balanced approach does not surprise me at all. Smith also mentions that we have abandoned the classic hymns in favor of songs of personal experience. Which means we have gotten out of balance. Some churches have abandoned both the classic hymns and as Smith calls it “the turn of the century fluff” for contemporary worship songs. That is not healthy either. I am a “contemporary” musician and I have a problem with the “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of worship song. Smith again calls for balance.

Music should glorify God — music is the support for the Word and the Sacraments. I agree that we should renew our committment to high-quality God-centered or even Trinity centered music. If you haven’t checked out any of the new Getty/Townend hymns, “In Christ Alone,” “The Power of the Cross.” “Hear the Call of the Kingdom.” and others, I urge you to check them out. I have taught a couple of these to our congregation. Smith calls for us to rediscover the rich hymns of the church, especially the Wesley hymns, combine them with the best of the songs of our holiness heritage and add the newest and best of the modern worship song. I think that is great advice. Great article and it gives us all something to think about.

Sweet Singer of Methodism

Reprinted with permission of Larry Smith, editor of God’s Revivalist — November 2007 — a publication of God’s Bible School. I’ll highlight what I liked in bold.

With this edition, God’s Revivalist joins the worldwide celebration of Charles Wesley’s tercentenary. For on December 18, 1707—three hundred years ago—the greatest hymn writer in our language came into this world, the 18th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. He is joyfully remembered as the “Sweet Singer of Methodism.”

“Every Sabbath day, myriads of voices are lifted up…in the hallowed strains which he has supplied…,” wrote Thomas Jackson of thousands of congregations who sang Charles Wesley’s hymns in the 19th century. These hymns not only express the yearning of devout hearts, but as Jackson insists, they also provide “a course of training for the more perfect worship of heaven.”

Whether we shall sing Wesley’s hymns in heaven we do not know, but God be praised that we still sing them here! True, we should sing them more often than we do, and we should sing many more of them. For they not only teach the essentials of our faith, but they also call us to lives of earnest godliness—a note so desperately needed in the shallow atmosphere of today’s religious culture.

These are the hymns of our heritage, of course; and scholars point to many reasons why they remain so enduring. Charles Wesley, they remind us, was brilliant in the use of poetic meter, memorable vocabulary, linguistic devices, sparkling metaphor, and scriptural allusion. Certainly his literary gifts were remarkable. But even more basic to the value of his hymns, as we believe, is their “proper balance of theology and personal experience.” This is emphasized by Richard D. Dinwiddie, a musical scholar, who explains, “Whereas most hymns stress one aspect or the other, Charles’s hymns not only teach Wesleyan theology, but encourage the singer to make the words an expression of his own experience.”

Sound theology joined to personal experience! Here is the glory of Charles Wesley’s hymns, and this means objective truth, strongly declared, reflected in subjective relationship, richly affirmed. Objective truth constitutes the essential foundation of Christianity—God’s revelation of Himself in holy character and saving acts. Subjective relationship, on the other hand, is the personal life of Christianity illuminated and authenticated by the Spirit. Both are essential. Emphasis on the first without the second brings coldness and sterility; Emphasis on the second without the first brings sentimentalism and fanaticism. As Dinwiddie reminds us, Charles Wesley was a master at keeping the two in careful balance.

We have not been so successful. Granted, we are the spiritual descendents of John and Charles Wesley; but more immediately we belong to the American holiness movement. This was birthed in the fervent revivalism of the mid-19th century, which produced a vast harvest of souls but often magnified personal experience and emotional release to the neglect of solid theological foundations. Too often, our preaching became strong on pathos but short on substance, and we forgot the creeds and catechism, neglected the Lord’s Supper, and sang a great deal about warm and reassuring feelings.

So the classic church hymns that offered praise to the Triune God and taught deep theological truth about Him gave way to verses of personal testimony set to music—often peppy little songs that featured “joy bells” ringing perpetually in our souls and “waves of glory” sweeping exuberantly over them. We never completely forgot Charles Wesley, of course, but most of our church music centered in personal experience and soaring emotion. Feeling “like traveling on” seemed a lot more exciting than laboring through all twelve verses of “Wrestling Jacob” with its profound scriptural references and its challenge to vigorous spiritual conflict.

It’s true that we now seem to be losing some of our infatuation with turn-of-the-century fluff. But the alternative “worship music” that has swept through broader evangelicalism and would push its way into our churches is hardly promising. Many of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” kind of choruses now so popular are little more than me-centered snippets of lilting verse continually repeated in order to exploit emotional excitement and give pleasurable sensation. Add a heavily-breathing “praise team” swaying to deafening rhythm pounding from the turned-up speakers, and you have degraded sensual entertainment which neither exalts the Majesty of Heaven nor edifies His church.

This is not to say that all contemporary music is like this. Some of the newer worship choruses offer sublime praise to the Lord Jesus, though few of them say much about the Holy Trinity. Those centered in Scripture and focused in God may certainly enrich and refresh our worship, but only if they are used to supplement the classic hymns of our birthright which must become our stable diet. For as we cannot say too often, the hymns teach the great certainties of our faith and anchor us in their timeless truth.

This is why Charles Wesley is still so important to us. For as Randall McElwain declares elsewhere in this issue, his “hymns serve as a ‘Holiness Creed.’ They state in a memorable form the doctrinal beliefs of the people called Methodists.” Wesley, moreover, translates these beliefs into meaningful personal experience—“objective truth, strongly declared,” as we have said, “reflected in subjective relationship, richly affirmed.”

No better example exists than his stirring hymn, “Arise, My Soul, Arise.” It is centered in the theological truth of Christ’s heavenly priesthood on our behalf (“He ever lives above / For me to intercede”). Powerfully, however, he connects the “five bleeding wounds” that plead for us to the Spirit’s ministry of personal assurance:

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father” cry.

Charles Wesley’s tercentenary offers us splendid opportunity to reflect and to renew. First, we need to reflect upon the purpose of music in the church, which surely is to glorify Him and not merely to entertain ourselves. Superficiality, showmanship, and sensuality are constant threats that subvert that purpose. When music drives a church service and turns it into a concert hall, it becomes a dreadful master. But when it supports the ministry of Word and Sacrament so basic to the church’s worship, it is a humble and blessed servant which assists God’s people to adore Him in the beauty of holiness and sustains a reverent atmosphere in which the Spirit advances them in grace.

Second, we also need to renew our commitment to high-quality, God-centered music that will fill His house with holy melody that will exalt Him and again prepare us for “the more perfect worship of heaven.” Of course, this means recovering the inexhaustible treasures of the church’s hymnody. And for us Methodists, at least, it demands a vigorous and sensitive reintroduction to the neglected hymns of Charles Wesley, joined, of course, to the richest of our gospel songs and probably to the finest of our newer forms of music. Not only worship choruses, but magnificent hymns that are still being written, as anyone who has sung Getty and Townend’s “In Christ Alone” should verify. Remember that always the acid test is neither antiquity nor newness but substantial and holy content.

In 1857, according to Bishop Marston, Henry Ward Beecher attended a Methodist service, expecting “a treat of good hearty hymn singing.” He was severely disappointed, however, as a trained choir tried to lead the congregation in the “monotonous tune” of a currently fashionable piece of religious music. “We missed the old fervor—the old-fashioned Methodist fire,” Beecher commented. “We have seen the time when one of Charles Wesley’s hymns, taking the congregation by the hand, would have led them to the gate of heaven.”

With this issue of God’s Revivalist, we join the worldwide celebration of Charles Wesley’s tercentenary. Joyfully we remember him as the greatest hymn writer of our language—the “Sweet Singer of Methodism.” His lofty hymns will still take us by the hand and lead us to the gates of heaven.