Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Friday, November 9, 2012

Post-Election Lyrics

I have not yet unpacked most of my CDs post-seminary, so I have been borrowing CDs from the local library. Just today I picked up Not Too Late, by Norah Jones. In light of the events of this past week, the eighth track struck a chord with me. You can listen to a live performance of the song here.

My Dear Country

'Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out
And everywhere they'd go they shout
And though I covered my eyes I knew
They'd go away

But fear's the only thing I saw
And three days later was clear to all
That nothing is as scary as election day

But the day after is darker
And darker and darker it goes
Who knows maybe the plans will change
Who knows maybe he's not deranged

The news men know what they know but they
Know even less than what they say
And I don't know who I can trust
For the come what may

'Cuz we believed in our candidate
But even more it's the one we hate
I needed someone I could shake
On election day

But the day after is darker
And deeper and deeper we go
Who knows maybe it's all a dream,
Who knows if I'll wake up and scream

I love the things that you've given me
I cherish you my dear country
But sometimes I don't understand
The way we play

I love the things that you've given me
And most of all that I am free
To have a song that I can sing
On election day

Norah Jones
Muthajones Music-EMI Blackwood Music (BMI)
from the album Not Too Late

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lyrics for a World in Turmoil

In recent weeks, with Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan dominating the news, this song by Warren Zevon has been running through my head a lot. The title song of his 1982 album, The Envoy, it is his tribute to U.S. diplomat Philip Habib, who served as President Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East during the Lebanese Civil War. Reagan later sent Habib to the Philippines and Central America on missions of peace. You can here Zevon perform the song live here.

The Envoy

Nuclear arms in the Middle East
Israel's attacking the Iraqis
The Syrians are mad at the Lebanese
And Baghdad does whatever she please
Looks like another threat to world peace
For the envoy

Things got hot in El Salvador
CIA got caught and couldn't do no more
He's got diplomatic immunity
He's got a lethal weapon that nobody sees
Looks like another threat to world peace
For the envoy
Send the envoy
Send the envoy

Whenever there's a crisis
The President sends his envoy in
Guns in Damascus
Oh, Jerusalem

Nuclear arms in the Middle East
Israel's attacking the Iraqis
The Syrians are mad at the Lebanese
And Baghdad do whatever she please
Looks like another threat to world peace
For the envoy
Send the envoy
Send the envoy
Send for me
Send for me
Send for me

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lyrics for Advent

We are now in the midst of a cluster of feasts honoring Christ's mother. Today we commemorated Mary's conception in the Byzantine churches. Most Catholics observed the same feast yesterday, and they will celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday. This Sunday in the Byzantine Rite we commemorate the ancestors of Christ.

Earlier this week I heard the Lovemongers' cover of this song by Patty Griffin. You can hear a live recording of it by Patty with Natalie Maines here.


Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ashes
You're covered in rain
You're covered in babies, you're covered in slashes
You're covered in wilderness, you're covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary

Jesus says Mother I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Everytime the snow drifts, everytime the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she's always there

Jesus said Mother I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ruin
You're covered in secrets
You're covered in treetops, you're covered in birds
Who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay
Mary, Mary, Mary

Patty Griffin
One Big Love Music/Chrome Dog Music (ASCAP)
From the 1998 album Flaming Red

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Annunciation Update

Greetings on the Feast of the Annunciation! I am celebrating by listening to Kate Campbell's album Rosaryville, whose thematic threads include Louisiana, the Blessed Virgin Mary, motherhood, and the color blue. I have twice heard Campbell, a southern, Christian singer-songwriter, live, and I have most of her albums on CD. Rosaryville was my first exposure to her, and it is still my favorite of her albums.

Today is a liturgical rather than academic day here at St. Vlad's. Metropolitan Jonah is spending the whole day with us. We had a two-hour hierarchical Matins service this morning. It was impressive to see 11 priests lined up in front of the metropolitan, all in blue phelonia. Next, at 3 PM, is the Ninth Hour, followed by a hierarchical Vesperal Liturgy at which two students will be ordained - one to the priesthood, another to the diaconate. Then, at Compline at 9 PM, Metropolitan Jonah will receive the monastic vows of one of the students and tonsure him as a stavrophore.

Tomorrow will be a final academic day before we launch into Holy Week. Our schedule for the week will be, essentially, the full cursus of services from the Typikon - the kind of thing that is normally found only at a monastery. Bright Week, by contrast, has few services and no classes - it is our spring break.

I had been planning to make a visit to my home parish for Agape Vespers and Bright Monday, with a stop on the way back to watch the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament with my brother's family. But this year Agape Vespers was moved from the customary 6 PM to noon, which will make it impossible for me to attend, so I will probably just cancel the whole trip and stay on campus to study.

I am looking into some exciting possibilities for this summer. I have applied to take an intensive three-week summer course on the missiology of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, which is being offered by the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity and OCMC. It will include two weeks in Albania! There were 16 applicants for 10 slots, so it's not a sure thing. I am also considering studying Syriac at Notre Dame for three or six weeks. And it looks like my institute might have some work for me, which would take me back to the DC area for at least a few weeks. I also hope to fit in a long road trip to visit friends and family I haven't seen in a while.

I just added a two new features to the blog, which you'll find in the right-hand column. First is OLD POSTS, BACK IN SEASON, which collects links to my past posts that are appropriate to the current season. It currently lists my old posts related to Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha. Second is a list of my followers. Yes, believe it or not, I have followers - or at least my blog does!

P.S. While I was writing the above, I received word that I have been accepted to the missiology course!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

UN Prayer Service

On Monday I attended the Ninth Annual Orthodox Christian Prayer Service for the United Nations Community, sponsored by the SCOBA/SCOOCH Joint Commission of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The service took place at Holy Trinity Cathedral with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presiding and Ambassador Strobe Talbot as the featured speaker. The choir from St. Vladimir's Seminary was to sing the recessional, so the seminary rented a bus for the occasion. There were extra seats on the bus, so I went along.

The Ethiopian choir that was to sing the processional did not show up, so the St. Vlad's choir was asked to do it. During the lengthy delay before the entrance, the choir ran through its whole repertoire, except the number they were saving for the recessional. So the first 19 minutes of the video are just the St. Vlad's choir singing. At about the 15-minute mark the bishops finally begin to trickle in. Vespers begins at about the 25-minute mark. The service is sung by the choir from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Both choirs sounded great, and they demonstrated just how different Russian and Greek music sound.

The sound quality of the video is inconsistent - there are some spots where it gets faint and scratchy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Give Me This Stranger

Today, which is Good Friday on the Gregorian calendar, my Byzantine Catholic e-friend Dan sent me this YouTube video of the hymn “Give me this stranger.” It is Byzantine chant sung in Arabic, and it’s about 10 minutes long. It’s not very impressive visually – just a series of very slow pans over icons of Christ’s burial – but the music is otherworldly.

This hymn is sung on the night of Great and Holy Friday at the end of the Lamentation service, which commemorates Christ’s burial. It is sung from the point of view of my patron saint, Joseph of Arimathea. Many of the hymns on Holy Friday mention St. Joseph, but this is one of only two that are sung from his point of view. (Interestingly, both of these are in tone 5, as opposed to the hymns about him, which tend to be in tones 2 and 6.) An English translation of the hymn follows.

Seeing that the sun had hidden its rays and the veil of the Temple had been rent at the death of the Saviour, Joseph did approach Pilate and did plead with him crying and saying,

Give me this stranger, who from his youth hath wandered like a stranger.

Give me this stranger, whom his kinsmen killed in hatred like a stranger.

Give me this stranger at whom I wonder, beholding him as a guest of death.

Give me this stranger who knoweth how to take in the poor and strangers.

Give me this stranger whom the Jews in envy estranged from the world.

Give me this stranger that I may bury him in a tomb, who being a stranger hath no place whereon to lay his head.

Give me this stranger, to whom his Mother, beholding him dead, shouted crying, “O my Son and my God, even though my vitals be wounded, and my heart burns, as I behold thee dead, yet trusting in thy Resurrection, I magnify thee.”

In these words the honorable Joseph pleaded with Pilate, took the Saviour’s body, and with fear wrapped it in linen and balm, placing thee in a new tomb, O thou who grantest to all everlasting life and the great mercy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Byzantine Chant

In the 18 months since I was chrismated into the Orthodox Church, my main ministry has been chanting at Matins, which I do nearly every Sunday. Matins begins at 8:15 on most Sundays, and 8:00 on certain feasts. That it could get a night owl like me out of bed that early on a weekend should be sufficient proof of how much I have come to love chanting.

When I was an Anglo-Catholic, my liturgical involvement took the form of serving as an acolyte. I served at both Low and Solemn Masses, as well as Evensong & Benediction. I especially enjoyed my five years serving for Fr. Anderson at Morning Prayer and Low Mass on Thursdays. After working together for so long, each of us knew what the other was going to do, and our choreography became automatic, so that I could actually pray during Mass instead of always thinking about what I had to do next.

In my various liturgical roles, I was not only serving the church but also educating myself on the details of the liturgy. While I gained a respectable degree of expertise on the Mass, there were always others with more knowledge (and bigger libraries) than I on that subject. But eventually, thanks in large part to my exposure to Benedictine monastic life, I think I became the parish’s resident expert on the Daily Office.

At Holy Cross, lay liturgical roles at the altar are reserved, for the most part, to subdeacons and teen-age boys, so it looked like I would have to learn Byzantine worship standing with the congregation. When Doug, one of the protopsaltis (lead chanters) began offering occasional classes in Byzantine chant on Sundays after coffee hour, I attended. Since I have always found my voice frustratingly inadequate, I did not imagine that I would actually be able to chant in services, but I thought this would be a chance to begin my education on the Byzantine services of Vespers and Matins. Not much later, the other protopsalti, Emily, took over the job of training the new chanters. We would meet to practice for two hours on Saturday afternoons before Vespers. At first we focused on learning the standard pieces that are sung every Sunday, as well as on learning the eight Byzantine tones. Emily recorded and uploaded several of the hymns, as well as a short introduction to each of the tones consisting of the apichima (a short mnemonic to help the chanter bring the tone to mind quickly), a sample hymn in the tone, and the Resurrectional Troparion of the tone. I learned to chant by playing these pieces over and over and singing along with them. Eventually, the time came when I was scheduled to chant at Sunday Matins.

My very first time, I was the only chanter who arrived on time. When Deacon Mark came out of the sanctuary to ask if I could get the service started by myself until the other chanters arrived, I could only say no. (Ever since then, I have judged my progress, in part, by asking how far into the service I could get if I had to do it solo.) The first few times, I would just be assigned to read psalms and other parts that are simply read, and otherwise sing only the parts that were sung in unison by everyone. But it wasn’t long before we newbies started to take our turns on the kathismata and the anabathmoi, two types of hymns that are free chanted every Sunday.

In free chanting, one is given a text, along with a number from 1 to 8 representing the tone in which the words are to be sung. Each Byzantine tone has its own characteristic patterns built on one of the four scales. The chanter sings the words, matching them to the patterns of the tone, essentially composing a musical setting for the words spontaneously within the strictures of the tone. If you really know the tone and can get it into your head, free chanting is not as hard as it sounds. If you don’t know the tone or can’t call it to mind, however, it is impossible to do right. Free chanting is much easier when you are following someone else who has just chanted something in the same tone. Another thing that makes free chanting easier is that each Sunday is assigned one of the eight tones, and most of the pieces that are free chanted will usually be in the tone of the week. Therefore, we could focus on one tone each week.

Not everything is free chanted. For most of the hymns there are settings written in Western musical notation. Some chanters prefer to rely on these, while others prefer to free chant. Free chanting comes easier to me. However, free chanting only works for solo pieces. Hymns that are to be sung by everyone require written music to keep everyone together. I learn the frequently sung pieces by ear and then use the written music as a reminder. Otherwise, I try to follow those who read music better than I.

About a year ago, on Lazarus Saturday, a crew from the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly came to interview Emily about Byzantine chant and to film Matins and the Liturgy. That segment, edited down to under three minutes, will finally air this weekend. It became available on-line today.

Only James chants with Emily in the segment. I was still too green to chant on TV (in the big game you play your stars, not your rookies), so you’ll only see the back of my head in the congregation (I’m the one obstructing your view of the icon of Christ). Now, a year later, I get to chant with Emily and James all the time – like tomorrow at Matins of Lazarus Saturday.

For those who want to read more, here are some links:

Byzantine Chant – an article from OrthodoxWiki.
Byzantine Chant – an article from the Holy Cross Website.
Tone Three – Emily’s reminiscence about chanting in Greek on Christmas Eve.
Makin’ the Big Time – Emily’s blog post on the TV segment.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lyrics for Holy Thursday

From the album Wandering Strange

The Last Song

After the supper was over
     and the table had been cleared away
When the last bottle was empty,
     there was nothing much left to say
Jesus started humming an old tune,
     everybody fell right in
They sang the last song, the last song

Matthew started singing the low part,
     John grabbed the high harmony
Their voices filled up the night air
     all the way to Gethsemane
Judas walked some distance behind them
     like he had forgotten the words
They sang the last song, the last song

Just before they got to the garden
Just before they all fell asleep
Just before Barabbas was pardoned
And Jesus was nailed to a tree

I reckon it was some kind of soul song,
     maybe kind of sad and slow
All about how we get weary,
     all about holding on
Only Jesus knew what was coming,
     still he never said a thing
He sang the last song, the last song

He could have made a toast to the good times
     and only the best for his friends
He could have stayed up late reminiscing
     about the long strange trip it had been
But he went just like a lamb to the slaughter
     knowing it was part of the plan
And sang the last song, the last song

Kate Campbell and Walt Aldridge
© 1999 Large River Music (BMI) /
April Music/Waltz Time Music (ASCAP)

Friday, March 21, 2008

A River Runs Through Lent

Last week was the first week of Lent. (Those of us who follow the Julian Calendar are running five weeks behind the rest of the world this year.) All week, wherever I turned, I kept running into river imagery.

On the weekdays of Lent, the Byzantine lectionary gives us Genesis and Proverbs. On the first day of Lent, we begin with the first chapter of each, and we work our way through both over the next six weeks. I read Proverbs last year, so this year I’m reading Genesis. Once again I came upon Genesis 2:10: “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” I lingered over the image, and it remained with me in the following days.

Last week’s tothesource column was a critique of Richard Dawkins’ condemnation of the politically incorrect God of the Old Testament. (Bottom line: Dawkins elsewhere describes the world as indifferent to good and evil; this leaves him no basis for condemning God or anything else.) The article cited Dawkins’ 1996 book, River Out of Eden, whose title is an obvious reference to the Old Testament he now so despises.

While doing some number crunching, I listened to The Turning, the 1987 album by Leslie Phillips (who later re-christened herself Sam Phillips). This album was her first collaboration with producer (and later husband) T Bone Burnett. The first song on the album is Burnett’s “River of Love,” which begins with the line, “There's a river of love that runs through all times.” The line itself winds through the song like a river, repeated before each verse and again at the end of the song. The song’s three verses are about different sorts of rivers – rivers of grief, tears, and fire, respectively. Each of these rivers is evoked in detail, unlike the river of love. Yet, when each verse ends, the river of love is still flowing. As if to reinforce the song in my mind, I heard it again the next day on Burnett’s own self-titled album of 1986.

The boom box on which I listened to these CDs at work is showing its age. Before I can play a CD, I need to hit the play button repeatedly for a minute or two. Recently, while waiting for a CD to start playing, I have been working my way through Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 34, which I read last week, begins with the image of the Tao as a flooding river. It flows everywhere, nourishing all, yet without exalting its own role.

Upon creating man, God placed him in Paradise, which was watered by the river. After our first ancestors’ expulsion from Paradise, their descendants clung to the river, eventually spreading south into Mesopotamia along two of the river’s branches. Though they were deprived of Paradise itself, they still had the river that had sustained their life in Eden. Though fallen, they were not deprived entirely of God’s love for them. Likewise, as we work our way through Lent, continually reminded of our fallen state, we are nourished by signs of God’s love, flowing through it all.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

On My Father's Side

Unless you are both a bluegrass fan and a resident of the Washington, DC, area, you might not know that this region has a strong bluegrass tradition. In the 1950s, in fact, Washington was known as the “Bluegrass Capital of America.” Perhaps that would be less surprising if you recall that DC is right across the Potomac from Virginia.

One of our local public radio stations, WAMU, has been playing bluegrass for 40 years! At one point its bluegrass programming dominated weekday afternoons, but today it is relegated to Sundays.* Still, they manage to get in a lot of bluegrass on that one day! It starts at 1 AM with “Bluegrass Overnight,” and continues with “Stained Glass Bluegrass” at 6 AM. After a two-hour break for NPR news from 10 to 12, they return to bluegrass with “The Ray Davis Show” and “The Dick Spottswood Show.” On a typical Sunday I catch at least a little of each of these shows. (I'm listening to “Bluegrass Overnight” as I finish composing this post, late on Saturday night.)

Last Sunday I was listening to “Stained Glass Bluegrass” as I was getting dressed for church, and I heard a bluegrass gospel song I had not heard before. It was Felecia Shiflett’s song, “On My Father’s Side,” performed by the Village Singers. The song continued to run through my head for the next few days. With the help of Google, I tracked down the lyrics, the name of the songwriter, and this 30-second preview of the song by another performer. You will see that the lyrics are eminently appropriate to a blog called TWO NATURES.

On My Father’s Side
Felecia Shiflett

Just a young boy in the temple one day
Shared with the doctors, they were so amazed
Never had they seen one so young speak so swift
They asked him many questions, the conversation went like this

What’s your name, son?
On my mother’s side, my name is Jesus
But on my Father’s side, they call me Emmanuel
How old are you?
On my mother’s side, now I’m twelve years
But on my Father’s side, I’ve just always been
Where you from?
On my mother’s side, I’m from Bethlehem
But on my Father’s side, it’s New Jerusalem
What’s your plan?
On my mother’s side, I’ll be crucified
But on my Father’s side, in three days I’ll arise
And I’ll sit at my Father’s side

He was the Son of God, yet the son of man
And I can’t help but wonder how Joseph must have felt
Through an open door that day, he heard his son reply
He said: You see, I’m the King of Kings, that’s on my Father’s side


*Unless you have a digital radio, that is. WAMU’s digital channel 3 calls itself “Bluegrass Country.”

Thanks to “Stained Glass Bluegrass” host Red Shipley for providing the name of the group in response to my query.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Lyrics for Holy Saturday

I've spent so much time in church this week (22 hours so far, with about another 4 to go) that I haven't had a chance to listen to most of my usual Holy Week music, like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Handel's "Messiah." Right now I finally found an hour to listen to Kate Campbell's album of hymns and gospel tunes, "Wandering Strange," while I catch up on my e-mail. But it doesn't look like I'll get to U2's "Achtung Baby."

Yes, you read that right. While Bono's lyrics often draw on Christian terms and symbols, this album contains a song that is both subtle and explicit, "Until the End of the World." I had probably heard this song a dozen times, half-listening, and classified it as just another rock song about love, either unrequited or gone-bad. Then one time I popped the tape into my tape deck as I was leaving work for a Melkite Epitaphios service on Good Friday. With my mind focused on the events the Church was celebrating this day, I finally heard the real meaning of the song: During the Harrowing of Hell, Jesus encounters Judas, who sings this song.

Haven't seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold, just passing time
Last time we met it was a low-lit room
We were as close together as bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world

I took the money, I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You led me on with those innocent eyes
And you know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret, waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait till the end of the world