Formations 12.10.2017: Improvising on a Common Theme

The first standard I ever learned was the Sonny Rollins composition “Oleo.” As a drummer, this didn’t require much more than learning to sing the melody. But my friends, who played trombone and guitar, really had to know it. To solo, they had to understand how every note fit, or didn’t fit, into each chord.

Formations 10.29.2017: Call and Response

It’s a simple record with only voices and a few percussion instruments that begins when Jenkins gives the group of children accompanying her these instructions: Many of you, I’m sure, have played the game follow the leader. Well, you can play the same kind of game in song and sound. Here’s how we play it.

Formations 10.15.2017: No Longer

In 2015, John Legend and Common’s song “Glory,” written for the movie Selma, won an Oscar for the best original song. That same year, I worked for Passport camps, an ecumenical youth camp, and every night this was one of many songs that helped us to prepare for worship. As I read this week’s passage and tried to start making sense of Paul’s vision of belonging and freedom in Christ, this song returned to me.

Death and All of His Friends

Earlier today, the oldest and I were riding in a car to an appointment. He was having a rough morning of his own doing and I wanted him to get re-grounded before we set off on the day. So I plugged in my phone and I played the Coldplay song “Strawberry Swing.”

Formations 02.19.2017: Tension and Resolution

In the first few months of my freshman year, the university orchestra played a concert at the opera house downtown. I went and somewhere between Brazilian samba, Argentinian tango, and Aaron Copeland, they played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

Crossroads: The Majesty of God

Talk about where you see/feel the majesty of God. Maybe for you it’s when you’re staring at the ocean and you realize how amazing God is. Or maybe it’s looking out over the mountains. Or perhaps you felt the majesty of God when your children were born. Or maybe it’s when you look up at the skies and see all of the stars.

A View from the Pew: Aging of the Choir

I’ve had a fondness for Christmas cantatas, lessons and carols services, and other performances of sacred Christmas music since I was a boy fidgeting in the third-row pew while my parents rehearsed portions of Handel’s “Messiah.” Our choir this Sunday was as intriguing as their performance was beautiful.

Crossroads: Music and Control

The election is this week, and for the past several months, life has felt out of control…. And in the midst of all of this name calling, mudslinging, and other awfulness, the world is at war.

Formations 11.13.2016: Sing in Time

When I walk into a new sanctuary, I find a pew, pull out the hymnal, and look through it. I see if anyone’s names have been embossed on the lower right corner. I check to see how the church decided to phrase the words on the bookplate dedicating its use to the Lord’s worship.

Formations 10.30.2016: Start Again

Harvey Thomas Young, a musician from Austin, Texas, wrote a song called “Start Again.” First a poem written on the back of a postcard to his brother in jail, his manager saw it and requested he set the poem to music.

Formations 08.14.2016: Singing the Blues

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Ted Slowik explained how, as a white kid growing up in the suburbs, his views about race were shaped in part by exposure to blues music.

Formations 08.07.2016: Obadiah

The truth is that we don’t know who Obadiah was. Some people even think his name, meaning “servant of the Lord,” was just a title. Whoever he was, he came from a world that was falling apart.

Connections 07.31.2016: Seasons of Spiritual Life

One of my favorite contemporary Christian artists is Nichole Nordeman. Her songs range from poignant reflections on the seasons of life to grateful awe to bold declarations of uncertainty and doubt.

Live Forever

Glenn Frey will live for as long as the world continues. That’s because he will live on in his songs. Now, before some of y’all get your halos twisted in a knot, let me say that I do believe in everlasting life.

Formations 08.16.2015: Making Peace

Kanye West is famous, among other things, for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards. When Swift beat out Beyoncé for Best Female Video, the rapper rushed the stage to explain why Beyoncé’s should have won instead.

Use It or Lose It

Antonio Stradivari was the master instrument maker of the last five hundred years. He built a number of stringed masterpieces: Harps, cellos, and guitars. But his name is most closely associated with his violins

A View from the Pew: Counting the Choir

I have a confession: for reasons I’m about to explore, each week during worship, I silently count the members of the church choir. Bizarre, I know.

Uniform 12.14.2014: Communal Noise

Advent is perhaps the most audibly rich time on the Christian calendar. Bells ringing, fires crackling, people singing—the sounds of the season prepare us for Christmas in a way that sights alone cannot.

Songs of Innocence: Using Popular Music to Engage and Inform Youth Sunday School

On Tuesday, as almost an afterthought to its announcement of a new iPhone, the Irish rock band U2 dropped a surprise new album, Songs of Innocence. What is quite remarkable for a band with this sustained level of popularity is the fact that three-quarters of the band members are professed Christians.