Category Archives: Music

The Beauty of Suzhounese

Is it just me, or is Suzhounese the most beautiful language ever sung by women? I think I have a serious weakness for that dialect.

Video

Recognition and Acknowledgement

One of the best scenes in Cantonese opera, from the 1959 film 《帝女花》 (The Flower Princess). The male protagonist, betrothed to the Ming dynasty princess shortly before the emperor’s suicide before rebel forces, now in the new Qing dynasty recognizes a Daoist nun as his once intended, tries to persuade her to acknowledge their relationship.

Aside

Ming Wilson in the Princeton Tory, ‘The Redemption of the World: What Music Teaches about Objectivity, Beauty & God’: ‘Considering both undeniable historical opinion and persuasive modern findings, we should not reject a possible bond between objectivity and beauty in … Continue reading

Hezbollah and the Need for Better Music


Hezbollah is today leading the defence of Lebanon against the forces of Daesh (ISIS), not fearing to make tactically aggressive manoeuvres in Syria and lend its hand to the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. For this reason even Christians and Sunnis have joined their defence. This willingness to use military force for the common good is due at least in part to the music that helps maintain Hezbollah’s confidence.

So much of contemporary Christian music, on the other hand, seems to be written for women and eunuchs, and certainly not for men. I am not, of course, the first to have observed this tendency: others have noted it for years. How much of our music, training us in a general meekness and mildness – rather than humility before God and justly wielded power, but iron strength before the prowling lion Satan – has destroyed our ability to stand up to the snakes who spread false teaching, wolves who devour the flock, and wild beasts who rage against the people of God?

Shall we not consider the words of Glaucon and Socrates discussing music in Plato’s Republic (398d–399c, tr. Grube)?

Nonetheless, I said, you know that, in the first place, a song consists of three elements – words, harmonic mode, and rhythm.

Yes, I do know that.

As far as words are concerned, they are no different in songs than they are when not set to music, so mustn’t they conform in the same way to the patterns we established just now?

They must.

Further, the mode and rhythm must fit the words.

Of course.

And we said that we no longer needed dirges and lamentations among our words.

We did, indeed.

What are the lamenting modes, then? You tell me, since you’re musical.

The mixo-Lydian, the syntono-Lydian, and some others of that sort.

Aren’t they to be excluded, then? They’re useless even to decent women, let alone to men.

Certainly.

Drunkenness, softness, and idleness are also most inappropriate for our guardians [i.e. the warrior ruling class, as opposed to the producers].

How could they not be?

What, then, are the soft modes suitable for drinking-parties?

The Ionian and those Lydian modes that are said to be relaxed.

Could you ever use these to make people warriors?

Never. And now all you have left is the Dorian and Phrygian modes.

I don’t know all the musical modes. Just leave me the mode that would suitably imitate the tone and rhythm of a courageous person who is active in battle or doing other violent deeds, or who is failing and facing wounds, death, or some other misfortune, and who, in all these circumstances, is fighting off his fate steadily and with self-control. Leave me also another mode, that of someone engaged in a peaceful, unforced, voluntary action, persuading someone or asking a favor of a god in prayer or of a human being through teaching and exhortation, or, on the other hand, of someone submitting to the supplications of another who is teaching him and trying to get him to change his mind, and who, in all these circumstances, is acting with moderation and self-control, not with arrogance but with understanding, and is content with the outcome. Leave me, then, these two modes, which will best imitate the violent or voluntary tones of voice of those who are moderate and courageous, whether in good fortune or in bad.

The modes you’re asking for are the very ones I mentioned.

In the kingdom of God, as long as it exists within a fallen world, there must (pace Plato) be lamentation. The Lamentations of Jeremiah, indeed, teach us to mourn for Jerusalem fallen, and mourn we must unto the ending of the world. Blessed, says our Lord, are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. In the mourning of a Christian, directed toward God, is both a plea against the present and a confidence in the judgement of God. For the Christian warrior, then, it is the elegy and the hope of the world to come, the world that is coming from heaven to earth, that together make his resolve to fight. In Christendom, therefore, we must have the Lydian and the Mixolydian (both authentic and plagal), which Western music has kept as church modes 5–8, elegiac but hopeful.

Nevertheless, much neglected among Western Christians today are modes 1–4, comprising the Dorian and the Phrygian (both authentic and plagal). These are modes we dearly need to bring back into the idiom of the common Christian’s expression, that he may be fit both to speak sober reason and to make war against the devil and, when there is need, against forces of flesh and blood as well. What the devil has removed from the throats of Christians, let us restore to the songs of the Church.

Tallis’s psalm tunes here, except the ninth, are numbered to correspond to the church modes (or tones): (1) Dorian, (2) Hypodorian, (3) Phrygian, (4) Hypophrygian, (5) Lydian, (6) Hypolydian, (7) Mixolydian, (8) Hypomixolydian.

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A Carol for the Feast of St Stephen

Performed by Magpie Lane.

Saint Stephen was a holy man
Endued with heavenly might,
And many wonders he did work
All in the people’s sight;
And by the holy Spirit of God,
Which did his heart inflame,
He spared not, in every place,
To preach God’s holy Name.

O man, do never faint nor fear,
When God the truth shall try;
But mark how Stephen, for Christ’s sake,
Was a-willing for to die.

Before the elders he was brought,
His answer for to make,
But they could not the spirit withstand
Whereby this man did speak.
While this was told, the multitude
Beholding him aright,
His comely face began to shine
Most like an angel bright.

Then Stephen did put forth his voice,
And he did first unfold
The wond’rous works which God had wrought
E’en for their fathers old;
That they thereby might plainly know
Christ Jesus should be he
That from the burden of the law
Should quit us frank and free.

But, oh! quoth he, you wicked men,
Which of your fathers all
Did not the prophets persecute,
And keep in woeful thrall?
But when they heard him so to say,
Upon him they all ran,
And there without the city gates
They stoned this holy man.

There he most meekly on his knees
To God did pray at large
Desiring that he should not lay
This sin unto their charge;
Then yielding up his soul to God,
Who had it dearly bought,
He lost his life, and his body then
To the grave was seemly brought.

Aside

Analects 11.1: 子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」 ‘The Master said, “Those of my disciples who were first to enter into study of ritual and music with me were simple rustics, whereas those who entered later were aristocrats (junzi 君子). If I had to employ … Continue reading

Folk Metal Psalms

Based on the Genevan Psalter setting of Psalm 130 by Claude Goudimel.

Listening to Brother Down’s album Old Paths, New Feet (2013) and such folk metal groups as Ensiferum, Tengger Cavalry, and Eluveitie has led me to believe that there is a place for folk metal metrical psalmody. In the French Renaissance, metrical psalmody was a significant literary force, not among the Protestants only but among the Romanists as well. People sang psalms not only at church but also in daily life. Today, for imprecatory and elegiac psalms, the folk metal genre seems to be a good way to express some of the Psalmist’s feeling and spirit; the word of God would also lend strength to the genre.

For metrical psalms, there is already plenty of good musical material, some from folk sources and some from classical. The names of Tallis and Goudimel are known well enough among those who listen to Renaissance music that I need not say more about the quality of their music, and likewise the folk tunes still used for unaccompanied metrical psalmody in the Free Church of Scotland are both vigorous and easy to find. The Gaelic psalmody in particular refracts familiar music in ways that could inspire new interpretations. He who seeks will not lack. That the music is not altogether unfamiliar would appeal to ordinary folk hearing it in a new form, and those who were unfamiliar with the traditional music would find it in these modern compositions; for both, more often neglected parts of the Psalter could become a part of common life, and (if musically well clothed) the word of God would dwell more richly in the commonwealth, giving the people a renewed sense of the life of the spirit.

Vocals could generally vary from churchly chanting to more folkish singing characteristic of lustier songs; some growling might be suitable for parts of Psalm 137 and suchlike, though I think a more elegant approach might be influenced by Thomas Campion’s ‘As by the Streams of Babylon’. Much of the heaviness or dark colour required would already come from the instrumentation, of course, giving writers and musicians greater latitude to find fitting vocals that were satisfying æsthetically and ædifying spiritually.

JDeBeauchesne+JohnBaildon--ABookeContainingDiversSortesOfHands--SetChanceryHand-1571

And graphically, need I say much more? For cover art the sixteenth century has no poverty of invention.

Will anyone do this?

Aside

Tractarians need not think metrical psalms are the sole preserve of uncatholic or even of Evangelical circles. John Keble himself was the versifer of a metrical psalter, its accuracy checked by Edward Pusey. I myself favour psalms chanted before the … Continue reading

A Kyrie for All Saints’ Day

One of the most beautiful Kyries I’ve ever heard, by Tomás Luis de Victoria, from Officium Defunctorum. For God to have allowed for sin to mar the world, this must be an adornment to the glory of his redemption.

Now, the day after Reformation Day, I wonder why God purposed for this piece to come out of the Counter-Reformation: perhaps it’s exactly so that greater glory will shine forth when the Church is reformed according to God’s word and once more united. What is fractured will be brought together. God loves his Church: let no man forsake the vision of her glory.

We remember all our brethren who have tasted death and wait for Christ to return in glory to raise us in the Resurrection of the Body. The collect for today from the Book of Common Prayer reads,

O almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We wait, and we long to see what we now know by faith. Come, Lord Jesus!