Christian Rock Apologetics

I am very tired of the hatred and bigotry that these so-called Christian Rock critics hurl at musicians and listeners who want to worship God through musical styles other than the Euro-centric traditional hymns. In a previous blog post, I have said my piece about this. In this new post, I’d like to share a more detailed site that covers a lot of ground about the topic of music in worship. Here it goes:

http://www.mindspring.com/~brucec/craindex.htm

This site has a wealth of information and presents a balanced viewpoint regarding how music should be in worship along with answers to common Christian Rock critic accusations.

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Morality in Music

It annoys me every time I read or hear one of these things:

  • Christian Rock is depraved.
  • Drums and electric guitars are the Devil’s instruments.
  • Christian Hip Hop is inconsistent with scripture.
  • Contemporary Christian Music is evil.

These and other statements have that air of bigotry and intolerance. I really want to ask such people these questions such as these:

  • If a hammer can be used to smash another person’s head to smithereens, should the serious Christian avoid using a hammer in carpentry because a hammer has the potential to be used as a murder weapon?
  • If a match can be used to burn a house down, should a Christian freezing at the mercy of wintertime avoid using a match to light a fire and keep oneself warm?
  • If a depraved person can use a fork or a chopstick to stab somebody in the throat, should Christians stop using forks and chopsticks because they have the unchristian potential to harm another person?
  • If Handel’s big hit “Hallelujah” from the oratorio Messiah features a 4/4 rhythm and features fast scalar runs similar to non-Christian guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, should Christians stop singing the song because it shares a lot of traits with the “music of the world”?

More often than not, people who appeal to such rhetoric are those individuals who tend to impose their own musical preferences on other people. If we were to accept the fact that the style of music found in traditional hymns is the only proper way to worship God through music, isn’t that just simply confining ourselves to a particular musical culture that came out of Europe? Are we therefore equating European sacred music as the only kind of music that could glorify God? Sounds very ethnocentric and bigoted to me. Such arguments fall along similar lines such as the Authorized King James Version is the only acceptable bible ergo archaic English is the only kind of language acceptable to praise God. Such is hogwash.

Every genre and style of music can be considered a particular language that reaches people both in the intellectual and emotional level. Do proponents of such a narrow-minded view say that only traditional hymns are acceptable music for worship? Doesn’t that eerily follow the same line of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church followed when they did not allow the Bible to be published in languages other than Latin? Do we mean to say that people from Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world will be in sin if they wrote and sung worship music in the particular style of their culture? I would strongly disagree to such notions. Where is it that we read in the Bible that we cannot use pentatonic scales, percussion instruments, drones, and other non-European musical techniques in worship? We read it nowhere! Matter of fact is if we read passages like Psalm 33 and 150, it seems to me that ancient Israel used music accompanied by stringed instruments, trumpets, timbrels, and dancing. Now tell me, does that look like a choir accompanied by an organ or piano? In my mind, it sounds more like a big band rather than your hymn-singing choir.

Psalm 33:3 (KJV) even reads, “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” It doesn’t sound like somber hymn singing to me. If we are to be really legalistic about this, then church should be burning their organs and pianos into one big bonfire and start training musicians how to play the kinnor and shofar and teaching the congregation to sing songs  in Phrygian Dominant rather than the more traditional major and minor scales. You sure can’t find in the Bible that organs and pianos are the only instruments allowed and that electric guitars and drums are the Devil’s. If you really are dead set on thinking that drums are evil, perhaps you should rearrange Handel’s “Hallelujah” in a way that the piano doesn’t sound so percussive. Oh, and if you have an orchestra that will play it for you, forget about using timpani too.  If you’re going to say that music that tends to elicit certain emotions is not appropriate for worship, why not go for something emotionally neutral like 12-tone serial music? I will be the first to tell you that is a ridiculous idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I love playing and singing traditional hymns and I play such music every Sunday at church. The fact that I have a strong disgust for are these people who brand themselves as Christians  imposing their own tastes on others and declaring that to be holy writ. Such bigoted declarations on music are the laws of men rather than the word of God and are bound to cause division rather than unity. I have always believed that music for worship should be composed in an appropriate way, matching the content of the words with the expression of music, using a delicate touch when being meditative and expressing power when proclaiming God’s magnificence.

I would go on to proclaim that music i.e. the arrangement of sound and silences in an organized manner is amoral. It’s about as good as a hammer can be when used to build a house and can be as evil as the same tool when used for murder. We can only attach morality to music depending on how it is used. You would never expect me to write music reflecting God’s omnipotence using a sweet-sounding flute and light string arrangements; It would be all out bombast with drums, brass,  and a distorted guitar to demonstrate that.

Want more info? Go to these links:

http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/contemporary-Christian-music.html

Hope in the Darkness Premiere 12/24/2013

Here’s a performance of one of my original compositions entitled “Hope in the Darkness”. This is actually the premiere of the piece last December 24, 2013 at United Church of Christ in the Philippines – Makati Church of Christ Disciples, J.P. Rizal, Makati City. I was playing lead guitar in this performance using a recent purchase (ESP LTD MH-300) and an EBow:

For a piece that was rehearsed only twice, it was okay. Although I feel that there can still be improvement (I suppose that many who would listen to this performance would think the same as we were fumbling in various spots of the piece), I am actually very happy and thankful that the UCCP-MCCD Music Ministry decided to go ahead and perform it.

Now, here is the solo piano version I came up with last November 2013:

The lyrics are as follows:
————-

Hope in the Darkness
(Based largely on Lamentations 3:19-33)
Music and Lyrics by Mark A. Galang

When hope seems lost
We try to make sense of things
as we’re hurtin’ deep within
Is this the cost
of our own misgivings?
As we try to forget all the bitterness inside,
We could not help but really wonder why

My soul’s downtrodden
As I remember my affliction and misery
But I am mistaken
As all these things just humble me
Reminding me of Your neverending mercy
I know in my heart Your love I shall see

Refrain:
And I find there’s hope in the darkness
For You, my Lord God I shall seek
With Your unfailing love, You show compassion
In You I find the hope that I need

All hope seems lost
As I see how the wicked prosper
as I suffer
And trust feels lost
As the world had turned its back
But I see Your light piercing deep into the night
I behold Your power, majesty, and might

(Repeat Refrain)

Our hope’s not lost
For You Lord Jesus had conquered sin and death
In You we Trust
For You alone has paid the final price, granting us eternal life
No force in this dark world can take
Your faithfulness would not forsake
All darkness will then fade away
Immanuel Your Kingdom it shall stay

Where there is Love
Where there is Peace
Where there is Hope

—————-

And so I look forward to the day that I can properly record this piece and be part of another performance. To anyone who is interested in performing this piece, send me a message and I’ll send you the sheet music. Thank you very much for our audience of one.

UCCP-MCCD’s Christmas Concert and the Premiere of “Hope in the Darkness”

Tomorrow 6 p.m. will be the UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples’ Christmas Concert. I will be performing a short set of four songs with the UCCP-MCCD Music Ministry. One of these songs is an original composition of mine called “Hope in the Darkness”, effectively making that night the premiere of the said composition. The version that will be premiered would be for SATB choir and contemporary worship band. If you happen to be in Makati on Christmas Eve and you have some time to spare in the evening before your Noche Buena or Christmas dinner, please visit our church for a night of music and fellowship starting 6 p.m. The church is located at UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples, J.P. Rizal St., Barangay Valenzuela, Makati City. Thank you and God bless.

An Electric Guitar, a Tube Amp, a Hymn, and the Dream of an Electric Guitar Orchestra

The idea of having an electric guitar is nothing new. It’s been done before in the studio by the likes of Brian May and in live situations by somebody like Glenn Branca. However, that does not stop me from being fascinated by it. As a matter of fact, I still dream of establishing a purely electric guitar orchestra in the Philippines. I don’t know if that idea has already been implemented in this godforsaken country where I live but I hope to turn that idea into reality.

Anyway, as I was going through and studying the hymns that will be sung at the UCCP-MCCD on Sunday, I ended playing our benediction hymn (“The Lord Bless You and Keep You”) on the piano. The idea then came to me to create a test recording of my electric guitar plugged into a tiny tube amp,  a Bugera BC15 (a hybrid actually with a tube preamp and solid state power section). Okay, I know some snobbish gearhead somewhere in cyberspace would have their negative impressions of it but who cares anyway? As long as it can do what I need, I’m happy. Guess what the piece I used for the test recording. It’s the benediction hymn. Not much of a puzzle at all, right?

So, I plugged my guitar into the amp, mic’ed up my amp with my trusty old condenser mic, took the hymnal from the piano and into the other piano (where my recording equipment is located), and I began reading through all the parts while recording. Since it’s SATB, I recorded each part into four different tracks, mixed everything, performed some post-production processing, and ended up with this:

 

So, on face value it seems like I’m trying to channel a cheap Brian May impression. Brian May is, after all, Brian May, and nobody could match what he could do. The point here really is not imitating Brian May (although it somewhat sounds like it), but experimenting and figuring out how a tiny amp and an electric guitar would sound like as an ensemble instrument. It’s kind of like an electric rondalla ensemble, the kind of thing I’m dreaming about. For my ears, it sounds nice although opinions by others may vary. I’m happy that I could realize something like an electric guitar orchestra in a studio setting.

This got me into thinking: I suppose it really is possible for me to organize an electric guitar orchestra here in the Philippines. The thing required to turn this into reality is to get around 12 note-reading guitarists equipped with their electric guitars and tiny amps (with overdrive). This, however, is fraught with certain problems:

1. In a performance situation, having at least 12 guitar amps would be difficult to control. No matter how tiny they can be, each amp can be really loud. This leads us to problem number 2:

2. There are lead guitarists that have an inflated sense of ego. They would complain they are not loud enough, so they would turn up their volume. Eventually everybody starts competing for volume. It can be a big headache.

3. Financing such a project can be expensive. To sum it up, I cannot afford it and the future of an electric guitar orchestra being financially compensated for what it’s worth seems nil.

Possible solutions include:

1. Hooking up each amp into a mixing board. However, the entire point of an electric guitar orchestra is to simulate an acoustic one i.e. I will treat an electric guitar and an amp as a single instrument. Positioning each amplifier in different sections of the performance hall is essential in how I perceive an electric guitar orchestra should sound like. Hooking up each amp to a mixing board with the output ultimately coming from PA loudspeakers would completely destroy the ambient effect I am looking for.

2. Hiring for attitude, training for skill. I should try to employ humble and open-minded guitarists willing to learn how to read notation. I should avoid those who try to be extra special with egos bigger than Yngwie Malmsteen.

3. Getting a grant and looking for sponsors. Perhaps I should turn this into a proposal for a local arts society or foundation and see if they would finance me. Are there local foundations out there who would give a rat’s ass about a project like this? I don’t know. I could try finding if I got the time. Perhaps there might be a couple of rich people out there who have the money for such.

I wonder if this electric guitar orchestra dream of mine could become a reality here in the Philippines. Maybe somebody out there would support it.

The Church Pianist Experience versus the Prog Rock/Jazz Keyboardist

Last New Year’s Eve was very memorable for me. It was one of those rare occasions that happens a few years or so when a church requires a pianist. It’s another case of a regular pianist/organist becoming unavailable and I’m asked to fill in. It’s no accident that such times happen, and I do think it is God speaking through those people to call me up and help in their worship service. Therefore, December 31, 2012 became the second time that I was able to perform some music at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines – Makati Church of Christ Disciples (UCCP-MCCD for short). This piece is actually for people who are interested or called into becoming a church organist or pianist, and I would like to share what little experience I have in this field.

First, I’d like to provide a little disclaimer: I am not an authority on being a church pianist or organist. I have much more experience as a keyboardist/pianist in a progressive rock band than a pianist/organist for a typical Christian worship service that favors hymns from centuries past. There are many similarities yet there are notable differences.

  1. First obvious similarity is the instrument. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Second similarity is the need for repertoire knowledge and technical keyboard skills. Just like playing in a progressive rock or a worship band, you need to have some good chops because hymns are not easy to play. The ability to sight read is also a necessity because unless you have impeccable memory you only have a few hours to practice and get your repertoire for the service at a considerable level.
  3. Third similarity is the the need for improvisation. In certain sections of the worship service, the need to improvise becomes apparent such during certain sections for prayer, offertories on occasion, etc.
  4. The last one and most important similarity is the need for synchronicity between pianist and choir/congregation. In a worship service, almost everybody will sing, and the church congregation is always an active participant in the music making experience. Just like the prog rock or jazz keyboardist, a church pianist must be able to play in sync with the congregation’s flow and momentum.

When I say playing in sync with the congregation’s flow and momentum, I mean to say that a pianist should have the attitude that the congregation would become a band or ensemble member and that the pianist will treat the congregation as such. This goes both ways:  Sometimes, a church pianist will dictate the tempo and overall mood of the piece/hymn through his playing (unless the choir conductor takes charge of that). There are also times when the pianist has to adjust his playing in accordance to how a congregation would typically sing. One example I can think of is this: There are congregations that are used to singing a hymn in a particular key other than it was originally written. A church pianist must be able to transpose such hymns on the fly. A church pianist would have an easier time playing a hymn as written when a congregation consists mostly of members with some form of musical training. In cases where a congregation has little or no training at all, a pianist must be prepared to adjust accordingly. The worst experience I had regarding this was a congregation that tends to sing hymns in different keys after each stanza. Whew! That was challenging.

Now, let’s take a look into some differences between being a church pianist and a prog rock or jazz keyboardist:

  1. The instrument: A church pianist playing in a service where old-style 16th- to 18th-century hymns are in order only has a piano and/or an organ. Prog rock and jazz tends to be free and experimental, and therefore they can call upon a wide array of sounds as their instruments can call up. Keyboardists in a contemporary worship band have the same options as guys who play in prog rock bands.
  2. Repertoire: Church pianists would typically play the classic hymns. Prog rock keyboardists go anywhere from renaissance-era music to contemporary.
  3. Improvisation: While church pianists have the need to be able to improvise, their improvisations cannot be indulgent! No shred piano for me while in a church service. When I function as a church pianist, I can’t play blindingly fast and aggressive a la Franz Liszt. Prog rock and jazz keyboardists can be all over the place and blaze away with solos that rival Spinal Tap proportions.

Being a church pianist is an exercise in restraint and control. While I am required to have some considerable chops and precision, you need to be able to hold back and only play what is necessary. You can improvise but you cannot chop up your keyboard like Keith Emerson stabbing his L-100 Hammond organ. Such control is VERY important because the goal of being that sort of musician is to facilitate the congregation to focus on God through music and not focus on the musician.

Here’s some advice for aspiring church pianists and organists:

Learn the material: Get into the habit of sight reading hymnals every day. Make it a goal to commit to memory popular hymns like “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, etc. even if you can manage to play the melody at minimum.

Learn how to improvise: Improvisation helps in many ways. First, you can compose some lovely pieces on the fly and on the spot for sections of the worship service like the prelude/postlude, prayer time, offertory, etc. Second, given the fact that playing all four voices of hymns can be difficult to manage at times (e.g. intervals that go up to the 12th and 13th, unless you have really huge hands like Rachmaninoff!), being able to improvise an accompaniment based on the melody of the hymn is VERY important.

Brush up on music theory and ear training: This helps prepare you for improvisation, which is essentially an application of both disciplines.

The most important thing to take note of is pray to thank the Lord for such an opportunity to serve. Thank the Lord for allowing you to become an instrument for his glory. Also ask the Lord for necessary strength for the task. All that preparation will always fall short without the strength of God.

My pastor friends tell me that that particular instance of being a church pianist/accompanist is God’s calling. I have no doubt that in that particular day, God led me to that path in order to serve. However, I still don’t know if God would want me to go towards that direction in the long run. What I am certain is that that it’s one sign that the Lord has called me to be involved in a very musical life. I’d like to emphasize once more that it is not out of my own strength and skill that has made me capable. It’s only through the Lord that I gain the confidence go ahead and be a church pianist, even it if it’s just for one particular day. This experience always reminds me of Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paying Homage to Battery

If there’s one thing I regret as a music fan, it’s failing to buy an album by the Filipino metal band Battery back in 2000. The trio’s musicianship was superb, like a hybrid of Black Sabbath and Rush. Their lyrics were a reflection of guitarist/vocalist Mike Turner’s faith in Jesus Christ. They were evidence that explicitly Christian bands can be very amazing. The reason why I regret this now is that their album was out of print.

Battery was one of the few Filipino bands that served as an inspiration for the reasons stated above. If you have any doubt of how superb the trio’s musicianship is, just listen to “Toxic Hate” which features a face melting bass solo as an intro, and “Plastic Jesus” that has a middle section in odd meters. Want an inspiring rocker? Listen to “The Words in Red”. It seems to be a reference to some Bible translations e.g. New King James Version that have quotes by the Lord Jesus Christ printed in red. The line in the song that states, “The only peace I can find are the words in red”. Rings very true when you realize how sinful you and I are and the only way out of that situation are the “words in red”. Although such meaning of the song is my own analysis, if you listen to the other songs like “Come to Me” and “Coming Home”, you could arrive at the same conclusion as well.

Sad to say that after struggling in the Philippine music scene, Battery was no more. Battery became one of those bands that was killed off by the Filipino music industry’s promotion of mediocrity. It is mind-boggling that big names in the music industry would not support such talented musicians and instead sign artists who can’t even sing or write their own songs such as _____ (fill in the blank of an artist you think fits the description).

I’ve searched online for a chance to be able to listen to some songs by Battery and fortunately I found this link:

http://www.cristianomusica.com/mp3~battery-king-strange.html

It turns out that you can listen to Battery’s entire album through that link. It became another opportunity for me to listen to those amazing songs after 12 years.

Another thing is that Mike Turner has posted some of Battery’s songs on his MySpace page. You can check them out here:

http://www.myspace.com/michaelturner/music/songs?filter=featured

If there’s any person out there who could sell me that CD by Battery, then by all means please contact me! I’d love to have a copy.

To Mike Turner and the rest of Battery, thank you for your music. It was simply inspiring. God bless you dear sirs and I hope that one day I can get you see you guys play in the Philippines again.