Friday, December 25, 2009

The aural footprint of Christ's birth

Christmas is the time of year when you can get anyone to sing. The average layman in my church is willing to travel far and wide to sing carols to the homebound, and the crowd at a local public school choir concert willingly joins in an impromptu sing-a-long.

Christmas carols, themselves, compared to the ever-changing popular music scene, are the champions of enduring folk song. Christmas carols that emerged centuries ago are still being sung today, in contrast with other traditional songs that have been lost or if not lost, missing from our everyday lives.

Not only do we sing Christmas songs, we sing them well, because they have stood the test of time. Now the average layman can sing a melismatic passage in Angels We Have Heard on High, because the song is burned onto his aural memory. I encourage my older violin students who have not had the benefit of Suzuki ear training to play by ear. I had a recent breakthrough with my hesitant students when guiding them to play Christmas songs. We know those songs cold.

Why, when sadly, most of our folk songs are being sung by the elite musicologists, can we sing 15th century carols without even thinking? Why, when Baptist churches have cut out old European hymnody with its complex harmonies, do we still know God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen? Why, when most other churches have cut out hymns all together, do we know 20 some odd strophic Christmas hymns? Why do we want to sing this stuff?

The event where God came to earth and became one of us was an event that shook us. We are still feeling the cultural aftershocks of this event 2000 years later. Not only did Christ's birth affect politics, how we write our calendar, and a myriad of other things; it affected art and music.

I will admit, there has been a rape of this tradition that I am speaking so confidently about. B-101, our soft rock station, plays continuous Christmas music and the abysmal void left by only playing secular songs is felt, for me in a spiritual sense but by everyone in an artistic sense. But why do we want continuous Christmas music? And why, since we are on the topic, does everyone, even to the least talented, feel compelled to use their creativity in writing and performing music during this blessed season? (You've got to admit there is an infinite amount of writing of Christmas music going on and it ain't all pretty).

Why is Christmas music a big deal? I concede to my first point. In the dead of winter, when we remember God's first footprint on earth, flowers have sprung up. God visited us, and we were affected.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lewis extended quote that blows my mind every time

At the end of his sermon "Weight of Glory":

It may be possible for each to think too much of his potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

Considering others better than ourselves?

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

And I love this part:

This does not mean we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. Our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner - no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hint #1 or at least somewhere near the top of the list...

I can probably say this is my favorite piece of music literature. I also love its accompanying other "passion week" choruses. The quintessential baroque example of word painting (I don't know what quintessential means but my music history book in college used it a lot.) I like the ending
...the Lord hath laid on him, the iniquity of us all.
And here is my other favorite in the same section.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I already tweeted about this incident, but I'm going to record it here since it goes with my stated blog theme.

Today a car drove past my classroom, and the sunlight reflected off of the car onto my wall. One kindergartner, Micah, was startled and called out "what was that?" He wanted to know what that "beautiful light" was. I explained that it was the reflection of a car and the sunlight. Another kindergartner confirmed that he has similar experiences of light coming into his window at nighttime; when a car goes by. Besides Justin's addition to the conversation our music circle was starting to explode with six year old thoughts about this light phenomenon and I kind of wish I had run with it instead of going back to singing.

Micah repeated that the light he had seen was beautiful, and he thought it was fireworks at first.

I can't manufacture these moments at whim, and I wouldn't want to, but it is surprisingly easy to talk to children about beauty. I love my job.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Awkward Sunsets

My family owns ten acres of open farmland, and we get to see great sunsets all the time. My mom will often see a sunset and start exclaiming about it and we consequently all have to get up from the dinner table to go look. We are pretty dutiful about it, we don't join in with her exclamations, and we are always ready to go back to the dinner table.

Now one of three things could be true about the slightly awkward moments that sunsets incur. Number one could be that none of us really have the sensitivity to enjoy the sunset. Number two could be that we do enjoy looking at the sunset but we are really hungry. Number three, though, (which is my best guess) deserves a little explanation.

I understand how my mom feels. I felt at an early age, although I didn't put it this way, that beauty hurts. I would look and look at the Appalachian mountains. But all along I didn't know how to describe those mountains. I didn't know how to tell someone else how I felt about them.

But that was just it. There is no way to describe mountains and sunsets, because God created them for us to look at with our eyes. Words are not for mountains and sunsets. Eyes are. (Music education plug here: words are not for music either, to quote one educator, "talking about music is like dancing about architecture.") The reason we feel awkward when Mom tells us to look at the sunset is because we are used to incessant talking, and there's nothing we can say when it comes to sunsets.

I want to praise God for all of the senses. I appreciate the visual arts, because they are "visual." I appreciate music that I can hear, and I appreciate words that I can speak and write. Praise the Lord for his "goodness to the children of men."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My blog name

I named this blog after a Rich Mullins song, "Such a Thing As Glory". One friend, the only other Rich Mullins aficionado in my life, says that I hated this song at first listen. And I probably did then (given the simplistic repetition in the bridge), but the second or third time the lyrics started to resonate with me.
There is such a thing as glory
And there are hints of it everywhere
And the hints are overwhelming

And its scent is in the air
It's more powerful than morning
Oh the morning can't compare
With such a thing as glory...

The whole idea reminded me of a thought introduced to me by my brother and developed by C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis takes the 'hint of heaven' idea much farther than anything like the traditional teleological argument and argues that our innate, sometimes undiscovered, and always unsatisfied longings are irrefutable evidence that we were made for 'another country.' (No doubt I will be blogging about Weight of Glory.)

At any rate, whether it is in the simple sense of talking about beauty and order, or whether I am bearing my secret desires for heaven, I want my blog to show "hints of glory". There is a heaven, and there is a Christ.

I have been and will be writing rudimentary or off-beat thoughts about aesthetics, theology, and educational theories; and my hints of glory will probably be culled from those realms of thought. If that doesn't grab anyone's interest that's ok - this blog is for me, to practice writing, and for my 8th grade music students, who are not going to read this but definitely don't need me to be pontificating on aesthetics in class. If I can get a little online fellowship from the blog that will be an added bonus.

While I'm on the topic though, two of my family members started blogs about the same time I did with the same goal - to show hints of glory - and are "doing it better." First, my sister-in-law Jenny explains her goals to create beauty through the small things in life here. My cousin Mary finds hints of glory in the small moments of every day. Visit her beautiful blog here.

An optimistic look at today's popular culture

I just finished reading Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making us Smarter, by Steven Johnson. Johnson argues that today's consumers are ingesting more and more complexity than ever before. Examples are the multiple threading in shows like 24 and The Sopranos (in contrast with the half an hour closed plots in the shows of yesteryear); and the myriads of cultural allusions and self-referencing allusions in The Simpsons and Seinfeld. The book's chapter on all the probing, problem-solving and decision-making that occurs during video games was revealing to me, as was the assertion that blogging about your junior high love life is intellectually more healthy than watching a soap opera.

Children, teens, and adults are now interacting with technology in ways that allow them to problem-solve and create in ways equally or even more complex than a doing a math problem or a story writing project.

Aside from the book being merely interesting, I think this book has a major ramification for me as a teacher. I underestimate my students' potential. Every family has a running joke about how their seven-year old can program the VCR when their parent cannot. But does anyone stop to consider the problem-solving abilities that that fact infers? That child did not merely learn the steps to work one machine; he has internalized overriding principles about how to probe a new system and find out how it works.

So yesterday in second grade music we somehow ended up talking about Tom and Jerry, which apparently is experiencing a renaissance on Cartoon Network. I have one learning disabled student who has, for two years, been singing monotone but experienced a very obvious breakthrough in her singing just this week. During the Tom and Jerry conversation, I sat back, enjoyed that student's very specific, multiple-step instructions about how to find Tom and Jerry On Demand, and thought about the vast potential that she has.

I am reminded of one of my graduate professors favorite pedagogy images - that of constantly working to keep the students' heads barely above water - not submerged and overwhelmed, not wading in shallow water and bored. In this respect I could take a cue from the gaming, cinema and television industries and keep my kids' brains engaged.

Next on my reading list to get the other side of the coin: Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think and What We Can Do about It by Jane Healy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Readers are leaders, or "An operational definition of education in its most fundamental civilized sense"

Close reading of tough-minded writing is still the best, cheapest, and quickest method known for learning to think for yourself... Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its most fundamental civilized sense... Reading, analysis and discussion is the way we develop reliable judgment, the principal way we come to penetrate covert movements behind the facade of public appearances.

-John Taylor Gatto

quoted in So Much More by Anna Sofia Botkin and Elizabeth Botkin

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tim Keller on "how could a good God allow suffering"

I have some posts waiting in draft, and I want to make some changes to Lahai-roi's layout, but I'm just going to throw this quote up here because it's too serious for facebook.

Last week (I'll spare details) I was able to have a very honest, open conversation with a complete stranger about God, religion, first causes, etc. My new friend said he was pretty content with the theory that God created the world but then allowed it run on its own. He wanted to know how I could reconcile my belief in a personal, good God with an event like 9/11. We hear the stories about the people who avoided death on that day. But we also know that there are countless stories of people who did go to work, who got on that flight, who 'happened' to be in the area, and who never came back.

I don't know if a Christian reading this post will think less of me, but I admit I don't know the answer to "why does a good God allow suffering." (Suffering is a result of sin, yes, but that begs another question.) I simply know that God will fulfill his purpose and I submit to that. But I'm going to honestly say that that is really hard to explain to others. I tried. And then I recommended Tim Keller's The Reason for God. There is a chapter I remember reading titled "How could a good God allow suffering."

So I went back and read that chapter last night. I'm still glad I recommended it; but first I have a quick disclaimer. The chapter ends this way:

Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries, "I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?"

The answer of Christianity is -

Keller elaborates, and the chapter ends with two other joyful quotes from Dostoevsky and C.S. Lewis. I love it when Keller references Tolkien. (I heard him do it once in a sermon and it definitely makes me want to quit eating/sleeping/lesson planning to read LOTR. Ok maybe not eating...) Anyway although I'm pumped about Tolkien references, I think the statement "everything sad is going to come untrue" is a little glib and perhaps even incomplete in the light of eternal wrath...

That disclaimer aside, I want to share this other quote because it is Biblical. In fact it is the gospel. Keller takes a few pages to describe Christ's non-physical suffering and his explanation is, I feel, worth getting the book. After describing the 'inferno of abandonment' Christ experienced, Keller says this:

Let's see where this has brought us. If we ask the question: "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?" and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we now know what the answer isn't. It can't be that he doesn't love us. (emphasis mine) It can't be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.

John 3:16.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Greed is not a flattering word.

This quote just in from a sermon podcast I was listening to:

The reality is there isn’t any difference between the greed that we read about on the front pages of the newspaper or on the news websites...  there’s nothing different about the greed that has destroyed our financial institutions and the greed that motivates our daily little decisions.  There’s not. They just have more resources so it affects more. - Scott Mehl

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thank you for teaching me to love life.

Most of my interests are directly inherited from my dad.  I've been realizing that recently. Thanks Dad, for teaching me to love life. You were passionate about what you did and about enjoying life, and that's why I am following in your footsteps. You taught me to love


-self education, research, and obsessive buying of books and videos on any topic that I feel the need to know about

-children's and adult choirs

-a good bass line in the above

-The Pilgrim Academy

-spending more time with the fam than probably any other family on the East Coast


-my mom's marinara sauce

-Egg Harbor City

-adopting liturgical or ethnic traditions that are not necessarily ours and in a somewhat sloppy fashion, just because it makes us feel more connected to history.  I will spare you anecdotes but someday I will dress up on St. Lucia's day.



-the Egg Harbor lake and Batsto

-the field of education

-the history of last names


-smart men (now let me just pause here to say my dad did NOT like men, but I do; and I have definitely crushed on a 50 year old balding gay man before, thanks to the fact that my dad made me think smart was hot)

-visiting historic sites on vacation

-Renaissance/ancient music

-landscapes and the colors blue and green

-Calvinists ("ists" not "ism") My dad liked Machen, Rushdoony, Witherspoon, and Kuyper to name a few; and though I still have to read those guys I know I can partly blame my Calvinist-love on my dad.  By the way don't ask because I don't know.

-self-help (yes, my mom is not rid of diet books lying around and health food sitting in the refrigerator anytime soon)

-Leadbelly and a little bit of opera (yeah just throwing those in to make ya'll think, remember the days of Goodnight Irene, or the days of listening to Jose Carreras on the way back from swimming?)

-Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Arthur Custance, and I'll just stick Garrison Keillor into this list for fun even though he doesn't go with the apologist theme.

-this is not a passion for me now, but I hope to follow in his footsteps and someday garden

This list may come across as being somewhat nerdy, but I want to add the disclaimer that I am in no way defining Robert A. Peterson Jr.  My brothers could each come up with their own lists of the passions that were handed down to them.  But I think that this list, though not all-inclusive, is long enough that I can safely say I am my father's daughter.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Songs about world peace and let me boast about God for a minute here

I am thinking about writing a book (being creative!) called "God has the corner on pretty much everything cool in the world" and writing little meditations on how God doesn't just give us a primarily sacred book, but that the Bible is the first to use certain folk tale literary devices or the first to record a party with music and food... 

But for now here's an example to show that "God has the corner on pretty much everything cool in the world."  

Song lyrics.

I was listening to a choir concert today and on one of the tracks the artist was talking about the vision of world peace.  I am all for world peace (which by the way will not happen until the earth is filled with the knowing of God, see here), but I think I am just a little bit spoiled and I will tell you how.  

I am privileged to sing about the multi-faceted aspects of God's glory and the meaningful ways in which God has chosen to connect with man.  This is huge and examples would not do it justice. Being in music education I am constantly reminded of how hard it would be to pick good choir music while leaving God out of the mix.  

I have to say that there are thousands of great songs on secular subjects.  In fact, my school spring concerts are mostly secular this year because I am trying to educate Christian school kids in art and folk music.  But in general for those with the more existential personality, a personality that is constantly looking for purpose and wants to sing about that, abandoning God means you are left composing songs about two subjects: world peace and recycling.  

Here is an example.  At a music educator's workshop recently someone shared a song with lyrics as follows:

1. I don't know your name, we speak different languages; We may not be the same, but I reach out my hand to you and I say... (then sing chorus line one)
2. ...we have different points of view... (then sing chorus line 2)
3. ...we cut different kinds of food... (then sing chorus line 3)
4. ...we have different holidays... (then sing chorus, all 3 lines together
Chorus: "Hello" in English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese-Mandarin, Italian, Swahili etc.

After being raised singing about God, singing about diversity just doesn't cut it for me.  

And it doesn't cut it for others, either.  Composers used to be forced to write for church, but there are plenty of non-Christian composers that choose Biblical texts for the mere fact that those texts are the best ones. And I haven't met a single public school teacher that likes the fact that they aren't allowed to sing sacred music.  (Well actually now that I think of it I did meet one last month. She was explaining why it was ok to use a certain song about children singing to Muhammad. That song was historical narrative whereas she warned us never to use songs of worship in school. For some reason "songs to Jesus" was the example she used of what not to do.  Makes sense. Great workshop on eastern music, seriously.)  At any rate I know it is often hard for my friends that are under certain politically correct regulations to find good choir music and I hope it is not presumptuous for me to say so in this article.

It's bad writing to finish off by saying: "well... you know what I mean, right?" But I'm going to do it anyway.  

If you are a Christian, and you don't know what I mean, you need to pick up a hymnal AND you need to bone up a little on your music history because it is part of your Christian heritage.  If you are not a Christian, you may not know what I mean.  I want you to know that I care a lot about world peace, and I'm a big fan of diversity. Maybe we should talk sometime so I can explain myself further because I am not going to make this post any longer.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Creativity quotes

I think the Lord might be answering my prayer for creativity. I will write an update on that soon. Until then, here are some of the quotes that got me started on this whole thing.

The invention of the phonograph is the end of culture as we know it.
-Thomas Edison

We have changed from a society of music makers to a society of music consumers.
-John Feierebend

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lovin' life...

Christians should love life the most.  I sung this hymn in church this morning.  They say this kind of stuff happens when you fall in love; I want to fall in love with Christ.

Heav'n above a softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o'erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am his, and he is mine.
Since I know, as now I know, I am his, and he is mine.

Words: George W. Robinson, 1876 

Friday, February 20, 2009

The true hope

Tonight the director of my community orchestra told us that funding for our organization is being cut by the private high school that sponsors us.  I've been feeling annoyed recently by the bad economy. Annoyed is the right word because it has not affected my life yet. The forecasts show that I could be affected very soon, though.  

Being a musician or music teacher is definitely one of the less secure professions.  I've been unemployed once in my life and I never want to have that feeling again. I try to think of what measures I could take against that ever happening to me again.  Nursing school?  I don't know...

But I realized when I was listening to a sermon tonight, though, that that feeling of security that I crave is no less God-less than a pagan pursuing the American dream.  I want my life in the here and now to be neatly tied up and I want to be able to present it to others as a resume complete with a good education, achievements, and a comfortable lifestyle.

But the apostle Paul asks us keep our mind and thoughts elsewhere.  
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you... in this you rejoice, though for now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials...  

(Read the entire passage here.)

This life is "a little while", and my focus should on what I'm going to get in heaven.  Thank you, Lord, if my world here gets a little tenuous and forces me to remember eternity.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Riding in the cool van in youth group

I found the blog "Stuff Christians Like" a couple of months ago, and pretty much lost an entire week of productivity. 

I have since cured my addiction; however, I just agreed to chaperone our church's Youth Retreat, and it reminded me of this post.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I hired men and woman singers...

This week I feel great about my personal education goals.  I practiced voice more consistently than usual, played Poulenc and Handel with my community chamber ensemble, and went to the Apple store for a training session. 

Also I started listening to all the Beatles albums in chronological order as part of my music history education, and am reading Antigone because I was teaching my 8th grade about the Greek chorus. (Yes, I'm admitting this stuff on my blog because somewhere in my upbringing I derived the idea that being nerdy is oh so cool.)

But during the week a thought kept coming to the back of my mind.  I think the uncompleted thought went something like this: if I learn everything I want to know, then what next? My idea of success is being smart.  But will I be satisfied when I get the knowledge I thirst for?

So the thought turned into this verse: 
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Christ is the only new knowledge I need, and the knowledge I've got to get no matter what.

The verse has come to me several times over the week and that is God's grace.  

I am thankful that the Lord helped me to be somewhat productive this week, but I am also glad for the joy, mixed with a little emptiness, that new knowledge brings.   

Friday, January 16, 2009

Creativity and new year's prayer request/resolution

G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, and for reasons entirely different than why I'm quoting him here, describes the difference between the sane man and the insane man.

Poets are generally spoken of as unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view.  Most of the great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason.  Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers, but creative artists very seldom.  
...The general fact is simple.  Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite.  The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein.  To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens.  It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.  

This excerpt has a lot of implications, but first, more about me.

I fall closer to the insane category.  I'm not super smart, like a chess player; but I do try pretty hard to figure stuff out.  Any seeming contradictions in my worldview drive me crazy. According to Chesterton, then, a corollary truth about me is that I'm not creative. And as it turns out I'm not.  Or at least I haven't been.  

I've always thought that creators were born.  I'm a music teacher, and in my mind I divide people into two categories.  My coworker Jon Holland, who has perfect pitch and composes and has music coming out of his heart and soul and everywhere else, is a creator.  The non-creators are like myself.  In the music realm at least, we just get really proficient at decoding the creator's marks but don't come up with anything of our own.

Enter the 9 national standards for music education:  my students will sing, play, improvise, compose, read, listen, evaluate, and understand music in relationship to the other arts and to history.  

I'm supposed to be helping my students create.  Maybe I should create, too...

Sometime over this Christmas break it hit me.  Maybe I could pray, and God would make me more creative! Maybe I'm not bound to a predisposed copyist existence.  

My prayer request and resolution for the year 2009 is that I would be more creative.  And I'm setting goals. I'm starting small:  a pianist friend helped me improv last week, and hopefully by blogging I can improve the mechanics of my writing.  But next year be looking for me - I'll be a novel writing, composing fiend!