New Blog is Live!

I’m really excited to announce the launch of my new blogging project, Systematic Hymnology! There I’ll be publishing stories and doctrinal studies based on the great hymns and songs of the Church. So far there are only a few posts  over there, but I’ve got plenty more written and plan to publish 2-3 a week. I’ve been working on it for quite a while (which explains the lack of recent posting here at H&L), and hope you’ll head on over there. I’d also love if you will follow the blog on Facebook and Twitter!

Not to worry, though. Now that I’ve done the hard part, I hope to get back to writing posts (especially book reviews) here on this blog as well. It may take me a while to get into a new writing groove, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Book Review: The Song of Annie Moses

“The Song of Annie Moses: A Musical Quest, A Mother’s Gift” by Robin Donica Wolaver

Five years ago, I invited the Annie Moses Band to perform here in Cookeville at a concert sponsored by the Stevens Street School of Performing Arts. The school purchased tickets for each of our students to hear this conservatory-trained family “chamber pop” ensemble, as part of our mission to provide them with opportunities to be exposed to great live musical performances. But while the AMB concert was fantastic (as always!), the highlight of the weekend came the following morning as Annie and Robin Wolaver spoke with our students and parents about the importance of good practicing (requiring the diligence of the child AND the parent) and their own road to musical excellence.

For many parents who attended, that morning changed not only the way they practiced with their children; it changed the way they lived and parented. For some, that meant instituting “pajama practice” the next morning, a discipline that has remained in place for years. For others, the result was a conviction to emphasize family prayer time in the home. And for some it opened their eyes to the possibility of early childhood music education, leading them to enroll their young children in lessons the following week. Many of the families who attended that day are still enrolled in private music lessons, and most of them are excelling!

During that morning’s workshop, Mrs. Wolaver mentioned that somehow, in the midst of a busy travel schedule, ongoing musical instruction, and being a homeschooling mom, she was also working on writing a book with much of the same content that she had shared with us. I am happy to report that this book has arrived at long last!

The Song of Annie Moses is a riveting read, not only because of the author’s credibility when speaking about raising musical children, but also because of her skill as a writer and storyteller (she isn’t a Dove Award-winning songwriter for nothing!). If you are a music teacher or a parent, this absolutely has a place on your bookshelf.

That said, this book is not for the feint-of-heart.

Any delusions that the Wolavers’ path to success was an easy one should be chucked out right now. Theirs is a tale of diligence, perseverance, and faith that would put most of us to shame. From the 5 a.m. practice sessions to moving their entire family to the East Coast in order to benefit from some of the best music teachers in the world, Bill and Robin’s commitment to their children’s instruction is both daunting and inspiring.

Difficult? Absolutely. Impossible? Not at all. While most families will not (and need not) go to the extremes that the Wolavers did, every family can learn from their example. With parenting principles ripped straight from the pages of Scripture, there is much to be admired and emulated in their family dynamic: contentment with little, rightly-ordered priorities, and an unquenchable dedication to the discipleship of their children, to name a few.

What I love about this book as a music teacher is the way Wolaver seamlessly weaves tried-and-true practices of music education into the story. She includes all the statistics and research findings that music teachers wish more parents would know about, but by incorporating them into an engaging narrative, she delivers them with greater impact than the raw data we’re used to seeing “in the business.” This book is an absolute gold mine of tips and encouragement for music teachers and parents alike. And for those who do like the raw data laid out in black & white, four appendices address practical concerns such as how to choose an instrument and find a good teacher.

If you’re a musician, a parent, or someone who just loves a good story, pick up a copy of The Song of Annie Moses today!

Here’s Robin Wolaver describing the book in her own words:

Fal$e Teacher$ — Naming Names

After hearing Shai Linne’s last album, The Attributes of God, I became an even bigger fan of his music (see my two part review of this album here and here). I love the way he uses the art form of hip-hop to communicate the gospel with depth and clarity in a way that other genres of music usually can’t. So ever since I heard he had a new album coming out (Lyrical Theology will be released April 9), I’ve been eagerly anticipating it!

Today a track from the new album was released, and it’s a message that desperately needs to be shared. “Fal$e Teacher$” deals with the proliferation of “prosperity theology,” particularly in Africa, where it has spread like wildfire. At about the 2:30 mark, he starts naming names. Check it out:

Here’s a video in which Shai Linne explains his motivation for writing this song, and why he chose to specifically call out some of the most popular preachers on the planet:

The book he references in this video (Health, Wealth, & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ?) is excellent (my review). If you or someone you know has been influenced by these false teachers, check out this book.

You can preview the rest of the tracks from Lyrical Theology here. I’ll leave you with a word from John Piper, who, like Shai Linne, doesn’t mince words about the health & wealth garbage:

Who Is Like Yahweh? Encountering God in the Songs of Moses

The first song recorded in Scripture is the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, written after the crossing of the Red Sea by the people of Israel. Moses also wrote a second song—this one dictated by God himself—just before the crossing of the Jordan into the promised land. These songs give fascinating insight into the character and attributes of God, and have an enduring relevance to the people of God. So enduring, in fact, that Revelation 15 depicts the redeemed singing the Song of Moses in heaven!

I chose these songs as the topic of a paper for my Old Testament survey class. I realize that posting seminary papers is a little out-of-the-ordinary for a blog, but I enjoyed writing this one and thought it might benefit others who have a similar interest in Old Testament worship. If you’d like to check it out, here it is: Who Is Like Yahweh? The God of the Old and New Testaments Revealed in the Songs of Moses. No word yet on what my grade is…

Three of the books I referenced in the paper are particularly excellent, so if you’re interested in learning more about the Old Testament in general or Old Testament songs in particular, these are a great place to start:

Now that this paper (and the rest of my homework for this semester’s classes) is out of the way, I should finally be able to get back to blogging consistently… at least until my next round of classes starts up in June!

Against Sappy Christmas Songs

Do sentimental seasonal ballads bring out your inner Ebenezer? Does “Christmas Shoes” give you the Christmas blues? You’ve come to the right place! There’s no need to swear off all Christmas music just because most Christmas music is lame. Here are some great albums that will remind you that Christmas is a time worth celebrating!

My personal Christmas listening tends to fall into three categories:

Fun Stuff

My very favorite album in this category is “What a Wonderful Christmas” by Louis Armstrong & Friends. Every track is good, but here’s my favorite:

For another great swingin’ album, pick up “The Ultimate Christmas Collection” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I especially love their rock-a-billy twist to Tchaikovsky’s ballet (bonus props for the subtle dig at pop “musicians” who don’t read music):

This year, the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ “Christmas Caravan” seems especially appropriate given songs like Hot Christmas and Carolina Christmas that speak of Christmases without snow. Then there’s the creatively cynical Indian Giver that’s good for a laugh. But this album also includes one of the only renditions of “Sleigh Ride” that rivals the original:

Readers in Colorado and Washington might prefer this track from a different SNZ album…

And no list of fun Christmas albums would be complete without “Barenaked Christmas” by the Barenaked Ladies! I dare you to listen to this without smiling:


Let’s face it: we can’t always be in a “fun” mood. Sometimes (most of the time, actually) I’d rather listen to something that is simply brilliant. To me, nothing expresses the glory of the incarnation like the great Baroque composers. If you’ve been in my office at all in the last month, you’ve probably heard something from this list.

While it’s not actually “Christmas” music, this is the season during which Handel’s masterpiece Messiah is most frequently performed. Check out the “Messiah Blog” tab at the top of this page for links to a few dozen devotionals I wrote about what may well be the greatest musical composition of all time. Here’s one of my favorite movements:

My most recent purchase is a DVD performance of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and it’s fan-freakin’-tastic. It’s German title is Die Weihnachtsgeschichte, which means “The Christmas Story”. The libretto tells this story in six parts, representing the six major feast days of the Christmas season. Here’s the famous opening chorus:

Another favorite is Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerti Grossi Op. 6. This is actually a collection of several very short concerti, the 8th of which is known as the “Christmas Concerto”:

Contemporary Gospel-Centered

I wasn’t sure exactly what to call this “genre” I’ve just invented, but what I mean by it are songs which carry on the Baroque tradition of teaching the Gospel through music (à la Bach & Handel), but do it in a more contemporary context. The very best example of this is Andrew Peterson’s album “Behold the Lamb of God”, which I’ve already mentioned this week so I won’t say more about it now.

Another spectacular album which tells the story of the birth of Christ is “Joy — An Irish Christmas” by Keith & Kristyn Getty. This is a mixture of new arrangements of traditional Christmas carols and some original compositions. Here’s my favorite:

My wife’s top Christmas album is “Christmas Bright & Beautiful” by the Annie Moses Band. While this family band has released some newer Christmas albums since then, this one remains our favorite. Here’s a live performance of the opening track:

And, of course, I love the great advent hymns that have been instructing and encouraging the Church for centuries… and, as Trevin Wax points out, “It’s quite possible that non-Christians hear more Christian theology around Christmas-time than any other time of the year. A number of Christmas songs are filled with rich theological truths.” I’m always on the lookout for creative ways to bring new life to old standards, such as this David Potter re-imagining of one of Charles Wesley’s finest:

The list could go on and on, but hopefully this will give some hope to those who are sick of sap. How about you? What are some of your favorite Christmas albums?

P.S. — This post was inspired by a recent Facebook conversation with Jeff Wright, who only thinks he hates Christmas music.

P.P.S. — Russell Moore recently posted a related (but more serious) article about why sappy Christmas music is bad. It’s good stuff.

P.P.P.S. — Ever since studying the church fathers this semester in church history, I’ve been itching to write something titled “Against _______” (cf. “Against Heresies”, “Against Marcion”,  “Against the Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants“, etc.). Done!

Behold the Lamb of God 2012

Yesterday, due to the unfortunate illness of the child of one of our staff members, Laurie and I were given their tickets to last night’s performance of Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. He’s now been doing this show for 13 Advent seasons, and it keeps getting better each time I see it! If you aren’t familiar with the BTLOG tour, here’s a little promo video they put together this year:

I’ve seen the show at least six times now, but last night’s was by far the best performance I’ve seen yet. Partly that was due to the experience of hearing it at the historic Ryman Auditorium, which allowed for a sound and light experience unlike anything I’ve seen from previous performances, but the assembled cast of musicians (which changes from year to year, and sometimes show to show) was really outstanding!

When I discovered that Buddy Greene and Jeff Taylor were on the program, I was pumped! Their bluegrass performance of “Sleigh Ride” was worth the price of admission (or in our case, the price of babysitting, since we were blessed with free tickets) all by itself. They were followed by a few numbers from Steven Curtis Chapman, which was also a special treat.

The second half of the concert (the actual BTLOG portion) began with Sally Lloyd-Jones reading from her Jesus Storybook Bible (my review) and her new book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (which is also great, though I haven’t yet written a review). We have quite a few of her books in our house (including our kids’ favorite bedtime book) and it was an honor to see and hear in person!

I can’t recommend this show more highly to you, nor the Behold the Lamb of God album which gets played pretty much every December day in the Gardner house. It never gets old!

A few years ago, I wrote a series of devotions based on the tracks from this album. You can find them here:

You may also be interested in Andrew Peterson’s excellent fiction series, The Wingfeather Saga. Here are my reviews of the first three books, with the final book of the series due to be released next year:

Field Trip!

My excitement may perhaps be premature, but I’m really looking forward to a field trip that I just officially booked today for students of the School of Performing Arts! On May 2, a group of 45 students and parents (plus a few SPA teacher/chaperones) will be heading to the Nashville Symphony. With very few exceptions, this will be the first ever professional orchestra concert for nearly all of them. I don’t know that there’s much I enjoy more than watching the reaction of young music students hearing a live symphony for the first time!

The highlight of the concert will be Brahms’ 4th Symphony. What a great piece! I just spent the last 45 minutes reminding myself how much I love it.

The rest of the program isn’t too shabby, either. Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes will open the concert, followed by a recently composed piano concert by James MacMillan called “The Mysteries of Light“. I’m not familiar with the piece, but the composer’s description is pretty interesting. Here’s a decent recording of the Debussy piece:

Many thanks go to the fine folks at the Nashville Symphony Orchestra for accommodating such a large group of students, and for giving us a tremendous discount! Too bad it’s still five months away…