Sundays | 8:30am, 11:15am, and 6:00pm

X Close Menu

narrow header-plain


Sunday, November 3, 2019

 (Following is an article I submitted to Great Commission Publications, to be used in their annual catalog.  Great Commission publishes the Trinity Hymnal and Trinity Psalter.  I hope the information here is informative and helps you get a sense of how we set hymn texts to new or different tunes, as we will this Sunday in our closing hymn, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee.)

Last year, I was asked to give a lecture on “How to Use Our Hymnals Better?” One answer to this age-old question is nothing new. For centuries musicians have practiced the art of contrafactum, that is, substituting one text for another, without any significant changes to the melody. It’s a procedure that, when used effectively, can help a congregation expand its knowledge of hymnody (poetry) and help pastors and musicians more intentionally coordinate their sermons and musical hymn selections for worship. To put it more simply, it’s a way to set many different hymn texts to the same familiar tune.

We have several contrafactum in the Trinity Hymnal. One which is particularly effective is the Horatius Bonar text O Love of God, How Strong and True, set to Hubert Parry’s tune JERUSALEM. This tune is most commonly associated with William Blake’s poem, And did those feet in ancient time, a well-loved English nationalistic song. The eternal attributes of God as depicted in Bonar’s poetry makes a perfect match for the majestic character of Parry’s music.

Another equally effective contrafactum is Michael Perry’s hymn O God Beyond All Praising, set to Gustav Holst’s THAXTED, a tune excerpted from the noble and moving fourth movement of Holst’s orchestral suite, The Planets, Op. 32.

There is a way for all of us to use contrafactum in our worship services or at home, but we have to understand a few things about our hymn page to be able to proceed. First, we need to understand what the information in the bottom right hand corner of a hymn page means. You first will see a name in all capital letters. This is the name of the hymn tune, and it is followed either by a series of numbers and will look something like STUTTGART, or the hymn tune will be followed by an abbreviated symbol, also in capital letters, such as L.M., C.M., S.M.D, etc. These numbers or symbols tell us what the meter of the hymn text is. Meter is the fundamental rhythmic structure of a poetic verse or lines of a verse. The collection of lines of a verse in a hymn is called a stanza (more on this shortly).

If you take your Trinity Hymnal and turn to the back, you can find two appendices—one entitled TUNES, and the other immediately following entitled METERS. The one that is most helpful for this exercise is the latter. You will see that hymn tunes are organized under subheadings with the aforementioned metrical letter and number assignments. Essentially, you can take any hymn with a particular meter and match it to another tune. The important thing to remember is that the character of the hymn text and musical character should be a good fit.

We’ve done this at First Presbyterian with many hymns. Sometimes I’ll come across a hymn text that I like very much and that would fit perfectly with the sermon text that morning or evening. At times it can be best to teach the congregation the new hymn altogether. At other times, it is more expedient and effective to use this contrafactum procedure by printing the hymn text in the bulletin with a tune that the congregation is more familiar with. For example, singing Charles Wesley’s text Christ Whose Glory Fills the Sky is a wonderful way to begin a worship service:

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the days return
Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes and warm my heart.

If you open the Trinity Hymnal to this hymn, it is set to the tune LUX PRIMA, with a meter of This tells us that one stanza of the hymn has six lines, each containing seven syllables. (Don’t be ashamed to count the syllables out on your fingers!) Your congregation might not know the hymn tune or text, but if you turn to the METER appendix in the back of the hymnal and locate the subheading you will see numerous other hymn tunes. If you skim through the hymns under that heading you will likely find a hymn with which your congregation is familiar. In this case, DIX (“For the beauty of the earth”) works quite beautifully with Wesley’s hymn. The best way to double check that it’s a good match is to make sure you sing through it first. Enjoy the process of discovering, learning, and teaching new hymns. It will be a blessing to you and your congregation.

Dr. Daniel Cole
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina

narrow header-plain


Sunday, October 27, 2019 

*This week’s blog was the intended talk for this past Wednesday night’s hymn festival.

“The Whole Church Sings”

The title of this talk is borrowed from the work of Christian musicologist Robin Leaver. Leaver’s book gives an historical overview of congregational singing in Luther’s Wittenberg at the time of the Reformation, though the quote is actually Luther’s reaction to the singing he heard in Martin Bucer’s church in Strasbourg.

I think the title of this book points to the goal of events like tonight’s, mainly to encourage committed and robust congregational singing. Leaver’s title implies that strong congregational singing is a good thing and  evidence of a healthy spiritual vigor within the church. The content of his research in the book affirms this. This then should lead us to ask the question, “Why do we value congregational singing as much as we do? Or, if we are going to poke and prod a little bit, the question to ask might be, “Do we value the practice of congregational singing enough or give it enough of a priority?” 

When we commemorate the Reformation, it should not just be about the actual historic event, but it should also serve as a reminder that the church is always to be reforming its worship practices in light of Scriptural principles. There are volumes and volumes of books written on this topic, but this talk needs to be short, so I would like to offer some comments that may offer some food for thought.

In an article entitled “Does It Matter How We Worship God?”, Ian Hamilton writes the following:

It would probably surprise many Christians, evangelicals in particular, that for Calvin, and the other magisterial Reformers, the Reformation was first about recovering the true worship of God. Getting worship “right” was for Calvin the first need of Christ’s flock. Calvin’s ranking worship as first in importance over salvation was due to one very important fact, namely that salvation is a means to an end, with worship being the end itself. We are saved to worship God, now and eternally, with our present public worship being a foretaste of the heavenly worship that awaits us. (From On Reforming Worship, ed. David Hall and Jonathan Master)

Every week, as part of our worship service, we affirm that we believe in one holy, catholic, and Apostolic church. To be catholic in worship implies continuity. To this point, Robert Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology of Westminster Seminary California writes that “The Reformed church…intentionally harvested the best theology, piety, and practice of the Eastern and Western Church, from the (Apostolic Church) Fathers through the Middle Ages.” Terry Johnson writes that “Continuity with the past in doctrine, worship, and ministry has always been a serious concern of Reformed Protestantism.”

Continuity in worship suggests that our worship supports a generational continuity–that we worship as our parents did, and as their parents did, while trusting those in authority to exercise wisdom and right judgment. Such generational continuity in matters of worship serves as a reminder of the covenantal nature of the church. This is why we commit time and resources in training our children here at First Presbyterian Church to read music, and why we continue using an organ and train organ scholars, and why we maintain choirs and instrumental groups of various ages and abilities. It is why we use hymnals still, or at least print music in our bulletins. For centuries, Christian churches have used hymnals and read music, and this was a result of the Reformation. Literacy included musical literacy. Luther thought musical education in the church was so important that he believed that men should not be ordained to be preachers without being “well exercised in music.”  

It is important that as we prioritize a connection to historic worship practices, we also uphold the principle of catholicity, which requires us to absorb what is best from the professing church today. When our family moved to Columbia, it was a great encouragement to discover that Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old was teaching at Erskine seminary, in classrooms just across the street. Holly and I had known Dr. Old and his wife Mary when we and they attended Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. It would be fair to say that Dr. Old was the leading authority on the history of Reformed worship and historic preaching. In his succinct but very helpful book entitled Worship: Reformed according to Scripture, Dr. Old makes this comment regarding the contemporary worship music movement:

            The ministry of praise wells up from the grass roots of Christian faith. It is a folk art that,
            inspired by the Holy Spirit, comes naturally in its own time. It is the very nature of
            American Protestantism that the ministry of praise is so central to its worship and flows
            forth so abundantly and in such rich variety. 

In conclusion, how we worship should be an informed balance of the church’s history and a right, biblical catholicity, under the authority of the church. We are not to worship as though we are on an island or function as a type of museum for worship, nor are we to simply follow the trends of worship we see around us. Zwingli forcefully puts it this way: “How dare you introduce innovations to the church simply on your own authority without consulting the Church!”

Whatever the style or mode of music used in worship, it is a help to remember that worship is under an historically informed and biblically mandated authority. Tradition has value when it is anchored in the entirety of church history but can be poisonous when the historical memory of a church is only a generation or two. And while new music and a new style of music can bring a welcome freshness to worship, its characteristic lack of longevity should be acknowledged and therefore sustained by the bedrock of congregational music that has been passed from generation to generation. In approaching music in worship with these things in mind, we hope that it might be said of First Presbyterian Church for many years to come, “the whole congregation sings.”   


Sunday, October 20, 2019

For this week’s blog, we are simply including some recorded excerpts of two new hymns that we will sing at the upcoming Hymn Festival on October 23 at 6:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary.
The complete texts are listed here, with links to the excerpted audio files.  A couple of listens should be enough to help you recognize the tune when we sing them on Wednesday night.
The texts for both of these pieces can also be used for devotions, and the choir will sing from both of these pieces at worship this Sunday morning.

Redeemer of Israel, arr. Mack Wilberg                        Click here for audio link

Redeemer of Israel, our only delight.
On whom for a blessing we call,
Our shadow by day, and our pillar by night
Our King, our Deliverer, our all!

We know he is coming to gather his sheep
and lead them to Zion in love;
For why in the valley of death should they weep
or in the lone wilderness rove?

How long we have wandered as strangers in sin,
and cried in the desert for thee!
our foes have rejoiced when our sorrows they’ve seen,
but Israel will shortly be free.

As children of Zion, good news for us;
The tokens already appear.
Fear not, fear not, and be just,
For the kingdom is ours.
The hour of redemption is near.

Psalm 90, Julian Wachner                                                Click here for audio link

O Thou, the first, the greatest friend of all the human race!
Whose strong right hand has ever been their stay and dwelling place!

Before the mountains heav’d their heads beneath thy forming hand,
Before this pond’rous globe itself arose at Thy command;

That Pow’r which rais’d and still upholds this universal frame
From countless, unbeginning time was ever still the same.

Those mighty periods of years which seem to us so vast,
Appear no more before Thy sight than yesterday that’s past.

Thou giv’st the word: Thy creature, man, is to existence brought;
Again thou say’st, “Ye sons of men, return ye into nought!”

Thou layest them, with all their cares, in everlasting sleep;
As with a flood Thou tak’st them off with overwhelming sweep.

They flourish like the morning flow’r in beauty’s pride array’d;
But long ere night cut down it lies all wither’d and decay’d.

Paraphrase by Robert Burns


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 

-From The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

These poignant lines of Shakespeare are set to music in Ralph Vaughan William’s very moving Serenade to Music.  Shakespeare’s poetry and Vaughan Williams’ music are a perfectly wedded expression of the transcendent beauty and  power of music.  But Vaughan Williams’s title actually draws attention to a tension that we as Christians should wrestle with regarding music, namely musical excellence versus music idolatry.  In other words, do we give music a higher place than it ought to have, or as the Apostle Paul puts it, do we give glory to the created work rather than the Creator who has given men the gifts to create?  Vaughan Williams, of course, is not alone in misascribing glory to the creation, in this case the personification or deification of music.  Poets, artists, and musicians throughout the centuries have worshiped and been worshiped in the temples of libraries, museums, and music halls.    

There is a common sentiment in the music world that music can change people.  A well-loved and respected former colleague of mine recently posted the following quote by Leonard Bernstein:

“…art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job.  That was never its function.  Art cannot change events.  But it can change people.  It can affect people so that they are changed…because people are changed by art–enriched, ennobled, encouraged–they can act in a way that may affect the course of events…by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.”

There are certainly things to agree with here.  Art and music can be enriching, ennobling, and certainly encouraging.  However, implied in this statement is a pseudo-spirituality that is in opposition to the gospel, and as mentioned earlier,  a tension that Christians should recognize.  I reject this pervasive philosophy because music in and of itself has no eternal transformative power.  It can, as Bernstein rightly concludes, bring us moments of joy, it can move our affections, it can challenge us and make us reflect upon mysteries and truths, and it can even point us to the ultimate truth of the gospel.  And perhaps music, when serving as a vehicle for the gospel, can help lead someone to faith in Christ.   But music in and of itself cannot redeem fallen man.  It can be a means by which people are lifted out of their current condition in this world–I know more than a few musicians for whom the successful pursuit of the art of music has led them out of very dark life circumstances.  But this is the case in any other fruitful discipline as well.  Music is no more special than any other art form or sport or discipline in which someone’s physical and emotional well-being or sustenance have been established or improved.  When we see Christians elevating the art form to this level, we should point it out and gently rebuke them, as others have done for me when I’ve crossed the line.

Music is a great and valuable gift that the Lord has given men.  But it is great because its primary intention is to bring God glory.  Its primary intention is to be used as a means of worshiping God.   Still, it is a common grace that the Lord gives to believers and unbelievers alike.  In my own life, the Lord used music as a means to draw me to himself.  Prior to coming to a true knowledge of the Lord, music (as expressed in Shakespeare’s poetry) spoke to me in a deep part of my soul that helped me realize that there is something of divine beauty, order, harmony, and joy out there.  This could be what Bernstein was getting at.  But it did not make me a new creation.  I still ran my hell-bound race, thinking that I had find the answer, the truth!  It led me to believe that music is the noblest thing that this world has to offer.  I remember a mentor giving me a score of Bach cantatas when I graduated college, and he wrote the following inside the front cover:

“In Bach you will find the truth!  Search these pages; delve deeply, diligently, now and always, and revel in the realization that we will never truly comprehend the greatness–but we can try!”

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and only after coming to faith did I realize what he was trying to say to me.  Bach’s music, particularly his cantatas and passions, always expresses the exclusive truth claims of the gospel, and Bach is intentional in how these truths are manifested in his compositions.  Furthermore, we know that Bach believed the good news of Jesus Christ.  This is why musicians, particularly Christian musicians, value his music so much.  It is part of the reason why churches have carefully maintained organs over the past four centuries, because the organ is the quintessential instrument of Bach’s music.  But even Bach, in his genius and greatness, could not fully comprehend or convey the truths that he adhered to.

But not all composers who wrote/write sacred music were/are Christians.  When I first started here, over twelve years ago, I had only been a Christian for about seven years, so I had much zeal, and not much wisdom.  There were several living and very well-known church music composers whose music I would not have the choir sing because I knew that they were not orthodox in their Christian or even non-Christian profession of belief.  But over time I began to realize that these particular composers took their craft of setting the Scriptures or biblical poetry with a care, intelligence, insight, seriousness, reverence and skill that is lacking in many composers and arrangers who are professing Christians, myself included.

I often do not know the spiritual convictions of the composers of our introits or offertories  from Sunday to Sunday, but what I do know is that excellent composers often write music that helps you and I as believers to worship God and to love Christ more.  What I also know is that these men and women are made in the image of God and, whether or not they recognize it, God has given them their ability (see Exodus 31, verse 6).  If the Lord can turn the hearts of kings to run as water in whatever direction he chooses (Proverbs 21), so too does he use men who may not give him glory in their own lives to serve his purposes and reveal his glory!  Even if we knew only this about our Lord and Maker, it should cause us to be in awe and wonder of the mysteries of his providence. 

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans11:33)


Sunday, October 6, 2019

This week we have had a guest (and good friend) give an organ recital on the First Friday Series. Vince Treadway is the music director of First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Lake Wales, Florida, where he has served for over nine years. Prior to that, Vince was the music director at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Bryn Mawr, PA, where he served for seventeen years.  As well as playing a recital this past Friday he also worked with our Youth Chorus and Chancel Choir, giving us all some very helpful encouragement and insight into what it means to serve the Lord through music, and helping us to do it better.
If you haven’t yet attended one of the organ recitals, I’d encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities.  We are blessed with a wonderful instrument, a gifted organist, and we have some great concerts coming up as well.  The lunches prior to these recitals are also a wonderful opportunity to fellowship.  They are also a great way to appreciate the organ music in our weekly services.  Knowledge fosters appreciation and understanding, which is one of the goals of this series as well.
In honor of Mr. Treadway’s very helpful visit, this blog will focus on the organ voluntary and postlude for this Sunday.  Mr. Russell has been gracious in writing some insightful comments about the music that he (Thomas) will be playing for this Sunday’s morning service.  We hope that these comments will be a help to you as you prepare for Sunday’s service:

The opening and closing voluntaries this Sunday morning are organ chorales from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”). Chorales are hymn tunes which came out of the German Lutheran Church, primarily during the 17th century. In the Orgelbüchlein, Bach demonstrates how chorales can be played in creative settings at the organ, with 45 organ chorales organized according to the liturgical calendar. The two organ chorales selected for this Sunday’s service come from the end of the “Passion” section and the beginning of the “Easter” section. The texts belonging to each chorale display Gospel truth appropriate for any Lord’s Day.

Help Me, God, That I May Succeed, BWV 624
Help me, God, that I may succeed,
My precious creator,
In forcing these syllables into rhyme
To your praise and honour,
That I may joyfully begin
To sing of your Word,
You will stand by me, Lord.

Bach’s complex treatment of this chorale includes a constantly running left hand line which travels up and down the extremes of the keyboard, a bass line full of syncopations, and two voices playing the tune in canon. These components work together and against each other to portray striving or searching, uncovering the need for God’s help as the Christian approaches worship. A four-part harmonization, as one would find in a hymnal, will be played before Bach’s organ setting.

Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 625

Christ lay in the bonds of death
Given up for our sins,
He is risen again
And has brought us life.
Therefore we should be joyful,
Praising God and being thankful,
And singing Hallelujah,

The chorale here is one of Luther’s two Easter hymns, based on the ancient “Victimae paschali laudes” sequence hymn. The strong harmonies and intense rhythmic motion in this setting reflect the power of Christ’s victory over sin and death.