how Elvis got started

14 07 2011

Today I saw a “week in review” article for this week throughout America’s history concerning music, and I got to thinking about how you never know where certain paths will lead.

This week in 1953, a young sideburned truck driver by the name of Elvis Presley went to the Memphis Recording Service studio, paid $4, and recorded “My Happiness” to give as a gift to his mother.  The same week of the next year, 1954, Elvis went to Sun Studios to record his first commercially available single, “That’s Alright Mama”.  Later that week, he performed on the back of a flatbed truck for the grand opening of a drugstore in Memphis.

You know the rest of the story.  I just thought it was interesting how humble his beginning was in his musical career.  I wonder how many people in the audience at that drugstore thought he would ever make it big…

So the next time you see a singer or band performing at a downtown park or on a flatbed trailer, don’t assume they’re “nobody” and will never make a name for themselves.  And even if they never become famous, they may be as good as someone who is famous.  Just because someone sells a million albums doesn’t mean they are more talented than people in your own town.

Actually, I know a musician who lives in Conway but has played around the country (even Carnegie Hall) and is going on a tour across Europe this summer.  He’s not famous here, but he’s extremely talented.  He teaches at UCA, and you can hear him perform for free sometimes.  You don’t have to buy $100 tickets to hear great music.  The question is whether we are interested in finding good music or just consuming whatever “Top 40” music is played on the major radio stations.


concert with Tobymac and Chris Tomlin

19 06 2010

I just got back from the Chris Tomlin / Tobymac concert, part of the Hello Tonight tour, and it was AWESOME!   Chris Tomlin has some great worship songs, and Tobymac has some really jamming songs (along with a few worshipful songs).  They both used a live band, which makes it better (in my opinion), and they both made unique arrangements of their songs, so it wasn’t just like hearing their CDs again.

I have to give props to Tobymac, the Diverse City Band, and whoever arranges his songs for his CDs and concerts.  When it comes to the music, they get it.  There was such a variety of musical styles and arrangements.  The songs were all recognizable, yet improved upon (in most cases) from the original versions.   In the middle of Tobymac’s set, he disappeared for a minute and then reappeared in the middle of the arena with one of the background singers and a guy playing acoustic guitar.  He sang several of his songs, plus a few from other people, with just acoustic guitar and beatboxing from the background singer.   It was very different, but great.  And he got the crowd involved, too.  All of the other singers and musicians were great, too — many of them played several instruments, some sang, and some danced.   The background singers / dancers could probably have their own concerts (and may someday) — they were that good.

For an encore, Chris Tomlin and Tobymac both came out and did a few songs together.  Imagine Chris Tomlin jumping around and singing “Jesus Freak” with Tobymac!  That was neat.

It was just an incredible show, the way a concert should be.  So if you ever get a chance to see them in concert, it’s worth it.

church music from 200 years ago

20 08 2009

I enjoy having discussions about praise and worship, mostly because it’s a topic that I have a burden for, and I’m involved on the praise team so I get to help lead people in worship.   But there’s also a less noble reason — I get to hear all kinds of opinions on what should and shouldn’t be in church music, and it’s kinda amusing to hear people try to justify their position when there’s usually no Scriptural backing for it.  As you might guess, some people claim only hymns should be used (and they usually don’t know where the music for hymns came from), and some people think only modern music like choruses or Hillsongs.

I never hear anyone pushing for a return to classical music in church, which was the standard before hymns were developed.   (Not that classical music should be pushed for — I’m just making a point.)  It seems like only the past two generations worth of music is debated.   It also seems like the two previous generations are the ones that usually “win” (if that is possible).   Most adults would probably say the modern styles of music (beyond what is on K-Love) shouldn’t be in the church.  I’m not going to debate that right now because I have another point to make, but think about it sometime — based on Scripture and not your musical preferences or man-made traditions.

I recently came across this song that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote for a church service, and it’s really neat.  It’s called Laudate Dominum, and it’s from the collection Vesperae Solennes de Confessore (which is K.339).  The singing is so smooth and beautiful and majestic.

I’d like you to listen to it.  If you’re still reading, you probably have some interest, although you might be thinking you won’t like it since it’s probably going to sound “classical”.   But if that’s how you feel about it, please put aside your prejudice and just listen.   (Yes, it’s prejudice to judge a song before hearing it.  Look it up if you don’t believe me.)

The lyrics are in Latin, but the text is from Psalm 117, followed by the Gloria Patri (a doxology), which together say:

Praise the Lord, all nations;
Praise Him, all people.
For He has bestowed
His mercy upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endures forever.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever,
and for generations of generations.

Here’s the recording of it.  The video is just pictures, so close your eyes and imagine worshiping to this in church…

If you’re curious about it, here’s some more background info:

Famed for the beauty of its solo soprano aria Laudate Dominum (Psalm 116 [Vulgate numbering]), the Vesperae solennes de confessore is the second of two settings of the early evening Vespers service composed by Mozart for liturgical use in Salzburg Cathedral. Both date from shortly after the composer returned from the abortive trip to Paris which witnessed the death of his mother. … Like its predecessor, K. 339 follows the standard Catholic liturgy in including the Magnificat and the five psalms utilized in the Vespers service. In addition to the concluding Laudate Dominum they are as follows: Dixit Dominus (Ps. 109), Confitebur tibi (Ps. 110), Beatus vir (Ps. 111), and Laudate pueri (Ps. 112). …

Vesperae solennes de Confessore (K.339), or “Solemn Vespers”, was Mozart’s final composition for the Salzburg Cathedral in 1780, before his permanent departure from his hometown in search of greater artistic opportunities of Vienna. One of two settings Mozart made of this service, K.339 was intended for the special celebration of an undisclosed saint’s day (the “confessor” of the title). Its six movements would have been interspersed with readings and other formalities appropriate for a festive religious occasion.

The text consists of five Psalms and the Magnificat canticle which concludes every Vespers service. As required by Mozart’s conservative employer, Archbishop Colloredo, each Psalm is set as a continuous movement, as opposed to being divided into separate arias, ensembles, and choruses in the operatic style invading church music at that time. Except for the radiant soprano aria in the well-known “Laudate Dominum”, the vocal solos also are treated in a more reserved ensemble style.

Despite these restrictions, and in contrast to the rather somber title (which only indicates the high church occasion), Mozart’s music abounds in joyous exuberance. Every movement extols the praise and virtues of God, further emphasized by the doxology (“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”) which concludes each section.

If you want to hear samples of the rest of the songs in the collection, here’s a link to them at eMusic.

So what do you think about it?  What do you suppose the reaction would be if this was played in your church next Sunday?   What do you suppose the reaction should be?

a Top 10 album that’s not Top 40

9 03 2009

Some radio stations like K-LOVE say they’re bringing you all the top Christian music.  But that’s not the whole story.  They’re only talking about songs from a very limited genre.

I don’t know why most radio stations limit their range of music so narrowly, if it’s from market research or payola (which is supposed to be illegal, but I hear it still happens sometimes) or if the distributors have a say in it (I think they do) or if it’s just this way because of tradition.  But either way, it gets old to me.  There are so many great songs in the various genres, yet most people miss it, because their favorite station(s) play “Top 40” music all the time.

I realize some people may prefer their music to be all similar — there’s no surprises, and it all sounds familiar.  So it’s fine for there to be stations like that, but at least where I’m at (Conway, AR), almost every Christian FM station plays the same songs.  And even within what little variety there is, it’s still mostly “pop” music.  Perhaps the reason the other genres don’t get as popular is because they aren’t aired on the radio often.  So those artists don’t get much exposure, because most listeners don’t want to search for music or don’t have time to.  (And the music industry executives love that, because it’s easier to predict which songs will be “hits” — they even have a formula!)

Anyway, enough of my ranting.  What made me think of this was seeing the sales results (from a few weeks ago) of a new CD and DVD called “Dream On” by the group “Ernie Haase and Signature Sound” (EHSS).  Here’s an excerpt from their newsletter:

The Dream On DVD and CD first week sales have just been posted.  The results are in, we wanted to share them with you and thank you for making the Dream On project a great success!

The DVD came in at #3 behind AC/DC and Elton John and just ahead of the Beatles re-release of “All Together Now” ….. Pretty big company!

The Audio CD & DVD came in at #1 on the Southern Gospel Charts.

And The Audio CD even hit #4 on the CCM (Contemporary Christian Charts) right behind Michael W. Smith, Mary Mary, The Wow Worship Project, and Casting Crowns.

Technically, their music would be filed under Southern Gospel, and that fact might scare away some people, but you should give them a chance because their sound is unique.  It doesn’t sound all country — quite the contrary, really.  They have songs that cross over “musical barriers” (genres).  Some of their songs could even be played on “Top 40” stations, I think.

If you appreciate good music, I encourage you to listen to some of their song samples online.  It’s free, so what have you got to lose?  I’ll even provide a link for you.  🙂  I’ve got several of their CDs, and they have a lot of great songs.  I’ve even met Ernie Haase in person one time, and he gave some very mature spiritual advice to me and a friend about leading worship.

Here are sound samples at Amazon.  Also on that page you can watch a video with clips from the concert in Chicago, where this was recorded live.

We Will Stand tour

28 04 2008

This past weekend I attended one of the “We Will Stand” concerts, featuring The Daniel Doss Band, Cadia, Avalon, and Michael English.  It was really good.  All the groups used the same band, and it was quite refreshing to hear live music.  Modern CD recordings tend to be so overly compressed and quantized and mastered that there isn’t as much “life” in the music.  Plus, it’s great when the artists take some liberty with the arrangements to improvise more than what is on their CD releases.

All the singers did a good job, and they all seemed like normal people, like friends I have.  It makes the music more personal when the artists share some of themselves, such as the story behind a song or their testimony, or if they just have fun with it.  We got to see their passion and personality, which adds a lot to the songs.  Some of them also prayed for everyone, and sometimes they challenged us in our Christian walk.  It was definitely a night of ministry, as opposed to just a concert.

The Daniel Doss Band had the lyrics displayed on the screen, which was a nice touch, because I wasn’t familiar with their songs.  I wish more artists would do that.

Avalon sounded awesome!  They have so much singing talent.  And it was obvious that they enjoyed being there and ministering.  I had heard some of their songs on the radio before, but they sounded a lot better live (as talented artists tend to).

Michael English shared his testimony, which lasted longer than the songs he sang, but that was okay because his testimony was powerful.  I knew he had went through tough times, but I had no idea it was as bad as it was.  He went from being on top of the contemporary Christian music scene (CCM), winning a couple of Dove awards and a Grammy, to the very bottom of life.  He lost his ministry, lost his voice, became addicted to drugs, went bankrupt, and even tried to commit suicide.  At one point he was locked up for his own safety.  But God never gave up on him, and when he reached the absolute bottom, he repented and has worked out of his problems.  Now he has some ministry again, and even though it’s nowhere as big as what he had before, he said he really knows God now and is so much happier than ever before.

Overall, the concert was really inspiring.  Some of the testimonies reaffirmed what God has been doing in my life the past few days, and I’m going to start praying more for God to expand my ministries.  I believe I should be doing more with my musical talents than I have been, so I’m going to pray for opportunity and direction in that area.

basketball and music

5 04 2008

I just got through watching one of the NCAA Final Four games, the one between Kansas and North Carolina (UNC).  It really was a roller-coaster in momentum, with Kansas going up 40-12, then UNC coming back to within 4 in the second half, then Kansas winning by 18.  It was crazy.

One thing I noticed during the game (that is totally unrelated to basketball) is there were several commercials with classical music, including two featuring Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Did anyone else notice this?  It’s encouraging that there’s still some taste for high-quality music in the mainstream media.  Much of what is on radio and TV is formulaic and simple, designed to be predictable and easy to be familiar with.  But it’s also “less filling”.  There’s not much substance to most popular music these days, which is why it was great to see nationwide exposure to one of the greatest works of music ever created.  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was revolutionary in its time, and it’s still unique and monumental.  If you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out.  I guarantee you’ll know the main melody in the 4th movement, which is the basis for “Ode to Joy”.

I realize I’m rambling some here, going from a big basketball game to the state of music in today’s society.  But it’s my blog, and I can ramble if I want to.  🙂

music artists leaving major labels

31 03 2008

There are now more famous music artists leaving the major labels and the RIAA.  It’s about time!  Of course Prince and Public Enemy did a while back, but now more have, notably Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, Jamiroquai, and Madonna.  (Actually, Madonna signed a deal with a different type of big company, so it’s not a total defection, but it might get their attention.  The other bands are taking the unsigned route.)

I’m so glad some major artists are finally doing this! The RIAA definitely does not have the artists’ interests in mind.  The big labels take so much of the money that a band has to sell anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 CDs to make a living.  Selling 250,000 CDs at $15 each results in revenue of $3,750,000, and yet the band can barely make a living off the small portion they receive.  So the label and distribution channels get millions of dollars while the people with the talent are getting ripped off.  It’s time for the model to change.

Being a musician, this really hits home to me.  I used to dream of having a recording contract, but after I learned about the industry, I realized it’s not as glamorous as it seems.  Thankfully, the Internet is helping to make a level playing field, albeit slowly.

I know, the labels do a lot of promotion for certain artists, and they have connections, and they fund the recording when the band is starting out (which has to be paid back).  So they have their place.  But they’ve been ripping artists off for a long time.  To give you a sense of perspective, I could make a good living by selling just 4,000 CDs a year at $15 each.  For a full band it would take more, of course, but it wouldn’t take hundreds of thousands of sales like it does when you’re on a major label.

I realize the walls of the RIAA aren’t crumbling down yet.  That may take years, or it may not even happen.  But I hope there’s some type of revolution in the music industry where artists are paid more fairly.