Classical #3: Mozart Sonata KV 570

If you wondered where I’ve been, I’ve been working on much harder music that takes a lot longer to study. Most classical pieces take a year or more to play well, so I can’t expect a classical piece a day. At BSU, undergraduate performance majors will prepare pieces for each semester, typically about four months, and also pick about 6-8 major works for a senior recital requiring roughly 2 years to prepare. I no longer need to prepare for semester or a senior recital, but continue to develop the skill necessary to play moderately difficult pieces.

So, that’s where I’ve been–putting Hymn-A-Day aside for now, and working on much more difficult pieces that just take a long time to learn. The thing about classical music is they sound much easier than they are to play! This is especially true of Mozart–I consider him to be the greatest natural musical genius of all time (Chopin is a close second). He instinctively knew how to reach into the audience’s minds and just connect without being overwrought and complicated. Let’s see if you agree: still a lot of work to do on this, but enjoyable anyway, I think.

Hymn #58: Go Now In Peace

This beautiful song is so needed. When I reach the end of the road, when I’m at the River’s edge, will I go in peace? Will I look back at all I did and was a part of, can I go in peace? If it is my lot, and coronavirus strikes, or some other such thing, will I have this sense of having made the most of this life?

For Christians, that is not a worry–death is viewed as a transition, not an end. But I don’t have that assurance and so I worry that I didn’t do things right, or something still is left undone. Yet somehow I know–I can go in peace. No, I won’t be like my good friends, whom I can easily say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant”–I have too many flaws. On the other hand, I do know I can be at peace, for I did try to make the world a better place in several ways, and made the most of my time on earth without being too obnoxious to others. Hopefully more years to go! This hymn is so calming: You are free to go in peace, do not worry. Go and relax. Go and rest. Go, now, and be at peace with the universe and all that is in it.

Hymn #57: Jesus, Rose of Sharon

I took a little vacation from Hymn-A-Day for several reasons, probably the most important is that I’m preparing a Mozart sonata and the Haydn concerto–about 30 some pages of music to get performance ready (a remote performance rather than our usual in-person event). And, I’m in the process of presenting my physics research to my CalTech professor, that’s consumed a lot of my time lately. And I’m still teaching and learning singing! I will keep the Hymn-A-Day going but I’m trying to figure out how to balance my time and having no choice but to reduce my posting here. It’s such a gift to be able to do such fascinating and engaging stuff during such difficult times. My 86 year old mother is locked down in her house (LA area) and is bored beyond measure. I’m so thankful that even though Barb and I are sheltering in place, not leaving the house, we both are content and keeping very busy–and most of all, still are healthy.

I have two members of my family in the LA area that are sick with coronavirus and two or three more that are sick but not yet confirmed. This thing is nasty with a lot of damage done even with mild symptoms–please everyone, take this seriously and don’t take chances.

Here is a hymn with beautiful lyrics that neither I nor Barb have ever heard before–Jesus, Rose of Sharon. Picturing the gift of Jesus as greater than the beautiful roses of biblical times, it is a prayer and praise for Jesus as Healer (appropriate for our time), calling us to lay down our trophies and accomplishments and worship His grace and purity. It’s a simple hymn but a lovely song, I hope this lifts your heart.

Hymn #56: In the Garden

Wasn’t that an exquisite and lovely performance by Jim? It was so moving the way he sang it and the lyrics are so needed. I come to the garden alone, but He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing. I’d stay in the garden with Him Though the night around me be falling. He tells me I am His own. Hearing Jim sing and play was such a gift, I can still hear him as I play this.

Hymn #52, 53, 54, 55: Never Alone, Are Ye Able, Grace Greater Than Our Sin, All Glory Laud and Honor

The news about the spread of the virus was terrible this week, just when it looked like we would start back toward some sort of normal. How much more must we endure, how much suffering is headed our way? I don’t know, but it’s back to quarantine and wait out the storm. The virus is really here locally now, so this first hymn felt like a good choice “I’ve seen the lightning flashing, Which almost conquered my soul… I’ve heard the voice of my Savior, bidding me still to fight on”. I’m starting to really understand what it means to have the strength to persevere with what needs to be done, not losing faith that I will persevere. These are hymns about the supremacy of God over what we are asked to go through. I am not alone, nor are any of you, no matter how overwhelming this all feels.

It helps me to know that my trials and this storm are nothing compared to what Jesus suffered on the cross. “Are ye able, to be crucified with me? Are ye able, when the shadows close around you, to believe that spirit triumphs?” With these hymns I play, use me be a small light for others in the deepening darkness.

“Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, Threaten the soul with infinite loss”. Grace is so needed now.

Can we trust that a great victory is coming? When I was young I so remember a beloved relative helping me through very difficult times, saying, This too will pass. I must hold on, live every day to the fullest, and help others where I can.

Hymn #50, 51: Open My Eyes That I May See, Blessed Redeemer

Two great hymns for the 100 day anniversary of the Hymn-A-Day project.

Open My Eyes That I May See is written for people like me who are kind of clueless about how life works. The truth will set you free is a quote I grew up with and have founded my life on–but what is the truth? That is a very hard question–the truths I find depends significantly on where I look and who or what I trust to provide them–so I must try to choose wisely. Who am I? what am I? Who are You? What are you? Where are You? What do I need to do? Do I need to fear, and if so, what do I really need to fear and what do I not need to fear? This gentle hymn is a simple prayer asking for guidance and wisdom in trying to understand the questions of life.

And here is a hymn with the Christian’s answer, and a beautiful piece of music as well. There are many parts of the faith that I question, many things that I struggle with as being true. But–if you look closely at the lyrics of Blessed Redeemer, they speak deep and profound truths that matter–there is nothing I question here.

Hymn #49: Purify My Heart

I need a purified heart. I’ve been having some grumpy days. Instead of being thankful that I can play piano and hear it, and that I am staying well, and so on–I’ve been disappointed in my playing. I constantly worry that I’m not very good and should give up and take up another hobby like watching dandelions take over the lawn. Why do I get frustrated when my hands don’t go where they are supposed to? Am I the only one around here that needs a heart purification operation? This is a beautiful chorus but I was surprised how hard it was for me to learn. Was the result worth all the effort I put into it? More importantly, have I learned that a pure and joyful heart is more important than any accomplishments I strive for?

Hymn #48: My Savior First of All

I like trying new things, especially in music. I tried a classical rendition of this hymn and found it a challenge to try to learn in a few days–usually if I’m late with Hymn-A-Day it’s because I bit off more than I could chew! Barb says this is not a well known hymn but the melody sure sounds familiar to me. The lyrics are wonderful, the chorus goes:

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.

I’ve spent my whole life studying both Christianity and science with the goal of wanting to know what this existence is, who made it, what is my role, will my life end having done what needs to be done. Will I be judged, redeemed, or considered inconsequential. Do I matter? Should I keep trying so hard in whatever time I have left on this earth, or can I finally relax? Is Jesus my Savior? I want to know if He is my Savior first of all–if that is true, nothing else really matters.

Hymn #47: His Eye Is on the Sparrow

I have to confess I have mixed emotions about this song. Its value to me is how the song speaks of the importance of not worrying, a lesson I constantly struggle with. However, I am pretty sure no one would describe me as perky and happy! This is an extrovert’s song and it doesn’t really fit me very well. But for so many, this is an enormously popular song, uplifting and showing that God cares deeply for all of us. So often, as a musician, I hear comments like “Why does he play that music? I want to hear happy music!”.

Life is very hard, and not knowing if anyone cares, if it truly appears that it doesn’t make any difference what I do to anyone, that would make it that much harder. Music that uplifts in hard times helps so many, and this hymn really resonates for a lot of people. There is a good message here–I don’t have to worry it I let God take care of those things that I cannot. Can I really let go? Can I really trust that God will be there for me, that He cares about my trials and joys?

Well, one thing is pretty certain–the sparrows around here look pretty content without any worry that I can see.

Hymn #46: Holy, Holy, Holy

Since I come from a scientific background, I spend a major portion of my waking hours and have written many posts on my physics/philosophy website (agemoz.wordpress.com, be forewarned, it is fairly technical) on the form of God and our existence. I’ve never had a clear sense of God, but I’ve often thought about various ideas of what form He would take. Is He in this universe in some way or completely outside? Can He use a “hand” and physically act on this universe, or does He influence us to do His actions for us? Can He be defined as an intellect or some other categorization that we would be able to understand? And of course, the most vexing question of all–what created Him? Hopefully I don’t get in trouble for asking questions like these, but I’m pretty sure that everyone who considers taking on the Christian faith–seekers–will be asking questions like these.

This traditional hymn appears to directly address these questions. It describes a vision of God, what He is, who accompanies Him, and the span of time He is in. I’m sure all of you have considered God, our personal existence, and our physical universe at various levels, and such thought helps transcend the here and now that has coronavirus in it. It is the big picture, well worth thinking and reading about.

“Hymn” #44: Schubert Impromptu Op 90 #3 (final section)

Playing classical music, as I mentioned on my previous post, is the peak of craftsmanship, and I will make no pretense of being a master at it. But my love of piano, and music in general, comes from discovering great beauty and joy in the sounds I hear. I definitely do not take my hearing for granted, but get deep pleasure in reproducing the old masters, even if rather imperfectly. Schubert is at the top of my list of favorite composers, and this piece is among my all time favorites–possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. I am working on the whole thing, and hope to make a decent recording of it soon–here is the ending section.

Update: I liked the originial recording, but I always process the recordings to fix uneven volume, noises sitting on the bench, etc. (I never “clean up” my playing, what you hear is what I did, mistakes and all). However, I am no recording engineer, and I kind of made a mess of the post-processing–and really disliked what I came up with. I replaced the recording above, this is a newer version that is more true to the original.

Hymn #43: Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling

From the 17th century through to about 50 years ago, music composition and performance reached extreme levels of craftsmanship. Music back then was a career very much like engineering or scientific research is today–highly refined and carefully and beautifully done. I’ve studied a great many different piano masterpieces and composers, and one characteristic of musicians and performers from that time was the constant experimentation and development of musical ideas. I am going to try that for today’s hymn.

Nearly all of the hymns I have played here have improvisation over the written music, but retaining the melody line. This time I’m going to take a big step into deeper waters. I will play the hymn as usual, but the second time through, I will do what is called a development section in classical music before returning to the hymn to finish. A development section generally is not singable or even really an instrumental–but a well done development connects enough that the listener understands the connection, but hears a new and significantly different variation. Playing multiple repeats of any music can get boring, but adding a development section expresses the performer’s creativity and can add interest to an otherwise repetitive performance. Will it work? Only you, the listener, can tell!

Hymn #41, #42: The Solid Rock, Rock of Ages

When I have a rough few weeks, I crave a strong foundation, an anchor, a hold onto a reality that is solid and strong enough to withstand any trial. You all have had experiences where in a matter of seconds, your whole life is upended–a doctor visit, news of a loss of a loved one, a car accident, losing your job, or–coronavirus and hundreds of thousands dead, and tens of millions of jobs lost.

I need so desperately to know that someone “has my six”–will support me in such times. If I have to go through it alone, I feel like I don’t have the strength and the emotional state gets truly overwhelming. But if I know others also face trials worse than mine yet will choose to stand by me and help, no matter what the outcome, then I can hold on. I used to attend a church where, upon leaving, I would see beautiful stained glass with the words “I will be with thee”. I will be with thee–a Rock to shield me from the great storms of life. May you sense His Presence as a comfort and source of strength.

Hymn #38, #39, #40: As The Deer, Be Exalted, O God, A Shield About Me

When you’ve had serious illness in the past, symptoms cause a fear of re-occurrence. One result is a pretty severe PTSD effect and can generate a state of extreme exhaustion even when the symptoms turn out to be false alarms. I’ve had that happen twice in the last month, so these choruses are a balm for rough times. Somebody ask Tresa to sing Be Exalted, O God some time, you will be in for a treat!

The chorus As The Deer is from Psalm 42:1 but the words create an image that reminds me of that most restorative psalm 23:

Being thankful for this life, be exalted above all else:

I so much have needed a shield about me lately, a lifter of my head…

Hymn #37: My Jesus, I Love Thee

This beautiful hymn is one of my favorites, a picture of love so deep and complete that it transcends the trials and struggles of our daily lives. A love that never wavers, even to the last day of life itself. A love that heals, strengthens, and defines a purpose far greater than anything I could choose. This hymn brings a great image to my mind the vastness of the starry universe, a love just so utterly overwhelming and complete and awe-inspiring. I think on this, and my worries and fears just melt away.

Hymn #36: To God Be The Glory

It doesn’t matter what I’ve done or will do, I can safely guarantee there will never be a hymn “To Bob Be The Glory”. The funny and very ironic thing is, I do so many things in this life acting as if that is what I am trying to do! This hymn is a lesson that only God can claim glory. I can get in the way or I can help further God’s purposes, but striving for my own goals in this life will yield no glory. Respect from others is fleeting if it is there at all, and trying to get it will only annoy others. I need this hymn to remind me of that.

PS: That’s the end of my requests list, so send me some favorites!

Hymn #32: Blessed Assurance

If worrying about coronavirus weren’t enough, I’ve been significantly stressed that in the last year or so, my hearing has rapidly deteriorated. I was born with significant hearing loss, and have worked zealously to protect what hearing I do have. However, I also have Meniere’s syndrome, which causes progressive destruction of hearing as well as other unpleasant symptoms and that has accelerated. Performers and music teachers are totally dependent on their ears, and I am no exception. Now I am looking at a future I can’t comprehend. No, it’s not cancer or coronavirus, real fears faced by healthworkers and first responders, so I have to be careful not to land in a pity party–but it’s still very upsetting that I’m heading toward losing what I love to do.

I spoke with someone who is faced with limited time as well, but she was so calm about it, knowing that’s how life works and being content with what she has done. That way of thinking fits so well with this hymn–blessed assurance of a future that is good. Music is my life’s story, my life’s song–being thankful for what I have been given–and oh what a gift music has been for me.

Hymn #31: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring)

It was ironic that Ken spoke of sloth today, as I was embarrassed that I have not posted for a couple of days–working on this hymn. This is derived from the famous Bach Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and like all classical pieces, and especially Bach, was difficult to learn and took more than one day. I worked on it pretty hard for the last two days, but felt bad I wasn’t keeping up. The great thing about this Hymn-A-Day project is how it drives me to be a better pianist–I listen to what I did, don’t like it, and try again, never really being satisfied.

I teach piano, and all my students come in thinking playing piano is relatively simple, hit the right keys at the right time, how hard can that be. Every single student comes away from my lessons realizing piano is really, really hard to do well and takes a ridiculous amount of practice and work.

I think of our church musicians and think how much work is behind the scenes and hidden from everyone. I thought of that when I heard Chris and Ron this morning, same thing right? Chris makes singing sound like something she was born with. I am a little ashamed to admit that I am taking vocal lessons, and have been for several years, so I immediately recognized a well-trained voice. Everybody sings, right? It’s pretty trivial, right? No. I’ve taken enough lessons to know it is really, really hard to do well, and I will never in my lifetime sing like that.

So, next time you listen to our church musicians, realize there is a truly enormous amount of work and dedication behind the scenes you will never see, and marvel at the example they set (no sloth there!). Thank you, musicians!

Hymn #30: Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

A new hymn for me, a reminder to be thankful especially now: Come, you have prepared ere the winter storms begin (yes, we have–bountiful harvest in the pantry!) and yes the storm has begun. Will it be severe here, or will we avoid the worst of it? No way of knowing, but we definitely are thankful to be safe and prepared so far. Two good friends have been severely sick in March–sicker than they’ve ever been before. I am definitely thankful for no illness yet.

Hymn #29: Great Is Thy Faithfulness

I’ve been very stressed out the last few days by all that is happening. Would it help me to relax a little? “All I have needed, Thy hand hast provided. Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”. It’s time to focus on today, and not worry. I will be thankful for what I have, and not fear for tomorrow.

Hymn #28: Majesty

I can only imagine what it would feel like today if great choral singing, heraldic trumpets, and massive cathedral organ were to announce the coming of a greatly respected leader. We have no equivalent in today’s society–the general attitude is to smirk and denigrate those who try to lead us, successfully or not, through troubled and dangerous times. What would it be like to have God Himself arrive to save us all and lead us to safety. Can you imagine being a musician or singer expressing great joy for such an event? This was a request and I think it’s a great choice. Forget coronavirus for two minutes and transport yourself into a great crowd eagerly awaiting the One.

Hymn #27: Ave Maria

The Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”) Catholic prayer is so beautiful and tranquil–a message of peace and grace in difficult times. Franz Schubert wrote a widely famous and loved adaptation called Hymn to the Virgin which has been used to sing the Ave Maria prayer–many famous singers showcase their talent and skill on this piece, here are two superb renditions:

Andrea Bocelli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwp1CH5R-w4
Renee Fleming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsBt9yZDslA

So, this is really not a Hymn-A-Day item, but rather a full classical piece deserving a lot more study than I give it here. Nevertheless, I worked very hard on it (I’ve not played it before) and I hope it is a special treat for you.

Hymn #26: For Those Tears I Died

Come to the water, stand by my side. I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied. I felt every teardrop when in darkness you cried, For those tears I died.

I grieve for so many sick and so many have died. So many lives shattered, so many families broken-hearted, so many lost. So many caregivers, healthcare workers, so many who paid the ultimate price serving and helping others.

I grieve for a life that I think will be forever lost, the world will never be the same. But Jesus calls me, give Me your heart and your soul. Come to the water, stand by My side. When in darkness you cried, I strove to remind you, for those tears I died.

“Hymn” #25: Dark Night of the Soul

Sometimes, in fact much of the time, I like to make my own music rather than playing somebody else’s compositions. I rarely did this for church. But here? Can I do this safely here? It’s dangerous to do for piano performers because there’s no guarantees it will succeed and often people won’t like it for any number of reasons. Will I lose respect if I show you who I am deep inside? Does it matter to anyone who I am? If I get sick and die is anything lost? Am I totally alone inside? This composed improvisation tries to express these thoughts musically…

Hymn #24: The Old Rugged Cross

If I am gone, will anybody remember me for anything? Am I just another piece of flotsam in the river of life? I think men especially struggle with needing to make their mark in life, to gain respect in some way as a purpose in life. But trying to accomplish amazing things and win trophies hoping somebody else will notice is a futile purpose in life, and that’s a lesson I *really* need to learn.

Hymn #23: Be Thou My Vision

For those of you who remember Kim Evans, you know she was fiercely emotional about caring for her children, and doing the very best possible for them. I love piano and teaching, and put my heart and soul into doing it well. However, not knowing me, it can be very hard for parents to trust that I have their children’s best interest in mind. Kim did something that amazes me to this day–she trusted me to teach her beloved Morgan. The last song I taught Morgan is this hymn, and he played it for church and for Mom and Dad. Kim is an angel now watching over her family from afar.

Kim, thank you for your trust and faith in me. This hymn is for you.

Hymn #22: Take My Life and Let It Be

The coronavirus crisis is very much an existential crisis for me–if my life ends, I worry that it was not the best it could be, causing me to strive very hard at all things I do. Am I a good husband? Am I a good piano teacher? Are my projects and physics research project an effective use of my life? Am I helping others? And on and on and on–but this hymn says to me gently: I don’t need to be trying so hard: give my life to God and let Him direct, and I will no longer need to worry if I did the right things. But where is He? I don’t hear Him.

Maybe I should just relax and try to listen for God–I certainly hear great beauty and significance in this stunningly beautiful hymn.

PS: I’m working hard on the famous Schubert Ave Maria, it’s beautiful and is coming soon I hope!

Hymn #18,#19,#20,#21

Favorite Choruses from long ago…

Isn’t He

This is Holy Ground

Glorify Thy Name

and one of my favorites–Good News. Do we ever need it now!

Our God Reigns