God is terrible

This idea is scattered throughout the bible, if not in exactly that form. I probably knew it first and certainly know it most familiarly through Ralph Vaughan Williams’ anthem on Psalm 47, O clap your hands.

O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.

English has a number of words derived from Latin terror (noun), terrēre, terrificāre (verbs) and terribilis (adjective), including terror, terrorism/t, terrify, terrorise, terrible, terrifying and terrific. Terrific is now positive (though I remember a primary school teacher telling us that it should only be used in contexts of terror), terrifying is negative and terrible sits uncomfortably between the two.

As is usual with biblical words like this, there are many translations. In the 54 English versions on Bible Gateway:

awesome 18 awesome beyond words 1 awesome and deserves our great respect 1
awe-inspiring 3 

to be feared 9 to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience] 1 fearsome 1 fearedful (to be feared/to be revered) 1 fearful 1 

terrible 10 
excites terror, awe, and dread 1

wonderful 3 wonderful [awesome] 1

stunning 1 

We must fear the Lord 1 We must fear Yahweh, Elyon 1

most of which have other problems, especially these days awesome. If “Everything is awesome” then there’s nothing special about God. At least no translations use awful (see this post, towards the end) (or dreadful).

(Another choral setting of the same psalm, by John Rutter, uses to be feared.)

Lying behind all of these is the Hebrew word נוֹרָא (nora, Modern Israeli Hebrew pronunciation noˈʁa). I will let an actual Hebrew speaker pronounce it and explain. So, awesome or awe-inspiring, or terrible or awful, even in Hebrew.

My problem with all of these is that if God is terrible, to be feared or even awesome, then our response will be terror, fear or awe, but will not and cannot possibly be love, and certainly not with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

It is noticeable that most of the verses describing God as terrible (in whatever words) are in the Old Testament (the one exception being the Old Testament-focused Hebrews). Elsewhere in the New Testament, we get “God is love” (not “God is loveable”!).

(I possibly have more to say about this, but would be venturing too far into theology for my comfort.)

The Best of Pachelbel

A few months ago I saw a video promising 78 minutes of ‘The Best of Pachelbel’. Oh hooray, 5 minutes of canon, 3 minutes of gigue and 70 minutes of other works from his prolific output. Er, no … 75 minutes of canon, 3 minutes of gigue and zero of other works. Can you even name another work? I had, and maybe still have, a volume of organ music.  

About two months ago I wrote about covers of pop songs, with special reference to The Eagles’ Hotel California. Many of the same comments apply to classical music, though the term cover is probably not appropriate. We refer to performances, renditions and interpretations (of the composer’s original) and transcriptions and arrangements (someone else’s changing of the original in some way). Pachelbel’s Canon is surely in the top 10 of most arranged and (over-)used works. The challenge of arranging this work is that 3 independent upper lines don’t fit naturally together on any one other instrument. Of the versions in the video, the most convincing were those which kept the original lines (one for string orchestra and one for brass ensemble) and those which totally reimagined the work (one for guitar and one for string quartet which ended up in Brahmsian territory, as far as I can remember – I’m not going to spend another 78 minutes relistening). Most of them were wishy-washy. Music should never be wishy-washy.

I was going to write far more about classical arrangements in general and this one in particular, but I won’t. I’ll leave you with this for those who like it and this for those who don’t.

“Yes”

A few posts ago I talked about the song Sweet Caroline. The morning after I posted that, one of my sisters, who is one of my regular reader messaged me “I read your blog this morning and the first song on the radio when I got in the car to drive to church was … Sweet Caroline. Freaky eh!”

The freakiest coincidence of music I experienced was in a bookshop while browsing through a book which attempts to answer rhetorical questions in songs, for example “How deep is the ocean, how high is the sky?”. One chapter was on “Do you know the way to San Jose?”, the answer to which depends on which San Jose you are headed to; the way to San José, Costa Rica is very different from the way to San Jose, California (which is undoubtedly the one Hal David had in mind). Right then, I heard on the bookshop’s sound system:

doof … doof … doof … doof …  
woah … woah … woah.woah … woah … woah…woah.woah … woah … woah

The simplest answer to the question “Do you know the way to San Jose?” is “Yes” (or “No”), but communicative cooperation means we can’t actually say that.

Dah dah Dah

Two weekends ago our niece treated us to lunch at a Korean restaurant, for a combination of Australian Mother’s’ Day and Korean Parents’ Day (even though we’re not actually a mother and parents). We were sitting within sight and sound of a medium-sized screen playing K-pop girl groups. I got thinking, not for the first time (for example, the previous time we went to that restaurant) how indistinguishable most of the singers, groups and songs are. At least to me, but that might be because I’m a non-Korean man my age and my general unfamiliarity with K-pop girl groups. I could probably say the same about most current-day US/UK/Australian pop music. No doubt they become more distinguishable with exposure and practice. 

A few days later I was listening a video of songs of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. One song started which I didn’t recognise but could tell that the singer was Neil Diamond. (Don’t judge me!) A moment later …

Sweet Caroline (Dah dah Dah …)

Oh, that one!

But I have no idea how the chorus goes after that, not even the melody and certainly not the words. 

Anyone’s ability to distinguish any music or performers depends on exposure and active, repeated listening. (I tend to listen to music while I’m working, though many classical music videos come with scrolling scores, which I tend to pay more attention to when I’m not working.) Not surprisingly, I’m better at classical music and 1970s US/UK/Australian pop. Two years ago my wife and I were driving in the Blue Mountains. She turned on the radio and I recognised the voice of the presenter (who I know) of Australia’s leading classical music interview/discussion show. He interviewed the author of a book about Beethoven and his milieu and finished with a piece of loud and grand orchestral music. My wife asked me if I knew what it was and I told her Beethoven’s 9th symphony. She said “Are you sure?”. I said “… Yes”.

(A few minutes later) I’ve just listened to Sweet Caroline and realised that I knew the introduction/interlude and vaguely the rest of the chorus, but the verse is still a complete non-memory. I also remembered four chords and originally wrote (da Dah dah Dah).

Related to this is that list videos of No 1/greatest/favourite songs tend to play just the most recognisable part, which is usually the chorus. 

“Some dance to remember”

One day when I was at high school, some representatives of the school newspaper asked random students what our favourite song was. When the next issue of the paper came out, there was The Eagles’ Hotel California, with … one vote. 

I don’t know why some songs remain in the individual or collective mind and others don’t. Some super-famous songs basically disappear almost without a trace, while others which were mildly popular at the time become classics. Hotel California was no 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for one week in May 1977. I can’t find any record of its chart performance in Australia. It certainly wasn’t no 1 or one of the top 25 singles that year.

It’s sometimes hard to say how much of my memory of a particular song is from the actual time, and how much is from encountering them on compilation cassettes, CDs or Youtube videos. Some songs were and are extensively featured on compilations and some aren’t. It was easy to spot, by their absence, the singers and groups (or their production companies) which didn’t licence their songs. 

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Nice noise – nooice

A Youtuber named Rachel Boyd has  channel mainly of history videos, but also of music videos each featuring works from one period of music history. Most of them have attracted comments intended to be in the language style of that period, with some commenters doing a better job than others. One commenter on a video of works from the Classical period complains the “now the music is just noice”.

I think he means noise, but noice is reasonably common in Australian English as an exaggerated and jocular pronunciation of nice, which would completely change the meaning. But it’s not new, and it’s not Australian. Dictionary.com cites Charles Dickens writing “Ye be noice chaps” in Nicholas Nickleby in 1838. And for extra emphasis, there’s also nooice.

Sing Noël! Sing Gloria!

It was probably inevitable that a married couple of songwriters named Noël and Gloria would write a Christmas song. Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne wrote Do you hear what I hear? (first recording, by the Harry Simeone Chorale) in October 1962. 

Or maybe not, because his name was actually Léon, and he was hesitant to write a Christmas song due to the commercialisation of Christmas. Noël wrote the words, influenced by the then-current Cuban Missile Crisis and Gloria the music.

Gloria came into English straight from Latin, and also via Old French glorie to become Middle English glory. I couldn’t figure out what the origin of noël (or noel) might be, and would not have guessed that it comes from Latin diēs nātālis day of birth (compare nativity). French did drastic things to Latin (note also that glorie became gloire), but that one is a stretch. Noël is a relatively late arrival into English, dating from 1805-1815. The First Nowell was first published in 1823.

gentleness, moderation, softness

One of the readings at church last Sunday was from Philippians 4, starting Rejoice in the Lord always, and continuing Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The preacher spoke mainly on the idea of gentleness. 

As a choral singer, I know two anthems on that text, one by Henry Purcell (which my number one commenter of recent times, Batchman, mentioned in a recent comment) and the other by Anon or John Redford. The first uses the text Let your moderation be known and the second Let your softness be known, so obviously there are different translations out there. In fact, Bible Gateway has 25 overlapping translations of these words in 62 versions. These can be divided into noun( phrase)s (typically Let your N be known, or Let everyone see your N) and adjectives (typically Let everyone see that you are Adj). 

gentleness 20
gentle spirit 3
gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] 
gentle attitude
gentle nature 
moderation 5
forbearance 4
kindness 3 
graciousness 2
gracious attitude  
reasonableness 2 
chassidus (piety) 1
modesty 1
patience 1
patient mind 1
unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit) 1

gentle 3
gentle and kind 3
gentle and gracious 
gentle [kind; considerate; patient]
considerate 3
reasonable and gentle 
unselfish and considerate 

Two are very different: the Message version, which has Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them and the Worldwide English version, which has Let everyone know that you think kindly of others before yourselves.

The Greek word behind all these English translations is ἐπιεικής, epieikés, from epí upon and eikos equitable, fair. It is an adjective; the equivalent noun is epieíkeia. Bible Hub explains: epieikḗs (“justice beyond ordinary justice”) builds on the real intent (purpose) of what is really at stake … and hence, is true equity that appropriately fulfils the spirit (not just the letter) of the law. 

I first said to the preacher that the best word out of all those seems to be moderation, but I later thought of the rather cumbersome equitability  and equitableness, which, not surprisingly, none of the translations uses.

If any Greek (or Hebrew) word has 25 different (but overlapping) meanings in English (or any other language), can we say what the bible says (or even means)? I’m sure it is possible to worry too much about this, as I have probably just done.  

Kingdoms and empires

The hymn The day thou gavest, Lord, has ended (Wikipedia, performance) has as its last verse:

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

We quite often refer to God as king and to God’s kingdom or the kingdom of God, but we almost never refer to God as emperor or to God’s empire or the empire of God, even though King of kings and Lord of lords is more analogous to an earthly emperor than a king. 

The only reference to empire/emperor/imperial in the King James/Authorised version of the bible is in the comparatively late OT book of Esther (1:20):

When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small. 

(The king being Ahasuerus and the empire being Persia.)

Of the other 27 translations on Bible Hub, one uses realm, four use empire and the rest kingdom.

 

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the square __ the hypotenuse

One of the choirs I sing in started practicing the chorus of the Major-General’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, very slowly, starting with 

with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

Hang on, shouldn’t that be on the hypotenuse?  At least, that’s what I’ve always thought it was.

Apparently not. The two books on Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas I have both give of, and the video I linked above has it. But, in general, of and on seem to be interchangeable, with a recent preference for of

There doesn’t seem to be an original Greek form of the theorem, whether formulated by Pythagoras or someone else. If there is a difference, it’s that the square on the hypotenuse is an actual square on an actual side of an actual triangle, and the square of the hypotenuse is a mathematical function of the length of that side. To the ancient Greeks, γεωμετρία (geometria) was literally about measuring the earth.

If you are a singer, use what you conductor provides or tells you. If you are a maths teacher, use what’s in your textbook. If you are anyone else, choose one and don’t worry about it.