Extra examples of the 'Popologetics' analysis framework

This functions as an appendix to the main resource on how one might apply Ted Turnau's framework for analysing cultural objects - from his book 'Popologetics' - to classical music-making, found here, with four examples.

Example 1

Flautist Becky Chevis practising Hindemith's Acht Stücke for solo flute whilst in lockdown.

The piece – Hindemith’s Acht Stücke

Practice during lockdown, planning to make a recording.

What’s the story or mood?

  • Eight miniature pieces for solo flute which follow on cohesively from one another to make a convincing suite. There is a general symmetry as each fast piece is answered by a more leisurely one, and pieces with free tempo are surrounded by those with time signatures and a stricter pulse.
  • Though the phrasing is largely irregular, it is still clear and most phrases are developments of or answers to the previous one.
  • The tonality is not standard, but neither is it atonal. Hindemith had his own way of tonal structuring which is a refreshing contrast to ‘normal’ tonality whilst sounding like it ‘makes sense’ in its own way.
  • The melodic motifs are clearly developed.
  • The descriptions at the top of each piece sometimes refer to musical styles more associated with singing e.g. ‘Lied’ and ‘Rezitativ’. 
  • Though the alternative tonality and technical requirements make the pieces seem very serious or even angsty at first, the expressive markings call for it to often be unhurried, light and free. There are very pretty moments and moments that are quite playful as well as a few breath-taking exciting fast passages.
  • I was introduced to this piece a few years ago and have returned to practising it during lockdown because I have more time, and because it is for solo flute (which prevents the frustration of not being able to meet with an accompanist anytime soon!)
  • The atmosphere is generally quite relaxed as I enjoy the piece and am not preparing it for an exam or competition. The fact that I cannot play with other musicians and that all concerts are cancelled does, however, weighs quite heavy over most of my practice time.
  • Though I am playing the flute alone, my husband Tom can hear and sometimes gives his comments. I am also in a ‘practice club’ which means that I will discuss how I am finding the piece and send a short recording/rehearsal take to some friends who keep one another accountable in our practice.
  • My main motivation for practising is for pleasure, to prevent boredom, make the most of lockdown time and keep my technique in good shape.

What’s the context – what world are we in?

  • Acht Stücke was published in 1927 at a time when Hindemith was appointed as a professor at the music school in Berlin and was near the start of a difficult relationship with the Nazis – some defended his work whilst others called it degenerate.
  • Hindemith seems to be referring to baroque partitas by writing a set of solo flute pieces which each have their own distinct character and are not simply designed to exercise technical aspects of playing (ie they are not studies despite being marketed as such by sheet music vendors).
  • I expect 20th century solo flute music to either be virtuosic or incredibly atmospheric. Hindethmith’s Acht Stücke mix both these elements. Like a baroque partita, each movement has a defined character and both virtuosity and atmosphere serve this character rather than being ends in and of themselves.
  • I expect solo flute music which has some links to the baroque era to make use of compound melody where the flute plays the part of two or more voices. Hindemith only does this for a few bars in the finale movement and seems content to focus on a solo melody rather than adding compound melodies to imply underlying harmonies.
  • Practising is a personal and intimate way to engage with music.
  • Despite being along, teachers and peers play a part in my practice time because my inner critic remembers comments that other people have made in the past and imagine what people might say when they hear what I’ve been working on. This is particularly true when I am preparing to record a rehearsal take for practice club though that is a supportive community and I am not fearful of their opinions
  • I would expect myself to work hard when I practise but to stop if I feel myself getting too tired or tense.

What is true and good here?

  • Hindemith is incredibly creative and refreshing whilst skilfully handling and referencing forms and motivic development from bygone eras.
  • It is a very physically human piece – the music does not encourage the flute to be an ethereal, removed sound nor a note-machine. The fast bits sound like fast fingers are working hard and the phrasing allow real, full, living breaths.
  • To me there is something refreshing, honest and beautiful about Hindemith’s tonality. 
  • There is goodness in having work to do despite the lockdown.
  • The supportive community of practice club is a tiny taste of what the community of God’s people can be like, spurring one another on and giving encouragement as well as constructive criticism.

What is deceitful? What offers salvation in the place of God?

  • I find the absence of compound melodies very striking, particularly since Hindemith’s technique is clearly indebted to Bach in many other ways. He focuses on a solo melody almost exclusively, only using compound melody to suggest underlying harmonies for short passages in the finale. The pieces are so short and varied that the flute melody’s self-reliance never seems strained, but if they were longer it might. This reminds me of modernity’s tendency to believe in the autonomous individual as an independent unit who could ideally be free from society’s restraints. We can idolise personal freedom and self-reliance instead of accepting that we need other people.
  • Personal practice is good, as are the routines and clear objectives that it gives to lockdown. Productiveness and personal excellence can, however, easily become idolised and I need to be careful that I do not look to my own organisation or self-improvement for my worth – these things are gifts from God rather than ‘points for me’.
  • Technically difficult solo repertoire always risks becoming a big ego trip for the performer!
  • Sometimes I get pain in my shoulders and back whilst practising and I know I should stop but I feel like I have to keep playing. I don’t like admitting that I am weak or sometimes unable to play.

How does the Gospel apply here?

  • God made us physical creatures and I love how this piece gives the flute player space to be really physically present – I can use these fingers, lungs and lips that God has given me without pretending to be a gnostic puff of sonic shimmer or a machine. As well as celebrating the good embodied life that we have been given, we can also look forward to when these bodies will be made new in the new creation.
  • Wonderful technique and forms from the past are also gifts from God, Hindemith’s academic and creative engagement with them is a beautiful picture of how we are free to enjoy and work with what God has given to us.
  • The idol of the autonomous individual is at odds with the Gospel – we are not in control and we cannot save ourselves. We are also made for community and are redeemed into a community of believers.
  • At the start of creation God gave humankind work to do – personal practice continues that work despite my other employment being cancelled due to Coronavirus.
  • We are made as communal beings. Though lockdown presents huge challenges for this aspect of our humanity it is good that my practice time is connected to others.
  • Because of Jesus I can ask for forgiveness when I idolise productivity or technique. I am forgiven and am being sanctified.
  • My worth is not bound up with if I play the flute. If I need to stop playing because of injury God will use it for my good and for His glory. I can admit that I am weak and know grace that means I am free to stop playing.

 

Example 2 

Baroque Oboist Katie Lewis performing Handel's oratorio Theadora with Arcangelo

The piece - Handel's Theodora

The musicking/happening/event - Performing with Arcangelo in Vienna, January 2020

What’s the story or mood?

  • Tragic story yet with hope.
  • Love and virtue are both portrayed as strong forces for good.
  • The original purpose may have been to moralise.
  • Clear ‘good’ characters (Christians) and ‘bad’ characters (Roman pagans), yet Septimus is an interesting in between of a pagan who has compassion.
  • Rehearsals conducted in a good spirit - musicians seemed to get on well and appreciate each other’s gifts and skills.
  • Electric concert atmosphere - one of the most appreciative and attentive audiences I’ve ever played for.
  • Overwhelming motive seemed to be to create and experience music at the highest quality.

What’s the context – what world are we in?

  • Baroque oratorio - expectations of religious content, long, music expected to be profound and heartfelt - the singers’ and instrumentalists’ skill is mainly seen in expressive control rather than virtuosity, though there is some, e.g. ornamentation of da capo arias.
  • Trumpets and timpani used for military opening. Horns used for music with pagan revelry. Flutes only written in for very quiet lament/solitude music.
  • The music is taken seriously, with a decent amount of rehearsal time (much more than, say, for a concert with a choral society), and high standard of ensemble, intonation etc. expected. 
  • The director in charge (from harpsichord) - his and the soloists’ opinions are respected and adhered to.
  • Leader of each section also has a reasonable amount of authority and can make decisions for their section/ask/make suggestions to the director.
  • Individual contributions valued, under musical direction of others - i.e. using your own skill and musical intuition and knowledge of historical performance conventions to contribute to the whole.
  • Lyrics taken seriously for purpose of communication - unclear how many people take them seriously on a personal level.

What is true and good here?

  • Specific historically related content about the persecution of Christians.
  • It powerfully conveys Christians’ hopes beyond death.
  • The music is really wonderfully written - lots of variety within the style, reflecting the character of the lyrics and giving appropriate enhancement to the lyrics’ emotional content.
  • There was a real recognition about the specialness of the event - no one seemed to regard it as ‘just another gig’.
  • Colleagues enjoyed continuing long-lasting relationships, but also drew others in e.g. my teacher inviting me to join her and others for dinner.
  • People full of praise for each other - e.g wind players telling the violins how good their section was.

What is deceitful? What offers salvation in the place of God?

  • Lyrically, there is a tendency for virtue to be seen as redemptive, rather than Jesus - it can seem a bit sickly, and certainly did to the first audiences.
  • The pagans are generally represented by ‘older’ music - not necessarily that noticeable to a modern audience, but would have been noticeable at the time - does this suggest chronological snobbery?
  • Discontent and grumbling about the favouritism shown to singers over instrumentalists in flights back.
  • Though not everyone holds this view, it can seem like people’s musical artistry matters more than their character.

How does the Gospel apply here?

  • There really is hope beyond death, and this reality of endurance through persecution and even martyrdom has been the reality for many Christian believers throughout history and is indeed the reality for many today.
  • This hope is found in the person of Jesus - though Christians are called to virtue and to grow in Christlike character, this is always in relation to Him - our hope does not lie in our own morality.
  • God is a God of diversity, and has created people and cultures in His image, and their differences reflect some of that diversity. So no musical style is inherently ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any other. Neither has music ‘progressed’ throughout history in the sense of increasing in value.

  • There were so many beautiful, God-given good things: beautifully crafted music that we can still enjoy today; the joy of doing that together with others and being able to appreciate their gifts; a desire to do things really well; a culture where established professionals encourage younger colleagues rather than just looking out for their own interests. I enjoyed that I wasn’t playing in all the most beautiful bits so could enjoy listening!
  • This beauty points towards a fulfilment in the new creation. In that kind of musical experience. I find thinking about how few of the other people on stage might be there to experience that fuller beauty very hard.
  • Our gifts and artistry are gifts from God that are to be used in relation to him, giving him the glory - this frees us to enjoy the music even more.
  • God cares about all of ourselves - he does care about us working hard, but he cares more about how we love others. Whether we are being conformed to his image matters more than increasing in musical skill.

 

Example 3

Violinist Sandy Thompson practising Brahms' Sonata in G for Violin and Piano whilst in lockdown

The Piece – Brahms' Sonata in G for Violin and Piano

The musicking/happening/event – Private Practice

What’s the story or mood?

  • The first movement uses sonata form (exposition of themes, development where the themes and harmony are explored, and recapitulation where the themes are now restored to the tonic.)
  • The second movement Adagio is sumptuous and espressivo (although plaintive at times), with a grand B section that goes from ominous to triumphant before returning to A.
  • The third movement Allegro quotes from another Brahms work, Regenlied, the text of which expresses the beauty of nature as well as nostalgia for childhood wonder and contentment. There is more agitation here than in the previous movements and it ends gently instead of the expected triumphant ending.
  • Many of the melodies in the sonata grow and develop out of small motifs.
  • A dotted rhythm motif features in all three movements, and other themes from the first two movements return in the third.
  • The majority is in a major key, open and lyrical, but not overly extrovert.
  • I started practising it while in lockdown to make use of the extra time I have. I enjoy Brahms and find comfort in the romantic lyricism. I have learned other sonatas by him but not this one so was keen to add another to the repertoire.
  • My motivation is to continue improving my playing and technique while learning something I enjoy.
  • I am practising alone at home because of lockdown. The environment is relaxed and unstructured. This is not my favourite environment as the majority of my motivation comes from making music with others. Thus I have always found solo practise challenging and still feel tired from mourning the loss of normal life and gigging opportunities.

What’s the context – what world are we in?

  • This was Brahms’ first published violin sonata (although reportedly five were written and discarded before Brahms deemed this one good enough to publish).
  • It was written in 1878-9 when he was a mature artist
  • He was influenced greatly by his friends Joachim the virtuoso violinist, and Clara Schumann, pianist and composer (she was incredibly fond of this piece).
  • A romantic composer, his music was deeply influenced by traditions of past (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven). He disagreed with the more radical composers of his time like Wagner and Liszt.
  • I’m interacting actively with the piece as I practise it.
  • I have the time and freedom to focus on whatever I enjoy.
  • However, I quickly get discouraged when there is no end goal, and in the slow, incremental nature of improvement.
  • I know that I can share the results of my practise with a community of musicians (an online practise club) which is a great support network to have, but I feel guilty not to have contributed to it for a long time.

What is true and good here?

  • Chamber music relies on a close partnership between the instruments. Both supports the other and becomes part of something better together. The lyricism of the violin part needs the harmonic richness of the piano part. Both musicians must to some extent put their individualism to one side to share a common vision as a team.
  • The sound world is beautiful, soothing and rich.
  • Brahms is creative in the way he develops whole melodies from a small motif. Such evidence of careful structure and design reflects God’s nature/design/own creation.
  • The theme of resolution and restoration can be seen in the way each movement resolves after development.
  • The text of the lied quoted in 3rd movement: It explores the beauty of God’s creation and the joy and profundity of experiencing it with our senses (Every trembling drop cooled, / Deep down to the heart’s very beating, / And creation’s holy web / Pierced into my hidden life.)
  • When committed to, practice gives purpose during lockdown.
  • Playing is important self-expression.
  • Learning discipline and perseverance are skills that are important for maturing in the Christian faith. Furthermore, the often slow but consistent improvement that comes from regular practice mirrors how the Holy Spirit is gradually but consistently transforming us.

What is deceitful? What offers salvation in the place of God?

  • Romantic thought elevated music to a transcendent, spiritual plain. This leads to a danger of worshipping music and losing sight of something created.
  • It was also common to worship nature and ‘the sublime’ during the romantic period, which is a possible reading of the text of the lied quoted.
  • It is easy to idolise excellence and covet others’ skill.
  • Putting my value in how much practise I do leads to guilt when I don’t.
  • I lack discipline and perseverance at the moment.

How does the Gospel apply here?

  • The ternary form narratives, and particularly sonata form, celebrate the return of the original themes after they get lost or complicated in the middle section. We can see in this the gospel arc of creation, fall and salvation. Humanity’s longing for reconciliation is fulfilled in Christ.
  • The teamwork nature of ensemble playing, especially chamber music, requires putting individual agendas and egos aside for a common goal. This much like Christians becoming members of one the body.
  • Beauty in music points us to the beauty of our God.
  • Music is a gift from God. It is a created thing, not an ethereal power to be idolised. It is however a powerful tool to both relate to others and worship him.
  • God has given me music as a gift to enjoy which helps me to express myself.
  • All my playing is not just for myself but for his glory.
  • Work and dedication are good, God given things, but my purpose is not to achieve and stay busy but to delight in God my saviour.
  • My value is in being a child of God not in my own abilities or achievements.

 

Example 4

Composer Thomas Chevis composing a choral piece exploring mental health, Excerpt #1

The piece - Excerpt #1 by Thomas Chevis

The musicking/happening/event - Composing

What’s the story or mood?

  • The lyrics, written in the first person, are more suggestive than explicit – switching between tormented outcries and prayers that seem to come from a place of exhaustion. It all indicates that they are the inner thoughts and cries of a person suffering from bad mental health.
  • The main structure follows this switching, being therefore a form of oscillation, with angsty, minor, fragmented, tortuous content in a tight range alternating with calm, major, homophonic, hopeful content in a bigger, more sonorous range.
  • The title, Excerpts #1, along with various ellipses in the text, suggests there is more text that has been omitted, and thus these words have been selected specifically for the purpose of this composition.
  • There is a rather oblique musical reference right at the end of the piece to the hymn “Oh God beyond all praising” which might fly under the radar to those not familiar with the lyric “to rise and bless you still” which also appears here. This is a clue that the parent-child relationship which is inferred from the text is in fact the narrator’s relationship with God rather than a human parent. (If it were the latter, the text could imply a very different, much darker, meaning.)
  • There are two alternating moods that are quite stark, but are perhaps connected by the idea of hope. One seems to lack all hope, the other seems to cling desperately to a sliver of hope. So the general mood is neither entirely hopeful nor hopeless, but is to do with hope.
  • In its subject matter and musical style, the piece is clearly not meant for entertainment but rather to challenge and to disturb and provoke, and yet not in a gratuitous fashion.
  • Ted Turnau’s talks at Word Alive 2018 inspired me to try write a choral piece that was subversive but hopeful – ‘a cultural oasis’ – which would commend the gospel without being explicitly evangelistic.
  • The atmosphere was often a little tense, even though the act of composition is a solo activity – mainly because of the subject matter of the text, and because of the need to wrestle it into a musical form to which it is unaccustomed!
  • It happened mainly at the piano in our home.
  • My motive is to shock choral singers and appreciators slightly and to make them (1) consider their art-form and its norms, and (2) think about the issue of mental health from a new angle.

What’s the context – what world are we in?

  • This is an a cappella choral piece for five vocal parts – SAATB – and the style is a modern mix of angular and homophonic, the latter recalling Tavener-esque minimalism; no particular conventions therefore.
  • Generally in a cappella choral music, the expectation is that there will be interest in all parts at some point, especially the higher vocal parts of soprano and tenor.
  • In modern a cappella choral music, there has been a lot of emphasis on harmonic interest, with pandiatonicism particularly in vogue (think Eric Whitacre) at the moment.
  • In terms of texts, choral music tends to be extremely conventional, using Scripture and other sacred texts, often (but not always) in Latin. Otherwise, the texts chosen tend to be poetry, nearly always on subjects to do with beauty or nature or time or nostalgia or other such subjects that aren’t particularly disturbing.
  • To be a little blunt (and perhaps cynical), this is a world of privilege and comfort, as some of my comments in the right hand column here will show.
  • The context of composition is a very intimate and personal context. The composer is really wrestling with the text and then the music to make it all work together into an integrated whole. Moreover, as a solo activity, there aren’t really social conventions, per se, with the act of composition; but its intended result - a choral performance - does have certain social conventions.
  • Normally, choral performances (especially those that aren’t in a “sacred” context such as a church service, and which involve a smaller chamber choir, as opposed to a large choir or chorus) are usually framed as an intimate thing, usually taking place either in sacred spaces like churches, or otherwise smaller concert hall venues. In these spaces, the expectation is that the choir is made up of respected and admired singers, with the conductor given special honour, and the audience by and large tend to be educated, middle or upper class. The cost of such concerts tends to be not-insignificant, prohibitive to those struggling financially. There will usually be programme notes provided, though sometimes at an extra cost.
  • The choir and conductor would typically be dressed smartly and conduct themselves gracefully in terms of their movements and any gestures. They would stand to sing, often in a small semi-circle of one or more lines, depending on numbers.
  • The conductor may say a word or two about the pieces, but generally such information is left to the programme notes. Often they’ll say very little to the audience.
  • The audience would be expected to be silent throughout the performances, to clap after each piece (but not between movements of the same piece) or just at the end if instructed in the programme notes, and the clapping would be enthusiastic but not raucous. There might be shouts of ‘bravo’ from more extravert members of the audience.
  • Beauty and excellence seem to be the things most celebrated in chamber choir performances. The beauty of the sound and the technical excellence of the singing take great precedence over everything else, such as visual impact or whether the music’s sung off by heart, or whether the actual repertoire is varied or interesting or of any relevance content-wise to everyday life.

What is true and good here?

  • The piece attempts to portray the brokenness and confusion and crisis of bad mental health, which is a result of the Fall. It also attempts to offset this by locating the source of contentment in “you”, which a careful reading of the text shows to be the God of the Bible who is the source of life, the One who is sovereign and who cares.
  • By setting the former matter with angular fragmented textures and dissonant harmonies, and the latter with sonorous homophonic textures and consonant harmonies, the contrast created suggests a truthful depiction, whereby brokenness is not celebrated, but is in fact mourned, and contentment in God is rightly depicted as a source of relief and comfort, and ultimately restoration and hope.
  • An interesting moment comes with the words “so dependent” – in the context of the text, the author appears to have written them with connotations of negativity – i.e. it is a bad thing that they are “so dependent”. However, musically they have been set within the harmonic sound world of the “angular” sections – i.e. rather dissonant – but with the textures of the “sonorous” sections – i.e. homophonic. The result is that the connotations of negativity are somewhat subverted so that musically it is suggested that perhaps being “so dependent” isn’t such a bad thing after all, which of course aligns with the truth of the gospel.
  • In the act of composition, the wrestling with “raw materials” of notes and crafting and shaping them into a discernible and integrated order is something good that reflects the creativity of God.
  • The sequence of frustration-relief/joy/satisfaction which is found in the composition process (wrestling with getting the notes into the right order, and even with computer software to insert them in quickly and efficiently, followed by the satisfaction of a finished piece) reflects the pattern of our Christian walk of suffering in this life before the joy of eternal life.
  • Also, the entire context of a chamber choir performance as described above definitely celebrates goodness and beauty. Many experience great joy, or other emotions such as solace, at such music.
  • This sense of hope that there is goodness and beauty in this broken world points forwards to the new creation.

What is deceitful? What offers salvation in the place of God?

  • Hopefully the answer here is nothing given that I have made a concerted effort to craft a piece that is faithful to the gospel!
  • I suppose a shallow reading of the piece could make someone think it was justifying or even glamorising despair, particularly in the opening words “there is no happiness here”. In one sense these words are patently untrue, for God has made a good world in which we were placed to thrive; but the words are true insofar as they did accurately convey the emotions of despair felt by the author in that moment. The fact that the piece does not end here with these words (or indeed with any of the words of despair) hopefully mitigate against such misunderstanding.
  • The very nature of composing tempts one to seek glory for oneself; after all, you are engaging in a supremely God-like activity, of creating, bringing order out of disorder, to produce something good or beautiful or interesting which you hope people will enjoy and appreciate and which will make their lives better. Inevitably it is hard to compose without thinking about the appreciation that people will communicate to you, and that quickly escalates into glory being bestowed on you (if it’s any good, of course!)
  • Similarly, the solo nature of composition can be deceitful in that it magnifies the image of the solo genius, dependent on nobody else. This of course is rubbish, since all composers are heavily dependent on (1) their predecessors for inspiration, (2) their teachers for guidance and improvement, (3) fellow musicians to perform their pieces, and (4) audiences to listen to (and preferably pay for) their music.
  • The “solo genius” idea can lead to composers neglecting social duties or responsibilities (e.g. loving their spouses, doing their domestic responsibilities, etc etc) which can get excused because of their need to compose whilst “in the zone”, or something similar.

How does the Gospel apply here?

  • The great story of God’s salvation plan means that it is in fact unfaithful to the gospel to minimise or hide sin and brokenness. Not only is it factually untrue, but it also ends up diminishing the sheer magnitude and thus magnificence of God’s mercy and salvation.
  • Thus it is important to be real about brokenness; too often in classical music, and perhaps especially in choral music, this has not been the case.
  • The scope of the gospel also means that not only do we need our rebellion to be dealt with as perpetrators of sin, whereby we are justified before God, we also need our wounds as victims of sin to be healed, giving great relief and comfort in the present. This is another way in which this piece seeks to embody the gospel.
  • Finally, the gospel story doesn’t finish in this creation, but points forward with certain hope to a perfect new creation. Whilst this piece does not explicitly reference the new creation, its bold confrontation with the reality of the pain of this life alongside the simultaneous desire for contentment and rest and relief does point forward to a time and place where “there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.”
  • I think composition is a gift that God has given me, in which case one response to my salvation is to compose “to the glory of God” – to obey the Great Commandment in my composition – to steward this gift in obedience to God’s words on the necessity of stewarding gifts effectively and productively.
  • This particular piece was a special effort to do this in a way that would reflect the gospel by drawing on a real-life and thus relevant aspect of brokenness in our world today but trying to show that there is hope, even whilst not wanting to diminish the severity and magnitude of the pain of that brokenness. Hopefully this reflects some measure of increased maturity in my faith!
  • The Gospel reminds me that I am not independent, but highly dependent, and most particularly upon God Himself. It reminds me that I am neither the ultimate Creator nor the Saviour, but that Jesus is, and that therefore all the glory should go to Him and Him alone.

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