Wednesday, August 10, 2011

about prophetic, priestly and kingly gifts

At a certain website for a certain Christian organization I came across the following:

•Prophets: God’s messengers to his people
•Priests: Mediators who approach God on behalf of his people
•Kings: Rulers who govern God’s people
With Jesus established as Senior Pastor for all eternity, at xxxxxxxxx we’ve decided to follow his example and organize our human leadership according to the key roles he fulfills:

•Prophet – The people must be taught the Bible.
•Priest – The people must be loved.
•King – The people must be led.

Well, it's fairly normal for Baptists to say that the "prophetic" role involves teaching people the scriptures. This was not necessarily what prophets did. Consider the book of Ezra/Nehemiah where no prophets play any significant role in teaching the people at all. Priests taught the Law of Moses. Prophets in the Pentateuch are never described as having a normative role in God's people at all. They come and go at the Lord's bidding, if they are true prophets, and they are brought forth for particular challenges and occasions. This fundamental misrepresentation of what prophets did (or might do if they existed in the present) is typical of a lazy approach in evangelical Christian thought. It's disappointing to see it so often continued.

Priests did serve as mediators but Moses, who was not a priest, frequently mediated on behalf of Israel to allay the wrath of Yahweh. Aaron, the priest, was ironically the one who encouraged and abetted Israel's idolatry.

But the king, you know the thing about Israelite kings is that they weren't exactly the people who led the people. Old Testament scholars have pointed out that Israelite governance had some checks and balances. The king led the military and went to war against Israel's enemies but there was no king at the time the Torah was given. Clearly a kingly role was consider optional during the administration of the Torah prior to David. The Mosaic law refers to priests, kings and prophets but only the priestly and prophetic roles were established during the exodus.

It was more accurate to say priests led Israel in spiritual matters. Kings led military ventures when necessary but those ventures were undertaken by judges. Saul was to be beholden to the prophet/judge Samuel. The king had to be accountable to the prophet, not the other way around. The priest, prophet, and king all played significant roles in keeping each other in check. If the king were to go to war he needed to consult a priest to enquire of the Lord. If a priest were to ally himself with a king he needed to consult a prophet to discern whether this was a wise idea. If a prophet were to prophesy falsely or lead the people astray the priest and the king were supposed to put an end to that prophetic ministry.

The Kuyperian jargon that would apply for this kind of quasi-constitutional theocracy might be "sphere sovereignty". Neither a prophet, nor a priest, nor a king was to arrogate for himself the roles or responsibilities delegated to the other offices. A king could not truly say his role was to lead God's people at all. The king's obligation was to study the book of the Law and to fight battles on behalf of the Lord's people. Saul's wickedness as a king lay not merely in his reluctance to actually obey God's commands through Samuel to fight. Saul was also willing to take up priestly roles that were being handled by Samuel. Samuel was a prophet and a priest who served the role of judge as well. We can imagine Samuel was unhappy with having to appoint a king but that is a digression, perhaps, for another time.

Now even the most cursory examination of the prophets across the Torah and well, the Prophets, reveals that what the prophets were doing was NOT teaching God's people the scriptures. Not exactly. What the prophets did was challenge the priests and kings and people to obey what they already acknowledged (sometimes) to be scriptures. Prophets would also reveal things inherent within the scriptures that were not obvious to others, or that were ignored, or those aspects of scriptures that were being disobeyed or even straight up falsified by priests. There is a prophet who warned that even having the scriptures would be of no use to Israel because the lying scribes and priests had transformed even the Scriptures themselves into a lie!

This is important to remember. Moses may be described as a prophet who brought God's Law, so, yes, prophets can and have played a role in bringing the words of the Lord to God's people. But the normative role of the prophet was not to teach people the scriptures. Priests were to instruct the people. Deuteronomy 18 promises that the Lord would raise up a prophet such as Moses. Now, of course, what Christians automatically do is jump straight to Jesus and say this is a prediction of the coming of Jesus. Yes, there is that meaning, too, and we do well to meditate on it. But consider the literary context of Deuteronomy 18.

The Lord is warning through Moses that God's people not imitate the wickedness of the nations around them, specifically by avoiding soothsaying and other forms of sorcery. The Lord promises to raise up a prophet so that a person who wishes to enquire of Yahweh may do so without resorting to augury, spells, soothsaying, child sacrifice, or other methods of obtaining knowledge forbidden by Yahweh. There's also that bit about the Urim and the Thummim but we obviously do not have those.

So we've established that the role of the prophet was to clarify the will of the Lord on those things not discussed in the Torah; this "should have" prevented the temptation to resort to witchcraft, sorcery, divination and other stunts God's people would be tempted to assimilate from the nations living in Canaan. But at this point it is vital to point out that no prophets were mentioned in Ezra/Nehemiah. It is also remarkably telling that after the Second Temple was built there was no manifestation of the Spirit of God filling the place as described for the consecration of the First Temple built by Solomon.

In fact we are told that people who had seen the old Temple and saw the new Temple wept. The new one was not as good as the old. Some commentators, eager to find something wrong with people who wept at the new temple, have opined on how lame those old fogeys were but what if this is not clearly what we're being told? What if those old-timers who wept did so because they were not seeing any signs that the Lord was manifesting among His people in His Temple in the way they had heard. They were not, as the modern lingo goes, "feeling it" and they realized that something was missing. In fact some things were missing, there's no sign that prophets were afoot. The Law in one passage can be read as either saying "when" or "if" a prophet arises to handle their ministries in particular ways. This should lead us to be cautious about assuming that every generation of Christians must have a prophetic role or office. It should also have us be cautious about those pastors who presume that because they are pastors they have prophetic giftings and roles. Pastors tend to have delusions of grandeur about that, just as self-appointed self-described prophets tend to have their own delusions of grandeur.

Moses told Joshua that he wished that all of God's people were prophets with the spirit of God resting on them. The prophets eventually promised that the Lord would, in fact, pour out His spirit on all His people. Bet it doesn't feel like you have that spirit in you a lot of the time, does it? Nevertheless, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ it is because the Spirit has given you faith.

Now all of this rambling has a point, which is to say that in order to live out the roles and functions of a prophet or a priest or a king among God's people we have to properly understand what those roles were and understand, further, if those roles are necessarily delegated to God's people today. A preacher/pastor/bishop is not really a prophet. Catholics and Orthodox have properly retained the understanding that the ones among God's people who teach His people the scriptures is the priest. It was only after Protestants got hung up about particular applications of the priesthood of all believers that American evangelical Protestants would begin to prefer to have their preachers think of themselves as prophets rather than priests. If you're a preacher you're more a priest than a prophet. It is possible for prophet/priests to be around (Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Samuel, for instance) but these would be hard to describe as normative.

But if a prophet was not always present in God's people and Jesus is the greatest prophet how, then, can Protestant pastors appropriate for themselves the title or role of "prophet"? Priests and scribes taught the scriptures as given but it was prophets who shared insights from the Lord that were not already given in such scriptures as were received. Moses was the prophet who went to the Lord and received the Torah/the Law. Jesus gave us the proper interpretation and direction of the Law. If as Deuteronomy reveals prophets were given so people would not turn to divination then temptation Israelites would face would be to get extra knowledge, insight or wisdom about things that troubled them, chiefly things that the Torah itself did not directly address or perhaps even address at all.

Now here permit me yet another digression. What does that observation above tell us about the nature of the scriptures? Yes, we can say how the Bible deals with everything one could possibly face in life. Yes, there's a sense in which that is true, but the Bible is never presented to us as a divine set of dice. We may face decisions that the scripture does not directly address or discuss. Does this mean there is no way the scriptures can speak to that issue? No, but we cannot downplay the significance of the Deuteronomic concession that prophets needed to exist at any point in the history of God's people.

Let me put it this way, the cessationist can look at Deuteronomy 18 and consistently say that there are no prophets anymore. Christ accomplished for us what all the prophets failed to do. For this reason we have no need of prophets not because there was no need for, say, Agabus, but because where salvation is concerned and the fullness of God's will are concerned we have the last word in the Word Himself. Anyone who takes the role of a prophet who affirms that scriptures cover everything has to concede that he or she doesn't quite believe this. He or she must grant a belief that he or she has access to divine oracles others may not. The Montanist risks inherent in this approach I trust I don't have to explain.

Turning my attention to the role of the king, it makes no sense to speak of kings as though kings were the formal leaders of God's people. It is already abundantly clear throughout the scriptures that the king ended up playing two roles. The king served as military leader and the king also ended up being the one who appointed judges and bureaucrats to ensure civil disputes were adjudicated. It was David's failure to establish such a network that allowed Absalom to form his insurrection. That the king's role was to see to military and civil matters meant that even a wicked king who did only evil in the sight of the Lord could, nevertheless, be a brilliant military leader and tactician who secured the borders of God's people. This is not something most theologians and Bible scholars bother to discuss but the military history of Israel is something to consider.

If we trust that the Lord raises and deposes leaders as He wills then we must grant that not all leaders were raised up because they were righteous men, sometimes unrighteous men were raised up because despite or through their wickedness they had qualities God had in mind for reasons we won't be able to discern in our lives. This should also give anyone appointed any authority a massive dose of humility. You do not know, dear leader, that you got the leadership position you got either because you deserve it or because you are a good person. God has raised up many thoroughly wicked leaders since the dawn of humanity.

All of this is to say that if you misunderstand or misrepresent what the three roles in God's people were actually appointed for then it becomes that much more difficult for you to live them out or embody them in any meaningful way among God's people. A king was not there to rule God's people. A king was there to serve and protect God's people from military enemies! The king was there to form even a priestly role for God's people but in the military sphere. The priest was there to look after the education and purity of God's people to avoid improper methods of worship. The prophets, when they were available, were those to whom the people could turn when they might otherwise be tempted to soothsaying, spells, and other forms of witchcraft or idolatry to obtain special knowledge about how to obtain success in life.

It is critical to repeat here that prophets were not unambiguously promised for every generation of Israelites but their role was explained. It is also critical to repeat that the presence of a prophet in ancient Israelite would and did indicate that the priests, the king, and the people were deficient either in their understanding of the scriptures or that they were going against what they clearly understood. In other words, a priest would be someone to educate you about the Lord's will in the Torah if you were ignorant of it, and a prophet would be someone to educate you about the Lord's will that the Torah did not address but also to confront you about your witting or unwitting disobedience to what was in the Torah you were supposed to already know about.

We should be cautious about describing ourselves as having kingly, priestly, or prophetic gifts. This can become an invitation to vanity. How, precisely, do we know that we have kingly gifts? Because we run things? Because we have a gift for administration? Many Christian pop culture artifacts describing spiritual gifts are little more than a Christianized variation of Meiers-Briggs personality tests. Frequently these things are little more than methods to divine what one is already doing and to extrapolate from that. Yet if the Spirit of God blows where it will and you can hear its sound but not see where it is going and so it is with all those born of the Spirit, then perhaps what our spiritual gifts are is less clear. The Spirit may appoint people with gifts at one time and not another, for one task and not another.

One of the errors I believe was perpetuated in Pentecostal circles is the idea that spiritual gifts are without recall even though Paul clearly states in Corinth that one day tongues and prophecy will cease. Clearly then the gifts of the Spirit have a recall date when the Lord returns! Saul had the Spirit descend upon him and he prophesied and yet he ultimately was crushed by the Lord. We must beware that we do not interpret our potent mystical spiritual experiences as signs of the Lord's favor. They may be signs of the Lord's discipline or even judgment.

Equally important, if we do not have any numinous experiences we should not consider ourselves forsaken by the Lord if we do not "feel" His presence. The greatest temptations to idolatry God's people face may well be precisely because we are so eager to "feel" the presence of the Lord we insist on whatever magical means are necessary to usher in the presence of the Lord. For some this may be a special kind of "worshipful" or "joyful" music. For others it may be "good preaching" or, really, exciting preaching. For others it may be feeling good doing acts of service. All these things are precious and valuable in their way but if we do them to feel closer to God we may find ourselves wildly disappointed and embittered.

The prophets were given so that magical means of summoning up the will of Yahweh would not be tried and if at the beginning of the Second Temple period Ezra and Nehemiah had no prophets among them to clarify the will of the Lord it may be said that they were coming into an epoch when Israel was so removed from knowledge of the Lord and the Torah that simply rediscovering the Torah itself and observing it was what they needed to do. They did not need a king for that! They did not need a prophet for that! They had just come back after years in exile that the Lord said they would be sent into by prophets as discipline for their idolatry. The Torah itself predicted this exile. Why should they have needed a prophet to have told them that what previous prophets and the Torah itself had warned about had come to pass? Some of these men and women hearing the words of the Torah would have been born while in exile.

And we who trust in Christ are, as it were, born into exile ourselve.s We have Christ as our prophet, priest, and king and this does not mean we have no need of prophets, priests or kings in our own lives. What may be said, however, is that we must continually guard against the abuse of these titles and ranks by those who wish to vaunt themselves as having this or that gift without its disposition. My quibble with the above cited texts is that I am not convinced the sales pitch for what prophets, priests and kings did in Israel is accurate, nor am I convinced that the person who wrote the above has come up with a persuasive application for the roles that he, in my study of scriptures, seem to come off as misunderstoof or misapplied.

a distinction without a difference: "No More Mars Hill `campuses'"

No more campuses but churches. This is merely a semantic distinction unless the actual nature of pastoral work and responsbilities changes, which is not mentioned (as yet) as being on the table for campus pastors. Merely being "more biblical" in language and terminology does not by itself mean that the infrastructure in place at Mars Hill is automatically more congruent with ecclesiology described in scripture. Ecclesiology wouldn't be so wide and deep a field if everyone could just agree on what "biblical" ecclesiology was. Catholics say we'd all still be Catholics if things were this simple and the Orthodox would say there'd be no Catholics if Catholics truly appreciated this!

My impression of James MacDonald from his conversation with Mark Dever is that he doesn't have conversations, he steamrolls better qualified and more thoughtful preachers. So I can't say that reading that James MacDonald has "helped" Mars Hill on ecclesiology is any real reason to be excited.

Planting new Mars Hill "churches" (campuses) does differ somewhat from planting a traditional church plant if the main goal is to set up a video presentation of a sermon Driscoll preached that, by the time it hits the campus/church will be at least a week old. Unless there's a live feed there may be a set-up in place where the sermons at campuses/churches are what Driscoll preached anywhere between one to two weeks prior. If that's you're thing then ... okay, that's your thing.

What would really be a revolutionary change-up is not calling campuses "churches" but if Mars Hill leadership had the stones to concede they are a denominational network in the making. Ten or more campuses in multiple states would strongly suggest the beginnings if not the actual realization of a denominational structure, especially given the post-2007 by-laws. I don't anticipate anyone at Mars Hill conceding that the church is a denomination until somewhere around 2026.

Now here I must confess one of the reasons I find this development at Mars Hill both quaint and silly is because stressing that Mars Hill in all its heretofore campuses as one church doesn't change what it is or what it has been. The older I get the more I appreciate that the creed says "I believe in one holy, apostolic church". In other words, those of us willing to recite creeds have already been confessing that we believe the Church is one Church. Not necessarily always one in the way we wish it were one (i.e. everyone agreeing with us) but that Christ makes us one despite all the lack of one-ness we see in our lives. A husband and wife may not "feel" much one-ness in their day to day life or when times in their marriage get miserable but that does not mean there is no one-ness there.

I look forward to the day when Mars Hill Church leadership can admit it is a Calvinist Baptist denomination. It's easy to talk about how denominations are fading away or failing and about building bridges but last I checked an egalitarian Arminian is never going to fit into Mars Hill and is certainly never going to get a spot in leadership. The reason denominations grow is not because people "want" to create institutions but because convictions across generations within time and place invariably lead to institutions if the cause survives.

Mars Hill is a few years away from the two decade point. If after two decades and presumably more than 10,000 members Mars Hill leaders can't grant that they're a denomination then they'll be like a fat middle-aged guy who insists he can still fit into his high school sports uniform or wear the school colors jacket. Everyone else can see he can't fit into that stuff anymore but he's sure he can do it with the right belt and maybe not zipping up the blazer. There's no shame in admitting what you have on your hands is a denomination unless you spent so many years talking about how denominations are on the decline that you feel embarrassed being what you talked against

But if they're so certain that this isn't a semantic change then they're welcome to believe it. As I said, I look forward to a day when they can admit they're a Calvinist Baptist denomination already. Right now the only people who seem truly uncomfortable at the prospect of this reality are them.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Some more ruminations on contrapuntal literature and the guitar

In the first half of the 1700s Bach compiled what has become the Well Tempered Clavier (aka The Correctly Tempered Keyboard). 48 preludes and fugues have defined Western musical literature and concepts in ways so far-reaching that it would be tedious to rehearse what so many other better scholars, musicians, and composers have already said.

However, as a guitarist with an interest in the history of contrapuntal literature for the guitar there are some things that I believe are worth saying. More than ten years ago Matanya Ophee said that we guitarists should shed any inferiority complex we have about our instrument and its literature. This I agree with. He also said that chamber music was arguably the best way for guitarists and guitarist composers to create a musical body of work that would win respect from general audiences but particularly from non-guitarist professional musicians and academics. This, too, I heartily agree with.

In the last five or six years I have seen a few discussions amongst fellow guitarists about how we should not see ourselves as constrained to playing second rate music because we don't play the keyboard. Well ... my worry has been that while that is something I can grant as true I grant that on a technicality. There is a lot of great music for the guitar, but often what guitarists seem to really mean when they say the guitar and its literature is as good as anything written and performed on a keyboard is that the guitar is more "expressive" and has "soul". Some cite Segovia as saying things such as that the piano is a monster that screams when you touch its teeth. These sorts of statements don't help guitarists with the non-guitarist historical-musical world, do they?

Supposing we say for the sake of discussion that the guitar is not inferior to the keyboard and keyboard literature. Suppose we even pretend that the guitar is more expressive. Suppose we even go so far as to say that Bach didn't write for the guitar but that he didn't write for the piano either. Well ... klavier can refer to any stringed instrument played by means of a keyboard, right? So whether the strings are played by plucking or by being struck with a hammer it's the keyboard that activates the sounding mechanism. Even if we guitarists try to claim that Bach didn't "really" write for the piano that doesn't change the reality that Bach wrote for organ and for harpsichord and that harpsichord still fits the definition of klavier.

Notice what was going on in that argument/assertion I responded to. The goal was to say that Bach essentially didn't write for the piano because he wasn't writing for the same kind of keyboard the piano is, therefore the pianist can no more say Bach wrote for their instrument than he wrote for the guitar. But this seems like a slippery and remarkably disingenuous argument, doesn't it?

Let me come up with a historical counter-example. Let's note that Bach compiled both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier somewhere in the space of 1720 to 1740. When was the first set of preludes and fugues for any number of guitars composed? Well, that would be Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's charming cycle for two guitars that he wrote in the 1960s. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, we note, famously was a pianist and not a guitarist.

Okay, so when was a cycle of preludes and fugues for solo guitar composed? That would be Igor Rekhin, who composed his cycle of 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar between 1985 and 1990. So far as I know Rekhin is not himself a guitarist. If he is there needs to be better publicity and we must not take at face value his remarks about getting acquainted with the guitar as an instrument in the forward to the published complete set.

So now I am very much looking forward to the publication of the scores and CDs of Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar. Notice that these works have not yet been published. The score will be available, Koshkin has written, through Editions Margaux, and his wife Asya Seyultina is recording the cycle. So for the sake of historical discussion I'm not even mentioning my own yet-to-be-completed cycle as relevant since I'm not a professional composer. Maybe that will change in the future (I hope).

My point is that if we consider 1720 to be the compilation point for book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier and consider that Koshkin's cycle will constitute the first time in classical music that a guitarist composer will have published a set of 24 preludes and fugues this means there is effectively a three century gap between Bach's first 24 and Koshkin's 24. Three centuries is not a small temporal gap, to put things mildly.

Of course Sor wrote works in pretty much every key, though not in a particularly systemic way. Luigi Legnani wrote his 36 caprices and if this could be taken as one of the formative compositional cycles in which a guitarist insisted on composing in every possible major and minor key around 1822. That is still, if we assume Legnani to be the first guitarist to deliberately tackle every key, a whole century after Bach assembled Book 1. Sor's own fairly comprehensive approach to the keys was taking shape in the 1820s so guitarists were coming into a comparable comprehensive mastery of all keys a century after Bach for reasons that, let's face it, can't be hard to discern.

We guitarists should shed any inferiority complex about our instrument and its literature but if we do this by attempting to claim Bach as as much ours as keyboardists we'll be making a big mistake. Bach belongs to all musicians but we know he wrote at the keyboard. There's no pretending that Bach didn't write at a keyboard. There is also no avoiding the reality that though the greatest guitarist composers chose to write in every key possible and expand the possibilities of the instrument most guitarists do not really go out of their way to play this sort of literature.

And while we should have no inferiority complex about our instrument and its repertoire we will not solve any problems or create any goodwill from other people in the music community by having a superiority complex about how the guitar is more expressive than the keyboard. No one gains anything for the cause of our instrument by saying the piano has no soul or expression and that there is no way to gain vibrato or tasto or ponticello on the piano. That doesn't mean that Beethoven's Op. 111 piano sonata is really less expressive or meaningful to people than one of Diabelli's guitar sonatas. Diabelli was one of Beethoven's contemporaries and I trust we all know that if we compare a Diabelli guitar sonata to a Beethoven piano sonata we're going to find most people consider Beethoven's work to be more moving. Only a case of classical guitar nerdiness that exceeds Wolverine fans can imagine that a Diabelli sonata for guitar trumps a Beethoven sonata for piano, just as only a Wolverine fanboy can imagine that Wolverine will actually beat Captain America in a fight. Yeah ... I know, I went there but I can't pretend I'm not kind of nerdy about everything. By analogy, those sorts of disputes about comic book characters fighting each other are comparably esoteric and meaningless to the average concert-goer.

At the risk of offering the blunt comparison of commercial recordings, how many commercially available recordings can we find of keyboard players who have recorded both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier? How many guitarists have made commercial recordings of all of Legnani's Op. 20 36 Caprices? How many guitarists have recorded the Op. 6 and Op. 29 etudes? How many guitarists have performed the Castelnuovo-Tedesco or Rekhin cycles? Even if we were to say these are works not written by guitarists we know that makes no difference. For instance, has ANYONE besides Anthony Glise recorded Diabelli's F major guitar sonata? Piero Bonaguri may have recorded them twenty years ago but good luck finding that recording if it still exists. I've never seen it or heard it myself so Glise's recording of the Diabelli F major sonata is the only one I know of.

Consider all those Asturias performances, for instance. Consider how many guitarists assume that audiences don't really have the patience to withstand movements longer than about three to four minutes. Consider how many guitarists suppose this despite the fact that plenty of people go to long operas or that people turn out in droves for Beethoven string quartets and piano sonatas that go on for epic lengths. If it is true we guitarists do not have inferior literature why have so few among us in the guitar world have sought to disseminate the great literature we have that encompasses the most challenging keys? The reality is that we all know perfectly well that while C major is relatively easy on the piano and C minor is relatively easy on the keyboard we know that on the guitar one key is drastically more difficult to play in than the other.

If we guitarists want to ensure that our instrument is fully appreciated for all the beauty it and its literature have to offer then we should go the extra distance to present the riches of our instrument that might go unknown. But to do that we have to get out of the comfort bubble of E major, A major, D major, C major, G major, D minor, B minor, A minor and so on. We need to make a case that B flat major, E flat minor, C minor, F sharp major, B major, D flat major, and F minor are all equally necessary in our repertoire. That Legnani and Sor did this nearly two centuries ago does not seem to be very much appreciated by many guitarists but we know that that work has been done.

That only now Koshkin has created for us a contrapuntal cycle, as a guitarist (give or take that focal dystonia has robbed us of more performances from him) should be both exciting and humbling. We should be excited because we can say that we guitarists finally have a great cyclical work written for the guitar by a guitarist in the tradition of Bach's legacy. We should be humbled if for no other reason than to concede that for the decades our members have denigrated piano music it just so happens it took centuries for us to "catch up" to the conceptual heights obtained in the "inexpressive" keyboard. We may also be humbled if it somehow transpires that Koshkin's music isn't very good. As a long-time Koshkin fan I seriously doubt that's going to happen.

Yet another historical irony about the guitar and contrapuntal literature is not simply that our first cycles were written by non-guitarists, but that when the time arrives that we guitarists can point to 48 preludes and fugues written for guitar they have been written by two men who are from Russia. Bach was German and the pinnacle of Western musical achievement yet for the solo guitar two books of preludes and fugues totalling 48 will be given to us by Russians and not by Western guitarists. As a fan of Russian guitar music I happily accept such a lovely gift.

Of course no one in the West was going to produce preludes and fugues in the style of Bach during the Classic or Romantic periods. That would have been a cultural and historical impossibility. Sor and Legnani gave us solid pieces in every key for the guitar but many guitarists avoid playing those or even dismiss them precipitously. The guitar is capable of sustained contrapuntal argument and development but three fully independent melodic lines are difficult to sustain.

Notice that I said "difficult" and not "impossible". They are impossible to sustain throughout but a studious composer and guitarist can nevertheless accomplish fully invertible counterpoint in middle entries even when he or she must relent in episodes. Even Bach in his violin fugues was content to imply in many places rather than directly state so we guitarists should feel no shame at implying if as great a master as Bach himself took what could appear from a purely scholastic perspective to be the path of a cheater.

I could write about how I have worked through the process of writing my own fugues for guitar but I am done writing on this topic for now. I would close only by saying that my approach to contrapuntal music for guitar has in the end benefited not merely from studying keyboard and string repertoire but from immersion in the earliest and most foundational of all contrapuntal musical art in Western history, choral music. Ultimately the guitar can only be enriched by its composers, performers and advocates having a most positive and sociable disposition toward all other sorts of music.

It is exciting to think that centuries after Bach we guitarists will be getting a contrapuntal cycle written by a guitarist. My hope as a guitarist is that Koshkin's cycle becomes widely heard and constitutes a collosal leap forward for the literature of our instrument. I even hope that the works get so widely known and played in the guitar world that I could even possibly complain one day about hearing them too much. Then we'll know that actual contrapuntal music, and not merely homophonic music with a contrapuntal countenance, has truly become mainstream in guitar literature.

writing continues

I am now at month 23 of looking for a normal day job. No success I'm afraid.

I am also as I blog in the process of writing the next thing in my project for Mockingbird. Writing is difficult and writing well is very hard and I constantly have doubts that I have written well or clearly. My friends over at Mockingbird have been happy with what I have written and for that I am grateful! I often feel that I could have done a better job expressing my ideas and working through them.

When DZ first approached me about this project last winter I was thinking of something small. We both were. But as I began to do the actual work I began to realize that I was attempting to summarize and examine what has effectively become a decade's worth of cartoon adventures. I also began to realize that to properly do, er, justice to the DCAU and its development I would have to provide a historical and pop cultural context in which it may be more fully appreciated. Ergo the most recent series about cartoon morality in Cold War era cartoons.

If Transformers may be seen as the quintessential 1980s Cold War era morally simplified cartoon series developed by American company Hasbro to market the Japanese Diaclone and Microman toy lines in a rebranding coup then Batman: the animated series represents the entirely opposite impulse--here was a cartoon created simply to tell (and, let's face it, sell) Batman in a compelling way to a new generation of children in a way that would also please adults and break new ground in animated story-telling by incorporating darker and more grown-up themes into a show while still aiming squarely to entertain kids. When the show proved wildly successful the merchandising expansion touched on toys, to be sure, but it ultimately led to a different kind of expansion than bringing in new toy lines and attempting to sell those as Transformers did; the result was to take up bigger creative and narrative challenges by introducing Superman and, ultimately, the Justice League.

I am broadly building a case that what the DCAU did, in contrast to 1980s cartoon moral simplification, was to blow up cartoon moralism from within the medium of cartoons. Now I don't mean to propose that cartoon moralism didn't exist before 1980s cartoons. Simplified good and bad was happening in cartoons all over the place even before that. Scooby-Doo was giving us the same formulaic would-be monster that was really a corrupt old man using a disguise for decades before Optimus Prime seemed to win the day in every other episode after uttering the words "I have a plan." He could have done us a favor by going one further and pulling up a stogie after inevitable victory and say "I love it when a plan together!" Actually, seriously, that would have been pretty cool!