An Open BookOver the past month or so I’ve had a chance to do some reading, and I thought I’d share what books have gone before my eyes.

An Improbable Life: Memories by Robert Craft

For Craft, assistant and surrogate son to one of the musical greats of all music; Igor Stravinsky, had his musical beginnings at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kingston, New York. It was not religion, or the Episcopal Church which drew the young boy to music, but a fine music program. Craft’s parents were not Episcopalian, and it appears Craft only joined the choir at the behest of his parents to gain some culture, but this experience was the impetus of what would become a life vocation; musicologist, and conductor.

As is with much of Craft’s various works, the writing style is urbane, cultured, broad, and filled with excursions into a complex dialectic kaleidoscope of people, places, remembered, and re-created quotes from the world’s creative personae.  If, however, one reads this book to answer the blazing old question revolving around the rumor that Craft actually co-composed music of Stravinsky’s serial period, the reader with gain no crumbs or insight to the debate. Craft does not speak openly in this arena. In fact, much of the book reminds me of other works surrounding Stravinsky and their relationship; almost written in his former “diary-style”. The end of the book, which to me appears to be a literary allusion akin to the final notes of Petrushka, trails off into a pianissimo with no formal conclusions—it just ends.

Re-Sounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music by Jeremy S. Begbie

Professor Begbie is the inaugural Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology at the Duke Divinity School and, through the end of the year, associate principal of Ridley Hall, the Church of England theological college in Cambridge. Founder and former director of Theology Through the Arts, an international research program. From Amazon an astute reader wrote:

“Begbie draws on numerous disciplines such as music theory, music history, philosophy and Christian theology to explore music and Christianity. He also connects with modern culture and how music is approached in both sacred and secular contexts.”

The reason I was excited about reading this book, and look forward to a couple more by Begbie as I have my own interest in using the harmonic series as a foundation to explore the Doctrine of the Trinity, and this is the only professional theologian who has explored this particular realm as it relates to Christian thought.  The author speaks in broad terms, content to skim the surface in order to establish his case for music as a means to understand the nature of God, I wish at some point (maybe in another book), he might choose to focus on various aspects of established doctrine, and how music can illuminate our concept of the Triune God.

Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Criticism by James A. Sanders

I must confess a bias, after a year of study with Dr. Sanders, and after listening with great interest to his many lectures, I can almost hear the inflection of his voice through each page. One of the texts I had to read under his direction was another book he wrote entitled Torah and Canon. The short but passionate book, Canon and Community was created from the Currie Lectures given at the Austin Presbyterian Seminary in Austin, Texas (1976) as an accompaniment to this other book.

The book is an argument for the concept of Canonical Criticism as a means to bring writings of the Hebrew Bible (and in many ways, the New Testament) into context today by first examining the reasons why scripture became sacred in the first place, and why it continued to speak to communities of faith over 2000 years. The book shows examples, and covers techniques as to how to approach biblical text to reveal hermeneutics of the past, and its social context, using all exegetical tools available, and how one can bring text into the social, and contextual realities of the present age.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? by James D.G. Dunn

When I brought both Canon and Community, and the Dunn book with me on a personal retreat, I had no idea how related the would be. Dunn, through an examination of liturgy, and New Testament writings, examines Greek writings to ask the simple question, was the early church Christ centered of God centered, when it came to liturgical praxis? We know there was a shift in focus, but what did the Synoptic gospels say, and was the high Christology of the fourth gospel actually the pivotal expression of the shift of focus, or was it St. Paul who is the earliest source of our understanding about early Christian faith communities? I will not offer the spoiler in this blurb about the book, but I came away wondering if the writer had used canonical criticism, espoused by James Sanders, would he have come up with a stronger argument? The book is well written, and not so scholarly that anyone with some interest in the subject will find it enlightening, and worth reading.

My Life with Noel Coward by Graham Payn with Barry Day

Graham Payn first met Noel Coward as a young boy, auditioning for a small role in one of the Master’s plays. Years later, as an adult, Payn not only became Coward’s friend, but his life partner. This memoir explores the life he shared with Coward, adding his own voice to the myth and mystic of the famed creator, a man who had a talent to amuse.

This book is important in that Coward had written about himself, his diaries, and letters published, and there are countless biographies about the man and his work, but Payn lived with him for 30 years, and his insights are from the inner circle of one who knew Coward best, and because of this, insights carry more weight. Outside of this, the book has tons of anecdotes, and typical Cowardian bons mots.  The book also includes Coward’s theatrical essays, and other articles never before published.