24 February 2007

Baring my musical soul

by Phil Johnson

arlene and I are flying to Dallas first thing this morning. We'll be there less than 48 hours. I'm filling the pulpit Sunday morning and evening at Countryside Bible Church. Their pastor, Tom Pennington, is in Russia, teaching pastors there.

I intend to post Sunday's regular Spurgeon excerpt. I'm also planning to continue my short series on schism Monday morning. Then the rest of the week I need to devote to final preparations for the Shepherds' Conference. So if such a thing were possible, I'll be even more scarce around here than I have been for the past few weeks.

I've really been getting a lot of work done, lately, though.

One thing that's occupied some of my spare time this week is getting my iPod more organized. I've more than filled the allotted 60 gigs, so it's imperative that I keep everything organized. I really like the iTunes feature that keeps the album artwork with the music. (When you've got 12 versions of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," it helps to associate each recording with something visual.) So I've been scanning old, stray CD covers. My whole CD collection (2,000+ albums) is now ripped to iTunes and every album's cover is scanned in. I freed up a whole closet in the house by boxing up those CDs and storing them in the garage.

In the process, I have been paying more attention to my iTunes stats, and some of the data have really surprised me. I listen to a lot of music. I play my iPod in the car, at work, and in the background when I am blogging. I even put it on when I am going to sleep at night. iTunes keeps a record of everything I listen to, and I'm sure there's subliminal meaning in the data. Here are some key facts about my listening habits that may provide a window for you to peer into my soul:

  • The single most-played cut on my iPod is a recording of Aaron Copland's "Las Agachadas," an a capella chorus in Spanish, whose words liken priestly genuflections to a drunken dance. It's a very snappy and appealing little tune, which I always had trouble finding when I used to have to dig the right CD out of my collection and find the right track. Since getting an iPod, it seems I have played that track some 429 times. No. Make that 430.
  • Of my top twenty-five most-played tracks, only a couple are in English. The top two are Spanish; several are Latin; one is Italian; two are in Hindi; five are German; and one is in Russian.
  • Not one track in my "Top 25 most-played" could be classified as "contemporary Christian Music."
  • My largest playlist consists solely of Bach Cantatas. It currently has 1103 discrete tracks; and if I looped it, it would play nonstop for 2.5 days before returning to the first track. Even so, my collection of Bach Cantatas is nowhere near complete.
  • I've listened to Cantata BWV 95 ("Christus, der ist mein Leben") exactly 95 times. But it's not my most-listened to Bach Cantata.
  • Another playlist, "Hymns," has 381 tracks. It would play nonstop for 21 hours before repeating a track. The most-played track on that list, at 93, is a stirring version of "Now Thank We All Our God."
  • Based on the cumulative play-counts, however, my favorite musician, apparently, isn't even a baroque or classical artist. It's Perez Prado, king of the mambo. Go figure.
  • My newest addition (see right sidebar) is a minimalist composition by Gavin Bryars, titled "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." The story behind this hypnotic but truly touching piece fascinates me. The vocals are done by a tramp who lived and died in the shadow of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle.
  • My all-time favorite recording, originally recorded in the 1960s on 35-millimeter film (how'd they do that?) is the version of Rachmaninov's second symphony by William Steinberg with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It's been unavailable on CD until recently, when a couple of privately-produced and digitally remastered editions became available on the Internet. I ordered one immediately, of course. Since it's a new addition to my iPod, it doesn't show up in my most-played lists yet. That will no doubt change by this time next year.
  • Lest you get the impression I'm more spiritual than I really am, I should confess that my Spike Jones playlist has 385 tracks, and it would play nonstop for some 20 hours. (Note to self: download some more classic hymns.)
  • The entire library cataloged by my iTunes program currently fills 81 gigs. It consists of 13,422 tracks, which would take 92 days, 21 hours, 47 minutes, and 15 seconds to play through consecutively. I'm not bored with it yet.

Phil's signature


Unknown said...

Greetings Phil,

So how come these classics have not made it to the ole Ipod yet?


Doug McMasters said...

Your post is helping me to understand my son, Ben, better. He's some years behind you, but developing in your direction and my dad's.

My dad has two 20ft by 10ft storage rooms filled floor to ceiling with records he is recording to mp3. He sent us to London with a 300gig hard drive filled with files he copied over. If you're missing anything, Phil, let me know--I'm sure he could track it down.

Unknown said...

wot no Amy Grant?

On a serious note - I am so thankful for the internet, MP3s and downloadable sermons - straight onto the iPod. Listened to a great lecture on Jonathan Edwards whilst I was shopping yesterday!

Even So... said...

Rachmaninov's second symphony


Phil, it has always been since I first heard it that S.R.'s Isle of the Dead is my favorite piece...have you got that one loaded up?

FX Turk said...

oh Yeah. LOTS of work getting done there.


gator said...

"(Note to self: download some more classic hymns.)"

Where do you find them please?

Steve said...

The most-played track on that list, at 93, is a stirring version of "Now Thank We All Our God."

Would this be, by any chance, the version done by the Grace Church choir? Or a different one?

This is a favorite song...

Gryphonette said...

Oh boy! For a change I'm learning ahead of time about someone I'd love to hear coming to the area!

It's a bit of a hike, but by golly, I'll be there tomorrow. Not sure which service yet, but I'll be there.

You will try to be brilliant, won't you, Phil? ;^)

candy said...

Ahhhhhhhh! Bach!

Sharon said...

Candy: A M*A*S*H fan, too?

Phil: how do you see your playlist stats? I can't find it anywhere in my iTunes program!

My most played cut? "Anita's Heart" by Fernando Ortega.

wordsmith said...

Ein lied von meine lieblings Bach-werke:

Herr, unser Herrscher

It sends chills up and down my spine whenever I listen to it.

Stefan Ewing said...


Copland is hands down my favourite composer. Gimme Appalachian Spring any day. You have good taste!

David Mohler said...

My whole CD collection (2,000+ albums) is now ripped to iTunes and every album's cover is scanned in.

Dag, 'yo! You're always telling us that you're scarce on time, but the artwork of your CD albums have been scanned in for your iPod? Is that you scanning or one of your minions?

(moment to ponder)

You...no, no you are the man.

candy said...


slf said...

Hi Phil,

Gavin Bryars/Tom Waits "Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet" made a huge impact on me one night long ago in California...I heard it on a public radio station and was totally captured by it.. This was before God saved me. It is still one of my favorites; I have it in my profile favs. I'm so glad other people will hear about it!


Brad Williams said...

I just got an iPod yesterday, and I'm already a total addict. Imagine! Marty Robbins' "El Paso" anytime I want!

Doug said...

Sharon: to show playlist stats in iTunes, go to the View pulldown menu and click options. Check the box that says "play count" in the right column and it will appear in your playlist.

BTW, I don't know if I should say this, but my current most-played song is Sirius by the Alan Parsons Project

Solameanie said...

Well, Phil, I have a confession to make. I was actually listening to a cut from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" today called "Brain Damage." I immediately thought of a parody/satire in honor of the Emergent Church. All I have to do is tweak the lyrics a bit...

"The heretic is in my church....the heretic is in my church...and when the church you're in starts teaching different truth...I'll see you on the dark side of the...(you get the idea).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to go to the nearest altar.

Sharon said...


I thought you were quoting the line from M*A*S*H when Radar was trying to impress some nurse as being acquainted with the classics. He was coached, when she brought up classical music, to say, "Ahhhh, Bach!" as if that said it all.

I guess you had to be there. . . .

Solameanie said...

It's nice to see that someone else knows who Alan Parsons is. And lest someone gets on my case, I love Handel's Messiah, Love Song, Mustard Seed Faith, Christopher Parkening, Fanny Crosby and a host of others. I even play a Mellotron. Beats a theremin any day.

Paul Lamey said...


You asked, "...the artwork of your CD albums have been scanned in for your iPod? Is that you scanning or one of your minions?"

I don't know what Phil does but I imagine he uses the "advanced" tab in itunes which has a "Get Album Artwork" feature that will download album covers from the itunes database...great feature.


Any Yo Yo Ma?

Ray said...

Not one track in my "Top 25 most-played" could be classified as "contemporary Christian Music."

Contemporary Christian Music is what they play in Hell.

Mike Felker said...

I'd highly recommend Yngwie Malmsteen's "Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E Flat Minor Op. 1." Malmsteen is a neo-baroque composer, and I don't know any lover of classical/baroque music that hasn't loved it. C'mon, give it a try!

Tim said...

He was coached, when she brought up classical music, to say, "Ahhhh, Bach!" as if that said it all.

<nitpick>Actually, Sharon, the line was: "Ahhhh, Mozart!"</nitpick>


Chandler Branch said...

I too have enjoyed Gavin Bryars' Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. I was introduced to it in college and now have it on my iPod. Thanks for your link to info on the story behind the work. Fascinating indeed.

Chandler Branch, Exe. Dir.
Soli Deo Gloria

Sharon said...

Tim: [correction] Nope, I don't think so. Check the episode again. [/correction] Nice to hear from you, though!

Solameanie said...


Don't you think that's a bit harsh? Don't tell me you're of the Bill Gotherd school that can tell if a song is demonic or not by its meter?

Jim Crigler said...

Phil ---

What do you do to get non-stop segues between movements, e.g., between the 3rd and 4th movements of Beethoven's Fifth (per the Szell/Cleveland recording)? It's also a problem in Mussorgsky's Pictures (last two movements) and something by Rimsky-Korsakov that escapes me at the moment, just to hit the high points.

Ray said...

Don't you think that's a bit harsh?

Probably, but you can't deny that the vast majority of what passes for "comtemporary Christian music" is merely banal, insipid pop music repackaged with a "christian" label that is made to appeal to the lowest common artistic denominator.

I am in awe of Phil's iPod.

Solameanie said...


Yes, I can agree with you on that one. I was just worried you were throwing the baby out with the bathwater. :)