Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


M. Hengelaar - The Music H. Rookmaaker Listened to

The Music Hans Rookmaaker Listened To 

Lecture by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, Eck en Wiel 2018

Music played an important part in my father’s life. He collected records since his teens. He had a broad knowledge of classical music, but especially favoured the music made by the Afro-Americans in the United States known as jazz, blues, spirituals and (black) gospel. He made an in-depth study of this music and wrote a book about it called Jazz, Blues and Spirituals. He also was very interested in rock music, when it made its appearance in the sixties. He had actually wanted to study musicology, but as he was required in order to do so to be able to play the piano, which he wasn’t, this path was closed off for him. So visual art and art history became his profession, but music remained his lifelong hobby. When he was home, there was always music in the house. 

As a short introduction let me first briefly say something about my father’s life and his approach to art, music and culture. I take it that you know that my father was an art history professor at the Free University in Amsterdam and that his friendship with Francis Schaeffer was very important to him, which was also instrumental in leading my parents to found the Dutch branch of L’Abri. 

My father became a Christian during World War II when he was imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp for three and a half years – he actually became a Christian by reading the Bible. As a navy officer he was treated well and had a lot of time to study and read. He was 20-23 years old during those years, still very young. After he had converted to Christianity he was mentored by the philosopher Johan Mekkes, who just happened to be there in the camp as well. Mekkes was a student of the Neo-Calvinistic philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Because of this my father ended up joining a Reformed church after the war and when he started his studies in art history, he did so with a great interest in Neo-Calvinist thinking. Which meant first of all that he saw art as a good gift from God, as there is no square inch of life about which God does not say ‘Mine’, to quote the first Neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper. It also gave him a sharp sense that our western culture, which had turned its back on God, had lost a lot of its former Christian richness. And it gave him a strong conviction that we should try to be an influence for the better in our culture. 

My father regarded the development of art and music as an integral part of the broader development of western culture, connected to philosophical, theological and social developments. He viewed the Enlightenment in the 18th century as the great break in western culture and he lamented the reduction of reality that was caused by it. It is in this perspective that we should place his most well-known book Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, in which he discusses how the growing alienation and loss of humanity are addressed in modern   art.  

I would characterize my father’s approach as open and critical. His mission was to make people (especially Christians) see the value and importance of art and get them into the museums. The British art historian Nigel Halliday sums it up like this: “Rookmaaker wanted Christians to honour art in general and contemporary art in particular with their serious attention, to see its deeper meanings and to engage with it from a Christian worldview.” 

Now let us turn to music, to which he brought the same approach. My father’s great heroes were classical composers like Bach and Schütz, but also popular musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Blind Willie Johnson, The Spirit of Memphis Quartet and Mahalia Jackson. And someone like Distler in the field of twentieth-century classical music. My father would actually say that all of this music is related in spirit, owing to its rootedness in a Christian mentality.


I will try to give you an idea of his basic views about music. As we have only an hour or so, much will remain unsaid. So I hope that this hour will inspire you to read his book and articles about music (which can be found in The Complete Works) or listen to his various music lectures which are available here at L’Abri and on the internet in the L’Abri Ideas Library ( There you will be able to hear much more wonderful music than I can play for you now. It is my hope that also the music itself will be meaningful to you today and inspire you to look for music that is deep and powerful and wholesome and real, because that is the music my father looked for and that is the music he hoped would also be made again in our own time. 

I want to start with Johann Sebastian Bach, for that was definitely one of father’s favourite composers when it comes to classical music. We will listen to a small part of the opening movement of a cantata. Now, let’s try to listen with my father’s ears. He would have pointed out the joy and the strength of the music, and the solid and strong rhythm; that the music serves the text, not only following the diction, but also underscoring the meaning of the text. The text you can find on the paper that has been handed out to you. Listen how the words ‘without fear and hypocrisy’ are highlighted in the music. Listen also to the polyphony, how various parts that are moving in different directions are woven together.

1. J.S. Bach: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, 1723, Cantata BWV 147, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, muß von Christo Zeugnis geben, ohne Furcht und Heuchelei, daß er Gott und Heiland sei.

Heart and mouth and deed and life, must bear witness to Christ, without fear or hypocrisy, that he is God and saviour.

The second piece we are going to listen to is almost a century earlier than the Bach piece, form the early Baroque (Bach came at the end of the Baroque), by what was, as far as I know, my father’s most loved classical composer: Heinrich Schütz. Schütz’s music is more intimate than that of Bach, with all kinds of subtle nuances in the music. It is quiet and beautiful music. Also here the music wants to serve the text. The composer is not expressing his own emotions, and the music is not only about emotions, but rather wants to bring out the content and meaning of the text. Let’s listen to the first verses of Psalm 18. Listen how the music follows the words!

2. Heinrich Schütz: Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, 1647, SWV 348 - Symphoniae Sacrae II, Psalm 18:1-6. Soloist: Andreas Scholl.

Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, meine Stärke, mein Fels, meine Burg, mein Erretter, mein Gott, mein Hort, auf den ich traue, mein Schild und Horn, meines Heils und mein Schutz, Herzlich lieb hab ich dich. 

I love Thee, O Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my refuge, in whom I will trust; my buckler and horn, my salvation and protection. I love Thee, Lord.

I want to read to you a few sentences my father wrote about the music from this period, which is called Baroque music, contrasting it with the later music from the Romantic period. He says: 

"Baroque music is very different from later classical music. It is a world away from the bombast that sometimes makes 19th-century music so unpalatable – the so-called profound, the problematic, the struggle of the heroic but oh so tragic human being. Baroque music is more down to earth and at the same time much richer, because in its directness it expresses all sorts of moods – all aspects of life, even the less grand ones – humour, excitement, joy, peace, but also sorrow and yearning. It is never pretentiously sophisticated, never sentimental, never driven by mood alone – this music is deeper and it reflects the breadth of human experience rather than only the emotional side."

Now we are going to make a big jump to the very end of the 19th century and to the world of popular music. My father was struck by the similarity of the jazz and gospel of the first half of the twentieth century to Baroque music. Not technically (or only partly so), but in spirit. He would say that since the Enlightenment music was accorded too high a place. Now people had to listen in reverent silence to the great revelations of the composers’ souls. But this, my father said, was the death of entertainment, as no good composer wanted to make the so-called simple music for less lofty occasions anymore. My father, however, considered entertainment an important and valuable part of human life. He was actually ahead of his time in not wanting to distinguish between high and low art. 

Let us turn first of all to a musical genre called ragtime, which was developed by Afro-Americans in the United States around 1895, having its roots in earlier white and black musical practices. It is music for piano and a striking characteristic of ragtime is its prolific use of syncopation (off-beat accents). Let’s listen to this and I believe you will be struck by the calm strength and joy in this music. 

3. Scott Joplin: Magnetic Rag played by Joshua Rifkin. 

This is not his most famous rag, which is the Maple Leaf Rag (or The Syncopator), but this is from a record that we had at home on which the rags are played slower than on a lot of other records. This is the recording my father favoured.

This ragtime music is at the root of jazz, as is the next musical piece I want to play for you, which gives you a little taste of the old New Orleans funeral music. This music consisted of hymns played by a brass band. When the coffin was brought to the graveyard, the band played hymns like Nearer my God to Thee or Just a Closer Walk with Thee in a slow tempo. And then after the funeral hymns like O when the Saints were played in a faster and more happy way. 

(This video was made in 2010, the custom still lives on)

4. New Orleans funeral music. Before funeral: Just a Closer Walk with Thee  

5. After funeral: O when the Saints 

This music is all the more special when you compare it to the white popular music in America at that time, which tended to be very light, laid back and sweet, with no depth to it at all. In order to get a better understanding of this, I now want to play for you the beginning of my father’s lecture about Rock and Protest, in which he starts with an overview of American popular music, starting with early jazz and ending with the Beatles. In this overview he deals with the different character of the music of the blacks and the music of the whites.

Here we listen to the first 10 minutes of Rookmaaker's Beat, Rock and Protest lecture part I, click here  (on page 3)

So time and again white people were looking for something more real and meaningful for their own music and found this in black music. But over and over again the character of the music was changed when the black music came in the hands of the whites and all the life went out of it again.

I want to illustrate this by first playing a piece by King Oliver with Louis Armstrong as one of the members of the band as an example of strong and joyful black music. After this I will show you a video where you can see how the same Louis Armstrong performs for a white audience. 

So first King Oliver, who was one of the giants of early jazz. He came from New Orleans and from there he moved to Chicago. There Joe Oliver, who was a trumpet player, formed his own band in 1920. This is ensemble music of different musicians and instruments playing together, but the special thing is that in this popular genre there is also polyphony, the various instruments interweaving just like in the music of Bach. 

6. King Oliver and his Original Creole Jazz Band: Dippermouth Blues, 1923. Louis Armstrong part of the band. –

And now we will see Louis Armstrong performing for a white audience, performing what he calls himself a ‘light spiritual’. So he is very aware himself that he has changed the character of the music. As you will notice, he also changed the lyrics, instead of ´Nobody knows the trouble I have seen, nobody knows but Jesus´ he sings: ´Nobody knows my sorrow.´ So, note the different character of this music. 

7. Louis Armstrong: Nobody Knows the Trouble I have Seen, 1962. 

Why did this happen? My father writes: ´The whites wanted to have strong music, but it fell back into sweetness and banality. Why? Because there was no basis to build on. We can weep at the way western culture made something so ugly and lifeless out of something that was so beautiful and so full of life.´ Why did the whites lack the necessary basis? My father would answer that this was because of the Enlightenment and the subsequent development of western thinking, which had greatly impoverished our spirit and attitude to life. The blacks had escaped this development, as they had lived separately as slaves and had not followed western education. So, their spirit was a pre-Enlightenment spirit and their music was pre-Enlightenment music, joyful and deep and of the same mentality as that of Bach. We can also call it a Christian mentality, as most of these jazz musicians went to church. And we can hear this in their music. 

Blind Willie Johnson and his wife

This is even more so the case when we look at the spirituals and gospel music of the early 20th century – of which I now want to play you a song by Blind Willie Johnson, who was very popular at the time after his music was put on record. He was a blind man. Many blind people played music in the streets, as this was a good way to earn some money. Many played folk songs and blues, but Blind Willie Johnson became a singing evangelist and street preacher. Here he sings about his trouble and sorrow and how God is his friend on whom he can lean until his sorrow will be truly over. He has a deep growling voice, which at first sounds raw, but when you get used to it has its own depth and dignity. My father said about him: “Blind Willie Johnson makes pure art – one has to hear it to understand just how much depth and beauty a simple folk singer like him was able to provide.”

What I will show you now is a few minutes of the documentary film The Soul of a Man which was made by Wim Wenders in 2003. This is not BWJ singing himself here, but it shows how it could have been. BWJ’s wife used to sing with him, as we also see here.

8. Blind Willie Johnson: Trouble Will Soon Be Over, 1927. 

Oh, trouble’ll soon be over, sorrow will have an end
Oh, trouble’ll soon be over, sorrow will have an end
Well, Christ is my foot and fellow, He’s my only friend
Till the end of my sorrow and tells me to lean on Him
God is my strong protection, He’s my bosom friend
If trouble arose all around me, I know who will take me in
He proved a friend to David, and hid him in a cave
The same God that David served, will give me a rest someday
Well, though my burden may be heavy, my enemies crush me down
Someday I’ll rest with Jesus and wear a starry crown
I’ll take this yoke upon me and live a Christian life
Take Jesus for my Savior, my burden will be light

What is special is that we have Christian music here that is not afraid to talk about sorrow in a realistic way, in contrast to for instance the shallowness of much contemporary Christian music. The sorrow is real here, as is the comfort and the hope. 

Another type of music in the first half of the 20th century that spoke in very real and honest terms about the hardships of life, was the blues. I believe that this is why my father liked it, because of its very human quality. Life was indeed not easy for the blacks at that time. It is not hard to imagine that this music was a great comfort to them, because through it they could share their sorrow and the listeners could recognize themselves in the words and the music and know that they were not alone in their pain. Blues, you could say, is shared pain.

Blues and gospel, by the way, were two separate worlds. They originated in two different social groups, groups that had different lifestyles and values. Gospel was the music of Christian believers; blues was the music of the secular blacks. If you would have asked a gospel singer to sing the blues, he or she would have answered: ‘This is impossible, because  a Christian does not sing the blues.’

Blues is sung by a soloist, accompanied by a band or piano or guitar. We are going to listen to a song by Bessie Smith, one of the great performers of the early blues. You will hear that the song has the classic blues structure of 3 lines of 4 bars each with the second line repeating the first. Bessie Smith tells the story here of 5 days of rain that destroyed her house. Listen how the piano responds to each singing line.  

9. Bessie Smith: Backwater Blues, 1927.

When it rains five days and the sky turns dark as night (2x)
Then trouble takin’ place in the lowlands at night.

I woke up this morning, can’t even get out of my door, (2x)
There’s been enough trouble to make a poor girl wonder where she want to go.

Then they rowed a little boat about five miles across the pond, (2x)
I packed all my clothes, throwed them in and they moved me along.

When it thunders and lightning and the wind begins to blow, (2x)
Then thousands of people ain’t got no place to go.

Then I went and stood upon some high and lonesome hill, (2x)
Then looked down on the house where I used to live.

Blackwater blues done call me to pack my things and go, (2x)
’Cause my house fell down and I can’t live there no more.

Mm, I can’t move no more, (2x)
There ain’t no place for a poor old girl to go.

Some say, like Bill Edgar who has also lectured here a L’Abri, that there is hope inbuilt in the very structure of the blues – with the first two lines being similar and ending on a dominant chord – up in the air, like a question – and then the last line giving the answer and providing the hope that things are going to change and will not stay the same.

The next song by Big Bill Broonzy is an illustration of this, even though the structure of the song is somewhat different. Each verse has four lines here, but also here the last two lines contain an expression of hope: ‘I know the sun is going to shine through my door someday’ – a line that returns in blues songs more often, a line that expresses the conviction that their lives will get better, someday. You can also hear a kind of protest in it against the situation of the blacks in the United States at that time. A shared hope.

10. Big Bill Broonzy: Sun Gonna Shine In My Door Someday. 

Just sittin' here hungry, ain't got a dime
Looks like my friends would come to see poor me some time
But it don't matter how it happens,
I know the sun gonna shine in my door some day

When I was in jail, expectin' a fine,
When I went before that judge, not a friend I could find
But it don't matter how it happens,
The sun gonna shine in my door some day

I lost my father, I lost my brother too,
That's why you hear me singin', I'm lonesome and blue
But it don't matter how it happens,
The sun gonna shine in my door someday

Lordy, lordy, lordy, lord, I used to be your regular,
woman, now I got to be your dog
But it don't matter how it happens,
The sun gonna shine in my door some day

I'm in trouble, no one to pay my fine,
When I get out this time, gonna leave this town flyin'
because it don't matter how it happens,
The sun gonna shine in my door some day

Let’s continue with a few more examples of black gospel. The first is by The Spirit of Memphis Quartet, indeed one of my father’s most loved gospel groups. We are now moving along in time: this song is from 1958, so quite a bit later than what we have listened to up till now. At this time there was a lot of religious entertainment around in the black world of quartets singing not too serious Christian songs in a light manner. But there were also groups that sang in church and really meant what they sang, the Spirit of Memphis Quartet being one of them. There is nothing light about the next song about Jesus on the cross, with the beautiful line: he never said a mumbling word (from Isaiah: he did not open his mouth). Listen to the polyphony again, with two lead singers and the group singing their own parts. 

11. Spirit of Memphis Quartet: On Calvary, 1958. 

On Calvary, Jesus hung, bled and died, on Calvary. You know we remember him, He never said a mumbling word. He hung, bled and died on Calvary.

Here is a more upbeat song by the same group:

12. Spirit of Memphis Quartet: Every Time I Feel the Spirit, 1952. 

Every Time I feel the Spirit, in my heart I pray. 

Another gospel group, a bit later again, that made great music were the Staple Singers, which I particularly loved as a child (and still do). Listen to them sing about prayer:  

13. Staple Singers: Pray on, 1968.  

Pray on my child (pray on my child)
I got a home on high (yes I got a home on high)
You know I've talked about (sure as you’re born)
I need Jesus (Jesus to carry me on)
Oh if I never (never see you no more)
Wonder if you’ll you meet me (meet me on the other shore)

Pray on (pray on my child)
Oh yeah (pray on my child)
I got a home on high (yes I got a home on high)

I remember the day and remember it well
(Pray on, just pray on)
When he saved my soul from burning hell
(Pray on, you just pray on)
You can talk about me as much as you please
(Pray on, and just pray on)
But the more you talk the more I'm gonna bend my knee
(Pray on, and just pray on)
I got a home on high (yes I got a home on high)

We have come to our last song. Let’s briefly summarize. We have seen and heard that my father favored music that is deeply human and real, music that can speak about sorrow, but can also express hope and joy. This is so, because this joy is the deepest thing in the heart of a believer, while the hardships are just passing by. Because of this, it is strong music, music that is as solid and strong as the gospel itself – it is a testimony, also the music itself, that God and faith are stronger than death and evil; God and the faithful will win in the end. So, what type of music was my father looking for and what type of music would he be looking for now? Music that is joyful and deep like that of Bach and Schütz and Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver; music that is truthful about the hardships of life like the blues; and music that is honest about the troubles we encounter, but also holds fast to hope, like the spirituals and black gospel. 

To close I want to play you a song by Mahalia Jackson, the great gospel singer. As you can see my father went to visit her in Chicago, when he was on a study trip to the US to research black music. The song I want to play for you is Move On Up A Little Higher, a song my father especially loved, and that’s the reason why this song was also played at his funeral. So it seems fitting to close with this song today. The single of this song sold 8 million copies and thus, some say, was the best-selling gospel record of all time. A great great song. 

14. Mahalia Jackson: Move on Up a Little Higher, 1955.

One these morning soon one morning 
I'm gonna lay down my cross get me a crown 
soon one evening late in the evening 
Late in the evening I'm going home live on high 

Soon as my feet strike Zion 
Lay down my heavy burdens 
Put on my robe in glory 
Going home one day and tell my story 
I've been coming over hills and mountains 
Gonna drink from the Christian Fountain 
You know all God's sons and daughters that morning 
Will drink that old healing water 
And we gonna live on forever, we gonna live on forever 
We gonna live on up in glory after a while. 

Oh Lord I'm going out sight-seeing in Beulah 
March all around God's altar 
Walk and never get tired 
Gonna fly Lord and never falter 

I'm gonna move on up a little higher 
Gonna meet old man Daniel 
Gonna move on up a little higher 
Gonna meet the Hebrew children 
Gonna move on up a little higher 
Meet Paul and Silas 
Gonna meet my friends and kindred 
Gonna move on up a little higher 
Gonna meet my loving mother 
I'm gonna move on up a little higher 
Gonna meet the Lily of the valley 
I'm gonna feast with the Rose of Sharon 
It will be always howdy howdy 
It will be always howdy, howdy 
It will be always howdy howdy and never goodbye 

Oh will you be there early one morning 
Will you be there somewhere round the altar 
Will you be there oh when the angels shall call the roll 
God knows I'll be waiting 
Yes I'll be watching somewhere round the altar 
Well I'll be waiting oh at the beautiful yes golden gate 

Well well soon as my feet strike Zion 
Gonna lay down my heavy burden 
I'm going to put on my robe in glory 
I've been coming over the hills and mountains 
Gonna drink from the Christian fountain 
You know all God's sons and daughters that morning 
Will drink that old healing water 
Meet me there early one morning 
Meet me there somewhere round the altar 
Meet me there oh when the angels shall call the roll