Tag Archives: music

Musical Highlights of 2017

Halfway into 2017, here are my two musical highlights of the year so far:

They recorded and released an album version of the Planetarium!!! Thanks Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, James McAlister and your string quartet and seven trombones. Five years ago I saw you perform this live and I cried about hearing something so beautiful and then never getting to hear it again. Now I can hear it again. It’s amazing.

I am quite taken with Saturn. It doesn’t rally feature the strings or the trombones much. But it takes my 2017 prize for ‘best song exploring sin and evil’, which is a legitimate category of song appreciation for me. As you might know, Saturn was a Roman God famous as the god of plenty, who made things awesome for rich people. He was also infamous for eating his own children, so not really a great guy.

This contemporary interpretation of Saturn is fascinating. And the video clip is even more fascinating. Do yourself a favour and watch it, read Sufjan’s lyrics as you do.

And you know, I can’t stop with one song. My other musical highlight is technically from 2016, but this year it has a cool video clip… it’s Immigrants from the Hamilton mixtape!! I love that there are so many different voices in it.

Like Saturn, it’s a great song explaining what is wrong in the world. Well, at least it explains a specific social problem. Which is a drop in the bucket compared to explaining the all-reaching, pervasive, cosmic nature of evil, but still very interesting! 10 points to all the artists who contributed to this one.

(See, I’m not joking about choosing my favourite songs because of their ability to articulate the problems of the world!)

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Colin Meloy: Wildwood

How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries. In fact, if she were to list her worries right then and there as she sat spellbound on the park bench and watcher her little brother, Mac, carried aloft in the talons of these five black crows, puzzling out just how this feat was being done would likely come in dead last…

And so opens the adventure of Wildwood: the story of Prue and Curtis on an incredible adventure to the Impassable Wilderness. It’s a kind of Narnian story: two kids stumbling into a magical place, where animals talk and take you flying, where things look quaint at first and then you discover there is an evil queen, and there is a battle to end all battles – will good triumph over evil? – and then (no spoilers) the story ends. It was a great read.

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This book was on the Premier’s Reading list for children in years 5-6, so I’m not sure I am the target audience. But I had to read this book because it was written by Colin Meloy, the frontman of the Decemberists, and illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis, who is responsible for all of the Decemberists’ artwork. I love this band. One of the distcint things about them is the way their songs tell epic stories from all times and places. They sing vivid and imaginative songs about star-crossed lovers in fighting gangssoldiers in Iraq,  David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, guerrilla wars, the arrival of a Spanish princess, the Japanese legend of the Crane Wife. They reached stunning highs with the saga of the Mariner’s Revenge, and then followed that up with The Hazards of Love: an entire album telling a tragic fairy-tale story of two lovers thwarted by an evil queen.

So obvs Colin Meloy has an incredibly vivid imagination, and a creative way with words.

Given the expectations I had, Wildwood did not disappoint. It was like reading a Decemberists‘ song, it was vibrant and exciting and it opened another window into the creative mind of Colin Meloy. And Carson Ellis’ illustrations were simply beautiful. There is no other word for them. They were perfect.

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Wildwood is the first of three novels, but, as much as I enjoyed it, I think I will leave it at this one. I loved to have one of my favourite musicians as the guide for this adventure, but I think one adventure with Colin Meloy is enough. Maybe next time I will read something higher up the Premier’s Reading Challenge list!

 

Dear Wormwood

The latest album from the Oh Hellos has been like a refreshing drink of water, like balm to the soul. Matt and I listened to it together last weekend and I wept a little as it drew to a close.

Like their earlier album (Through the Deep Dark Valley), Dear Wormwood is a concept album that tells a continuous story from beginning to end. However, whereas Through the Deep Dark Valley tells the story of a character finding life and freedom in Jesus, Dear Wormwood tells the second part of the story: the character grappling to keep living faithfully as a Christian.

Each song on the album is a letter, and although the voice changes as the singing alternates between lead vocalists Maggie and Tyler, each letter is penned by the same protagonist and addressed to the same recipient. Those with ears to hear will recognise the recipient as Wormwood, the junior demon from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. 

Dear Wormwood is refreshing, but not because it is merely refreshing. Some of the tracks are almost painful to listen to. The opening songs flit between flirtation with sin and patient waiting for redemption, between trusting sweet lies and standing against evil. The sin that Christians are still entangled with is alluring and destructive; the Oh Hellos get right into the heartache of wrestling with it.

If I am not afraid to die
And you are crouching at my door
And suffering is all there is to gain in life
Then what is all this waiting for?
– ‘This Will End’

No, the refreshing comes in the climax of the album, the pinnacle, which for me are tracks 8-11. Sweet relief comes as the character can finally recognise and name their enemy, and take refuge and comfort in Jesus the redeemer. Tracks 9 and 10 are an incredible fusion of the resurrection hope of 1 Corinthians 15 with the redemption songs of Exodus. Like Moses and Miriam the Oh Hellos exhort us to take up our timbrels and lyres to celebrate and, oh my goodness, this album absolutely makes me want to.

Are you a Christian person feeling weighed down by sin? Do yourself a favour: take an hour to read through these lyrics and listen to this music and remember the victory that Jesus has won.

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
– 1 Corinthians 15:55-58

10 “Memory Verse” Songs for Grown Ups

Now half a year into my steep learning curve of children’s ministry, I have rediscovered something significant (and obvious): songs help us remember scripture. 

Growing up outside the church I missed learning all the ‘classic’ kids memory verse songs, so it took me a while to discover them as an adult. I’m getting familiar with them, and learning how to integrate them seamlessly into lessons. But it’s clear that I should be using them more.

Discovering them has made me remember just how important music is for memorising scripture. I may have missed out on Colin Buchannan and all the rest of it, but as an adult I have been exposed to some incredible ‘memory-verse’ music for grown ups. Here are 10 (well… eleven) of my favourite songs with lyrics taken straight from the bible, which have helped me to remember very important passages of scripture: Continue reading

Trumpets and Bookmarks

Boosh Trumpet 1

Boosh Trumpet 2

Boosh Trumpet 3

When people ask me what my favourite kind of music is I am usually stumped for an answer. How do you choose when there is so much amazing music in the world? On reflection though, I’ve realised that throughout my life, running across all my eccentric musical tastes, there is one common thread. One sound that binds a million disparate genres, tempos and moods together.

I love music with trumpets.

When expressing this to a friend recently she looked at me in disdain, so now I feel a need to prove myself. Here is a collection of some of my most-loved songs, all featuring horns of some kind.

Continue reading

Holy Saturday

What a weird and bizarre day it is, to think that this very day one thousand, nine hundred and eighty years ago to the day, the fourth of April in AD 33, in the middle of the Passover festival, Jesus was dead. His body was cold in a tomb. He was dead.

Today life went on like any other day. People drove cars and ate lunch and ran through the rain huddled under umbrellas. Didn’t anyone realise how strange it is that we have this Saturday in the middle of the Easter weekend where God was dead? I kept catching myself in the middle of doing something normal – drinking my cup of tea, checking my phone, brushing my teeth – and then feeling like normal things are completely inappropriate for Holy Saturday. Jesus was deadGod was dead. How can we do anything normal on a day when everything we know about God and reality, all our normal metaphysical parameters about God not being dead, everything we assume was turned completely inside out?

And yet this bizarre, impossible, long dark day of death, April 4 33, was the only way that Jesus could save us from our sins. The wisdom of God is foolishness to men. A stumbling block. A laughing stock. What a weird and bizarre day it is; all I can do is stand in awe.

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I’ve never really appreciated Sufjan Steven’s earlier Michigan album. Compared to Illinois it sounds sparse and slow. But it made for good meditative listening on our way home down the mountains from our Easter visit to our parents. For the first time I listened carefully to ‘Oh God, Where Are You Now?’ and realised how perfect it was for Holy Saturday listening: the confusion of where God is when sin seems to be winning, intertwined with unshakable confidence in God’s power to save from death.

Oh God, hold me now
Oh Lord, hold me now
There’s no other man who could raise the dead
So do what you can to anoint my head

Oh God, where are you now?
Oh Lord, say somehow
The devil is hard on my face again
The world is a hundred to one again

Would the righteous still remain?
Would my body stay the same?

Oh God, hold me now
Oh God, touch me now
There’s no other man who could save the dead
There’s no other God to place our head