Tuesday Evening Melody: Saturday Night Tavern Storytelling with Over The Rhine’s “All My Favorite People”
by Marcy Bain, guest contributor
As a Presbyterian minister I spend a great deal of time in sanctuary spaces, but I confess that my favorite spiritual music is not always sung by the Sunday morning choir. Often it’s sung in Saturday night taverns by mainstream folk artists like Over The Rhine, Patty Griffin, and Jennifer Knapp. Other artists shuffle in and out of my iPod rotation, but when I seek spiritual comforts, to these musical mainstays I always return.
The other day I was trying to locate that thing, that ineffable quality in their music that draws me into sacred space, and it proved a daunting task. Like a flash of creative insight, or a burst of beauty that wrecks the senses, I can’t really put my finger on the pulse of such mysteries; I can only receive them when they come to me. And so it is with these artists and their songs.
However, if I endeavored to speak in broad terms, I would say that these artists hold a few key characteristics in common. They make music that strikes a spiritual chord in me without being doctrinaire. They each pursue excellence in their craft. They defy labels and simplistic categorizations. Folk music at its core is story tellin’ music; each of these artists sings out their stories from the deep-seated wellsprings of spirit and soul. None of them make music specifically geared towards the Christian marketplace, but all of them have deeply nourished me in my journey of faith.
For those of you with New Year’s resolutions to expand your musical palette, start with Over The Rhine’s “All My Favorite People,” dive in to Knapp’s “Mr. Gray,” and let Ms. Griffin take you to church with her stirring rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King.” If the Saturday night tavern happens to be your favorite sanctuary, who knows, you just might get to see a preacher overcome by “a juke box altar call” (to borrow a lyric from another OTR song) as she sits in the corner putting the final polish on her Sunday morning sermon.
Marcy Bain is an ordained Presbyterian minister from Dayton, Ohio. She believes that there is a special place in heaven for girls with guitars, and she is ever so grateful for all that they’ve contributed to her life.
Want to recommend a song for our Tuesday evening melody? Submit your suggestion and a little bit about the tune. We’ll take a listen for possible publication on the On Being Blog.
"The Christmas Waltz" by She & Him to Dance Us Into the Weekend
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Tis the season and, yes, I’m a fanboy of She & Him. How can you not love the stripped-down, melodic version of this classic Christmas song? You can’t. Enjoy!
Editor’s note: The title was changed due to a last-minute scheduling change. Unfortunately, Tuesday turned into Wednesday!
Tuesday Evening Melody: “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
As a kind, five-minute gift to yourself, listen to and watch the song by My Brightest Diamond. It has beautiful lyrics and is performed deliciously from a set recorded in Berlin this year.
I have never loved someone the way I love you
I have never seen a smile like yours
And if you grow to be a king or clown or pauper
I will say you are my favorite one in town
I have never held a hand so soft and sacred
When I hear your laugh I know heaven’s key
And when I grow to be a poppy in the graveyard
I will send you all my love upon the breeze
And if the breeze won’t blow your way, I will be the sun
And if the sun won’t shine your way, I will be the rain
And if the rain won’t wash away all your aches and pains
I will find some other way to tell you you’re okay
Pádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in chaplaincy and peacework in Belfast, Northern Ireland. You can read more of his writing at In the Shelter and in his new book of poetry coming out in 2012.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “I Believe” by Desmond Dekker
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Before singer-songwriter Bob Marley brought reggae to the world, Desmond Dekker was becoming a household name in his native Jamaica with his backing band the Aces. He had 20 number one hits, with spiritually-intentioned ska and reggae-styled tunes. His biggest hit “The Israelites” made a global impression when featured in the 1989 Gus Van Sant film Drugstore Cowboy, and even among the Fab Four (hear a shout out in “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”).
"I Believe" has always been a favorite of mine for its catchy, repetitive verses, and its clever nod to a circular kind of relativism (the very real possibility that it "all depends on what you believe"). But, most importantly, that amazing rocksteady beat.
Photo of Dekker album in a London record store by Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Plain Gold Ring” by Kimbra
by Chris Heagle, producer
Kimbra’s refreshing cover of Plain Gold Ring is a love letter to Nina Simone and her classic song. Built up from loops of her own voice created live in studio (watch the mic on the left), this mellow groove is instantly infectious. Don’t be fooled though, the her powerful voice takes us along to the stratosphere before floating back to earth. And, now, the music of New Zealand’s up-and-coming, 21-year-old chanteuse is finally available in the U.S.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Seven Year Ache” by Rosanne Cash
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
When I was in my tweens, Rosanne Cash was a staple in our station wagon and in our vans (yeah, my dad loved his Ford Econolines), on our icy trips to school in North Dakota or on our mountainous climbs up the Rockies during summer vacation. It was pure torture.
You see, I was a man of sophisticated rock and alt pop tastes. Give me Devo and let me hold on to dear life as KISS disbanded and made those awful solo albums. I used to squeeze my ears, longing to hear anything but Rosanne Cash or her daddy, much less the Statler Brothers or any other country music my mom used to blast through those tinny speakers.
But 30 years later, the songs I remember most are many of my mother’s favorites. And I was reminded of her victory earlier this year at a performance of Wits, when Ms. Cash made a guest appearance. The first song she performed — the one I still sing to myself on the commute to work or when my baby boys would cry at night — was, yes, her 1981 crossover hit, "Seven Year Ache."
The version you’re hearing and seeing is actually a second take performed after the show was over, which is unfortunate. Although she forgot a few of the words the first time, the moment was part of the pure delight of being at a live show. She endeared herself to the audience, and dare I say the host John Moe and Sandra Bernhard, with her professional embarrassment and quiet humility. Nevertheless, this version is absolutely enchanting and we’re excited to be interviewing her on November 17th before her performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Funny thing is, now, three decades later, Rosanne Cash is still a staple in my life — my online life. Her witty tweets and conversant replies are a part of my daily reading. Who would’ve thought… the hub caps never fell off.
Photos by Eamon Coyne/MPR
Tuesday Evening Melody: Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus”
by Lisa Moore, guest contributor
This song affirms that humans create beauty. When that woman’s voice rises above the rest and spirals around, it is pure and intoxicating.
Miserere Mei was written by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri in the late 1630s. As legend has it, this piece of music was protected from being transcribed or played outside of the Sistine Chapel for the Tenebrae (“darkness” or “shadows” in Latin) service. Doing so was punishable by excommunication.
The story goes that, after more than a century, young Mozart heard the work in 1770 and rewrote it from memory when he returned home. His transcription ended up in the hands of an Englishman who published it in 1771. Rather than being excommunicated, Mozart was called to Rome and praised by the pope for his musical genius. The ban was lifted, and now it is one of the most common works to be performed by a cappella choirs.
Why would this song ever have been banned in the first place? Because it was so very beautiful. Perhaps people would hear this music and have a spiritual experience. That experience, of course, could then be had anywhere they heard that music and open a personal pathway to a relationship with God. The Church wanted to be sure that that type of communication could only occur with its guidance and control. There are other examples of music being avoided because of the belief that it insinuated evil, like the tritone.
Other composers also transcribed it, and there is quite the dispute about who got it right and whose version is the best. I first heard a recording by the Dale Warland Singers, so I think I’m stuck with my first love, but there are many recordings — including the gorgeous version above performed by The Sixteen — both with adult and children’s choirs.
As interesting as all of this is, I’m not trying to make any big statement. I just want to share this amazing music that deeply touches my soul, no matter what sort of mood I am in.
Lisa Moore is a medical student at Loyola University in Chicago. She attempts to maintain her identity as more than somebody who studies through yoga, creative cooking, reading, and writing.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “This Is Not the End” by Gungor
by Caleb Saenz, guest contributor
Gungor performs at the Catalyst Conference 2010: (photo: Stephen Hunton)
Music is not my god. It’s certainly easier to say that than to live it, but if I had to, I could live without music. I do love it, though.
You see, music is not my god. It’s my bullhorn. Sometimes, I use it to express the pains of my spirit, the joys of my heart, the deeply rooted emotions words can only fail. Sometimes the bullhorn faces me. It blares truths easily forgotten in ways I can’t easily shake. Music is a reminder. When life is cold and love seems distant, music encourages. And when the only view is the awesome wonder of a mountaintop panoramic, the dynamics of a good song recall the seasons of life. Music is a gift. Cherish it.
The stigma of the “Christian music” label is difficult to shake. I find that phrase treacherous. Music is an art. It’s only Christian by what it glorifies, and that is a definition separate from what normally identifies a band as “Christian.” For a religion whose foundation is the sacrifice of a man who heals even the dead, Christianity has produced some pretty lame music. (See what I did there? Okay, I’ll stop.) As a follower of Christ, I have no problem saying that my church has been responsible for some pretty reprehensible musical crimes.
So it should come as no surprise that when a good Christian band is discovered, Christians react like they have won the lottery. The odds of finding a good “Christian band” among the large number of bands who call themselves that has to be pretty close to the odds of winning the lottery in a major city. (#science) For a lot of young Christians, Gungor is their winning ticket. While their older albums still reveal a penchant for Evanescence-isms, their newest, Ghosts Upon the Earth, is a thing of sophisticated beauty - artful without being pompous, adventurous without being self-indulgent, spiritually deep without being obtusely constructed.
“This Is Not the End” perfectly encapsulates what makes most of the album great. It sounds like a Disney movie feels. All hope, the song swells with every stomp and guitar chug. That the theme and music unite in a beautiful and perfect three minutes is indicative of much of the work on this album. If joy had a sound, this would be it.
Christians tend to jump at the prospect of merely adequate Christian artists to legitimize the concept of “Christian music” as a whole. Thankfully, with their new album, Gungor now occupies a rare space, where a group of Christian artists can challenge listeners to both experience new music and dig deeper into their faith. If you have never heard of the band, give their new album a chance. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, even if it is “Christian music.”
Caleb Saenz is an elementary school teacher and high school debate coach living in San Antonio, Texas. You can explore more of his interests in music, ministry, and how faith and culture meet at A Young Example.
Have a suggestion for a Tuesday evening melody? Submit your idea and tell us why you chose it. And, we always welcome your other reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication too.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Meeting Mirabelle” from Shopgirl
by Scott Inglett, guest contributor
Do you ever dream music? I do. It’s infrequent — with a recurrent form, a recurrent structure, and recurrent imagery accompanying it. The imagery always involves some form of flight, as if I am actually soaring on high.
A series of chord progressions begin with the tonal color or timbre of cellos, of violins, of bowed instruments of some sort. The ground quickly drops beneath me until I’ve risen to a height that’s perhaps a tree length above the tallest trees appearing below, with a forward motion, a forward acceleration, that rapidly picks up speed, until the green leaf rooftop of some forest speeds underneath or the ripples of water, perhaps the surface of some river or ocean, rapidly dart behind me.
From time to time I might cross a small town, never a large city of any sort, but with streets and buildings that quickly disappear from my peripheral vision as I shoot across them. The music that accompanies my flight pulses and weaves with no discernible melody, just a mass of flowing chords that seem to match my speed, that seem to be the force propelling me. And, accompanying it all, there’s a mixed sense of exhilaration, of joy, and a deep longing that, in turn, makes me long to keep dreaming soon after I wake.
One day I saw the movie Shopgirl and felt exactly the same longings I felt in my dream, the longings the composer obviously wanted to ascribe to Mirabelle, the heroine of the film.
The reason I bring this up is Daniel Levitin’s book, This Is Your Brain on Music. He’s a neuroscientist who currently runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, but was at one time “a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult.” Levitin mentions a few things in his book that have me wondering about just what might be possible:
"When I was in graduate school, my advisor, Mike Posner, told me about the work of a graduate student in biology, Peter Janata. … Peter placed electrodes in the inferior colliculus of the barn owl, part of its auditory system. Then, he played the owls a version of Stauss’s ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ made up of tones from which the fundamental frequency had been removed. Peter hypothesized that if the missing fundamental is restored at early levels of auditory processing, neurons in the owl’s inferior colliculus should fire at the rate of the missing fundamental. This was exactly what he found. And because the electrodes put out a small electrical signal with each firing - and because the firing rate is the same as a frequency of firing - Peter sent the output of the owl’s neurons to a small amplifier, and played back the sound of the owl’s neurons through a loudspeaker. What he heard was astonishing; the melody of ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ sang clearly from the loudspeakers.”
Might it be possible to record the music I dream? What would it sound like to my daylight mind? Would it affect me as profoundly while awake as when experienced while dreaming?
Scott Inglett works for a small, web-related software development company here in Rochester, Minnesota. I love the arts, am a bookish sort, and according to Myers-Brigg am also an INFP, which explains quite a bit.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute to the conversation.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Shaking the Tree” by Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The music near the end of our memorial tribute to Wangari Maathai ("Planting the Future") struck a chord with our listeners this week. We received a number of emails wanting to know the name of the track and the album played right before the credits (I had no idea people actually listened to them! *grin*). So here it is: Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour performing "Shaking the Tree."