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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Tuesday Evening Melody: “This Is Not the End” by Gungor

by Caleb Saenz, guest contributor

Gungor PerformingGungor 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 Earthis 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 SaenzCaleb 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."


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Going to a Town” by Rufus Wainwright

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Rufus Wainwright. Photo by Laura MusselmanRufus Wainwright performs in KEXP’s studios in 2007. (photo: Laura Musselman)

What do you do on a 16-hour family road trip to Montana with two sons under five and a wife riding shotgun? Play a lot of music — and sing badly. But, there are certain songs, certain performers that bring on the quiet. And this live performance from Rufus Wainwright is one of them.

Fumbling around my pickup’s floorboard pickup while cruising down I-94, my fingers serendipitously happened upon an unlabeled compilation CD I had burned in 2007. Etched with grit and gravel, it actually started playing. The opening track: Rufus Wainwright’s live version of “Going to a Town” that he performed at KEXP’s studios in Seattle while promoting Release the Stars.

Trying to conjure up meanings of the song’s lyrics would require too much exegesis, if you will, for this humble post, but Wainwright’s melodic challenging of America and its brokenness is valid four years later. Through this song, he forces us to remember what we once were as a nation — even if it’s a dream — who we’ve become, and what kind of people we might aspire to be again.

When I hear a ”Daddy, daddy. Play it again!,” I know he’s the right notes.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Vökuró” by Björk

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

A song I used to play and (try to) sing to my boys when they were tiny babes — and find myself repeatedly coming back to during the day and night. And, this Icelandic lullaby rounds out our show "Pagans Ancient and Modern."


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Hallo” by DRC Music

by Chris Heagle, technical director

Cool new music and a good cause. Hard to argue with that.

This weeks’ track comes from a new project put together by Damon Albarn of Gorillaz fame. In July, he traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a group of 11 producers to record an album in 5 days… and film the whole process. The result is a remarkable collaboration across cultures called Kinshasa One Two. This song “Hallo” appears to be the early hit from the album. All proceeds from the record will go to Oxfam, which is providing aid to those affected by the deepening humanitarian crisis in the DRC.


Bach at One in St. Paul’s Chapel

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Trinity Baroque Choir practices Bach at St. Paul's ChapelThe Trinity Choir and Baroque Orchestra rehearse in St. Paul’s chapel.

We’re in New York tonight preparing for tonight’s live event with Hendrik Hertzberg, Serene Jones, and Pankaj Mishra. The subject? Reflecting on 9/11 and who we want to become as a people and a society as we think forward about the next decade. The location?

St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero, a centering place of refuge and aid for rescue workers and volunteers.

Performing a sound check, we got a great surprise: the Trinity Choir and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra rehearsing for their daily Bach at One concert. So, this week’s Tuesday evening melody is a bit rawer, an on-the-ground capture of one of the many other events taking place to commemorate the attacks of 9/11. Bach never sounded so right.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Wasted Years” by Ryan Adams

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Back from vacation, I just realized I left you all hanging on this week’s Tuesday evening melody. Better a couple days late rather nothing at all, right?

And what better to send you off into the Labor Day weekend than with Ryan Adams’ acoustic cover of an Iron Maiden classic he performed for BBC Radio 2 on, yes, this past Tuesday.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Trinity Requiem”

by Chris Heagle, technical director

As the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th approaches, we’re continuing to plan for our event at St. Paul’s Chapel on September 6th. Co-produced with Trinity Wall Street, the public dialogue is called “Who Do We Want to Become? Remembering Forward a Decade After 9/11.” Three public intellectuals, Hendrik Hertzberg of The New YorkerSerene Jones of Union Theological Seminary, and the author Pankaj Mishra, will speak with Krista for an hour and then answer questions from our in-house and online audiences.

And, so it was a pleasant coincidence that just after returning from a scouting trip to the chapel, a colleague handed me a CD of Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem. Trinity commissioned the Denver-born composer to write a piece for their youth chorus commemorating 9/11. The result, which will be released September 6th, is a lush work for voice, organ, harp, and cello. The track above is actually two — the “Offertory” followed by “In Paradisum.”

The former is a variation on Pachelbel’s famous "Canon in D." During the recording sessions in Trinity’s downtown sanctuary, as if on cue, a series of sirens can be heard passing by the church. The liner notes of the CD suggest this occurred during the best take and couldn’t be edited out. I would argue that they were meant to be there all along. Thanks to SoundCloud, you can preview the whole CD.

We’re looking for your reflections on 9/11 and specifically on how we pass on the narrative of those events to future generations. Share your thoughts with us and we’ll incorporate them into our discussion.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Throw it Away” by Abbey Lincoln

by Michelle Slater, guest contributor

Written and performed by Abbey Lincoln, “Throw It Away” soothes my spirit, shivers my timber, and tempers my mood. The message is potent, and that voice so deeply at the center of itself that it cannot lie. The lilting version on her 2007 CD Abbey Sings Abbey is the one where I feel closest to the message — where I feel her feeling. The orchestration speaks strongly for sympathetic collaboration.

One year ago on August 14th, 2010, the great jazz vocalist and songwriter passed away at the age of 80.

Michelle SlaterMichelle Slater is a retired elder who gardens, paints, and performs in New York City. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Ms. Uncertainty Principles.

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 Being Blog.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Jailer” by Asa

by Chelsea Roff, guest contributor

The story of how I discovered this song really isn’t all that interesting. I was just riding in a car with a friend listening to his iPod on shuffle when the lyrics caught my attention. I remember asking him to play it several times, and each time I heard it I gathered a different meaning from Asa’s words.

For me, the song speaks to being liberated from both personal and collective oppression. Some days when I close my eyes and listen to it, I see the images of Egyptian men and women standing together in the streets in peaceful protest; other days I think of a little girl shedding off her insecurities and telling the voice in her head that says, “You can’t. Yes I can!

When I hear this song, I hear the words of Mother Teresa and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Jesus and the Buddha all rolled into one.

"I’m in chains, you’re in chains too. … Let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone."

The message is a call for compassion. It’s a call for the oppressor and the oppressed to join one another on level ground, to stand together rather than exist in a power-over, power-under dynamic. At least that’s how I hear it. Whether you’re a greedy dictator, a violent abuser, or the bully at the playground, you are no different than me. Get off your pedestal; I won’t be slave to you anymore.

I hope you decide to share the song with listeners. Definitely one of my favorites. :)

Chelsea RoffChelsea Roff is managing editor at YogaModern.com, where she is active community-builder and a contributing writer. She recently helped found a yoga service organization called Studio to Streets that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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 Being Blog.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Storm-Broken Tree” by The White Birch

by Chris Heagle, producer

I rely on happy accidents. This track by the Norwegian band The White Birch is something that has been languishing in one of my iTunes playlists for a couple years. There’s a wistfulness and a kind of yearning in the muffled guitar and piano that start the piece. About 30 seconds in, a soft and clear vocal line appears and becomes the focus of the rest of the song.

Weaving music with lyrics into our show can be tricky. The words have to be just right to support the ideas or the emotional energy present, which is why “Storm-Broken Tree” has been dormant in that playlist for so long.

The end of last week’s show "The Far Shore of Aging" had the potential to be a powerful radio moment. Jane Gross spoke so engagingly about her experience caring for her elderly mother that it was impossible for me (and I’m sure most listeners) not to imagine my own parents and what role I might take on as they age. It “changed the architecture” of her family as she puts it, as well as the nature of her memories of her mother. She ends that thought, and the show, ambiguously saying that “on the one hand it makes me more scared and on the other hand it makes me less scared.” How to support that without being melodramatic or sounding cliche?

Refining the edit while bouncing around my music playlists, this song started playing in my headphones. It immediately felt like the end of this show. Then the vocals started, and I remembered why I hadn’t used this song before. Still, the sound was so perfect that I did a search for the lyrics and found my happy accident.

No need to fall
Though battles are won
The morning dew will sprawl
To taste us all
In the morning sun

And we will breathe
The smell of those last leaves
Weatherworn beauties
Claimed by the sea
Back from the days you were blown
Into me

No need for gall
The battle is drawn
The morning dew will fall
To wake us all
What is done is done

And we’ll leave be
The smile on the last seed
Of the storm-broken tree
Like I swore the beauty
From that night we were sworn
Would go free


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Aria da Capo” from Glenn Gould 1981 Goldberg Variations

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Glenn GouldThis week’s Tuesday evening melody is inspired by a listener question’s about last week’s show. On the heels of hearing "Autism and Humanity," Chase Fairfax posted this comment on our blog:

"I wonder what the orchestra music was that punctuated this story from time to time."

We think Chase is referring to Glenn Gould’s 1981 version of the “Aria da Capo” of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Some of Gould’s biographers have speculated that he may have had Asperger’s syndrome. Gould was sensitive to noise and temperature; he hated the sound of clapping and wore a hat, coat, and gloves, even in warm weather. He was also known for rocking and humming when he played. He stopped giving public concerts at the age of 32.

Gould preferred his 1981 rendition rather than his earlier recording from 1955. According to music critic Tim Page who interviewed Gould about the two versions, the 1981 recording “has a certain sadness and sense of reflectiveness… an autumnal quality.” As it turns out, Gould was in the autumn of his own life as these later recordings were being produced; he died of a stroke at the age of 50, just before the 1981 recording was released.

If you want to compare the two versions, check out the show’s playlist for the 1955 version. Which one do you prefer?

Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.