The Crowder Requiem Review: Offertory

After the emotional turbulence of the Sequence, the David Crowder* Band includes a second reprise to transition into the Offertory. “Reprise #2” opens with a crackle of static, like an old recording. An acoustic guitar plays the melody of “Oh Great God, Give Us Rest,” doubled by a piano at the top of its register, creating a music-box effect. After the upheaval of the Dies Irae Sequence, this short reprise re-centers the listener and recalls rest and peace.

“Oh My God”  starts with a lively rhythm guitar foundation, and adds layers: voice, tambourine, lighter percussion, and a heavier drum rhythm when we hear the words “I can feel this heart beating inside.” The lyrics are a paraphrase of the Offertory text, focusing on the joy of passing “from death to life.” It is a song of praise, filled with expectant hope: “death will lose and we will win.” The refrain is simple and powerful, the ascending “Oh My God” rising into a cry of praise for what He’s done for us. A fiddle also lends festivity to this joyful song in the interludes; this song is for dancing.

“I Am A Seed” is surprising, lighthearted, and rather folky.The texture of this song is very similar to “Oh My God,” including much more fiddle as well as banjo. Towards the end of the song, they sing the main vocal theme from “Oh My God” without words. This musical recycling ties the two songs firmly together.  The lyrics of “I Am A Seed” are a kind of pun, leading you to believe that the speaker is a person beat down by the world, when in fact the speaker is a seed being planted.

I’ve been pushed down into the ground
How I have been trampled down
So many feet on top of me
I can’t help but sink, sink, sink…
Oh, I am a seed.
I’ve been pushed down into the ground,
But I will rise up a tree.

This playful song is based on the last lines of the offertory:

Lord, make them pass
from death to life,
as once you promised to Abraham
and to his seed.

“Seed” in the Requiem text refers to Abraham’s descendants, and the Band has taken the imagery of Abraham’s seed to a metaphorical level, as if God’s people are seeds that He waters with his love. Seeds are a great metaphor for regeneration and life; although we are pushed down by this world, God uses our trials to bring us into newness of life. We will rise up as trees.



The Crowder Requiem Review: Sequence, Part II

We’re still in the Sequence of the Requiem mass, as set by the David Crowder* Band. “Sequence 4” is a paraphrase of the next few stanzas of the Sequence:

Remember, gentle Jesus
that I am the reason for your time on earth,
do not cast me out on that day.

Seeking me, you sank down wearily,
you saved me by enduring the cross,
such travail must not be in vain.

The song begins with the more visual description of red blood hitting the dirt as Jesus died on the cross. It reflects on Christ’s coming to earth for wretched sinners, which fits with the wider theme of the Sequence text. The Band uses finger-picked guitar, strings, some banjo, and light percussion to evoke tenderness and gratitude.

“Sequence 5” has a radically different tone. Much heavier percussion, electric guitar, synthesizer, and growling vocals set a tone of distress and agony. The lyrics (“Have you left me in the cold?”) express the fear that God has left the speaker because of his sins, reflecting the agony of the speaker in the next stanzas of the Sequence text:

I groan as one guilty,
my face blushes with guilt;
spare the suppliant, O God.

An abrupt change of texture matches a change in tone from despair to hope. The distorted electric guitar, the percussion, everything ceases except for some synthesized sounds, stretching out beneath the new melody. The speaker now asks God to reserve a place for him at His right hand, as in this stanza of the Sequence:

Give me a place among the sheep…
placing me on Thy right hand.

“Sequence 6” continues in the sublime humility of the Sequence. We have returned to the simplicity of a single guitar and a single voice, singing only the words “I bow low with all my heart.” This is a paraphrase of the Sequence text “I pray, suppliant and kneeling, a heart as contrite as ashes…”

“Sequence 7” is the “Lacrimosa” of the David Crowder* Band Requiem. Other composers, who generally set the Dies Irae Sequence as a single movement, have sometimes set these final two stanzas as a separate movement. (Mozart is one such composer.) The string riff is beautifully appropriate for “Lacrimosa,” which means “weeping.”  The Latin text tells us that the final judgement day is a day of weeping, and begs God to spare the speaker. Although the Band has retained the first-person speaker for Sequences 1-6, they return to the collective in this song, singing “spare us, O God.” The texture includes piano, percussion including lots of cymbal use, distorted electric guitar, and the string riff.

As a whole, the generally minor tone of the Sequences set them apart from the majority of the album. The Latin text corresponding to the Sequences is, after all, pleading, humble, and fearful of God’s wrath.

When Brahms wrote his Requiem (which you simply must hear, it is glorious), he did not include the Dies Irae Sequence; he included scripture mentioning the final judgement day, but left out any mention of God’s wrath. The David Crowder* Band includes the fear and humility suggested by the original Latin Requiem text, as well as image of God’s terrible wrath. Remembering God’s wrath gives us more reason to be grateful for our salvation from it, and remembering our humility and unworthiness before God gives us more reason to be grateful for His love. We ought never to forget what God has given us and how undeserving we are of His gift.

The Crowder Requiem Review: Sequence

The next set of tracks on the David Crowder* Band’s Give Us Rest are entitled “Sequences” one through seven, named after the Sequentia of the Reqiuem mass. The Sequence of the Requiem mass is Dies Irae, Day of Wrath. It’s a long text, and the Band uses several musical styles to express it all.

“Sequence 1” begins with a sharp pound on a piano, followed by a roaring, cracking sound, like the earth splitting in an earthquake. This driven rock song, full of distorted guitar solos and heavy percussion, expresses the first stanza of the Sequentia, translated here:

This day, this day of wrath
shall consume the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sibyl.

The lyrics of “Sequence 1” include references to the day of wrath, the ashes of cities burning, and the warning of the prophet (a Sibyl is a prophet). The heavy percussion and intricate piano and guitar melismas sound turbulent and violent. The song ends with a chorus singing “ah” on a minor chord, closing with an intensity that leads to the next Sequence.

“Sequence 2” is a choir, singing five stanzas of Sequence text in Latin. It’s a powerful genre they’ve chosen for this section; the power of many voices, crying out on behalf of humanity. It lends a sense of scale to the text. The first stanza they sing begins with the call of the trumpet, waking all of history’s dead and raising them from their graves for the final judgement. We can hear the trumpet’s call playing against the disjunct, percussive chords in the piano. The choir rises in pitch again and again, increasing the intensity until reaching the stanza beginning “Liber scriptus…:”

The written book shall be brought
In which all is contained
Whereby the world shall be judged.

The word for judgement in Latin is judecitur. When the choir reaches that word, we have our first instance of drums, which smack at the word violently as the choir repeats it. The drum set (and some bells) fill out the texture and the choir continues at a slower, more grandiose pace. The piano begins to run up and down the scale as it did in the “Interlude.” The Latin text expresses the totality of God’s judgement and the hopelessness of the human condition.

“Sequence 3” is instrumental. A circular sort of electronic noise is overlaid with a triadic theme that also keeps revolving while drums and bells slowly enter the texture. A guitar picks up a variation of the theme, and piano and what sounds like synthesized strings also come onto stage. The whole thing continues to crescendo in a meditative way, the electric guitar coming into the texture in a dramatic way, and the riff repeating again and again until suddenly it’s over.

Like this post.

We’re not even halfway through the Sequence, but it’s a very long text, and we’ll look at the rest tomorrow. See you then!

The Crowder Requiem Review: Tract

The song expressing the text of the Tract is preceded by the instrumental interlude, “Reprise #1.” Several seconds of very quiet, hollow ringing separate this track from the previous “Let Me Feel You Shine,” grouping it with the Tract. “Reprise” means that it must be recycling earlier musical material: in this case, it’s a minor, string quartet reworking of the piano accompaniment for “Oh Great God, Give Us Rest.” Listen to the piano in the first minute or so of this song. You should hear the same contour in the violins of the first reprise. The reprisal refocuses the album on the theme of rest, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

“Reprise #1” shifts straight into “Blessedness of Everlasting Light,” whose title is a direct quote from the translated Tract. The text of the song is a perfect echo of the Tract, with pleas for God to forgive sins and spare us, and hope for the blessedness of eternal light. The song is a waltz, which is unusual for a rock song. The interludes between chorus and verses include a paraphrase of the Gregorian chant “Dies Irae,” which means “Day of Wrath.” The violin and chimes in the interludes echo the opening phrase of the Dies Irae. We have not reached the Dies Irae of the Crowder Band album; this is a foreshadowing, and a clever use of one of the most recognizable chant melodies.

We’ll also touch on the two musical interludes preceding the Sequence. “The Sound of Light” features an acoustic guitar solo over a synth pad, simple, pure, but with other sounds rising out of the texture: a sound like carriage wheels on cobblestones; whispery, howling sounds like wind; and changes in the texture of the synth. It transitions smoothly into the “Interlude,” which sounds Romantic-era. Lisztian piano cascades couple with a violin or viola playing the same melody the guitar played in “The Sound of Light.”  The “Sound of Light” violin theme gives way to piano alone, in a minor key. It’s the peace before the storm of the Day of Wrath.

(c) 2010-- click to see the source of this beautiful photograph.

A Lickety-Split Performance

We interrupt this program for a brief digression into the actual life of the Blogger.

Laura and I sang this song at the Musical Instrument Museum on Saturday. The sound quality isn’t tip-top, but hopefully you get the idea.

That’s a lot of words, ladies and gentlemen.

This is called mouth music, sung in Gaelic, and the sound of the words and the rhythm are more important than the meaning of the words. Makes you want to do a jig, doesn’t it? (That’s because it’s dancing music.)

As long as we’ve digressed into my life, I should tell you that I got the job teaching at Archway Classical Academy, North Phoenix. I am officially an elementary music teacher! I’m absolutely thrilled.

End of update. See you tomorrow for the Tract of Give Us Rest!

The Crowder Requiem Review: Gradual

After the Kyrie section of the David Crowder* Band’s Give Us Rest album, we find ourselves at a burial in the rain. We hear the priest reciting the text of the Gradual: “…In memoria aeterna erit iustus…” –he shall be justified in everlasting memory.

The Gradual is the third main section of the mass, after the Introit and the Kyrie. The name “Gradual” probably comes from the tradition of singing this part of the mass from the steps of the altar. “A Burial” reconnects the Requiem text to its origins as a mass for the dead. It reminds us that this music is connected with death, but reaches into eternity. As the priest says, “You can pray for rest; you can pray for light,” even when you are grieving.

“Let Me Feel You Shine,” the musical expression of the Gradual, brings us back to the world of the living and the struggles of Earth-bound mortals. It expresses our need to be redeemed, to be justified, and to feel the presence of God. This song is traditional in instrumentation: drums, rhythm guitar, electric guitar, bass, and some synthesized sounds filling out the texture. The Band transports the Gradual text (translated here) “Let perpetual light shine upon them” to an Earthly level, singing “If I could feel you shine your perpetual light, then maybe I could crawl out of this tonight.” They describe the light of God- beautiful, warm, bright, like the sun coming out of the rain (the rain we heard in the previous track). This is a song of longing, of desire for the light of God.

The Tract is next. Tune in tomorrow to hear the gorgeous music the Tract text inspired.

Forgive, O Lord,
the souls of all the faithful departed
from all the chains of their sins
and by the aid to them of your grace
may they deserve to avoid the judgment of revenge,
and enjoy the blessedness of everlasting light.

The Crowder Requiem Review: Kyrie Eleison

We’ve come to the “Kyrie Eleison” of Give Us Rest. Kyrie Eleison means “Lord have mercy” in Greek, and it’s part of the ordinary Catholic mass, meaning that it’s recited every single day in addition to its inclusion in special masses like the Requiem mass. You will find that the mass text is very humble, aware of God’s holiness our own inadeqacy, and consequently takes on a pleading tone at times. The David Crowder* Band explores the theme of God’s mercy in three songs: one asking for mercy, one humbled by His offer of mercy, and one exuberant to receive His mercy.

In the album, the actual Kyrie Eleison text is set (in English translation and in the Greek) to a percussive, synthesized, minor-ish backdrop. You’ll find the recording here. It’s a full five minutes and seventeen seconds with only one departure from the traditional text, which makes it sort of meditative. The chimes included in the beginning and during the interlude are reminiscent of the chimes Catholic and Anglican churches use during communion, or of church bells.

But the David Crowder* Band does not stop there. Track six is entitled “Why Me?” and expands on the idea of needing God’s mercy, and receiving God’s mercy. The tone of humility is consistent with the mass text. The question “why me?” refers to the undeserved gift of God’s love. The simple, wailing vocals and acoustic guitar emphasize the need of the speaker and his undeserving nature. The song is full of awe and gratitude that God would bestow love and kindness on someone so unworthy. It’s necessary to remember our wretched state and the sins that would mark our souls to truly appreciate God’s unfailing love and saving grace.

The theme of Kyrie Eleison culminates in the seventh track, “Fall on Your Knees.” While “Why Me?” emphasized the humility of our hearts, “Fall on Your Knees” emphasizes the majesty of God. The theme of receiving God’s mercy continues in this grateful and awestruck song. The texture is a big contrast from “Why Me?,” full of percussive energy and backed by a full rock band: drums, tambourine, electric guitar, synthesizer, bass. It is the joyful praise we respond with in light of God’s mercy.

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