The Crowder Requiem Review: Coda

Yesterday we heard someone walking up a path at the end of “Oh My God, I’m Coming Home”. At the beginning of the next track, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms/’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” they walk through the door; they have arrived home. This brings the album full circle from the footsteps of the very first track. As they open the door, a wash of sound envelops them. A band is singing a hymn in harmony to the accompaniment of banjo, fiddle, and some simple percussion. The two hymns David Crowder*Band has blended both express the joy and comfort of trusting in Jesus and relying on His guidance.

The sound of applause guides us to the next track, “Jesus, Lead Me to Your Healing Waters,” which has a similar texture and folky sound to “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” This original song sounds like a gospel-style hymn, with solo voice on the verses and a chorus of people singing the refrain. The theme is the healing and freedom of living in Jesus Christ.

More applause guides us to the final track of the album, “Because He Lives,” a setting of another hymn. David Crowder’s singing is soulful and expressive; rhythm guitar provides percussion and banjo brings color to the song. The other band members join in harmony on the refrain. In this hymn, we celebrate the wonder of salvation, Christ’s death on the cross, and most of all, His life, which brings us life. This Requiem is not for the dead; it is for the living, and we live now and after we die because He lives.

David Crowder*Band’s masterpiece is full of meaning, expressing Biblical truths using the framework of tradition, using a variety of well-crafted musical styles to bring fullness to that framework. To God be the glory. I hope this album gives you rest.

The Crowder Requiem Review: In Paradisum

The David Crowder*Band introduces a new twist to the Requiem Mass text about arriving in paradise. Christians think of heaven as home, our eternal home with God. Since the David Crowder*Band Requiem is meant for the living rather than the dead, the two songs coinciding with In Paradisum are about returning to God while we still live in our mortal bodies. Instead of entrance into heaven, these songs explore the emotions of our souls returning to God’s presence, even here on Earth.

“A Return” starts with simple finger-picked guitar, energized with the introduction of drums. The text is about our hearts wandering from God, as the prodigal son wandered from his father. The entrance of the electric guitar changes the attitude of the whole song, from a song of wandering to a song of return and rejoicing. When we return to God, nothing else matters; He welcomes us with open arms and everything becomes new.

“Oh My God, I’m Coming Home” is straightforward, voice and acoustic guitar, with very few lyrics:

Oh my God, I’m coming home.
Dance all day and sing along.
To the glory, hallelujah,
Oh my God, I’m coming home.

The song also takes us on a journey using sound effects. We hear someone get into a car and start driving, the white noise of the road beneath the wheels, and the song fades into the background as though it’s playing on the car stereo. The door opens, the keys jangle, and the driver walks up a path covered in dry leaves. He is going home.

There are still three songs left on the album, even though the Requiem mass is over. This coda is a sort of continuation of In Paradisum, the songs we sing in God’s presence for the sake of His glory. Come back tomorrow for some notes on these hymns.

The Crowder Requiem Review: Agnus Dei

“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Grant them rest.”–The Agnus Dei of the Requiem mass.

“There is a Sound” takes several ideas from the Requiem mass text: God’s holiness, God’s glory, and significantly, His name ‘Lamb of God.’ This song is in minor, and has a slower pace. There seems to be a banjo or another plucked instrument, playing a pattern over and over; electric guitar; synthesized sounds; a glockenspiel; and percussion. Right before the direct quote from the Agnus Dei (‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins’) the song builds, and then cuts out to practically nothing. It draws attention to the centrality of this text. The Lamb of God makes us whole again.

The theme of the Agnus Dei continues in “Oh Great Love of God.” The song opens like this:

“Victim of our sacrifice,
Gift of love, a perfect life,
all for a wayward bride.
See the lion and the lamb,
How He sits at your right hand
waiting to come again.

Oh Great love of God, who takes away the sin of all of us…”

He brings life to the dead and dying; He is the Servant King; He is worthy. We are the wayward bride, His people who had gone astray. Jesus came and lived a perfect life and became a sacrifice for us as a gift of His love. We are waiting for Him to come back. The lion will lie down with the lamb on the restored Earth; we will be His people, He will be our God, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Christians sometimes forget the hope of Christ’s return. We live day to day and suppose that it will be this way forever; but Christ is coming back and bringing the dead to life. We cannot forget about eternity. Indeed, we should be living for eternity, because eternity started when God gave you a new heart and made you His own. Is there any greater joy than God’s presence, any greater hope than the hope of living with Him forever? Absolutely nothing and no one is better than my God, and no one else will ever love me like He does. Praise the Lord.

The Crowder Requiem Review: Sanctus and Benediction

It started raining about ten seconds before I arrived at work today. Like a true Phoenician, I was surprised to see the small wet spots on the ground— water is falling from the sky??– and I shared my surprise with the girl whose desk shift I was taking over. Even though I’m supposed to be sitting at a desk, I stepped outside at the start of my shift to just watch the rain. Rain is one of the things I actually miss about Michigan, and it never lasts long here. We don’t get long, soaking days of steady rain in Phoenix.

As simple as rain is, it reminds me of God’s greatness, the way the ocean does. Standing in the rain is like soaking in God’s power and love.

Today is the Sanctus and Benediction of the David Crowder* Band’s Give Us Rest. “Sanctus” means “holy” in Latin. The original text is short, so I’ll post the translation here:

Holy, holy, holy
Lord God of hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

 

These words are adapted from Revelation 4:8 and Matthew 21:9. The text is encapsulated in the song “After All (Holy)”. Piano, guitar, synthesized and live percussion, and the simple, beautiful repetition of “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the chorus mark this song. It’s pure worship and adoration. The Band mixes words and larger phrases from the Sanctus and Benediction with their own text, reflecting God’s holiness and glory.

 

Holiness is an important attribute of God’s character. The English word has the same roots as the word “whole”– God is complete, undefiled, perfect. It also describes everything we cannot be without Him, and everything that He makes us when we turn to Him.

 

“After All (Holy)” is followed by “The Great Amen,” and the title does not disappoint. The song is one giant crescendo, a single, minor chord, sung by what sounds like a huge chorus. Their voices cover octaves of range to give a sense of magnitude, of height and depth. At first only the men sing, and two “amen”s later the women join in the upper registers. They sing “amen” eleven times, and each time is louder than the last, creating an increasing sense of awe.

 

The word “amen” is not Latin, nor is it Greek: it is Hebrew. It derives from the verb “aman,” meaning to strengthen or confirm. It confirms or strengthens the words which follow or precede it; we end prayers with it, or in liturgical churches confirm the words of the priest by saying “amen.” Its dramatic inclusion here is interesting, because to my knowledge “amen” is not generally included after the Benediction. “The Great Amen” instead confirms the holiness of God celebrated in “After All,” and reminds us of the liturgical origins of the album’s structure.

 

The brick sidewalk outside is almost dry by now. I may live in a desert, but God does not desert my heart. It’s raining in there.


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

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.

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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.

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