A Musical Interlude

Each quarter I load up a Spotify playlist with music that channels the tradition I’m embracing. I enjoyed the rhythms and chants of Hindu inspired music. I listened to a lot of Bjork and Florence + the Machine during my Pagan quarter, two artists I adore. They may not be Pagan themselves, but their lyrics and sensibilities sure are. But this quarter? Contemporary Christian music is just so bad. Bland, cheesy, and trite.

As I was lying awake in the wee hours of the night, I had a realization.* The vast majority of Western music is based in Christianity. Gospel music, spirituals, a lot of folk and roots music too. And let’s not forget most choral music. I am embarrassed it took me so long to remember this: I have twenty years of classical singing under my belt. Sheesh.

So, below, I present to you some of my favorite ‘Christian’ pieces.

The first up is the Dies Irae movement from Verdi’s Requiem. I am a huge fan of requiems. This particular movement is a key piece of the form. It means ‘day of wrath’ and is all about God’s judgment. I have always thought Verdi’s the best example of the dies irae. The trumpets, the timpani, the singing… it really does sound like God and all his angels are coming down the heavens right now to kick some ass. I never fail to get goosebumps. This is usually sung by 200-400 voices. I would fast for a week to be able to sing this entire requiem with a quality chorus and orchestra.

I also adore Mozart. His requiem is a classic for good reason. Below is the Lacrimosa  movement, a movement about grief.

Next up is the second movement from Brahms’ German Requiem, All Flesh is as Grass. This was considered a more secular requiem, as it breaks from the standard form and lyrics.

Obviously, I have a thing for huge choral productions. I also love the various versions of Ave Maria and the Stabat Mater, both in honor of the Virgin Mary, but I think I’ll make those a post of their own when I eventually get to writing about My Lady.

Now for something simpler. Mahalia Jackson. She’s only simpler because she is a single voice – but what a voice! It’s hard to pick just one for her. Here she is singing Moses Hogan’s Elijah Rock. You’ll need to turn the volume up, because the recording is looks like it’s from tv in the 1960s. The following piece is a jazzier version of ‘Wade in the Water’ by a singer I quite like.

Speaking of gospel, has anyone seen the new Queen Latifah film ‘Joyful Noise’? It looks like a cheesy feel-good movie, but if it’s got good singing I just may take myself to the theatre for some Christian-ish distraction. Enjoy all this good music. I’ll be here on the couch, reading and sucking down tea.

*I had several. I was awake for two or three hours. I have a cold. Are we surprised? I am not. I’ve been trying to plow through Bonhoeffer’s book, but everything is moving a bit more slowly right now.

11 responses to “A Musical Interlude

  1. Geez, there is SO much amazing Americana gospel.

    One of my favorite cds I purchased in the last couple years was The Cooke Duet, a husband wife duet performing classic country/bluegrass gospel music. Their harmonies kill me every time.

    And The Staples Singers! Nothing gives me shivers like The Staples Singers, especially their really really early stuff when Mavis was 15 or so.

    Also, have you ever checked out the boxed collection Goodbye, Babylon? All really really old American gospel music that was salvaged from old records and recordings. It’s a gorgeous set and the music is amazing.

    • I love that you have a favorite hymnist! You might be in religious studies if…. 🙂 I am listening to it right now. I too am a fan of hymns that focus on the ‘generic’ qualities of divinity. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, but more that many people can relate to these attributes without specific titles or names. Thank you for posting this!

  2. it’s the old testament references that really do it for me, i think.

    this one’s pretty good, too:

    i know a ton of earth-centered and progressive christian hymns. i used to be a church secretary. ;>

  3. sorry, last one. my fiance and i listen to gospel at breakfast. this one (i believe) has appalachian origins. makes me think of cora.

  4. Niki, I have been keeping track of your posts – we didn’t get to talk that much about music, but so much of what you have posted mirrors my taste. I have sung Verdi Requiem with orchestras, world class ones, and it is magical. A sublime piece is Mahler 8th symphony, the last movement…. look it up, beg. steal or borrow a recording of it, it is utter divine beauty. missing you lots, choir is on Saturday! xxxxx

    • I used that phrase to quickly describe what I listened to. I found plenty of chants and several artists who obviously were not of Indian descent but who sang about Hindu themes. I listened to some bhangra, which is Indian but not necessarily Hindu. Indian culture is so very, very diverse, I know I only scratched the surface Hindu culture! Plus…. I used Spotify, so my results were limited to what they had to offer.

      • K, just asked coz didnt understand what you meant by word.:-)
        bhangra is punjabi, predominantly Sikh culture. The others must be Hindu bhajans in western style or natural bhajan.
        Each state has its own music.So i got confused.LOLZ.
        Classical itself has 2, Hindusthani for north And Karnatic for south.

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