December 31, 2010

O Antiphon

Over the past month or so, a few of us at the Gathering have written our own versions of the seven medieval chants. Traditionally they were sung in order in the seven days that precede Christmas.

Recently at church we have taken the same scripture verses and put them to song with an emphasis on the "O's". We also gave a loose translation on the scripture in order to fit into song form. The verses are all from the book of Isaiah and prophetically portray Jesus. Thematically each verse makes for a good basis to create a song of worship. The word Oh has no meaning but is rather an emotional expression that at least for me assisted in the worship wholistically.

Check them out. Pastor Phil wrote #1-3, Jonathan #5, myself #4, 6 and Jodi wrote #7 which unfortunately is not available just yet. The lyrics are as follows:

O SAPIENTIA (Is. 11:2-3; 28:29)
O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High.
You fill the universe and hold all things together
in a strong yet gentle way.
O Wisdom, now come to teach us the way of truth.

O ADONAI (Is. 11:4-5; 33:22)
O Adonai and leader of Israel,
you appeared to Moses in a burning bush
and you gave him the Law on the Holy Mount.
O come and save us with your mighty power.

O RADIX JESSE (Is. 11:1, 10)
O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations;
kings fall silent before you whom the people acclaim.
O come to deliver us, and do not delay.

O CLAVIS DAVID (Is. 9:6; 22:22)
O key of David and scepter of Israel,
what you close or open no one can undo.
O come and lead us from shackles to freedom.
For too long we’ve dwelt in the dark shadow of death.

O ORIENS (Is. 9:1)
O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light
and the sun of justice.
O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

O REX GENTIUM (Is. 2:4; 9:5)
O King whom all the people desire,
you are the cornerstone that makes us one.
O come and save man whom you made from clay.

O EMMANUEL (Is. 7:14)
O Emmanuel, you’re our king and judge,
the One whom the peoples await and their Savior.
O come and save us, Lord, our God.

December 18, 2010

A Top 10 List of Christmas Albums

Here is my list of albums. Not songs. There are countless wonderful songs out there but here I'm concerned solely with craftwork of an album. A song has parts which makes a whole, so does an album. I like to think of an album as having just as much attention, or close to, given to it's completion as a song gets to have. In a world of random playlists and eternally streaming internet radio stations like pandora I want to give special tribute to the artistry of album compilations, Christmas style. So in partially particular order I give you these.

YoYo MaSongs of Joy & Peace
In this collaboration of artists brought together by YoYo Ma you will find an eclectic collage of classical, jazz, easy listening, folk, traditional and other musical traditions that span the globe. I had high expectations when I purchased the CD and was a little disappointed in my first couple of listens but sure enough it grew on me. Among my favorites are ‘My favorite things’ which features Chris Botti, ‘The Wassail Song’ performed by Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer and ‘The Wexford Carol’ sung by Alison Krauss.

JewelJoy: A Holiday Collection
Take caution, there is cheese located in certain parts of this album. Fortunately for her, she has a voice and style of playing that has a wide range and matches Christmas very well. The songs quickly become likable. Tracks to give special attention to are Winter Wonderland, Ave Maria and oh Holy Night.

Bela Fleck & the FlecktonesJingle all the way
Think of your genius musician friend. Now think of your genius musician friend who just had three cups of spiked egg nog at a yuletide party. This is what Jingle all the way sounds like. There is my all time favorite version of Sleigh Bells and on the 12 days of Christmas which is the easiest song to play they make it the most confusing by assigning each day with it’s own style of music, time signature and key. And on songs like Danse of the Sugar Plum Fairy (which sounds like the name of a Bela Fleck tune anyways) they give a solid performance. Perhaps the strangest part is in the beginning of the album where a tuvan throat singer leads Jingle Bells. Listen to this when you’re in a wacky mood only.

Third DayChristmas Offerings
This is one of my favorite holiday albums from the christian contemporary music scene. Third Day has always been one of my favorites and this is one of their best albums. It’s energetic without having that plastic pop component. Just like their other “Offering Albums”, there is an element of live worship mixed with studio tracks.

Steven PaseroChristmas Classics for Guitar
Obviously the most traditional of my top ten. Nothing can really replace the beauty of classical guitar playing christmas sounds.

SojournAdvent Songs
I recently came across this album. They’re a church band from Kentucky with excellent taste and superb artistry. Even though only eight songs, this shorter album is worth it. Advent Songs is split between originals and traditionals. My favorites include their arrangement of Joy to the World, and the originals, God is with us and Amen, Amen.

Johnny CashThe Christmas Spirit
You know the feeling when it’s late at night and all the lights in the house are off except the Christmas lights. You peak outside and hear nothing but a quiet stillness to suddenly notice the snow begin to fall. That’s what I feel when I listen to this album. There’s a calm and warm vintage vibe here. With baritone lullabies and storytelling, Johnny Cash is backed up by the sounds of a small reverberated choir ooing and aaing, an old electric organ with vibrato and of course his usual back-up band sound. If you never liked Johnny Cash, this piece might convert you.

Jars of ClayChristmas Songs
This is not for the hard core Christmas Carol traditionalist nor those of you who only enjoy the first album or two that Jars of Clay put out. They certainly mess around with beloved songs like O, little town of Bethlehem and make something that sounds completely different yet (and this is what I find fascinating) keep the song’s original vibe. There are also unexpected covers such as Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and Charlie Brown’s ‘Christmastime is here’. There is a flow throughout all fifteen songs which is something I highly value. The pervading feeling is one that exudes a transcendent frostiness all the while hanging on to cheer.

Vince GuaraldiA Charlie Brown Christmas
Who doesn’t like this album? It’s timeless.

Over the RhineSnow Angels
Cram together a Christmas Gilmore Girls episode with Ray Lamontagne as a woman and you’ve got Snow Angels. Well kind of. Melissa and I saw these guys live last December so they played most of this album in their set list. They were phenomenal. In twelve songs, almost every emotion is touched upon and a wide range of music style is heard without losing a cohesive feel throughout. Also, even though this is fully Christmas in spirit I can get away with playing it all throughout the year.


Sufjan Stevens
Songs for Christmas
42 songs of confusingly awesome uniqueness.. or was it 52 songs?

Loreena McKennit
A midwinter’s night dream
it sounds like it what it says.

Over the Rhine
The darkest night of the year
If they made two Christmas albums (this one is the first) you know they’re serious about Christmas. And seriously good at it too.

December 13, 2010

Thoughts for this Advent

This Christmas season I am a little more sane than usual. Despite being one of my favorite holidays, Christmas has been a time in which I was inevitably spread so thin and emotionally spent. It was always hard for me to complain about this out loud for fear of being seen as ungrateful for the blessing of having such a large and loving family between Melissa and myself.

Could I be closer to Christ while observing Advent? I suppose so. But that hurried, anxious spirit that makes God feel distant (even though he wasn't for the most part)is no longer around and I can see and sense the presence of Christ this Advent with a greater level of clarity than perhaps ever. If this is true then this I know will be my favorite present that I receive. On a side note I am also uber Christmasy this year.

My family loves me and I receive a ton of gifts both for my birthday and Christmas.
Every year it seems that by Thanksgiving I'm probably finishing opening the last of my Birthday gifts and I do so bloated with food because I have stuffed my face all day long only to find myself being asked by loved ones at the end of the day what stuff I want for Christmas. At moments like those I wish I could be like my Grandparents who in the twilight years of their lives tell everyone to not give them anything for Christmas but rather give to a charity of their choosing. Of course for them there is logic in not acquiring any more stuff and it's always sad to think about that fully. Me, I have no excuse. So for now I must indulge and this is the first year I don't feel so bad doing so.

I believe My challenge for this Advent and the coming new year is to creatively and exponentially multiply my blessings with cheerfulness and open hands. How that is supposed to look like I couldn't say right now. Lord help me.