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Entries in kevin twit (7)

Wednesday
Dec122012

Hail to a Great New Album: Indelible Grace VI

"My heart is stirred by a noble theme" is my best one-shot phrase to describe the experience of hearing (and hearing again) Indelible Grace's latest offering to the Church, Joy Beyond the Sorrow: Indelible Grace VI.  The impressive production choices and continued growth of the artists in the IG coalition alongside unapologetically gospel-drenched hymn lyrics make this album a feast for the ears, mind, heart, and soul.  As a worship leader in a local context, I can say that, per capita, I imagine more songs on this album being sung by my congregation than any of the previous albums.  In other words, I find more songs on this record transferrable to my local context, and I can't wait for us to sing these new, old songs.

Summary

Musically, the album is filled with singable melodies, enclosed in an artistic, elegant, country-folk-tinged rock sound.  The production is top notch--it's a beautiful album to hear with a nice set of headphones.  It shimmers with professionalism but doesn't sound plastic.  In other words, it is a human album, and the molecular base of its polish is an organic, not synthetic, compound.  

Theologically, it hits the nail on the head.  It emphasizes what the Bible does--salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone--and it beats that drum continually, fourteen songs strong.

The songs I would most likely employ in my context are: 

Musicality

This album is not over-arranged.  It is not dense and multi-layered.  You won't find a forty-track "wall of sound" anywhere.  The album breathes with a lot of restful "white space," exemplified in songs like "Thy Will Be Done" and "For the Bread Which You Have Broken."  It feels more mainstream, straight-up rock than their previous, more overtly folk-Americana records--straight beats, acoustic downstrums, epic, bluesy electric solos, plenty of B3 and other tasteful keyboards.  Here and there are touches of strings and country styles and instrumentation (e.g. pedal steel, banjo).

There are no real driving, up-tempo numbers, but there are a few mid-tempo anthems, like "Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart," with its paced bluegrass backbeat, "Until the Daybreak," with its hammered Celtic-style turnarounds, and "Hail to the Lord's Anointed," with its four-on-the-floor feel.  There are some very exciting, soulful, bluesy electric guitar solos with great tone and musical fingering.  I'm thinking, in particular, about the epic moment a little over two minutes into "Did Christ Over Sinners Weep"  and the tucked wah-solo about four minutes into "Until the Daybreak."  The album's goal was obviously not to break new ground, musically, but the styles they worked in provide some very fresh, creative touches, like the left-and-right-panned, nearly contrapuntal banjo lines that bookend "From the Depths of Woe."

One note about "From the Depths of Woe."  This song has been around a long time in producer Kevin Twit's Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) circles, and it has made its rounds in many (mainly Presbyterian) churches.  I've always struggled with the song musically, because its syncopation and chord choices made Psalm 130's confessional lamentation feel too unfittingly happy for me.  This album goes to show that tasteful re-arranging and gentle massaging of tempo, singing style, and chord structure can make all the difference.  The slower tempo softens its melody's syncopated punchiness, and the opening two verses which ride around the relative minor of the key (as opposed to the tonic chord) "fix" the song for me.  And then, when in the third verse, the beat comes up and major chord hits, it explodes in glory, perfectly complementing the text for me.  Bravo, Kevin and the gang, for reminding me what good arranging does to tastefully frame a given text.  This is my favorite song on the album.

Theological Content

Seriously, how can you go wrong when your song-texts draw from the wells of Psalm-versification and dead English Calvinist pastors?  :)  As with every other Indelible Grace record, there is a fidelity to the Gospel here, in every second of every track.  Many moments draw me to tears, such as "Upon a Life I Did Not Live":

Upon a life I have not lived
Upon a death I did not die
Another's life, another's death
I stake my whole eternity

Not on the tears which I have shed
Not on the sorrows I have known
Another's tears, another's griefs
On these I rest, on these alone

How can one improve on the direct, simple truth here?  If the Holy Spirit resides within you, how can you not be moved by the "same old story" of Jesus Christ, for us?  Thank you, Horatius Bonar.  One of my favorite texts on the album is "Did Christ Over Sinners Weep," which functions as a "preach the gospel to yourself" kind of song: 

Did Christ over sinners weep, and shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief burst forth from every eye.

Behold the Son of God in tears the angels wondering see!
Hast thou no wonder, O my soul? He shed those tears for thee! 

He wept that we might weep, might weep for sin and shame;
He wept to show His love for us and bid us love the same. 

Then tender be our hearts, our eyes in sorrow dim;
Till every tear from every eye be wiped away by Him.

People who accuse traditional hymnody of being cold, stoic, and emotionless haven't really experienced the best of the hymn tradition.  This song is doused in the fullness of human emotion.  It exposes that the best meeting place of head and heart is where the Gospel's "high theology" strangles your heart in a death-grip (well, actually, a "life-grip.").  

I could go on and on, but the reality is that if you get this album, you're in for more than a treat.  You're bound to be encouraged for a long time with its life-giving texts, artfully framed by fitting, beautiful music.  Go get it

Thursday
Feb232012

An Important Dialogue About Worship Music

This has been floating around in many of the online circles I run in.  It's a very, very good dialogue between three guys who I admire for thinking theologically and pastorally about worship--Kevin Twit, Mike Cosper, and Isaac Wardell.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • On the topic of songs and "singability" of modern musical idioms:
    • It is often said that a lot of "contemporary" music is unsingable...too many flourishes, too many pop-vocal-isms.  People say that about U2's music--too high, too irregular.  And yet, for many reasons, you attend a U2 concert and you find thousands of people joining in songs, where many people who would normally say "I'm not a singer" or "I can't sing" find themselves singing away. There is something profound about this observation.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jul242011

Review of 10,000 Reasons, by Matt Redman

It's not an exaggeration to say that 10,000 Reasons is Matt Redman’s best album to date.  Despite how popularity polls would re-arrange the pecking order, Redman stands at the top of the heap among the well-known modern worship songwriters (Tomlin, Hughes, Fee, Hall, Maher, etc.). 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr132011

The Latest Developments in Thoughtful Worship

This blog is dedicated to discussions surrounding worship, church, theology, and culture.  A subtext of that agenda is to encourage Christian (and particularly evangelical) worship along its trajectory toward more thoughtfulness, biblical reflection, theological awareness, and historicity.  A sub-subtext of that subtext is to encourage this growing movement of folks dedicated to the setting of old hymns to new music.  I do this not because hymns are the be-all and end-all of the deficiencies of modern worship, but because this one practice embodies so many of the subtext's aforementioned values.  Many hymns are thoughtful.  Many hymns are soaked in scripture.  Many hymns are written from a fiery theological heart.  And all hymns except current-day ones force the Church to reckon with the fact that she is a body rooted in history--a history of God's past worth celebrating. 

So, people might get tired of me barking about this very specific thing called the "hymns movement," but they must remember that this movement is a herald of the shifts taking place with these bigger, more fundamental issues in American/Western Christian worship today.

I am therefore excited to share a brief "status update" of the movement.  More rumblings, more exposure, more buy-in.  The hymns movement continues to affect and infect the Church with greater potency and wider distribution.  Four things stand out.

Less than 48 hours ago, the 2011 Gospel Coalition Conference kicked off with none other than a hymn sing, gathering together and exposing before a new generation of eager, cross-denominational, Gospel-loving evangelicals some of the heavy-hitters in the hymns movement: Kevin Twit and Indelible Grace (Sandra McCracken, Matthew Smith); Mike Cosper and Sojourn Music.  As Cardiphonia likewise reported, Noisetrade is giving away a free sampler of these artists.  One more indicator that the next generation of pastors and church leaders care about deep, substantive worship, exemplified in hymnody.

Seven days ago, High Street Hymns released their third major hymns album, Hearts and Voices, centered on hymns for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  It is available at a very affordable price on bandcamp.

 

 

In less than two weeks, Sojourn Music will release another album, The Water and the Blood, a second installment of an ongoing project to reshape the hymn texts of Isaac Watts for new ears.  As will be explained in my upcoming review, Sojourn continues to push out the narrow musical boundaries of contemporary/modern worship, forging ahead while reaching back hundreds of years into the vault of Christian hymnody.

In five days, an album will be released which features a bunch of well-known mainstream modern worship leaders headlining re-tuned hymn-texts of Charles Wesley.  It is called Love Divine.  I have already spoken about what a significant mile-marker this is, notwithstanding the fact that it will probably go unnoticed (though I hope not).

 

A little over two weeks ago, a unique conference took place in St. Louis.  Hymns movement leader Bifrost Arts hosted a gathering on "Liturgy, Music, and Space."  The average age was interestingly young, given that the topics discussed at the conference were ideas that contemporary worship used to say that only "older people" cared about: liturgy, history, aesthetics, theology, inter-generationalism, etc.

Folks, there's no organizing force behind the coincidence of these things...at least no human one.  This can be characterized as nothing short of a movement of the Spirit through renewal of the worship of God.  All this is very significant.

Sunday
Apr032011

My Bifrostian Journey: Video Blog and Reflections

I decided to try my hand at video-blogging.  I hope that for those of you who weren't able to attend, you're able to see and hear more clearly the sights and sounds of what made this conference special.   

Cardiphonia has put together a great run-through of the entire conference.  Check it out.  And here are some of my random takeaways.

The Best Thing About the Conference: Love Challenges Hipsterdom
I'll be honest.  Bifrost Arts is just hip.  Sufjan is VERY in right now, and Bifrost Arts--a railcar on his musical train--has a musical style that makes one feel quite "cool" when listening to it.  One would have expected that this conference would attract hipsters.  And it did.  Fitted jeans, black-rimmed glasses, and beards were plentiful.  Anticipating all of this, my expectation was that the conference leaders were going to give off a "We're cool, aren't we?" vibe (which shows how little I often think of people, by the way...Lord, have mercy).  I expected pot shots at non-liturgical worship or subtle jabs that Bifrostian pop-orchestral styles were the ideal form for worship.  Isaac Wardell, the figurehead of the event, dispelled all such nonsense quite immediately.  I was impressed and even admonished by the humility and love-focus of leaders like Wardell.  The message was loud and clear: when the church is truly being the church under Christ, the gospel shapes local communities to be marked by love, self-sacrifice, and deference.  Perhaps my greatest takeaway from the conference, then, is a vision for church-wide worship discussions which can be formative rather than adversarial.  Worship is not about being cool, and I think everyone benefitted, in one way or another, from that meta-message.

In the Presence of Greatness
My video only gave a snapshot of the rich connection I had at this conference.  Over the last few years, as my blog has grown in reach, I've come into contact with some amazing people who I would consider "greats" in my field of pastoring in worship, music, and arts.  Some have been more professional-style online acquaintances.  Some have developed into full-blown friendships of resource-sharing and mutual prayer and support.  Many have been in between.  One of the blessings of the Bifrost Conference is that it attracted many of those people to one city for a few days, and I got to meet many of them, all at once.  Relationships beat out sleep this time.  I was blessed to finally put names with faces, and "online personas" with true hearts.  I was encouraged that there are a lot of great worship leaders out in Evangelcaland, thinking critically, prayerfully, theologically, biblically, liturgically, and culturally about local church worship.  I was blessed to rub shoulders with some truly gifted songwriters, like Bruce Benedict, Matt Stevens, Alex Mejias, Michael Van Patter, David M. Bailey, Rick Jensen, and Nathan Partain.  These are folks doing the painstaking but heart-driven work of setting old hymns to new music, and in some cases writing new texts and tunes for the church.  I don't know that any one of us will have breakout exposure, but meeting this iron-clad batallion gives me great hope that the collective work will continue to have an increasing influence on mainstream evangelicalism.  There's just too much excitement, too much vision, too much passion, for it to not take effect.

The Shape Note Surprise
I was shocked by how much I personally enjoyed Matt Hinton's breakout session on shape-note singing.  Perhaps the earliest uniquely American musical tradition, shape-note singing developed as a style of music education in the South and solidified into a movement.  The sound is atypical of Western music in that it breaks standard conventions for part-writing (e.g. parallel fifths).  I was taken aback by the joy and vigor of this communal enterprise.  My mother grew up in rural Alabama under the influence of this tradition, and though I am far from a southerner (I grew up in Hawaii), something in my soul stirred.  I think my roots were tickled.

Notes from the Conference
Some of my notes are more piecemeal than others, but if they're helpful, I offer them here.  I obviously missed some (great) sessions, either to decompress or to spend time with other attenders.

Greg Thompson - The Order of Worship and the Order of Love
Isaac Wardell - Formative Practices for Worship
Mike Farley - The Formative Role of the Body in Worship
Nicholas Wolterstorff - Does Your Church Building Say What it Should Say?
Isaac Wardell - Teaching Liturgy, Music, & Space in Your Congregation
Matt Hinton - Shape Note Singing
Kevin Twit - Hymns

Wednesday
Aug112010

The Big Picture of Indelible Grace: Kevin Twit and the Ryman Hymnsing

"Edible Grace...what?"  That's the type of reaction I get when I talk to mainstream evangelical worship leaders about the hymns movement and their golden boy, Indelible Grace.  IG is a move back to substantive modern worship.  Their M.O. is to combine modern folk and rock instrumentation with old hymn texts.  Many people misunderstand "old hymns to new music" as throwing a contemporary beat and sound on a hymn...just think of all the forced, "contemporary" versions out there of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "How Great Thou Art."  No, no.  These are taking the hymns almost like pure poems and setting them to music.  Hear clearly.  They're taking the WORDS of the hymns, and setting those words to new melodies and backing chord structures.  These aren't "jazzed up hymns" or "contemporized hymns" or "updated hymns" in the sense of how those phrases are most often tossed around (hear my lament about an album that falls into this category).  They're actually engaging in the historic practice of resetting old hymn texts in new musical garb

(By the way, "indelible" should be an acceptable word to mainstream evangelicals.  The fact that David Crowder has used it in "Foreverandever Etc." is like an ex cathedra proclamation that it's okay for modern worship...Crowder has spoken.)

In late June, Indelible Grace took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  Thousands of people were there to witness what I would consider a watershed event in the life of the hymns movement in particular and modern worship at large.  Most won't pick up on its significance.  The event is important because it is a symbol of the growth and stability of the movement.  The vision articulated that evening, combined with how well it was received by so many different types of "church people," put a stake in the ground--a mile-marker that shows, since IG's birth in the early 2000s, the growth and influence of the movement alongside the maturation and individual success of many of the IG artists.  

In a rare blog post (oh, for more!), Kevin Twit (IG founder) zooms out and wears his visionary heart on his sleeve.  We see his passion for the Gospel, for college students knowing Jesus, and for the nation-wide (if not worldwide) reform of worship toward more substantive, thoughtful, historically-engaged, and theologically-reflective ends.

I wish I could have been at the Ryman that night, if only to cheer on Indelible Grace, Kevin, and the growth of the hymns movement.  But since I wasn't there, consider this post my raising my glass to God's work in and through Kevin Twit and Indelible Grace.

Friday
Jun112010

Indelible Grace Finally Gaining Legitimacy in the PCA

Indelible Grace (the pioneer of the hymns movement) is leading a hymnsing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  This is exciting!  (The artist list is pretty hot, too.)  What is being undersold about this event is that it's connected with a larger event--the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  This is significant.

I was involved with the PCA for 5 years, gaining some important ministry chops at a church plant here in Denver, interacting with the other elders in our region (the Presbytery) as I came under care and pursued a pastoral internship.  I'm now in the EPC, so I'm an outsider looking in (my perspective may be off).  I haven't spoken to Kevin Twit or Matthew Smith (Indelible Grace guys) about this lately, but a conversation we had a few years ago in Nashville gave me the impression that Indelible Grace, to my surprise, was still trying to gain a sense of legitimacy among the old-liners in the very denomination that birthed the movement. 

Because I was involved in a PCA church plant, and because the other PCA churches I was connected with nationally were generally other church plants, "Indelible Grace" was a byword for everything that we wanted our worship to be all about--theological depth, historical-rootedness, cultural-connectedness, gospel-centeredness, old hymns to new music, etc.  But the new church plants do not summarize the ethos of the denomination.  My conversation with Twit and Smith revealed that there were still traditionalists purists who did not care for or even opposed the enterprise of setting old hymns to new music. (This is surprising, because, as I discussed in a previous post, Indelible Grace and those in the hymns movement, are actually MORE true to the practice of historical church music than those who are pure traditionalists.)

So now we find ourselves at the place where Indelible Grace is headlining a major event at the PCA GA.  Even more, the GA's theme is "Love, Sing, Wonder," taken from John Newton's hymn, which has been one of Indelible Grace's more popular hymn re-sets. 

I thank God that the PCA is placing Indelible Grace in a prominent position.  Indelible Grace deserves it.  They've carved a new path that has had considerable grass roots, underground influence on mainstream evangelical worship.  I would very much consider my own passions and desires for the broader church's worship (having come out of a more mainstream evangelical setting growing up) shaped and influenced by IG.  Despite continued traditionalist objections, IG is doing traditional worship a huge favor, and hopefully there will be more of a coming together of traditionalists and those who are comfortable with modern musical styles, because what they DO share is the most important thing--a commitment to biblically rooted, historically informed congregational songs.