Now and Then
When asked to contribute to Torrey Gazette's music month, I was conflicted. My wife shakes her head at my music taste, or lack thereof, so why open myself for abuse from a wider audience? You see, I like oldies. I cut my musical teeth on the hits from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. In our home my parents preferred Easy Listening, but my friends listened to Top 40. Needless to say, I learned to appreciate a wide variety from both sides — Johnny Mathis to Three Dog Night, Andy Williams to Elton John. I still do. That diversity has remained — though I have replaced Pop Music with other forms of contemporary music and added to my appreciation of oldies. This makes me a bit of an anomaly, because I think that Vivaldi and Bach are brilliant composers, and Orianthi is totally boss on electric guitar. As a result of my broad range of taste, picking my top five albums for this blog series would be impossible, so I decided to go with the most recent five from my playlist. With that decision, other genres will be left by the wayside, but sacrifices must be made. Here, then, are my five.
The Classic Crime by Phoenix
This is a 4-piece indie band from Seattle, WA, and they can flat play and sing quality music with tight harmonies and subdued electric instrumentation. (Finally, someone gets that the instrumental tracks can be clean and crisp.) They take their craft seriously. I stumbled upon this album about a year ago while surfing the internet. The name of the band was catchy, so I checked out a page with samples of their music, and the rest is history. What is their style? I don't have a picking clue what to call it. Wikipedia lists it as alternative rock, post-grunge, post-hardcore, emo, and pop punk. I have no idea what any of that means, except to say it will play in Peoria.
Epicon by Globus
You can blame Jonathan Fisk at Worldview Everlasting for this one. A portion of “Diem Ex Dei” found its way into one of Pastor Fisk's videos, and I had to have it. The entire album is a grand work with wonderful choral and solo vocals with grand orchestration including elements of symphonic rock. Some of Globus' works have been used in soundtracks—not surprising as the opening song feels like it belongs in a climactic scene. The grand and sweeping arrangements accentuated with electronics behind the melody lines makes this a continual favorite.
Moving from the contemporary to something more enduring …
Psalms by Choir of Westminster Abbey
I long ago grew tired of Contemporary Christian Music with its formulaic and vapid content. For some years, I had been searching for a good replacement and searched out recordings of psalmody. How can someone go wrong singing the original hymn book? What I found was excellent in content though amateurish in production value. While listening to an Issues, Etc. podcast, a segment's introduction music was a beautifully sung psalm, which the guest immediately recognized as Anglican chant. That was all I needed to target my search for higher quality psalmody. This particular recording features 39 psalms sung in a 2-disc set. A favorite in this collection is Psalm 46 which uses “Ein Feste Burg” from Martin Luther as the basic melody for the chant. The acoustics are outstanding and add much to the recording. I also purchased a 10-volume set from a variety of choirs, but this is the one to which I return time and again because I like the chant tunes used.
Lastly, there is a two-for-one special. During my search for something biblical, yet musically different, I came across the website for Ancient Faith Radio. My love for Orthodox music was born. I will tell you upfront that the Orthodox dwell on the Virgin Mary, and their hymnody bears out what can be rightly called Mariolotry. Mentally block these out, and appreciate what is available and edifying. There are variations of style depending from which branch of Orthodoxy they originate. I am particularly drawn to the Russian with the basso profundo resonating through the entire work, but since I don't know Slavic languages, I sought for those recorded in English. Thankfully, some exist.
With the Voice of the Archangel by Archangel Voices
This album focuses on works for solos, duets, and trios with choral interaction. I enjoy the variety of selections and chant styles on this album. Early in the album, the producer placed adjoining similarly-themed works with different tunes allowing appreciation for the breadth of style available. An example of this is in selections four and five, which take up the theme “Taste and See that the Lord Is Good”—the former being contemplative Byzantine chant and the latter a more rousing antiphonal piece. The album also lacks overt devotion of Mary, pleasing my Protestant ears.
Lay Aside All Earthly Cares by Capella Romana
This album features choral works across chant styles and composers, making it a favorite. The producer selected a pleasing variety of themes and tempos to showcase both the music and choir. “The Great Doxology, No. 1” and “The Second Antiphon, Ps. 146” are quite stirring. While this album has two songs devoted to Mary, they have pleasing tunes and arrangements, making them bearable.
At this point you may be asking, “Why are these your current five?” Except for the first, I regularly play these (or similar genres) whenever there is a need to research or write for my blog. The music does not interfere with my thought process and actually has a relaxing effect—something I could not accomplish with Bluegrass. (Ever try to concentrate while listening to “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”?) Whatever is in the writing mix for the day, I try to have something that uplifts the soul with solid biblical content, ergo my playlist. Next month, I may be listening more to Bach or Vivaldi combined with Lutheran hymns. And in case you might be wondering if I kick back with a brew in hand and listen to something just because I can, there is the likes of Trace Adkins, Adele, and Celine Dion to keep me company.