Welcome! I’m Yankee Gospel Girl (formerly Southern Gospel Yankee), but you can call me Esther. I’m an old soul with many interests, and I promote southern gospel music along with everything else good, true and beautiful. If you’re a first-time visitor, thanks for reading! Check out my “About” page, follow me on Youtube, and browse around in the filing cabinet for my musings on all genres of music, movies, faith & culture, and old stuff. Whether you’re a fan of gospel music or just another old soul like me, I hope you like what you find! God bless.
Ernie Haase recently shared this promotional video for Signature Sound’s new tour with J. Mark McVey. It includes some never-before-seen concert footage of all five vocalists together, as well as a list of the songs they’ve covered on their upcoming record. Wayne Haun also shares producer’s insights. I’m very impressed with the quality of the singing and the song selection, although I actually don’t know many of the songs. Among the ones I do recognize, I’m most excited about “Sunrise, Sunset,” which is one of the best songs from one of the greatest musicals ever, Fiddler On the Roof.
As usual, Ernie Haase is finding new ways to tap into a distinctly American musical heritage and put his group’s personal spin on it. Signature Sound has always been very good at doing that with a variety of styles. Broadway is a natural fit for the group, and with his veteran showmanship, J. Mark seems right at home with them. I especially enjoyed watching them all getting into “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
The other day, one of my professors greeted us all in his charming German accent and asked “How are you?” I replied, “Busy. Very busy.” He said, “Good, good. Then it means your life has purpose. If you have a purpose, you are busy.”
This semester has really been snowing me under with the combination of graduate-level courses and my new assistantship duties. My days are long and densely packed. Even when I’m not in class, I constantly have my head in the books, because with classes this hard you can’t afford not to. But my schedule means I don’t have the little luxuries I’ve enjoyed in other semesters. I have to turn in graded work without having an extra day to be extra sure I’m doing it right. I’m not able to memorize everything I’d like to memorize. I don’t have time to write rambling notes to myself unpacking every concept thoroughly. I sometimes have to let one course lag while I focus on a particular assignment in another, then resign myself to the fact that there’s probably something I’ll forget to review before the first course’s midterm. (Either that, or turn in an incomplete assignment and let the professor who gives too much homework accept the fact that I have other classes to attend to!)
But even while all this is mentally and physically taxing, there’s a certain sense in which I’m proud of it. Continue reading
The Perrys are one of my favorite mixed groups, and Bryan Walker has been a key ingredient in keeping their sound going in the last few years. So it was with some sadness that I saw the news he was leaving. To give a bit of background on Bryan, he was actually introduced to the entertainment world before he was introduced to the world of southern gospel when he auditioned for American Idol. He received a golden ticket to Hollywood, but he didn’t make it to the live show. At that time, he was working as a policeman, but he decided to pursue his passion for music. He chose the Carpenters’ “Superstar” for his audition song and impressed with his judges with his smooth, versatile pop/country sound:
For another glimpse of his range, check out this acapella take on “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”:
Bryan has been one of southern gospel’s most polished voices in his tenure with the Perrys, and in my opinion his talent never quite got the recognition it deserved. But according to the press release, he now hopes to start a family with his wife, and most recently he has felt called to pastoral ministry:
When Bryan shared his decision to come off the road with the Perrys, it was focused on he and wife Bethany’s desire to spend more time together and eventually start a family. However, Bryan says the day after he gave his notice, he was at a revival at his home church and re-surrendered [to] the call to preach, a call he first surrendered to at age 18. “There is no doubt the timing is confirmation that God has a new season in store, and I’m excited for that. I would ask that you pray for my wife and me as we wait to see what this is actually going to look like in the future, and of course also please pray for the Perrys as they seek the person God would have for their group.”
Best wishes to Bryan. He will be missed.
While I was pondering which hymn to feature next, the decision was made for me when one of my favorite men’s quartets recorded the definitive version of it just the other day.
If I were to quote the lyrics of “Be Thou My Vision” as it was originally written, you wouldn’t understand a word of it, because it was originally written as an Old Irish poem. Its exact date and authorship is speculative, and some attribute it to a 6th century saint. However, the woman who translated and versified it in the English form known today was Eleanor Hull, in 1912. There were many more verses in the original Irish than you will hear in a single English version. Among English versions today, you’ll typically hear “the standard four,” but occasionally, a lesser-known verse shows up. Here’s one revived by Revelation Trio (a great version, though not the one I chose for The Definitive):
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
The tune is very simple and a bit repetitive, which might begin to try the patience if arranged without some variety from verse to verse. I personally find that it doesn’t really get old. The ancient prayer is perfectly translated and fits the tune like a glove. It cuts through all the kitsch and the price tags and the baggage that have glommed themselves onto Christianity over the years and strips everything down to the essential elements: father and son, son and father. Continue reading
Look for a special guest appearance by Billy Crystal, and then I don’t know who shows up at the end to try to straighten everything out:
Welcome to the first installment of Marriage in the Movies: a new series wherein I survey what the art form of film can offer on this all-important topic. The movies I will feature stand out because marriage, as opposed to mere romantic affection, is absolutely central to the story. Without it, none of them would have a plot. Some may state their message clearly, others may let the story do the talking, but all of them have something to say about marriage.
That’s where I come in: First, I briefly explain the premise of each film, for those who may be unfamiliar with it. Then, I look at it from the perspective of a Christian who also loves movies, and I judge whether what they have to say is Importantly Right or Importantly Wrong—or perhaps, in interesting cases, some of each.
My first installment is an unapologetically Christian film that many of you have probably seen: Fireproof. (Most of my selections will be more mainstream, although many will still get a lot of things Importantly Right.) In this film, a fireman struggles with the pressures of work while waking up to the reality that his wife is ready to divorce him. While at first he is not a believer, his believing father and friend both challenge him to fight for his marriage. In the process, he discovers a faith of his own that sustains him even when it appears that his efforts aren’t bearing fruit.
I remember vividly when this film first came out. Actually, I remember vividly the year before it came out, when I was eagerly following every scrap of B-roll and production blog update as the finished product slowly came together. This was partly motivated by my enthusiasm for Sherwood Pictures’ faith-based film-making, partly by my rapidly growing and very spiritual interest in Kirk Cameron. Continue reading
It’s always a delight to run across a bit of C. S. Lewis that I’ve never read before. The other day, I picked up a copy of a magazine on the snack table at church which excerpted Lewis on God’s worthiness of our praise. The selection is taken from A Reflection On the Psalms. As usual, Lewis expresses so well so many things I would like to say, but couldn’t say as well as he could. He begins by confessing that as a new Christian, he wrestled with this idea that God demands our constant worship. This rubbed him the wrong way, as if God were the divine equivalent of Brian Regan’s “me monster.” It’s still a rhetorical tactic that atheists and free-thinkers try to bamboozle Christians with today. But as Lewis grew in the faith, he developed a better understanding of what, precisely, it means for us to praise God, and what precisely we are lacking when we do not.
To describe this in simple human terms, Lewis pinpoints the universal delight we take in praising things we enjoy—be it our favorite pastimes, our favorite art, or our beloved family and friends. This rings very true for me, especially the part about how we feel our praise is incomplete unless we can find someone to share it with, some audience who can appreciate the thing we love as much as we do. Lewis then takes this instinctive human desire and brings it back to the One who is ultimately worthy of our eternal praise: Continue reading
Although this is a secular comedian, he makes a very shrewd point here about the silliness of distancing oneself from “organized religion,” as if there is such a thing as “disorganized religion.” In the process, he also, perhaps unintentionally, provides a brilliant parody of many contemporary praise & worship songs.
With increasingly less time to devote to blogging as the semester marches on, it’s clear that I need to open a category that I can update simply and frequently, which will also be of interest to my readers. To that end, I present The Definitive Hymns: a series in which I look at a favorite hymn of mine, explain a bit of its background, and then showcase my personal favorite version of that hymn. You are encouraged to share your own thoughts on the hymn and favorite version(s) in the comments!
Today, I’m beginning with one of the all-time greats: “There is a Fountain.” Lyrics originally written as a poem by the English hymn-writer William Cowper, music by American Lowell Mason. This hymn has a sad history behind it, but it’s a powerful anthem of redemption.
William Cowper suffered from deep depression for much of his life. In his letters, he wrote that it sometimes took the form of nightmares in which he was dragged away to Hell. Because of his illness, he struggled with the assurance that he was actually saved. When he penned the words to “There is a Fountain” shortly before his death in 1800, they were primarily a reminder to himself of God’s unwavering promise. He never dreamed that it would be embraced by the entire Church for centuries to come. Continue reading
[Note: In haste, I didn’t notice that someone quietly cleaned up the egregious error in the most recent version of this NYT article. Below is a screen-cap of how it actually, originally appeared.
Now is your chance to find out! See if you can pinpoint what is wrong with this paragraph from a recent report on Holy Land tourism:
Tick, tock, tick, tock. As a reporter for The Federalist dryly put it, “Did you know that Christians do not believe Jesus is buried in a tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre because they believe he rose from the dead? Oh you did know that basic teaching of the world’s largest religion? Congratulations.”