Check Out a Free Issue of Gospel Music Quarterly

Ernie Haase and Signature Sound sent out an e-blast a few days ago that included a link to this free issue of Gospel Music Quarterly. Once you go to the link, you can simply use the arrow keys to browse through it. The cover story is EHSS’s Inspiration of Broadway tour, with an interview conducted by Chris Allman’s son Dustin. Dustin used to have his own gospel music blog hereabouts and is now a staff writer for the publication, contributing many pieces to this issue. These include a tribute to Lari Goss and several other interviews. I see that he still retains a bit of a penchant for purple prose, but he’s definitely grown as a writer since I used to give him a hard time. ;-) This issue also features an interview with Keith and Kristyn Getty, some reflections from various gospel artists about spiritual renewal on the road, and a workout regimen from Doug Anderson (oy vey!)

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Harmony Master Class: Simon & Garfunkel and Andy Williams

A harmony master class, as I will define it, is a preferably live exhibition of exceptionally good harmony singing. It can be from any genre, as long as it’s aesthetically pleasing. For my first installment, I’ve chosen Simon & Garfunkel’s collaborative guest appearance on the Andy Williams show. Williams often invited and sang with popular groups of his day (including other folk revivalist bands like Peter, Paul & Mary). Although Williams’s voice is heavier than Simon or Garfunkel’s, it’s remarkable how smoothly he blends in his tones with theirs. In the little intro clip, he recalls that he didn’t find it difficult to find his part, because he grew up practicing harmony singing with his brothers.

The piece is the legendary “Scarborough Fair,” here presented with the rarely heard, Simon-penned counterpoint tune “Canticle.” As you might be able to tell, the lyrics are rather flaky and anti-war (you can follow along here), but then that’s only to be expected. However, if you concentrate on the music, it’s quite exquisitely woven together with the folk song.

It might look a bit odd that Garfunkel appears to be staring very intently at Williams as they sit in a circle around a single microphone, but this is a practical choice. As I can confirm from personal experience, eye contact is especially important in synchronizing close harmony when you haven’t sung extensively with your singing partners.

An interesting detail is the way Paul shows off his upper range around 2:48, harmonizing above Williams while Garfunkel sings the counterpoint, then dips back under him for the next line. As a duo, Simon and Garfunkel would often cross their parts so that you could only tell by careful listening who was singing what at a given moment. Williams puts it well when describing the elegant simplicity of their sound: “You became mesmerized by it, by just that lack of things going on.”

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Liberal Christian Converts are Not Our Allies

Some of you might recall when Daily Beast journalist Kirsten Powers first announced that she was a Christian. A lot of conservatives were very excited about it, but after reading her testimony, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, obviously I was glad to see a public figure making an open profession of faith. However, the way she did it rubbed me the wrong way, because she insisted on going on about how wonderful it was that she could reconcile most of her liberal politics with her faith (barring abortion). Since then, she has admitted that liberals can be intolerant and biased too, but she has still staked out her position clearly in favor of homosexual unions. I had some choice words for her non-contributions to that particular conversation here.

Well, it looks like yet another liberal Daily Beast contributor has made a profession of faith and is being met with the same overly optimistic reactions. Her name is Ana Marie Cox, and you can read her conversion testimony here. I came across it because I follow Professor Denny Burk’s cultural commentary blog regularly, and he referred enthusiastically to the piece. In it, Cox explains that she has been afraid to “come out” as a Christian not because she was worried about the reaction from atheist friends, but because she worried that her liberal politics wouldn’t be welcomed by other Christians. She has since written a follow-up piece saying how humbled she was by the outpouring of encouragement she received instead. But frankly, given the tone and the stance she adopts in her article, I’m not convinced that other Christians should have been so quick to set her mind at rest. Continue reading

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Monday Morning Humor: Politically Challenged?

I move that we raise the voting age back to 21.

No, scratch that. Let’s go all the way back to the days when you had to own property to vote. Yeah. I’m liking this idea.

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A New Christian Movie (That Might Actually Be Good!)

Rik Swartzwelder and Elizabeth Roberts in “Old Fashioned”

As a die-hard movie buff, I have to be candid and admit that I don’t typically walk away from a Christian film enthusing, “BEST MOVIE EVER!” It’s not that I look down my nose at people who aren’t cinephiles, it’s just who I am and what I like. The truth is, I could quite literally talk all day long about great movies (although it’s better when someone else is actually in the room listening!) I’m one of the only people I know who could watch a Tom Cruise action movie but only get really excited at the Robert Duvall cameo. And if you have no idea who I’m talking about, that’s totally fine. Moving on…

Nonetheless, I still observe the Christian movie industry with hope. And I try to give the trailers for coming Christian film attractions a fair shake. This past month, a little film came out that piqued my interest, and it may pique yours too. It was cleverly marketed as the “anti-Nifty Blades of Hay” (my fake name for the Cult Phenomenon Which Shall Not Be Named, on which you can read more of my thoughts here). The marketing trick worked, and the small film generated a lot more buzz than usual as a result. My question was, is it actually any good? While I have yet to see it myself, I am pleasantly surprised and hopeful based on a few clips and trailers. Continue reading

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The Definitive Hymns: “Old Rugged Cross”

I’ve featured several hymns in this series, but perhaps none more popular (or more definitively American) than this one. It’s been recorded by everyone from Mahalia Jackson to Alan Jackson. It’s a testament to a song’s classic appeal that it can sound great and timeless no matter what style you sing it in (okay, except for a style calculated to destroy any piece of music it touches, but we’re excluding things like heavy metal here). George Bennard penned the tune in 1912, after a disheartening night of revival preaching. How many ministers of the gospel have been there? This thought should definitely give a lift to anyone who’s hoeing that row!

As usual, my heart is with rich male harmony. So perhaps it’s no surprise that I name a quartet version of “Old Rugged Cross” as the definitive rendition. For fans of Signature Sound, this will be a blast from the past. Before they became household names with Bill Gaither, they worked with Gold City producer Garry Jones. In my opinion, some of the best music they ever did still dates back to this original lineup. “The Old Rugged Cross” shows them at their absolute best. Timmy Duncan’s young bass is featured in all its glory, while Garry’s golden touch on the piano wrings every bit of harmony from the music. The guys take their time with the arrangement, letting each word have its weight. I may be picky, but even I have to admit when something is pure perfection. For me, this arrangement is just that. In this very rare video, thankfully provided by fellow fan Kyle Boreing, you can see them gathered around and honing it with Garry before performing it on stage.

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Rethinking the Phrase “R. I. P.”

“Live long, and prosper.”

Leonard Nimoy (of Star Trek fame) passed away this past weekend. So naturally, the entire country is off and running on yet another one of those emotional orgies that we have to endure when yet another celebrity we didn’t really know happens to die.

Yes, I know, it sounds kind of mean. But honestly, much as I love classic Star Trek and the character of Spock, I still don’t get it. And when I read up a little on the crazy and sometimes downright sacrilegious stuff Nimoy was into, I really don’t get it, especially coming from Christians. (Some of you may recall that I had a similar reaction when Robin Williams committed suicide, but at least there the suicide element gave it some emotional weight, eventually inspiring my own reflective tribute.)

In particular, I notice that many people are reflexively saying “R. I. P. Leonard Nimoy,” or “R. I. P. Mr. Spock.” Now, I will confess that I have not always been scrupulous in avoiding this particular phrase for dead people whose salvation was questionable. But I think there’s a good case to be made for eliminating it from the Christian’s vocabulary in this context.

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In Chains For a Higher Call

In memory of the 21:

 

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Monday Morning Humor: The Best Pictures Never Made

Wow, quite an Oscar night this year, wasn’t it? The beautiful stars parading down the red carpet, while you ignored them because they’re mostly ill-behaved louts who despise you, your country and everything you hold dear! The celebration of the cinematic arts (and their steady decline since 1939)! Well, just to keep the mood going, here’s Andrew Klavan discussing some movies that weren’t nominated for any Oscars this year, for the simple reason that they’ve never been made. I can’t think why. Though to be fair, this video is actually a few years old, and there were some bright spots in 2015’s Oscar lineup, including Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (Klavan-approved and reviewed by me here). I also enjoyed a smattering of the other Best Picture nominees and was truly moved by some Oscar-worthy performances. (If you haven’t checked out Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he is really phenomenal.) But still, Andrew is not far off the mark.

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Ernie Haase and Ronnie Booth’s Mosie Lister Tribute

In case you haven’t been following Signature Sound on Facebook, they’ve been posting some great clips from their tour with the Booth Brothers. The most recent one features Ernie Haase and Ronnie Booth doing a duet of “Til the Storm Passes By,” in honor of Mosie Lister’s recent passing. Unfortunately, I can’t embed Facebook videos here, but I do encourage you fans to check out the video on their public page at this link here.

Also, I love this shot of Ernie and Michael hamming it up together. Priceless! Makes me wish the tour was swinging by a little closer to my neck of the woods.

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