Roundup: Christmas art Digitorial, Norwegian jazz, bluegrass “Carol of the Bells,” Chopin meets Hillsong, Armenian Gospel art

DIGITAL EXPERIENCE: “Holy Night: The Christmas Story and Its Imagery”: This “Digitorial”—a responsive, multimedia, educative webpage—was created as a supplement to a physical exhibition at the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung in Frankfurt that ran from October 12, 2016, to January 29, 2017, which brought together over one hundred paintings, sculptures, and other precious objects, mostly from medieval Germany, to tell the story of Jesus’s birth. Featured online are a magnificent Rhenish tapestry (seriously, click that link and zoom in!), an ivory relief carving, an altar, a wooden statuette of Mary with a removable flap on her belly that reveals the Christ child, a liturgical cradle and doll, a manuscript illumination, a woodcut, and more. Also included, for listening, are readings from the Revelations of Saint Bridget of Sweden (a fourteenth-century mystic whose vision of the nativity had widespread influence) and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (source of the legend of the miraculous palm tree on the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt), as well as a lullaby from a medieval mystery play at Leipzig and perhaps also sung as part of the custom of Kindleinwiegen. Curator Stefan Roller introduces the exhibition in this video:

Joseph's First Dream (Antwerp)
The Angel Appears to Joseph in His Dream, 1518, from the predella of the Antwerp Altarpiece in the Lady Chapel of Saint Mary’s Church, Lübeck, Germany. Mixed media on oak, 46 × 40.2 cm. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany.

The Virgin Mary's Confinement
The Virgin Mary’s Confinement, Meuse region, ca. 1380

The “Holy Night” Digitorial is written for a middle-grade reading level, I’d say; some of the narration seems geared toward kids. It doesn’t assume any knowledge of the Nativity story, and in addition to highlights from the biblical accounts, it mentions some apocryphal story elements, like Joseph’s backstory, the midwives at the birth, the palm tree and wheatfield miracles, and the identity of the “kings.” I appreciate how it covers the full story, including Jesus’s circumcision and the flight to Egypt. My only two wishes are that the images were provided in higher resolution and that full credits (especially the collection these objects are from) were given at the bottom. 

I really love the Digitorial format! It’s engaging. If I could afford it, I would endeavor to hire web designers to help me produce products like this. This one was designed and developed by Scholz & Volkmer with funding by the Aventis Foundation. More about Digitorials: “Digitorials are short, interactive, online editorials that combine text, images and animations into a meaningful whole and enable innovative storytelling. Digitorials are not intended to replicate or replace physical exhibitions. Rather, they are a useful way of adding breadth and depth, and are usually used before or after visiting an exhibition. The format was developed by the Städel Museum, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung and Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and is breaking new ground in art mediation, as it uses digital technology to offer an accessible and approachable way of engaging with art. It has already been awarded the Grimme-Preis.” See other examples: https://www.staedelmuseum.de/en/digitorial; https://www.liebieghaus.de/de/angebote/digitorial; https://www.schirn.de/en/program/offerings/digitorial/.

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SONGS:

“Jeg Synger Julekvad” (In dulci jubilo): This Christmas hymn of German origin often appears in English-language hymnals as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!” or the gender-neutral “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!” This jazz arrangement by Heidi Skjerve, with Norwegian lyrics by Magnus Brostrup Landstad, is performed by Skjerve (she’s the vocalist on the left) and students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Department of Music [previously]. The other two vocalists are Liv Ellen Rønning and Jakob Leirvik. See the full list of musicians in the YouTube description. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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“Carol of the Bells,” arr. Al White, performed by the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble: Al White, who taught Appalachian instruments at Berea College in Kentucky until retiring in May, founded the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble in fall 1999 to give students with backgrounds or potential in bluegrass music an opportunity to play in a bluegrass band with weekly rehearsals, performances, and travel. This is one of the many arrangements he wrote—sometime around 2008. In this 2016 video, recorded inside Berea’s Danforth Chapel and outdoors, White plays mandolin and leads four other musicians: Brenna Macmillan on banjo and vocals and Theo Macmillan on fiddle (the two are siblings, now performing and recording as the Theo & Brenna Band), Matt Parsons on guitar, and Casey Papendieck on upright bass (he’s part of the Handshake Deals). As of this fall, the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble is under the direction of Sam Gleaves. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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“Peace Upon the Earth” by Hillsong Worship: Since being introduced to Chopin by my piano teacher as a kid, he’s been one of my favorite composers to play—his etudes, nocturnes, waltzes, fantasias. In this 2017 song from Hillsong’s Christmas: The Peace Project, Marty Sampson wrote lyrics for Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major (op. 9, no. 2), which actually works really well! It’s a beautiful handling of the iconic melody. Starting at 3:44, Sampson talks about his songwriting process. He says he was inspired by “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which came about when William Hayman Cummings adapted the melody of “Vaterland, in deinen Gauen,” a song from Mendelssohn’s secular “Gutenberg Cantata,” to fit Charles Wesley’s hymn text.

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NEW ACQUISITIONS: “2 Armenian Manuscripts Join the Getty Collection”: This year the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles acquired, among other art objects, (1) a detached leaf with a full-page Nativity illumination from a seventeenth-century Armenian Gospel-book, and (2) a sixteenth-century Armenian Gospel-book illuminated by a brother and sister team, Ghoukas and Eghisabet. (A female illuminator named in an early modern manuscript—woot woot!) “Little is known about the involvement of women in the trade of manuscript illumination, but we hope that highlighting figures like Eghisabet will spark further research and understanding about their role,” write Elizabeth Morrison and Nava Streiter in this Getty blog post.

Mesrop of Khizan (Armenian, active 1605–1651), The Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds and Magi, from a Gospel-book made in Isfahan, Persia, 1615. Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment, 23 × 16 cm. J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 118 (originally from Ms. Ludwig II 7).

The Way into Eternal Life
Eghisabet (Armenian), The Way into Eternal Life, from an Armenian Gospel-book, 1583. Tempera and ink on parchment, 24.8 × 17.9 cm. J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 119, fol. 6v.

Ms. 119 is now the third Armenian Gospel-book in the museum’s collection, and Morrison and Streiter compare one of the illumination subjects side-by-side across all three books—in addition to providing visual comparisons with Ethiopian and Byzantine Gospel-books.

Easter Sunday (Artful Devotion)

Saric, Nikola_Resurrection
Nikola Sarić (Serbian, 1985–), The Resurrection of Jesus, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 90 × 90 cm.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”

—Matthew 28:1–6

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed . . .

—John 20:1–8

And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

—Acts 10:39–41

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SONG: “Hallelujah, Our Lord Is Risen” by the Easter Brothers | Performed by Jeff and Sheri Easter, 1992

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To view more paintings by Nikola Sarić, including ones from his “Cycle of Life” series, visit www.nikolasaric.de.

Music and art from previous Easter Sundays at Art & Theology include


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Easter Sunday, cycle A, click here.

“I Am the Man, Thomas” (Artful Devotion)

The Incredulity of Thomas (Avila Cathedral)
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 15th century. Tempera on wood. Avila Cathedral Museum, Avila, Spain. Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP. [view alt photo]

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

—John 20:24–29

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SONG: “I Am the Man, Thomas” by Ralph Stanley with Larry Sparks, on Stanley Gospel Tradition: Songs About Our Savior (1999) | Performed by The Devil Makes Three, on Redemption & Ruin (2016)

This song, about Jesus’s post-resurrection appearance to the apostle Thomas, is by the pioneering bluegrass artist Ralph Stanley (1927–2016). Hear him sing it with the Clinch Mountain Boys in 2012 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHQLoGpiY0o.

Bob Dylan has been a major popularizer of the song, having performed it at dozens of concerts. Here’s a performance from November 8, 1999, in Baltimore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5mTcL63ux4.

And lastly, here’s The Devil Makes Three, a California trio, performing the song right outside Paradiso concert hall in Amsterdam:

The band consists of guitarist/frontman Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino, and guitarist/tenor banjoist Cooper McBean. Here they’re joined by guest fiddler Spencer Swain. Their records and concerts fuse elements of blues, ragtime, country, folk, and rockabilly.

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The story of “doubting Thomas” has always captivated me. Here are a few posts from the blog in which the arts prompt re-engagement with the biblical narrative.

https://artandtheology.org/2018/04/03/by-the-mark-artful-devotion/
https://artandtheology.org/2018/04/06/doubting-thomas-combine-by-robert-rauschenberg/
https://artandtheology.org/2016/04/10/thomas-in-the-dark/


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, cycle C, click here.

Fishers of Men (Artful Devotion)

Fishing for Souls by Bill Hemmerling
Bill Hemmerling (American, 1943–2009), Fishing for Souls. Oil on canvas, 60 × 10 in.

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.

Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

—Luke 5:1–11

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SONG: “Fishers of Men” by Becky Buller | Performed by Rhonda Vincent, on One Step Ahead (2003)

Rhonda Vincent and the Rage is the most awarded band in bluegrass history. This studio version of their “Fishers of Men” cover is great, but there is also a commercially available live recording on Vincent’s Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ (2012), plus several live-performance videos on YouTube. I like this one from a 2007 bluegrass festival in Miamisburg, Ohio:

The other singers are, from left to right, Mickey Harris, Kenny Ingram, and Darrell Webb.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, cycle C, click here.

The Franz Family (bluegrass gospel)

I grew up in North Carolina, so bluegrass music feels like home to me. Its acoustic strings (strummed, picked, and bowed), its stacked vocal harmonies—this “mountain music” from the southern US sounds sweet to my ears.

The Franz Family
The Franz Family, 2012

Lately I’ve been enjoying some video-archived bluegrass performances by the Franz Family from Berryville, Arkansas, a family of seven—Mom, Dad, three sons,* and two daughters—who toured together as a bluegrass gospel band continuously from 1991 to 2011, performing at churches, camps, prisons, and parties. (*The second oldest son, Hadley, left the group in 2004 when he got married and moved to Kansas.) Click here to watch a short documentary on the Franz Family, produced in 2010.

Everyone in the group sings and plays multiple instruments, but here are the instruments you’ll most commonly see them on:

Randy Franz: Guitar
Ruth Ann Franz: Guitar, double bass
Caleb Franz: Guitar, mandolin, banjo
Audra (Franz) Mohnkern: Double bass
Emmett Franz: Dobro
Olivia (Franz) Jahnke: Fiddle

So many songs from the traditional bluegrass repertoire were written as Christian testimony. Most celebrate the personal redemption from sin wrought through Christ and eagerly anticipate heaven, inviting others onto that glory train. They also proclaim the loving aid God provides through the storms of life, which the family experienced when Ruth Ann passed away from cancer in 2016. Her death renders even truer the lyrics she sang again and again:

I’m just a pilgrim here
Soon I’ll be gone
Nothing can hold me here
I’m headed home

And:

Somewhere in glory you’ll find me
Singing and shouting in eternity

(Related posts: “Don’t let the rocks cry out”; “The Avett Brothers sing gospel”)

Here are three studio recordings of the Franz Family from December 2009 in Denver, Colorado: “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand,” “Somewhere in Glory,” and “Getting Ready to Go.”

These can be found on their two albums, The Tale You’ll Never Hear (2008) and Sorrow and Wisdom (2012).

Franz Family albums

I’ve compiled some other video recordings below; for more, see Randy Franz’s YouTube channel.   Continue reading “The Franz Family (bluegrass gospel)”

Don’t let the rocks cry out

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week of his death—a day that the church commemorates each year as Palm Sunday—he entered to a throng of people shouting “Hosanna!” (“Hooray for salvation!”) and carpeting his path with their cloaks and with palm branches. The Pharisees, still not seeing Jesus for who he was, told him to rebuke the crowds for their blasphemy. To give high praise to anyone other than God, they insisted, is a grievous sin. That’s true enough, but the disciples’ praises were not misplaced. Jesus defends their hosannas and their postures of worship, retorting that “if these [my disciples] were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). This is one of several times throughout his ministry in which he equates himself with God.

Even the Stones Will Cry Out
Roberta Karstetter (American, 1953–), Even the Stones Will Cry Out, 2010. Assemblage.

The Westbound Rangers, a bluegrass band from Nashville, has a song inspired by this episode: “Rocks Cry Out,” from their 2013 album Gone for Way Too Long. It was written by Graham Sherrill, an old high school friend of mine, who also does vocals and banjo for it. Fellow bandmates—Mike Walker on mandolin, Read Davis on guitar, and Wes Burkhart on bass—helped write the instrumental bridge. I’ve embedded the song here with the band’s permission.   Continue reading “Don’t let the rocks cry out”