Making Music in Quarantine

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the music videos and songs I’ve really enjoyed that have come about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He Will Carry You”: A song by Scott Wesley Brown performed by Zanbeni Prasad on lead vocals, with her husband Benny Prasad on guitar and her sister-in-law Aruni Prasad on backing vocals. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

+++

“The Sun Will Rise”: One of The Brilliance’s early songs, from their 2010 self-titled album—sung here by Madison Cunningham [previously], Matt Maher, Liz Vice, Jayne Sugg, Tyler Chester, and David Gungor, with multiple contributing instrumentalists (see full list on YouTube).

+++

“Maren” (Have Mercy on Us): The First Lady of Ethiopia, Zinash Tayachew, sings a new gospel song whose Amharic title, ማረን, transliterated “Maren,” means “Have mercy on us,” a plea addressed to God. “Do not abandon us during this time when the world is terrorized by bad news,” she sings. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

+++

Apocalyptic Lockdown Blues, a new EP by David Benjamin Blower: One of my favorite singer-songwriters, from Birmingham, England. “Apocalyptic Lockdown Blues is a small oral history of a global pandemic,” Blower writes. “This is folk, rootsy and ambient, with sacred longings, poetry and politics, sung out of windows and accompanied by birdsong.”

+++

“A Celtic Prayer”: Produced by Jonathan Estabrooks, this video features the choir of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City singing a traditional Celtic blessing set to music by Barry Peters. It begins, “May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.”

+++

Virtual May Morning 2020: May Day, May 1, is a public holiday in England, and for the past five hundred-plus years it has been an Oxford tradition to kick off the celebration at dawn by having the Choir of Magdalen College sing unaccompanied in the Renaissance style from the top of the college’s bell tower. Typically a crowd of thousands gathers for May Morning along High Street and on Magdalen Bridge, but this year the event was canceled due to COVID-19. However, Magdalen College pulled off a virtual choir! The boy choristers and lay clerks recorded their parts from home, under the direction of Mark Williams, which were combined in a video that was released online at 6 a.m. local time. [HT: Joy Clarkson]

The choir sings “Hymnus Eucharisticus,” a seventeenth-century Trinitarian hymn, and “Now Is the Month of Maying,” an English ballett (a light, dancelike part song similar to a madrigal) from 1595, about lads and lasses frolicking in the grass. The prayer in the middle is led by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Bowyer, dean of divinity. The actual church bells did ring out the hour like usual, with a celebratory chime following the performance (the chimes in the video were prerecorded).

+++

“Doxology”: One of the things I miss most about communal (in-person) worship is singing the Doxology together with my church family each week. As part of his “Covers from an Empty House” series, Ben Rector has posted a contemplative rendition at the piano, which captures the sense of both mourning and hope that so characterizes this global moment. [HT: TGC Arts & Culture Newsletter]

+++

“I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”: This song was written by Ira Stanphill in 1950 following a painful divorce. It’s covered here by The Petersens, a family gospel group from Missouri.

+++

Scott Avett [previously] has been posting #emptylivingroomconcert videos on Instagram since the beginning of the year—just him and his guitar (or banjo) and a sixty-second time limit. Here are a few. (He’s the writer of all these songs, I’m assuming.)

View this post on Instagram

#emptylivingroomconcert

A post shared by @ avettar on

Love That Holds On Tight (Artful Devotion)

Fakaukau by Filipe Tohi
Filipe Tohi (Tongan, resident in New Zealand, 1959–), Fakaukau, 1996. Stone carving. Photo: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, via Christ for All People, p. 87

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

—John 10:28–29

+++

SONG: “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” | Words by George Matheson, 1882 | Music by Albert L. Peace, 1884 | Performed by Madison Cunningham, on Monuments by Calvary Creative (2015)

+++

Fakaukau (“Thought”) is the title ascribed to this Tongan sculpture in the excellent book Christ for All People: Celebrating a World of Christian Art, published in 2001, which also places it in a private collection. However, photographs of a very similar—if not the same—sculpture by the same artist can be found online under the name Anchor Stone (see photos here and here), and it’s publicly accessible. Its shape is based on the anchor stone through which Tongan fishermen tie the rope of their boats. You can see the hand of God holding the fisher tenderly yet securely as the fisher rests in that grasp.

Anchor Stone by Filipe Tohi
Anchor Stone by Filipe Tohi, located along the Coastal Walkway in New Plymouth, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of New Plymouth District Council.

Anchor Stone is located along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, an eight-mile path that forms an expansive sea-edge promenade stretching from Pioneer Park at Port Taranaki all the way to the eastern side of Bell Block Beach in the Taranaki region of North Island, New Zealand. More precisely, the sculpture sits at the eastern end of a bridge that crosses the Huatoki Stream, near the Wind Wand. The walkway features several other sculptures by Filipe Tohi, as well as artworks by other Pacific Islanders.

Filipe Tohi was born in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, in 1959 and moved to Taranaki, New Zealand, in 1979, where he trained as a carver with a Maori cooperative. His early sculptures were mainly in stone and wood, but more recently he has achieved recognition for large contemporary sculptures in aluminum and steel that are inspired by lalava, traditional Tongan coconut sennit lashing (used to build roofs and canoes). Tohi studied and learned this ancient art form during a return visit to his homeland in 1987 and has been responsible for revitalizing and popularizing it. See more of his work at http://www.lalava.net/index.php/ct-menu-item-17#6.

Christianity took root in Tonga in the first half of the nineteenth century when the country’s king, George Tupou I, converted and the people followed suit. It has been Tonga’s main religion ever since.

+++

I first encountered the hymn “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” a few years ago through a Calvary Collective album—I was extremely moved by Madison Cunningham’s understated arrangement and vocal performance, which captures so well the weary tone of the old text and tune. Cunningham adds a four-line chorus: “You will not let me go, so I will trust in thee. You won’t let go, so I will rest. You won’t let go, so I will trust in thee. O I will rest in thee.” Here is the full original text:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.

Upon hearing this, I immediately set about looking for a piano score—come to find that the hymn is in the hymnal I grew up with! And yet I don’t recall my congregation ever singing it.

In my estimation, “O Love” is one of the most sublime hymns ever written. It taps deeply into that feeling of “I’m tired, burnt out, spent,” meeting us there with gentle hope and joy. The first verse opens with a reminder of the tenacious hold God has on us and with a soul-invitation into the “ocean depths” of God’s being. What a contrast the hymn builds between our weakness and God’s strength. We flicker; God blazes. We bow our heads in exhaustion and lie down to die; God lifts us up and brings us into his full-flowering life. I know some churches have revived “O Love” using new tunes, but those, I feel, don’t hold a candle to Albert Peace’s original. The hymn often crops up in funeral programs and works beautifully in that context, but its relevance is by no means restricted to those at the end of life or those observing a recent passing.

For a brighter, more vigorous version of the hymn that utilizes the original tune, see Chelsea Moon’s Hymn Project, Volume 2, a collaboration with the Franz Brothers:

And here’s a great a cappella quartet arrangement by the Gaither Vocal Band:


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 Fourth Sunday of Easter, cycle C, click here.