Album Review: Jude by Psallos

Jude is one of the least-studied books of the Bible, certainly among the epistles, probably owing in part to its shortness (only one chapter) and to its overall harsh, judgmental tone. A polemic against heretics, it lacks the robust soteriology of Romans and Christology of Hebrews—and yet purity of doctrine is precisely what this book aims to protect, as Jude warns against the danger of false teachers, libertines, who would enter the church surreptitiously and corrupt the Way.

Jude by Psallos (front cover)

After bringing us Romans and Hebrews (read my reviews here and here), Psallos has now released Jude, a half-hour musical journey through all twenty-five verses. The lyrics, music, and orchestration are by Cody Curtis, a doctor of musical composition who founded Psallos to proclaim scripture through artful song and who endeavors to adapt all twenty-one New Testament epistles. The vocalists are Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Edgren.

As in Psallos’s previous two albums, there is so much musical interest here, from a video-game-esque adventure theme (“fight”) and a sea shanty to a wispy waltz and a mournful lullaby to jazz and blues and even a portion reminiscent of traditional East Asian music. Curtis’s sense of play comes out in this variety of genres, which move us along the arc of the book. The music captures all the drama and shade of Jude’s rhetoric—denunciations (including allusions to historical rebellions and an angelic dispute), exhortations, and promise and blessing. The lyrical content is likewise skillful and rich. Importantly, all the words are intelligible throughout, sometimes even colored with vocal inflections and/or instrumentation, such as with wind, creeping, woe, and gloomy and utter darkness.

The track titles are all wonderfully poetic, many of them taken straight out of Jude 12 and 13 (ESV), where they serve as metaphors for false teachers: “hidden reefs,” “waterless clouds,” “fruitless trees,” “wild waves,” “wandering stars.” These evocative images form the basis of the first trailer for Jude (video text by Cody Curtis):

Deceivers lurk beneath a veneer of Christianity, threatening to run aground our “most holy faith” (v. 20) without our even noticing; their promises are empty (cf. Prov. 25:14); fruitless, rootless trees they are, lacking stability, bearing nothing of substance; they are like the restless waters of the sea that cast up dirt (cf. Isa. 57:20); they are, as Eugene Peterson translates, “lost stars in outer space on their way to the black hole” (v. 13, MSG).  Continue reading “Album Review: Jude by Psallos”

Roundup: Short films on love and loss, Ashmolean Advent calendar, and more

ALBUM REVIEW: Hebrews by Psallos: My first published article for The Gospel Coalition! Psallos is a music collective led by Cody Curtis, and they’re doing amazing work—adapting entire New Testament epistles for folk rock band and chamber orchestra. (I reviewed the group’s first major album, Romans, two and a half years ago.) The track “Ex Paradiso” interprets John Piper’s favorite Advent text and implements a clever twist on Fauré’s Requiem. You’ll also hear a few other famous musical quotations, including, in track 3, “Angels We Have Heard on High”—again, with a lyrical twist—and a jarring rendition of “Nothing but the Blood.” Curtis is a wonderfully talented and versatile composer, writing in styles from bluegrass and Irish dance to slow hip-hop and hot jazz, all united under one overarching structure. The “Before the Throne” theme that’s developed throughout is truly sublime.

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ANNOTATED BOOK LIST: “Art and theology” books published in 2018: I put together this compilation for ArtWay, so the emphasis is on visual art. I’ve already featured a few of the books on the blog, like Wounded in Spirit and The Annunciation: A Pilgrim’s Quest, but there are over a dozen more, a mix of academic and nonacademic. These include, among others, a large reference work on early Christian art; books on individual artists William Blake and Keith New; two books by Jeremy Begbie, which emphasize the need for biblically grounded creedal orthodoxy in discussions on the arts; and two books on the modern illuminated Saint John’s Bible—one of which (Illuminating Justice by Jonathan Homrighausen) was just named among the top twelve theology books of the year by the Englewood Review of Books. Like Homrighausen, art historian Heidi J. Hornik also links art and ethics, in her book The Art of Christian Reflection. Created: Bridging the Gap between Your Art and Your Creator is probably the most unique offering; published by Likable Art design studio, it features sixty-two responses to the question “What are your first five words to the world of artists?,” and edgy graphic designs.

Art and Theology books 2018

Let me know if I’m missing any titles. For book lists from previous years, see 2014–16 and 2017.

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ANIMATED SHORTS

Lost & Found (2018): Widely lauded at film festivals since its debut earlier this year, Lost & Found is an endearing stop-motion film that chronicles a dramatic turning point in the relationship between two crocheted animal toys, a fox and a dinosaur. Since finding each other in the lost-and-found bin of a Japanese restaurant, it was love. But when the fox topples into a fountain, the dinosaur must sacrifice himself, yarn by yarn, to save her. Directed by Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe.

Bao (2018): This computer-animated short film, written and directed by Domee Shi and produced by Pixar, premiered on June 15 with Incredibles 2. It’s about a lonely, aging Chinese Canadian mother, suffering from empty-nest syndrome, who receives an unexpected second chance at motherhood when she makes a dumpling that comes to life as a boy. “I was that overprotected little dumpling,” Shi said in an interview; this project, she said, was her attempt to try to better understand her mother. One of the strongest powers of film, I’ve always thought, is its ability to incite empathy. (Update, 12/25: It appears that this film was being offered for free online viewing for only a very limited time, as it is now behind a paywall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypEuSSwB1Rk.)

Bao (2018)

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DAILY ART: 2018 Advent Calendar by the Ashmolean Museum: I know the season’s almost over, but it’s still worth checking out this free online calendar published by the Ashmolean, an art and archaeology museum in Oxford. Each day of December, they’ve been revealing a different winter- or Christmas-themed object from their collection. Entries thus far have included a bronze “reindeer” brooch from second-century Amiens, a decorated star tile from thirteenth-century Iran, a winter kimono with a design of snowy pines, an ivory netsuke in the form of a boy rolling a yuki-daruma (snowman), and a Delftware tile depicting three ships a-sailing. I dig this creative idea for public engagement! I’ve seen art museums do Pinterest boards, but this is the first time I’ve seen an Advent calendar.

Below I’ve reproduced the etching from Day 2, Epiphany, which F. L. Griggs made to celebrate the end of World War I one hundred years ago. A tall memorial crucifix stands atop a triple bridge, towering over roofless homes and illuminated by bright starlight. The Latin inscription translates as “The King of Peace whom the whole world desireth to see, hath shown His greatness. The King of Peace hath shown His greatness above all kings of the whole Earth.” Griggs’s son would die in World War II.

Epiphany by Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs
Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs (British, 1876–1938), Epiphany, 1918–19. Etching, 17.3 × 12.5 cm. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, England.

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WALTZING MARBLES: Kinetic artist Mark Robbins of DoodleChaos made a series of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions with blocks and magnets and set a marble rolling along it to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker, with other marbles later joining the dance. The synchronization is perfect! I got such a kick out of this.

The Promise Rests on Grace (Artful Devotion)

The Promise by Renata Fucikova
Renáta Fucíková (Czech, 1964–), The Promise, 1996. Illustration from the book Stories from the Old Testament, published in France and the Czech Republic.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

—Romans 4:13–25 (cf. Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16)

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SONG: “The Story of Abraham” by Psallos, on Romans (2015)

 

This is one of twenty-three songs by Cody Curtis that comprise a complete musical setting of the book of Romans. See my review of the concept album here.


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 Lent, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: Hebrews album; flags in church; God the Plowman; digitized prayer book; lively praise hymns

Psallos: The Hebrews Album (Kickstarter): You have the opportunity to help finance a musical adaptation of the book of Hebrews for folk rock band and chamber orchestra. Cody Curtis, the composer behind Psallos, has already written the music; now he needs your help to pay for the recording and production. Curtis has already proven his skill at capturing the varied tones and trajectory of an epistle with his setting of Romans, released in 2012 (read my review here), and Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Edgren are returning to lend their beautiful vocal interpretations. I have full confidence that Psallos’s second epistle-based album will be nothing short of amazing! Besides a copy of the CD when it’s released, tiered reward options include the chance to sing on the CD as a choir member, the choice of any passage of scripture for Curtis to set to music, and a Psallos concert at your church. Also, the team is looking for a videographer and donated instruments, so get in touch with them if you’re able to help out in either of those areas.

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Should Patriotism Have a Place in Church? I really appreciate John Piper’s response to this question in last week’s Ask Pastor John podcast episodes. (Listen to part 2 here.) “I have been in several churches,” he says, “where on the Fourth of July the focus”—on each of the military branches and patriotic songs and flags and marches and decorations in red, white, and blue—“seemed to me uninformed, unshaped by the radical nature of the gospel, and out of proportion to the relationship between America and the kingdom of Christ.” He advises that American flags not be displayed in the sanctuary, and pledges of allegiance to the USA not be recited in a worship service, because church is where we acknowledge the absolute authority of Christ and no other.

As Christians, Piper says, we have “no unqualified allegiance to any political party, any nationality, any ethnicity, any tribal identity, or any branch of the armed service. It is all qualified. It is all secondary. It is all relative to the will of Christ. We should not say anything or do anything that looks as if that were not true. . . . The recitation of a pledge to a human authority”—and/or the display of a symbol of national identity—“in the setting of the worship of divine authority does not provide for the kind of Christian qualifications and nuances that are so necessary precisely in our day.”

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“Process” by Charles L. O’Donnell: I selected and wrote commentary on a short poem over at Literary Life on the theme of God as plowman of the heart. It begins,

The seed, Lord, falls on stony ground
Which sun and rain can never bless—
Until the soil is broken found—
With harvest fruitfulness.

Spring Ploughing by John Constable
John Constable (British, 1776–1837), Spring Ploughing, 1821. Oil on panel, 19 × 36.2 cm.

Run by Rick Wilcox, “Literary Life is a celebration of the Word. Leading with a discussion of modern and classic literature, we seek to tease out eternal truths which may be illumined by fiction, poetry, art and music.” The blog recently finished walking through Karen Swallow Prior’s memoir Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me; before that, it was Malcolm Guite’s The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter. Each post is a treat!

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Mary of Guelders prayer book now online: In the early fifteenth century, while the Limbourg Brothers were hard at work on the Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, Duchess Mary of Guelders (John of Berry’s niece) commissioned an extraordinary 900-plus-page book that would become the high point of the late medieval book industry in the Northern Low Countries. Due to its condition, it has been stored away for the last few decades at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, inaccessible even to most scholars. But a crowdfunded project led by Johan Oosterman is bringing the hidden treasure to light, allowing for extensive research, restoration, and (next October) public exhibition.

To keep the public informed of progress, a new website has been launched, with blog posts, videos, and tabs on “Mary’s World,” “The Prayers,” “The Decoration,” and more. And best of all, just last month a full digitization of the book was added to the site so that anyone with an Internet connection can browse through its hundreds of prayers and 106 miniatures. The miniature that stood out most to me is the one on verso page 132, illustrating the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It shows Dives on his golden throne being swallowed by a hell-mouth, while from heaven Abraham denies his request for a drink of water.

Lazarus and the Rich Man (Mary of Guelders)
“Lazarus and the rich man from the mouth of hell,” from the prayer book of Mary of Guelders, ca. 1415. Fol. 132v. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

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New arrangement of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “Come, Thou Almighty King”: The music at last month’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, convened in Greensboro, North Carolina, was fantastic. With permission, I’m posting a video excerpt from the evening worship service held on June 14, 2017. The first hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” was written by Henry Van Dyke in 1907 to a tune from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; this version was arranged by Joel Littlepage (the musical director and keyboardist with the bowtie; assistant pastor of worship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston Salem) and Michael Anderson (the pianist; composer-in-residence at Redeemer) and was orchestrated by Joel Littlepage. The first verse is sung very traditionally—in strict time to a chorded piano accompaniment—but then at 1:05, it gets real lively! The orchestra kicks into full gear, expressing the brightness of the hymn text.

Then just when you think it couldn’t get any more joyful, the praise team launches into a second hymn at 3:36 to ululation (celebratory cheer sounds), this one Caribbean-flavored. Composed by Felice de Giardini in the eighteenth century, “Come, Thou Almighty King” is a Trinitarian invocation: “Come, Thou Almighty King” (verse 1), “Come, Thou Incarnate Word” (verse 2), “Come, Holy Comforter” (verse 3). This particular arrangement is by Joel Littlepage, with orchestration by Michael Anderson. The musicians are as follows.

Vocal section (left to right): Kyle Dickerson; David Gill; Mary Higgins; Melissa Littlepage; Nikki Ellis, choir director
Rhythm section: Joel Littlepage, keyboard; Michael Anderson, piano; Daniel Faust, drums; Larry Carman, hand percussion; Kevin Beck, electric guitar
Horn section: Christian Orr, trumpet; Tim Plemmons, saxophone; Ben Nelson, trombone
String section: Heather Conine, violin; Violet Huang, viola; Adi Muralidharan, cello; Julie Money, harp
Wind section: Suzanne Kline and Lydia Wu, flute

Book of Romans concept album by Psallos

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is, I’d say, the most theologically foundational book of the Bible. As a young Christian I was taught the “Romans Road” method of sharing the gospel, using verses like Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”), Romans 6:23 (“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”), and so on to teach the doctrines of sin and salvation. The book is definitely Paul’s magnum opus.

Countless commentaries on Romans have been produced, but none takes the unique approach of Cody Curtis: exegeting the entire text with music.

The project began, loosely, in 2011, when Curtis’s pastor asked him if he could set to music Paul’s benediction in Romans 11:33–36 to supplement a sermon series. The result, “O the Depth!,” was well received, which gave Curtis the confidence to experiment with lyrical adaptations and musical settings of other Romans passages. In 2014 he decided to pursue a full-out album in collaboration with other musical students, alumni, and friends of his alma mater Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. They call themselves Psallos, from the Greek verb psallō, translated in Ephesians 5 as “making melody”: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (vv. 18b–19).

Released in March 2015, Romans mines the theological depths of its eponymous book, bringing to life Paul’s teachings on sin, grace, sanctification, and divine promise with music. The predominant style could be described as orchestral folk pop, but elements of rock, soul, and jazz are also present on the album. (Read more about the eclectic style choices in Trevin Wax’s interview with Curtis from last year.) Besides your standard piano, guitar, and drums, other instruments include the violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and harmonium. Curtis’s compositions bring to bear his extensive music education—he’s a newly minted doctor of musical arts—as well as his experience leading music for church congregations. He presently serves as music minister at Pleasant Plains Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.   Continue reading “Book of Romans concept album by Psallos”