Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hymnody Review: More Church Music for Guitar

George, Nathan Clark. Rise in the Darkness. Westpoint, TN: NCG, 2006. Audio CD. $10.95. (H)

Wilbur, Gregory, composer. John M. Duncan, Executive Producer. Recorded by Keith Compton. (Guitar and some vocals by Nathan Clark George.) My Cry Ascends: New Parish Psalms. Lake Mary, FL/Franklin, TN: Ligonier Ministries, 2010. Audio CD. $11.95.  (H)

I am a guitarist. It was my first musical instrument.

To say that the guitar has not always been "at home" in the Church is an understatement.

I have appreciated the musicianship of Nathan Clark George. He helps show a godly way forward in the use of acoustic guitar.

This first album highlights NCG (see the self-titled record label above) as a songwriter. Let me rephrase that: this recording shows George's skill as an interpreter of Scripture and of composing melodies and arrangements that fit the text.
Writing from the Scriptures poses some pitfalls. How are the passages to be represented? How should they sound? What response should the music and lyrics elicit? I have found that even the phrasing and musical ebbs and flows have bearing on interpretation, and so I try to be careful. Sometimes I am slow in writing and composing, but at other times I have a deadline and the song needs to be written. In some ways I prefer this because I am forced to move quickly through the process of editing, adding, subtracting, tossing, and settling. Art is a little inspiration, but a lot of work. God doesn't "give" me songs. I search, wonder, fight and grab for them. Even if one is started and done in 30 minutes-it's never right. I'm never satisfied-they never seem to grasp the majesty and mystery that surrounds my Lord.  (liner notes)
As a composer, I appreciate this humble perspective. And I also share what he says next:
I'm seldom nervous before a concert. I'm almost always nervous before I am to sing in worship-no matter how small or large the congregation. I am often singing a Psalm in worship...
Touching and handling the Word of God is and should be a fearful thing. Yet, we preachers and musicians need the same comfort of the Gospel that we sing and preach!

The Church as a whole needs to reclaim the singing of psalms in a variety of ways. George adds to that variety with gentle, yet strong support for psalm, canticle, and Scripture texts.
Nettleton was my favorite arrangement here because I so strongly gravitate toward hymnody. I would use the Psalm 130, Psalm 127, and Psalm 121 settings right away. The other scripture songs could work as preludes, postludes, introits, graduals, or offertories on an appropriate Sunday.

I love the acoustic sound that dominates his recordings and would encourage him to continue playing and continuing in that vein. It sounds natural and authentic to him.
There is a difference between "guitar music for Church" and "Church music for guitar." Thankfully, these recordings reflect the latter concept.

The songs of Gregory Wilbur, Chief Musician and liturgist at Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee are featured on My Cry Ascends.

Nathan Clark George joins Michael Card, Steve Green, Katy Snow, Wes King, and Bruce Carroll as guest musicians. George is featured as lead vocal on the very first track, "Not Unto Jehovah,"  "Come Ye Disconsolate," "How Blest the Man," "From Depths of Woe," and sharing with Katy Snow on "Blest Is the Man."

My critiques are minor. I would prefer that the term "Jehovah" were not used due to how it misunderstands the Hebrew YHWH with the vowel pointing for Adonai. I would suggest "the LORD God" to have the same number of syllables, or more the more accurate "the LORD." Beyond that, the archaic terms or spelling are true to the intent of the original authors.

Of particular note are "Mighty Kingdom" with a strong, manly use of drums, "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed" with a new tune, "How Blest the Man" with an adapted Southern Harmony tune, "Lord Jesus Think on Me" with its traditional tune, and "From Depths of Woe," a Luther text wed to a new very singable Wilbur tune.

Congregation words and music are available at an affordable price for download from Consider them as worthy resources to expand your congregation's singing of psalms!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.