Here is a thing…. Yes, that’s right; a thing. I’ve sent this to several Christian musicians I know. The music pastor at my church says he really likes the idea and he is going to help me with it. God works in mysterious ways.
The Crimson Hymnal Concept
Joshua C. Foreman ~ 8/2004
For some reason beyond my understanding God has given me a burden to create a worship album. I find it odd, because I don’t know much about music, and am not generally a fan of worship music beyond its functional aspect as facilitation for people to commune with God.
This desire can all be explained without the spiritual bent as another one of my oft temerarious projects. In fact, I have been planning on making music for quite some time. Recent events in my life have led me to a deeper love and understanding of God. So you could say these two trajectories crossed, and the natural conclusion would be the desire to tackle this project. To be honest, I am not close enough to God to be able to ask Him for a sure fire answer to this preponderance. Am I acting on the prodding of His still small voice, or am I just really wanting to make music? Well, like Gideon, I am blessed with far too few rescores to accomplish the task laid out before me. And so, like Gideon, I will find out if it is indeed His will that I should proceed, based on His provision or lack thereof. I will detail the rescores needed in the final section.
I am not a normal person. I am drawn to the disenfranchised. My aesthetic sense is out of the norm. I don’t like pop music. It follows that I don’t like pop worship. (Let me quickly qualify that by saying that I do love to worship, and deeply appreciate the music and musicians that make it all happen.) But God built me a certain way. I have been ministering to Christians who feel marginalized, betrayed, judged, and otherwise castigated by the church. I have found a ministerial niche online; comforting, providing arguments for sound doctrine, and hopefully guiding these hurt individuals to church bodies that will accept them and help them grow. As is the case with most sub-cultures there is a common musical taste that ties this group together. For the uninitiated; I will spare you the genre titles and simply describe it as dark music, using a lot of minor keys and generally aggressive percussion. I share their aesthetic and musical tastes, and so I have a lot of knowledge about the kind and quality of their music. Though there is a lively Christian scene producing material in this vein, the quantity is fairly small and quality is variable. Noticeably absent is any kind of worship music beyond a smattering of songs peppered throughout a couple of different artists and records. As with the listening base, the artists tend to be church-shy as well.
These are the people I would like to reach with this project. Those who rarely step foot in a church and have very little in the way of praise oriented music. This is not for broad ecumenical consumption.
As with pop music, our current worship style appeals to most people while completely missing the fringes. Before I am accused of constructing a consumer-driven framework for this project, let me say that the express purpose of it is just the opposite. I don’t want to make a widget that will appeal to X demographic. I would slap myself immediately if that were the case. I want to worship God musically in a form that is free from commercial constraints. I want to match the music to the words, the message to the medium. I know there is a group of people out there that are hungry for this. I myself am hungry for this.
Crimson Hymnal will diverge from modern praise and worship in both the music and lyrics. First, here is what I plan for the music.
Think of the bombastic imagery David uses: “So we will not fear even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” (Psalm 46:2&3). The profound darkness of Jeremiah: “I have cried until the tears no longer come. My heart is broken, my spirit poured out, as I see what has happened to my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.” (Lamentations 2:11). The austere majesty that John records: “Hallelujah! Salvation is from our God. Glory and power belong to Him alone. His judgments are just and true. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the murder of his servants… Hallelujah! The smoke from the city ascends forever and ever!” (Revelation 19:1-3)
This is, of course, a small cross section of potential moods that our current worship style can only hint at. (This again; is great for most people.) But I would like to explore the outer extremities of what these words evoke. I would like to draw on whatever instrument, style, or musical mannerism fits the theme.
I want to capture the numinous quality of the classic hymns and medieval chanting without the ascetic overtones that encumber them. God and His word are so multifaceted, so completely filled with life in every dimension! I feel it bursting from my chest. I want to scream it out! That is the plan.
Lyrically, I have been blessed with wave after wave of inspiration from my current troubles. I have been writing for this project for several months now, and am starting to organize and trim. I am seeing three distinct movements that the record will progress though, with the music mirroring the emotion. The first is Adoration. Awestruck wonder at God, His works, His ways, His power, His mercy. These songs are along the lines of David’s Psalms.
The second is Communion. These are songs of personal existential contact with God. How He has worked in me, what I bring to Him, our interaction, and how it affects our lives. These songs are not geared towards communal worship. They are intimate, but hopefully in a way that is consistent with others relationship with Him.
The third movement is Contemplation. This phase settles into a quieter, tranquil reflection of our spiritual journey. Less exposition, more anthemic, and maintaining an ethereal quality that is meant to compliment the afterglow of a night of powerful worship when His Spirit is strongly felt.
Ultimately, the lyrical and musical style of this project is fed by the belief that God made our bodies and minds, and loves them very much. Part of living with these bodies and minds are struggles with finding and communicating with our Creator. Sadness, anger, frustration, fear, loneliness, confusion, striving, happiness, peace, curiosity, and screaming joy are all part of us, and legitimate additions to our worship vocabulary. Honesty with God and ourselves brings us closer to Him.
Visually, there are no worries for this project. I am a sculptor and graphic artists, and I have made a couple of CD layouts before. I have a very strong sense for what I want to communicate visually and exactly how to do it.
I want this to be a double CD. It may be strange for me to say this after my previous ranting about non commercialism, but I really would like as many people as possible be ministered to by the project. A relatively simple way to do this is to have a version that omits the more extreme aspects such as electric guitar, screaming vocals, and pounding percussion. Since Crimson Hymnal will be fabricated on a computer, it is pretty easy to keep all the elements separated, and mix down two versions of each song. I would also reverse the order of the songs on the mellower CD, starting off with the tranquil ambient tracks and building to a crescendo at the end.
As hinted at earlier, I’m not a musician per-se. I have written plenty of music. I have been a vocalist in a band. But this is not my “main thing”. Therefore, it seems evident to me that the first thing I will need is a mentor. Someone who can listen to what I’m cooking, and tell me if I’m going in the right direction. Someone who knows music theory. Someone who can tell me if my low levels are muddy or my base line is in the wrong key. Someone who is obviously very patient!
Next I need contributors. I need talented musicians who feel led to help me on this project. I will write most of the music, but I am completely open to stylistic input. I want flourishes and solos. I want people who can take a theme and run with it, giving it their own personal touches. As an example, I was talking to a woman who is an absolutely amazing violinist about this project, and she mentioned that she really enjoys playing gypsy fiddle melodies. Fantastic! Lot’s of minor notes. It’ll work great. I work by layering many simple elements together, so there is a lot of room for a musician to add personal touches. Here is a list of instruments and vocals I would love to have on the record:
Acoustic and Electric Guitar
Male contemporary singer
Male operatic singer
Female operatic singer
Female contemporary singer
(I have some pretty cool possibilities for guest vocalists from some very good bands, but they would only make small contributions.)
I will also need a place to capture all this sound. A nice home studio is preferable, but beggars can’t be choosers. I have a small closet where I record my own vocals, but I’d hate to stuff a cello in there! Once I have the (hopefully) 24-bit sound files, I will do the mixing on my computer.
I hope that my years as an art lead will help me work through this process. One of the very few things I am good at is getting artists together to contribute to a vision. (And have fun in the process.)
I pray that all these artists and elements will congeal and have a Gestalten effect; that the whole will be more than the sum of its pieces. (Empowered by His Spirit!)
I don’t have a time table for this project. I only know that I need to do it. Also, since I have never produced an album before, I’m sure there are better ways of doing some of this. (Could you tell I’m completely winging it?) So if you are reading this, and feel like God would like you to help me out with a little advice or talent, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you would like to get a sense of my aesthetic tendencies from a visual perspective you can view some of my work at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scrybe/