Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Today I am doing some bits of recording for an EP/demo, which I will sell (a limited number of copies of) at a Christmas market organised by my friends Robyn and Elena. I laid most of the tracks down last week, but today should see it mostly finished. This is exciting.

If you're in Durham on Saturday, do pop down and have a look. I'll get round to selling any left over copies via the blog later on next week.

And here is the inside of my bedroom, decked out in it's 'home recording studio' gear:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

CREATE! (Part two)

Here is the second part of the seminar I did on being creative Christians in music. In this half we looked at some Christian and secular music videos (and obviously listened to them as well!), and asked a series of questions.

For the three secular songs I chose ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ by Coldplay, ‘The A-Team’ by Ed Sheeran, and ‘open arms’ by Elbow. All three are great tunes, and deliberately chosen as fairly recent releases. We asked the following questions of all three:
What strikes you in this song?
What do you like / dislike about it?
What emotions does the song provoke?
What are the messages of the song?
Summarise these messages into a few sentences, i.e. the song’s Worldview
How would a Christian worldview respond?

The first three are really interesting to talk about, but not so much when it’s just me telling you what I like, so for the purposes of this blog entry, I’ll just put a summary of what we discussed for the last three points.

Lyrics here.

We said that this song is heart wrenching, particularly with the video, and that here we see a song which cries out at the injustice of the world, and how hopelessly someone can be entrapped, enslaved by drugs. The song is tragic, but the girl’s death at the end (and start) becomes a kind of release once you’ve seen her suffering life. We pointed out that a Christian worldview offers release through Christ, who came to set the captives free, to break the yoke of slavery. This doesn’t make the situation any less tragic, but actually more so, because of the freedom offered in Christ which the girl doesn’t get to have. Very interesting is that Sheeran replaces the ‘We’re just’ with ‘We’re all’ seeming to suggest and emphasise that the entrapment is more widespread than, well, I’m not too sure what. I might be reading too much into that…

Lyrics here.

It took us a little while to work out what this song was about, but with a bit of discussion, we decided it was saying something about numbing the pain and difficulty of life with loosing yourself in music, and shutting everything else out. I’m not too sure about the latter half of the song, and whether the ‘emerge blinking’ is a reference to coming out of that world of numbness, to where things do hurt, but that’s my hunch. Either way, the Christian message would be ‘yes, the world is hard, but no, the response shouldn’t be to cut ourselves off from hardship. We must grapple with the issues of the world, and that, ultimately, Christ offers an explanation, a strength to endure, and a coming restoration. A challenging thought from Coldplay as to how we deal with the hardship of the world, plus a great riff…

Lyrics here.

Our discussion of this was slightly different, in that it was noted that this song is a real mirror of the Prodigal Son parable, but without the father figure. Obviously a Christian worldview would say that we return not to ‘everyone’, but to the father to find comfort, healing and restoration. An interesting thought about Elbow was raised by my friend Chris, at another event, that Elbow seem to find ‘the holiness of the everyday’, which is a great way of saying that, in this song, the joy, power and to some extent, spirituality, of a fairly normal episode – a party, is celebrated. Fascinating to see the combination of part of a biblical parable and truth, manipulated, but joined to the mundane…

We then looked at a couple of Christian artist, more to get the creative inspirations firing as to what is possible in creating Christian (non-worship) music. We could have looked at loads, Sufjan Stevens, Owl City, Rosie Thomas, but I chose just two:

Lyrics here.

Josh Garrels tends to sing more overtly Christian songs, which is interesting. I’d be intrigued to know whether people who aren’t Christians would listen to him. I’d hope they would, as I think he has a great style and is very flexible as a vocalist. Here we see clearly not only a Christian Worldview, but also obvious truths about the gospel sung.

Lyrics here.

Conversely, if you didn’t know Athlete were Christians, the meaning of this song would not be obviously Christological. I wonder whether the embedded nature of their faith is what has led to them being more popular? I’d guess not considering how big Sufjan Stevens is, and how blatant his faith was in his earlier stuff. What this Athlete song does so beautifully, is give the emotive joy and sorrow of needing to be rescued (and being sure it is coming), without distracting people with overtly Christian language which might stop people from engaging with their hearts, and limit to arguing against the lyrics in their heads.

Ultimately we decided that a lot of different forms of engagement in all ranges of music is a very good, even a vital thing. As Christians, our faith should influence how we listen to, and are affected by music. If we make music, whether it be for communal, sung worship or for others to listen to, whether the gospel truths be obvious, or the music simply tells something of our hearts as Christian musicians, we are bound to be influenced in what we write by our faith, and that is a good thing to be embraced, not something to be avoided.

In a related note, I’m hoping to get some stuff recorded and edited this week, which will be aimed at sharing some of my life as a Christian in the muck of the world. Watch this space (i.e. do follow this blog…)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

CREATE! (Part one)

Last week I helped run an evening about how the Christian Union in Durham University could engage in culture, and be exploring the place of Christianity in their participation in the creative arts. Following a short discussion of how creativity relates to the story of creation, fall, redemption and new creation seen throughout scripture and history, we split into groups to look at how that creativity might play out in individual arenas within the creative arts, and I led some stuff on music.

We started by talking about what it means to be a Christian musician, looking at some examples of how music was, is and can be used in church, as well as why we might play music outside of a church context. I’ll post those thoughts first, as they’re quite informative on the second half of what we did, which was to watch some music videos and chat about them.

We started by thinking about how music and song has been used in scripture and in Church, and pointed out a few things:
  • Predominantly as thanksgiving and praise. Music formed a key part of Israel’s worship in the Old Testament, with some being responsible for directing this kind of worship (cf. Nehemiah 12:36).
  • This is most obvious in the songs of the Psalms, which cover a every emotion of the heart, but through eyes which recognise God’s power and grace. Often this is clear in the turning of a broken heart towards God, who provides a sanctuary and healing, but there are many Psalms of other forms.
  • The use of music is also seen in as a significant part of the New Testament Church, with the early saints singing songs when meeting together, even when in prison.

The second question we addressed was whether there were differing purposes for these varying uses of music in scripture and church history. We decided that yes, there were different purposes, but that often these are not singular in any given bit of music, and that more often than not a fair number of these are covered:
Soli Deo Gloria, as written on a
score by Handel.
  • To encourage one another, and to sing/make music to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19)
  • To sing to God with gratitude (Colossians 3:16)
  • To sing out among the nations, i.e. those who don’t yet know God (Psalm 9:11)
  • In church history, used as an aide to teaching theology to those unable to read scripture
  • To bring God glory by using gifts he has given e.g. Handel and J.S. Bach, who often signed their scores with the initials S.D.G. (for Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone)

Generally these function are combined either into music for sung, communal worship (the overwhelming use of music in the modern church), or as other forms of music, normally more for either performance and/or as a expression of the heart of the musician’s appreciation of something God has done or is. This second, less communal use, can be seen both Psalms and ‘songs from the Spirit’ (separate to hymns and psalms cf. Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

It is fairly clear that the function of Christian music is often different to that of secular music, although when I asked the question of whether Christians have to produce only Christian music, there was a mixed and interesting response.

Initially people said ‘No, Christians can make secular music too’, but with a bit of discussion we modified this statement to ‘Christians don’t only have to produce music for sung worship’. From this comes the question of what makes Christian music Christian music?

There are a few things that could define this:
  • Firstly, as looked at above, often the function of Christian music is different to secular music, which can be produced for a variety of reasons, but, by its very nature is not going to have much focus towards anything spiritual or theistic. However, unanimous consensus was that music for sung worship wasn’t the only Christian/spiritual/theistic use of music possible.
  • In terms of style, we acknowledge that sung worship music has to facilitate sung worship, and so stylistically in a bit limited. Although music not written for sung worship shouldn’t have to be constrained by these styles.
  • The thing we decided was a key part of the definition of Christian music was the presence of a Christological worldview (a worldview which hinges on having Christ as the centre and key to understanding the world) in the message or heart of the music. We said that this didn’t have to be instantly obvious, nor did the song have to have a gospel outline in it, the key importance was viewing whatever situation, theme or emotion the song was talking about with the eyes, heart and mouth of a Christian.
  • Therefore we decided that a Christian could only produce ‘Christian music’. Since making music requires pouring something of yourself into the thing you’re making, a whole-hearted Christian producing music would inevitably pour something of their faith, their Christological worldview, into their music. Thus any Christian making music that doesn’t go against their worldview is making Christian music to one degree or other. As Jesus came to, and engaged with humanity in every way that was not sinful, so we are called to do likewise with the culture around us.

We then talked about whether Christian musicians, specifically those playing music for other reasons than communal sung worship, should be involved in secular music circles. The answer was an overwhelming yes. Below are some of the reasons:
  • Music is a gift! 'Common grace' states that anyone with a musical gift can create music that reflects something of God’s image of goodness and love. Therefore any music can be good to listen to if we can identify something of God’s goodness in it.
  • Despite the difficulty of remaining distinct, if a Christian worldview is left out of music then what is the message of most music? There are some notable exceptions of secular artists who engage with significant themes, the big questions of life, through music. Without Christians in this arena, we are actually being pretty rude to people who, through music ask heartfelt questions, by refusing to reply and start up a conversation with them.
  • Furthermore, the loudest voices in music seem to preach the importance of money, sex, success, the importance of me and my happiness above all else. If no voices respond with another way, with God’s way of selflessness and sacrificial love, then what happens to a society that idolises pop and rock stars, most of whom point to nothing greater than themselves? (This is not always true of secular musicians – I heard someone, I think it might have been Labyrinth, on Radio 1 saying he finds it hard to accept so much praise because he’s just a person, not a god.)
  • Being disengaged from the world is not the call of scripture, Paul in Acts 13, 14 and 17 speaks in different ways to different people, famously using Greek poets and philosophers in Acts 17. We are called to be distinct but engaged, included but bring God in with us.

In conclusion it was said that we, as Christian musicians, are called to engage by considering what is good in secular music, approving of it where something of God’s heart is displayed. That is, preserving the good stuff – like salt. But also challenging the bad stuff, the non-Godly attitudes, by bringing light into this darkness, by contributing our own work, which has something of God’s heart for His world in it.

We then moved on to look at some secular and Christian musicians, and compare their songs, the discussions of which I’ll post on here in part two in the next few days.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above though – do share and discuss – it’s not intended to be a final word on music and worldview, so I’d like your ideas too!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are

Sorry that I’ve been away for so long.

It’s been a tough few months with the death of one of my parents. Obviously this is tragic, but sometimes grappling with doubts and grief and the questions of why, can produce insights into depths that I didn’t know existed.

In the next few weeks I will endeavour to put some of the products of the first six months or so of grappling with these things. I don't know that they'll be profound, but I hope that through it you’ll get a glimpse of my heart in the moments where it gets a glimpse of deep emotions and higher thoughts.

It’s already produced two new songs, with a number of other bits of poetry, and doubtlessly other things are brewing. But before that, in the next day or so, I’d like to offer some notes on a really interesting seminar I went to on the interweaving of world-views and creativity.

Watch this space…