Life In A Song (Or Two)

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The data is in, Planetshakers were both my artiste of the year and of the decade if Spotify’s number-crunching can be believed. Compared to 2018, I listened to 36% less music, although I suspect that had more to do with listening to a lot more podcasts than I did last year (thanks to switching to an Android phone and Pocket Casts), streaming more radio and the occasional YouTube binge.  What would be fantastic would be a service that aggregated my listening across all these platforms and thus enabled me to delve deeper into the underlying trends to my listening.

One positive from spreading my music listening across all these platforms is the cross-fertilisation that occurs between them. Several times over the course of the year, I’d hear a song on Air1 then pop into Spotify and descend into a rabbit hole for several hours, discovering a new favourite in the process. YouTube was also a useful source of inspiration for Spotify streaming; chief of which has to be finding Osby Berry (and Cross Worship) as well as People and Songs.  Even podcasts chipped in,  Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Records turning me on to Pentatonix (and in turn Naturally Seven) and Rhiannon Gidden’s Aria Code bringing the Queen of The Night aria to my attention. That cross-fertilisation is something I could use more of, particularly as it leads to discovering more music I might like. That discovery market just might be the next frontier for a streaming service to crack and get me to hand over my money.

A warning of sorts, this list is decidedly Christian as is a lot of my music listening. Here goes then, 10 of the songs which defined my year.

  1. Do It Again (Elevation Collective feat Travis Greene & Kierra Sheard): This was one of those songs I loved so much three versions of it made its way onto my Songs for the Dark Places playlist. This version was my favourite one, honourable mention for the Cross Worship/Osby Berry version too.
  2. Made A Way (Travis Greene): Although an older song, this was one that came to my attention first in 2018. It will forever be inextricably linked to A’s rendition of this in my Aberdeen church from what was a deeply fraught place for her.
  3. So Will I (Osby Berry): One of those songs I stumbled upon on YouTube, it ended up becoming a portal to discovering other music including Victoria Tunde. Another one of those songs I ended up liking more than the original.
  4. Control (Tenth Avenue North):  Church hopping earlier this year brought us to Welcome Church in Woking during their Why I Follow Jesus series and a message by Pete Hewlett which took in open-heart surgery amongst other things. This was one of the songs he had on repeat in those dark days, which brought it back to mind for me and on repeat several times during my year.
  5. YHWH (The Sound of My Breathing)[Donald Lawrence and The Tri-City Singers feat Jekalyn Carr]: Another one which made its way on to my dark places playlist.

Remembering

seasgull prompt
Image source, for The Sunday Muse prompt #74

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Like the slowly louder clunks
a train’s wheels send ahead,
as it wends its way along ancient tracks,
the old man’s memories float
slowly to the fore, the streaks
of dappled light dancing
on the walls behind his face
a spotlight, falling on him
the same way it falls on
a minstrel at a cabaret, drawing a hush
out of the muted mumblings of the gathered.
Though his wrinkled skin, once soft
now lies wrinkled, warped and folded
and his fingers once supple now lack dexterity,
like a seagull resplendent in its freedom
the memories of past songs return,
the track and the piano fusing in
a crescendo refusing to be silenced.

Wet Weather Problems, Twittering about Tea and Loving at First Write

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All it takes is an extended patch of wet and cold weather for things to descend into chaos on these islands, this latest batch of snow, heavy winds and cold weather culminating in flight cancellations and severe weather warnings amongst others. For the most part, I manage to survive – extra warm clothing, walking gingerly to and from work in the wet slush and almost continuous heating being the sum of the adjustments I have to make. It is at the weekend when the rooster comes home to roost in a manner of speaking. Having turned up at the airport for my 8.20pm flight down to Heathrow, delays till almost 11 pm are announced until at a few minutes before midnight we are advised the flight has been cancelled. Remarkably, everyone who should be on our flight is remarkably sanguine about it all,  helped I suspect by the sense that the weather ‘gods’ have been at it again. Between the final announcement of delays and the flight being cancelled, we find (from Flight radar) that the ‘plane designated to carry us away to London has made several attempts to land at the ‘Deen but has failed due to fog rolling in. They eventually get diverted to Glasgow whilst we make an orderly line at the front desk to get our flights rebooked. I move my flight by a week and then head home, not before I find out that the woman in front of me in the queue has family in the same area of Surrey that I’m headed to, and very much like me, she makes this trip every two weeks so. Joking about being four-day spouses, does have a ring of truth to it though. For me, it offers evidence that this thing – having a foot in two different countries – isn’t exactly impossible to maintain, mild weather-induced irritation notwithstanding.

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https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I have to thank this tweet, and the replies it spawned, for helping most of that time pass. Growing up in my other country, meals were all about being three ‘square’ meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tea – and apples amongst other things – were alien constructs I first came across in the various Enid Blyton books I scrounged off my more exposed friends. As I became older, tea became synonymous with instant cream milk (usually the Peak brand) and Bournvita (a chocolate drink) and on the odd occasion a cup of Lipton tea. Reading the replies and comments thus brought back memories of my first few years up here, particularly offshore and the contact with people from across the spectrum of UK regions it brought my way and brought more than a few chuckles to me too. A silver lining to all that waiting I would like to think.

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Elsewhere, I have been slowly catching up with the first season of Aria Code, Rhiannon Giddens’ deep dive into a number of the most famous arias along with interviews with singers and capped off with the full aria from the Met Opera. The penultimate episode from this first season features the “Letter Aria” from Jules Massenet’s Werther, which opens with Charlotte at home on Christmas Eve, rereading letters that she has received from Werther an ex-lover she has sent away to be focused on her marriage to her husband. One of the themes explored in this episode of Aria code is the subject of long-distance love, a theme lived and explored by one of the show’s guests Peter Bognanni (after briefly meeting his wife, they fell and grew in love over email before eventually marrying) in his book Things I’m Seeing Without You. Well worth a listen if Opera is your bag, or if like me you have good memories from having made friends and loving over significant distances.

The Diary: On Flights, Music and The Muddled Lives Of Heroes

Between work and visits to family, I travel quite a fair bit by air each year. Already though, 2017 is on course to be my most airborne yet – love-hate relationship with flying notwithstanding.  The thing with S has been a big part of that, more so over the last few weeks, five of the last six of which have been spent down south. In times like this, even I have to admit- however grudgingly – the usefulness of being able to just fly. I shudder to think of how many hours I would have spent on trains or coaches over the last few days if flying was not an option.

Coming up to Aberdeen on this last but one flight of the lot, the relatively seamless BA experience I have enjoyed over the last few months falls apart, my 9.00pm flight ending up being delayed by an hour. That turns out to be the least of my worries as upon arriving at Aberdeen we have to wait to disembark, and then spend over an hour at the taxi rank for a taxi home. The official reason for the delay with de-planing is that the hold is full and we have to stay on until it is emptied to prevent the plane from tipping over.  Ironic cheers greet the announcement, not helped I suspect by the tone with which the pilot relays the reason. By his own admission, it is the first time he has heard that used as a reason. All told, by the time I get home at 12.45am I am barely lucid. How I manage to make it into bed remains a mystery but somehow I do.

My trusty headphones – and music – have been indispensable companions on these jaunts. Most recently I have had Lecrae and Tori Kelly crooning into my ear, the song being the catchy I’ll find you tune. It is a song I stumble on on Spotify on one of those days on which I am mindlessly letting it decide what music I hear. My interest is piqued enough to put the song on repeat whilst I hunt down information on the song, from which I find out the video is in support of a children’s research hospital and comes from a place of pain for folk they know who were battling cancer at the time. Its themes – fighting through a difficult season but knowing there’s someone who’ll make the effort to support one are ones that are uplifting and comforting in their own way.

With the benefit of a clear head a few days later, the question of how much of a distinction there can be between spiritually uplifting stuff (read music, sermons etc) and the messengers who bring them to us comes to mind. A few years ago, the Hillsong song Healer was a firm favourite of mine, made all the more interesting by the back story – the writer of the song was apparently dying of cancer. That was later shown to be false which prompted a huge backlash and calls for the proceeds from the song to be returned and a number of the organisations which had provided him a platform moving to distance themselves from him. Lecrae himself has stirred controversy with comments he has made about not being a Christian rapper and his outspoken support of Black Lives Matter.  Eugene Peterson, creator of The Message paraphrase, also drew some flak for apparently shifting towards endorsing same-sex marriage, a position he had to clarify very quickly.

All told, there does seem to be a tendency with Christendom to throw the baby out with the bath water and immediately distance itself from folk who seemingly stray from the weathered centre ground of orthodoxy. Two views I have found helpful on this subject of what to do with the ‘muddled’ lives of highly visible messengers come from John Piper and Russell More in the aftermath of the Peterson shift that was not. Truth remains truth, human vessels are inherently flawed and their output should be read through the lens of the bible itself.

 

Rhythmic

dance

Image Credit Seb (Unsplash); for the prompt Rhythmic


In the wake
of the rising sun
comes the call of dawn;
a song drawn
from the chirp of birds,
the flutter of leaves,
the creak of stirring bones
and the lap of waves
carried on the breath
of the morning breeze.

Here on the edge
of the morning
in the quiescence of
a lingering dream,
the memory of the patter
of your feet lives on.
In the sumptuous symphony
of nature’s call and response,
the perfect fit
of the lilt of your voice
and the wind in the trees
You return.

02. On Insides and Outsides


Image Source

In keeping with one of my resolves this year to make a regular practice of prayer and bible reading a habit this year, I read the second chapter of Mark yesterday. In Mark’s account, Jesus forgives (and then heals) a paralysed man, calls and hangs out with Levi, a noted sinner and allows his disciples skip fasting, as well as pluck grain for nibbling on on the Sabbath. This leaves the establishment figures in a fit, their concern being that outward expressions of the law are being flouted by Jesus and his disciples.

Jesus takes a different view, insisting that the principles of the law (as evidenced by David’s eating of the priestly bread) are more important than its letter. That left me thinking about all the ways in which my extreme focus on doing, and being seen to be doing the right things can sometimes

So for this prompt, I’m taking a lesson away — focus on the insides, build true authenticity which only comes from being true on the inside. The externals will fall into place…

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

A Good Year Of Sorts – A Playlist

It feels like the sort of thing that one knows intuitively;  that music and memory are inextricably linked.  Finding out that there is a whole slew of science (Google search) that supports this is intensely gratifying, in the same way I imagine that someone who stumbles on a hastily put together recipe for quick delicious food must feel if that recipe ends up being celebrated by what I suppose is the more discerning palate of a Gordon Ramsey or a Jamie Oliver. Time and time again when I reflect on a song from yesteryear, I find that the where, who, what and when are indistinguishable from the song of the time, particularly where it was a song that I had on repeat for what feels in retrospect like days on end.

It feels like I listened to a lot more music this year than I have previously – a feeling backed up by my Instagram feed it seems. Walking and running a lot more this year than I have previously has helped, seeing as my trusty phone is a constant companion on these. I might subscribe to Spotify or a similar service next year, just for the greater granularity and visibility it will bring to my listening habits.

As I reflected on the year over at Stories.ng, I found that the thing with L (which ultimately failed) and the thing with S (which I am hopeful about) featured prominently, as did wrestling with the burden of grief, my extended weekend in Vienna and the Hillsong Conference which were the highlights of my #NineFridaysOfSummer.

Looking over these songs, I found clear patterns: Songs #1 and #2 corresponded to the start of the year and the sense of fresh energy, #3 to #9 lined up with the back and forth with L and the ultimate demise of that situationship. Songs #10, 11 and 12 reflect on slowly coming around to and warming up to the thing with S, #16 a throwback to the Hillsong conference and the much anticipated release of the conference worship album. #19 was the sound track to the period in which I wrestled with the burden of grief.

Beyond the obvious things above, there are no other overarching things to glean – it is a mix of genres, styles and eras in the christian contemporary music genre. Make of them what you will.

  1. Chasing Me Down – Israel & New Breed feat Tye Tribbett
  2. God’s Favour – Donald Lawrence feat Kim Burrell, Kelly Price, Karen Clark-Sheard
  3. When The Rain Comes – Third Day
  4. Never Too Far Gone – Jordan Felix
  5. Tell Your Heart To Beat Again – Danny Gokey
  6. Beloved – Tenth Avenue North
  7. Speak To Me – Audio Adrenaline
  8. This Too Shall Pass – Yolanda Adams
  9. Shoulders – For King & Country
  10. Back To The Beginning Again – Switchfoot
  11. Love Is A Beautiful Thing – Group 1 Crew
  12. The Best Is Yet To Come – Donald Lawrence
  13. Till The Day That I Die – TobyMac
  14. Mended – Matthew West
  15. Resurrecting – Elevation Worship
  16. What A Beautiful Name It Is – Hillsong Worship
  17. The Very Next Thing – Casting Crowns
  18. God Is My Refuge – Fred hammond
  19. Just Cry – Mandisa
  20. No Weapon – Fred Hammond
  21. We’re Blessed – Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ
  22. O Come To The Altar – Elevation Worship
  23. Shouting Grounds – Crowder