Sound Theology by Colleen Butcher

The Week Between

Each season of the liturgical year is like a room full of beautiful artifacts and experiences that we spend a number of days or weeks exploring. As we move from room to room in this narrative house, we must pass through various doorways. The connections between seasons are sometimes referred to as hinge Sundays because they help us swing freely between one season and the next.

Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday act as hinges between Epiphany and Lent. The contrast between these two events could not be more stark: mountain top to the dust of earth, glory to repentance, external wonder to internal reflection. In order to navigate these major transitions, the liturgical designers have shaped the week between Epiphany and Lent so that we have time to move from one place to another, from one emotion through to the next. Sometimes the shift comes quickly, as does the daily shift from Good Friday to Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday. But the shift from Epiphany gives us a full 10 days of movement, from the last Sunday of Epiphany through Transfiguration Sunday to Ash Wednesday. Instead of a quickly swinging door, we have a longer hallway to traverse as we move from one room to the next. read more…

Celestial Sounds

It’s been cloudy here for weeks and weeks, and I have missed a number of lunar spectacles. Venus has been chasing Mars through the heavens for the past few months, and this month, they came within 5 degrees of each other. The full snow moon this month included a penumbral eclipse that is beautifully captured in these photos. As we come to the close of Epiphany, it seems fitting that we listen to music written about and in homage to the skies, the heavens, and the star that compelled the curious travellers to search for the baby in Bethlehem.

The Turtle Creek Chorale is this week’s choir. They are a large male-voice choir, founded in 1980. They have made over 35 recordings, which include dozens of commissions and new arrangements of popular choral settings. Their recording Celestial, features a variety of music to celebrate our ongoing fascination with sky-watching and the influence that the stars and the planets have on our own lives.

If you missed this month’s full moon, the next one in on March 12th. While you wait, enjoy the music of the Turtle Creek Choral. read more…

Off the Beaten Path

I have to admit, I have become enamored with banjos. There is such a variety of expression that includes the instrument, and such a varied approach to playing them that each time I find a new group, I hear something different and amazing.

They are as at home with guitars as they are with cellos, and their multiple voicings means that they can blend in, or stand out, depending on the situation. In this week’s playlist you will find a trio of brothers who are taking the traditional bluegrass/roots music into the 21sts century with all of the influences that a group of teenagers naturally bring to the music. There is a setting of “I’ll Fly Away” featuring the legends Earl Scruggs and Charlie Daniels. Bela Fleck is again in the list, in a duet with Chick Corea, the genius jazz pianist. The Rascal Flatts bring their song “Banjo” to the list. read more…

Throw Your Heart Down

In order to trace the genealogy of the banjo back through its African roots, Béla Fleck took an extended trip to the continent, arranging multiple opportunities to connect with local musicians. The trip became a documentary film called Throw Down Your Heart. The title of the film comes from a story told of the men and women taken by force across country to the edge of the jungles. When they saw the ocean, and the ships, the elders recognized that the journey would be one-way. As they considered their fate, the distraught people were advised to ‘throw down their hearts,’ forever connecting them to their homeland.

The musical influences and experiences of the tour have changed Fleck and all of the musicians who participated in the project: their connections created new sounds, and relationships that crossed genres and generations. read more…

What Goes Around Comes Around

Will you indulge me with a few more weeks of music that includes the banjo? I have been listening to an interview that Krista Tippett conducted with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn in November 2016. Many parts of their conversation are worthy jumping-off points for my random musings, and for developing an interesting musical playlist.

A palindrome is a word, phrase, or in this case, a musical line that is the same when said or played from front to back or back to front. Palindromes in music are wonderful puzzles – some more successful than others! As with all puzzles of this type, the success of the solution depends, in large part, on its elegance. Great creative work is often inspired by seemingly insurmountable boundaries. For a piece of music to be a successful palindrome, it must not only meet the technical criteria, but it has to sound good as well. There should be a tune, harmony, and counterpoint (rhythmic structure) that makes sense.   read more…