So, as I commented on Facebook Sunday night, that evening I led a Eucharist that was a little different. While it wasn’t a silent, or wordless, Communion, it did feature fewer words than usual. Inspired by various things, including my experience of Tuesday evening worship at the church of Edward, King & Martyr in Cambridge, my experience of leading various different types of worship in the College chapel at Wesley House as well as when I was a Pastoral Worker in the Purley Circuit, and some conversations on Facebook about the use of contemporary secular music in worship, the majority of the worship service was spent in quiet contemplation praying to a soundtrack of (fairly) contemporary instrumental tracks. The service had an underlying theme of “Sabbath” – with the part of the point being that I, as a minister, was taking a rest from the bulk of the work of leading worship by handing over to a group of bands and musicians (admittedly chosen in advance by me!). The worship worked to a reasonable extent, and certainly led to some useful feedback and good conversations over coffee afterwards. At least one person has since asked for the playlist, so here it is, with a few notes on each track:
Introit – Bass Trap by U2. “U2? Aren’t they some European Christian band?” So asked my Professor of American History at university in Mississippi on one occasion. I think we can safely say they’re a little more than that, but we can also be certain that the faith of three of its four members is deeply authentic – indeed they once almost gave up on music early in their career to join a Christian commune. Formed at a Dublin comprehensive school in 1976 they have become one of the world’s most successful bands, and used their fame to campaign on numerous social justice issues (not always without controversy). Bass Trap is an instrumental track that featured as a B-side on certain CD releases of the single The Unforgettable Fire. It is a piece that crescendos and then diminuendos at a gentle pace and never reaches a huge volume, which I thought useful for bringing people into worship without great fanfare. U2 are my favourite band, they had to feature somewhere, so why not have them introduce it?
Approach – Autumn in New York by Harry Connick, Jr. A born and raised New Orleanian, Connick is one of America’s most successful jazz and big band musicians, and a firm favourite of Mrs Nomad, who has numerous of his albums. I own only one – the soundtrack to the film “When Harry met Sally”, one of my favourite films of all time and which Connick provided the soundtrack for (as well as working with Marc Shaiman on the wider movie score). This track comes from that album. I chose this piece for this point in the worship because it has a relaxed and upbeat feel to it and as a piece of quite classical piano jazz would not be immediately off-putting to a congregation not used to the style of music of some of the later pieces.
Praise – Last Words by GoGo Penguin. GoGo Penguin are a new Manchester jazz trio. I discovered them by accident as I happened to be listening to Jamie Cullum’s jazz show on BBC Radio 2 on the way home from somewhere one night and he had them playing a live set. I was impressed, and looked them up on Spotify – I was hooked and bought their only album to date (who says streaming sites reduce music purchases?). Why did I choose this piece and for this point? Quite simple – I first heard this piece as I was quite far into the dive into my recent depressive crisis yet despite this it transported me to my happy place and had me dancing around my bedroom. Music to praise and thank God to? There’s no other track I’d currently choose!
Reflection – Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin. Yes, you read that right. Led Zeppelin. The greatest rock band in the history of the world. Ever. And why? Well, because in my short spoken reflection I commented on the idea that one reason it is good to rest is because in doing so we give others the opportunity to be heard. Anyone who knows anything about rock music knows that the late John Bonham (Bonzo) is arguably (and I’m one of those who’d argue for it) the greatest drummer the world has ever known. Any argument for or against such greatness will have to, at some point, deal with this track because for approximately 3 minutes of the not-quite-4-and-half-minute long track the other band members shut up, and the only “voice” is that of Bonzo’s drum-kit. And this is the shortened studio version, live he would play solo for 20-30 minutes! Bonham’s genius isn’t evident only in this track, it’s there throughout their catalogue, but this is the one where you get to hear his “voice” alone and realise just how much he has to say that’s worth listening to!
Confession – Guitar Flute and String by Moby. Is there anyone out there who listens to modern music who doesn’t own, or at least owned at some point, American electronic-dance musician Moby’s ridiculously successful album “Play”? This is one of the lesser known pieces from it, which is some going since 8 of the 18 tracks were released as singles, and all 18 were licensed for use in adverts, films and/or tv shows! I picked it because it has a nicely melancholy feel to it which I felt appropriate for prayers of confession and because it seemed to neatly segue into the next track.
Absolution – Sitar-Y Thing by Newton Faulkner. Newton Faulkner is a guitar playing singer-songwriter who was at the forefront of that particular type of musician’s rise to current popularity in the UK music scene in the mid- to late-noughties. He does an amazing acoustic version of Massive Attack’s Teardrop (the original of which makes my Desert Island picks) and is a both a witty lyrics writer and a talented guitar player. This piece was chosen because it segued nicely from the previous piece and because it has a upbeat, fun feel to it which I felt suited thanking God for his love, forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ.
Intercessions – Weather Storm by Massive Attack. As a Somerset lad who tends to look towards Bath when needing the bright lights of a city it normally pains me to recognise the cultural impact of local rival Bristol, but in the case of the fathers of “Trip Hop” I make a deserved exception. I have been a fan of Massive Attack since first listening to their critically acclaimed debut album “Blue Lines” (at a time when Led Zeppelin and Metallica were more my normal taste). To understand how impressive their electronically-based music is, it’s worth noting a number of their tracks can be actually performed acoustically by a single person – as Newton Faulkner’s version of Teardrop shows. This is another one – my sister owns a book of piano music which includes this track transcribed for a solo pianist, and it’s totally recognisable when done that way. It felt appropriate to use as its stormy theme seemed appropriate for the time we prayed for the storms of the world and those caught up in them. It was also the longest of the pieces I wanted to use, which also felt right for the intercessions.
Distribution – Drifting Away by Faithless. Another group, like Massive Attack, this time from London, that had (they’re sadly no longer producing) the ability to produce tracks capable of filling the dancefloor of a nightclub while at the same time making you actually think. The last track on their debut album, “Reverence” (if you only ever listen to one Faithless track listen to the title track of this album), slightly breaks the rules as it features a sample early on of opera piece L’atra Notte in Fondo Al Mare from Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofele”, meaning it does have vocals! However, I made an exception because the rest of the piece worked for me – it begins and ends with the sound of lapping waves, and in a service thinking about rest what could be better than conjuring up an image of the Cornish beach-side whilst people received the elements.
Dismissal – Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Booker T and the MGs’ influence and importance is undeniable: a house band for a record label (ie, effectively session musicians for solo artists signed to the label Stax) who made it in their own right into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville; a racially integrated group at a time when their genre (mainly Southern soul) was considered a simply African-American cultural phenomenon. I chose this particular piece because it is a great example of teamwork in music – of different people taking a rest at different points and allowing others to “speak up” or “take the lead”. It’s also got a good riff for getting up and walking over to the coffee and biscuits!
So there’s my playlist for Sunday’s worship. Feedback afterwards was universally understanding of what I was trying to do, and generally complimentary towards those aims. It was clear that for some worshippers the choice of music wasn’t entirely successful, but I knew that was a risk – the way music affects people means it will always be a risk (it’s the same with hymns and worship songs).
Whatever the soundtrack of your life currently, travel well,