On music and David Crowder (with an excursus on the Psalms and a brief detour into death and suffering)

I listen to a lot of depressing music. This should come as no great surprise to long-time readers of this blog. I tend to have a keen awareness of pain and suffering, and my artistic choices tend to reflect it. However, from time to time, I have a desire to listen to something more cheerful. That’s when the search begins. Counting Crows? It’s upbeat…some of the time…sort of…. U2? Upbeat music from a bunch of Irishmen? I doubt it. Gin Blossoms? Their music is upbeat, but the lyrics are very depressing. I could pull out some of my trance compilations, but that can be too upbeat.

It’s a hard thing.

Honestly, the reason that we don’t have a lot of happy music is that we don’t usually buy happy music. And why is that? It’s only recently that I put my finger on the answer to this question. In the end, it’s really quite simple.

I don’t like happy music, because most happy music is vapid. Sadly, this goes double for most Christian music. If I’m going to listen to happy music, it’s because I am wanting to be happy. But if I’m going to be happy, I want to have a good reason for it. And that reason needs to be good enough to overcome whatever depression or sadness I’m facing at the time. “I’ve Got The Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in my Heart” doesn’t cut it in the face of a dying teenager. If you want to persuade me to be happy, you have to prove to me why I should accept your happiness. Have you felt pain? Can I even tell from your songs? If not, then I’m not really all that interested.

What I’d really like is to have someone sit down and compose some music for the Psalms, drawing on blues, jazz, and rock. After all, as you read the Psalms, many of them are about the trouble of life and reaching out through them to God. Musically, that’s the blues. Sadly, as far as I know, such a thing does not exist.

And that’s too bad, really, because, as it stands, I don’t really like singing the Psalms.

Admittedly, part of this is a reaction against grumpy psalmodists. In the circles I move in, being an advocate for Psalm-singing usually means that you are a generally dour individual who doesn’t believe that it’s actually possible that Christians could write songs that are worth singing in worship to God. In fact, it is only in my current church that I’ve actually felt like we sing Psalms as an expression of joy.

The other major issue that I have relates to the setting of the Psalms to music from other hymns. Music and lyrics should form a unified whole, but this practice tends to suggest that the lyrical content is the significant part of a song, while the musical content is mutable. If something is important enough to be sung, then I believe that it should have music written for it. I am aware that this is more work than I know. But, if singing the Psalms is important, than so is writing good music to go with them.

From where I sit, for better or worse, as a rule, the music of the hymns does not touch me. It’s “church music”; it’s not the musical language of my life. It seems that, if I’m going to give voice to my heart’s cry, it should be in the musical language that I speak.

I want to see this divide between “church music” and “life music” be bridged. However, I’m not persuaded that the solution is simply that I need to change what moves me. I do need to work on bringing the hymns into my life. At the same time, quite frankly, I’d like to see more embracing of modern music by the Church. I’d like to see someone compose music that is deep and meaningful and intense and exalted and glorious. I’d like this person to sing me the Psalms, and let me sing with him.

Until this person arrives, I have David Crowder.

Recently I purchased David Crowder’s album A Collision or 3+4=7. It was originally going to be a Christmas present for Crystal, but I gave it to her early. The world has been wearing on us, and I thought that it would be helpful. I was right.

At the beginning of his song, “Be Lift or Hope Rising”, Crowder puts a recording of an old black spiritual:

Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world
The troubles of the world
The troubles of the world
Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world
Going home to live with God

Which leads into a serious, intense opening for the song:

How long till You hear us?
Till You come back, we ain’t giving up
How long till You heal us?
Till you come back, we ain’t giving up

But then, as the song continues, something strange happens. The somber intensity is suddenly shrugged off, and a bluegrass-style hoedown breaks out in the middle of the song.

Lift up your head
Lift up your head
Lift up your head
Be lifted, be lifted
Lift up your head!

The sorrow and the reaching out to God are not forever. Instead, they fall away and are replaced with joy. Because God has answered. Because He has heard our cry for rescue. So now, there is hope. It’s the same pattern as the Psalms. Lament leads to joy.

It is because Crowder takes death and pain seriously that I can take his call to joy seriously. Somewhere my brother found notes on all the songs on A Collision. In them, Crowder talks about the Indonesian tsunami, the atomic bomb (poetically referred to in the liner notes as a “sunrise over Hiroshima”), and a friend with terminal cancer. This is someone who knows the world, and he is willing to sing about it in his songs. And so, when he tells me that God has done wonderful things, I listen to him. And when he sings about the Resurrection, I listen to him:

Come Awake
Are we left here on our own?
Can you feel when your last breath is gone?
Night is weighing heavy now
Be quiet and wait for a voice that will say

Come awake, from sleep arise
You were dead, become alive
Wake up, wake up, open your eyes
Climb from your grave into the light
Bring us back to life

You are not the only one
who feels like the only one
Night soon will be lifted, friend
Just be quiet and wait for a voice that will say

Come awake, from sleep arise
You were dead, become alive
Wake up, wake up, open your eyes
Climb from your grave into the light

Rise, rise, to life, to life

Light will shine
Love will rise
Light will shine, shine, shine, shine
He’s shining on us now

This song opens with the sound of a heart monitor stopping, and it makes me think of William. I remember visiting him in the hospital when he was dying. I still remember the sound of the ventilator that was making him breathe. I remember when I heard a baby breathing through a hissing baby monitor, and I was cut to the heart because it sounded like William’s breathing in and out and in and out, but none of it was real. And I remember when I broke down sobbing in the grocery store after he died because I hurt so bad and all I wanted was something to make the pain go away and all I could find was string cheese and what I really wanted was for him to be alive.

And I listen to this song, and I remember that he is alive, and one day I’ll be able to see him and have all those conversations that I wished I could have had with him. And I remember that, one day, when I go to lie in my own grave, it’s not the end of the story. One day, I’ll hear a voice say to me, “Wake up, Seth. Time to get out of bed.” Just like when I was younger and Mom called for me to get up. And I’ll bound out of my grave and into Jesus’ arms.

Now that’s happy music. That’s something worth singing about.

The Lark Ascending Or (Perhaps More Accurately, I’m Trying To Make You Sing)
David Crowder

And I’m trying to make you sing
From inside where you believe
Like it’s something that you need
Like it means everything

And I’m trying to make you feel that
This is for real, that life is happening
That it means everything
I’m just trying to make you sing


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