REVIEW: EXTENDED VERSION It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God compiled by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) ON SALE NOW

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THIS IS THE LONGER VERSION OF THE REVIEW.  THANKS FOR READING.


Ssquare Halo Books logo.jpgQUARE HALO BOOKS

My friend Ned Bustard manages Square Halo Books, a boutique publishers in Lancaster, PA, that specializes in books about Christian faith and the arts.  The books he produces are always nicely designed - his day job is running his own graphic design firm - and are always a labor of love.  In 2007 they released what has become their most popular work, a fabulously diverse and rich anthology of essays about different aspects of art, and making art, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books; $24.99 -- on sale for $22.50.) Besides lots of full-color art, it includes mature and insightful essays by visual artists, Christian art historians and critics, aIt-was-Good-cover.jpg few musicians (pop music producer Charlie Peacock, jazzman and theology professor Bill Edgar), various and sundry other cultural creatives as well as a few who work in ministry with artists (Tim Keller, pastor of the thriving Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of the arts district in Manhattan, written before he became as famous as he now is.) For what it is worth, it showcased the first chapter in a book by the esteemed founder of IAM, Makoto Fujimura, (his good chapter there is called "That Final Dance") and his art wonderfully graced the cover. We here at Hearts & Minds raved about it.  It remains one of the handful of must-read titles we include in any list or display of books about the arts.

I think Ned knew all along that there would be a sequel, one specifically exploring the role of music in God's world, IWG2, so to speak. Ned is a huge music fan with wide and passionate tastes -- it may be that I first met him at a concert or festival. Years and years in the making (an artful story in itself) we could not be more proud to announce that we now have It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory odouble good.jpgf God compiled and created by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books; $24.99.) With nearly 30 stellar chapters and 336 pages, it is a beautiful, beautiful resource, a worthy book to add to your shelf. If you work in the field of music - music teacher, choir director, aspiring rock star, high school band director, worship leader, concert promoter, record producer - you should buy several; you just should.  It is unquestionably now the best book in the field and you will want to share it with others, often. I predict there will be study groups and book clubs reading it together in rehearsal halls and choir lofts and recording studios and coffee shops and Christian education classrooms, wherever musicians gather to dream about their work. 


EXPERIENCE AMPLIFIED (OR: WHY THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT)

Allow me to begin my review with a rumination on one of the last chapters in the book, one on booking and promoting concerts called "Experience Amplified" by Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.  Kirstin VG-R writes wonderfully - read her regularly by subscribing to catapult -- and in this chapter she tells of the remarkable work of Calvin College's Student Activities Office as it brings in thoughtful musicians, songwriters and bands to enhance the appreciation of (and discernment about) the popular arts among Calvin College students (and the wider Grand Rapids community who have enthusiastically affirmed their innovative work.) Like the other chapters in It Was Good: Making Musicconcert hall.jpg to the Glory of God, Ms VG-R was given a one-word title; in her case, "promotion", and she walks us through the vision, theology, and storied details of booking acts, promoting shows, finding appropriate venues, the complexities of ticket sales and hospitality and education and live concert production. In her vividly portrayed piece she draws us in telling about all the concert posters on the cinder block walls of their grotto-like offices -- I've seen those posters in that cluttered office noting advertisements for Dave Matthews, Andrew Bird, Lupe Fiasco, Emmylou Harris, Gungor, Iron and Wine, Mavis Staples, Sigur Ros, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn, fun., Jars of Clay, Aradhna, Kishi Bashi, Regina Spektor, and many, many more -- country to rap to soul to indie pop and more.  She notes that the decor is, actually, theological:

It's a messy witness, tacked to the walls with duct tape and poster putty, on  display for all to see and to discuss and to question. The motto of the Student Activities Office (SAO) is "changing the conversation about popular culture" andcalvin sao.jpg even the posters serve this purpose. But anyone can stick pieces of paper on the wall.  Beyond physical space is where the conversation really heats up, as live concerts draw people into the circle with all five senses.  Lights and speakers, instruments and microphones, musicians and fans converge in a big room for just a moment in time and each moment is precious enough to frame.

But it all begs bigger questions: Why should Christians spend time and money on such activities --and not just as observers, but as promoters? What, if anything, would make a concert venue run by Christians different from other venues? This chapter will use the Calvin College concert series as a case study for reflecting more deeply on the potential for concert venues informed and shaped by holistic Christian values.

Msoil and sun.jpguch of this amazing chapter is inspired by the leadership of SAO Director Ken Heffner, and Kirstin tells of his vision -- inspired largely by the wide-as-creation redemptive theology of Dutch Reformed public intellectual Abraham Kuyper. I know a bit of how this has worked for Heffner and his staff and student team, and know that for them there have been huge struggles -- not everyone in the religious community understands  the risks and blessings of the best popular art or the theological insights of common grace, and not everyone in the artistic community trusts or appreciates the conversations going on in places like Calvin College; some mainstream artists and managers and journalists, in fact, are unsure about their efforts to nurture Christian discourse, confusing their views with the censors of the religious right, perhaps. 

So, for instance, he ended up on the phone last year with one of the members of a world-famous band, literally while they were rehearsing at the famed NBC studios before their SNL gig talking through painful misunderstandings; his intentional and artist-savvy conversations about Calvin's distinctive worldview with top-tier artists and their management have sometimes gone late, late into the night and continued long after the artists have left the campus.  

They have worked hard to generate trust and wisdom about how to host artists, which to avoid and who to work with, who to nurture and what boundaries to be clear about. It has been difficult, yes -- with very few models at any other colleges being so intentional and discerning in this way.  

But there have also been great, great joys, some of them sowing seeds of gospel hope among musicians who are amazed that this small religious campus cares so very much about the arts, about popular culture, and about hosting and producing an excellent show in a quality venue. 

World famous, Grammy Award winning indie band Death Cab for Cutie last year made it a point to note that they could have played at other more lucrative halls, but knew that Heffner's team treats them well and -- fascinatingly -- their students pay attention, appreciating the artfulness of the show, engaging the music as if it is, well, a gift made possible by a good God; by some accounts, SAO audiences are the best of any crowds on a performer's entire tour. A rare culture of engagement in popular music has developed over time there, and even secular artists are caught up in moments of grace as audiences participate appropriately.

I SAY ALL THIS BECAUSE...

It seems to me that there are hundreds of faith-based and church-related colleges andIt was Good Making Music.jpg thousands of churches that host concerts, and yet very few have risen to this sort of conversation about the role of popular entertainment, seeking a coherent and faithful understanding of contemporary music, nor have many really been intentional about considering a set of uniquely Christian practices about appreciating music in all its many-splendored textures and tones and styles.  

The singular witness of Calvin's SAO series -- told so helpfully in Vander Giessen-Reitsma's chapter -- is vivid indication of just why It Was Good Making Music to the Glory of God is so very important. 

This book is a delight to read, a joy, thrilling even, if you are a music lover.  But, also, it is important.

ONE MORE TIME:  RESISTING SACRED/SECULAR DUALISMS TOWARDS A MORE FAITHFUL VIEW OF THE ARTS

And so, from this wonderfully-written chapter about this esteemed program near the end of the book we are reminded of a theme that most serious Christian artists intuit and need to learn to better articulate, a theme that arises quickly in both It Was Good books -- there is no necessary division between the so-called sacred and secular; church music is not necessarily more "spiritual" than a love song or hoedown, God is honored and gladdened by faithful music of any sort, not just congregational or sacred music. 

Good art, guided by the spirit and values and vision of the artist, pays homage, more or less allusively, to a way of seeing life, a way of believing about life and in that sense all art is fundamentally religious (of one religion or another.)  Art or music that is intentionally Christian can nonetheless be bad art, and goodness and truth and wondrous artfulness can be found in the most profane of work.  In God's good grace, we live in a world of color, texture, sound and rhythm, and we can, indeed, make all manner of music to God's greater glory.  

Such humane and God-glorifying song, again, can be a child's song about belly-buttonsmusic painting.jpg (as one of the great chapters here tells us) or a politically-charged bit of social criticism or it can be a liturgical chant or a passionate praise chorus.  All such songs (the kid's song or the liturgical piece) can be well-made, insightful, healthy and good, or can be poor, shallow, harmful, and bad. 


That kind of extraordinary reminder of a glorious whole-life Kingdom vision which affirms the presence of God in common grace throughout all of life and culture is only one of the great reasons to enjoy this marvelous, and marvelously thought-through collection.


GLIMPSES

Reading It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God you will catch glimpses of that "every square inch" / all-of-life-being-redeemed vision lived out, explained and explored as many solid folks bear witness to the role of the good gift of music in their lives. You will enjoy hearing a bit about producing The Civil Wars and a lot about counterpoint in Bach; you get a grand workshop on the history of jazz, another on the spirituality of the blues; and you'll learn about the hymn-writer who penned the beloved "In Christ Alone." 


You will enjoy hearing about music in the life of parents and children and you will consider the rigors of those who perform as a vocation.  There are chapters about what the Bible says about song and there are chapters about how to be more artfully engaged in appreciating music -- in church and in the rest of our lives, outside of the sanctuary doors.  Square Halo Books has done us a great service in enriching our lives by offering us this vivid conversation into which we are invited.  It is, in my humble view, one of the best books we've read in years --- in part because it helps us think about faith in such a down-to-Earth, practical way.  


As Bustard says in his excellent foreword,


We were made to sing to the glory of God. He deserves glory from us due to his majesty as well as his kindness to us. Some see an obligation to glorify God as a burden or limitation. But this is simply not the case. Living lives to the glory of God makes us more of who we are. It is the difference between merely existing in black and white and taking in all of life in full technicolor.


SO MANY STYLES

Iiwg-m_cd_cover.jpgn It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, thoughtful Christian singer/song-writers in the Americana/pop vein talk about learning their craft, about how to write, about collaboration and touring, even as classically-trained church leaders ruminate on their work (see the brilliant chapter on rehearsal by the Music Director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.)


Some chapters tend towards anecdotal entries that are interesting and entertaining such as Charlie Peacock's reflection on his amazing career, a truly remarkable interview with hip hop artist and producer Shai Linne, Diana Bauer's powerful telling of how music helped her in times of great sorrow -- one of the best in the book! --  and a wonderful interview with Keith Getty (composer of beloved contemporary hymns, most notably "In Christ Alone.") 


There are many more specialized chapters, focusing on Biblical study or a particular topic (collaboration, minor keys, participation, fame all of which are tremendous.) There are no tidy lines between genres, and there are pieces about music created for worship purposes -- like a learned chapter on singing the Psalms  --  and many on the musical work done for popular entertainment and performance.  Some seem to be written for musicians, although as a non-musician, some of these were among my very favorites.


For instance, I absolutely loved Vito Aiuto's chapter on songwriting and Sandra McCracken's splendid and homey piece on creativity and Drew Holcomb's reflections on touring.


Actually, there is a whole lot for non-musicians, for those of us who listen to recordings, take in live shows, or just sing at church or in the shower.  For instance, Katy Bowser's piece on children's music is absolutely excellent (the best I've even seen on this topic -- I hope you know we stock her Coal Train Railroad CDs and the lovely Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones CD.)  What a thoughtful, inspiring chapter, a so fun to read.


The brilliant, profound work on the aesthetics of delight written by Bethany Brooks is fantastic. She is an accomplished classical pianist (who plays all over the world) who also is active in the roots music scene in Philly.  Oh yes, she also is a music director at City Church there.  Anyway, it is a very, very impressive chapter and musicians and music lovers should reflect upon.  It is one of the most important pieces centering the whole IWG project. 


Stephen Nichols' wonderful telling of the life of Johnny Cash becomes a bit of a morality tale about fame, and is a treat to read.


Jeremy Begbie is spot on when he says on the back-cover that "this book shows that it is still possible to write about music in a way that enriches our experience of it.  Above all, it will renew your gratitude to God for making such art possible."  


A REMEDY

It is interesting, isn't it, that music is around us so very much, but we often fail to attend to it with much focus, and we rarely discuss it together, reflecting on faithful expressions and fruitful understandings.  We get upset when pop stars do hare-brained stuff and we renounce this or that trend, or complain about music we didn't like in church. We turn the car radio up or down as the case may be. But, too rarely do we pursue the kinds of good conversations as given to us in this book.  Yes, this book is indeed a gift. The editor, the publisher, and the authors are to be commended for this labor of love.


It is notable when a book garners eloquent and passionate endorsements and this volume already is gathering just such glowing recommendations. Listen to rock and roller Dave Perkins, now Associate Director of the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt:


Is it possible to fully elucidate the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, even physical experience of music making? Perhaps the best way to go about it is to gather a choir of voices. It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God offers a rich resource of perspectives, each working to share some aspect or moment in the experience of that mercurial characteristic of human being we call music and its place in the life of faith.


The book covers so much good ground that it is hard to describe -- I just want to offer this plea that you buy It Was Good: Making Music right away! (It will, of course, make a fabulous Christmas gift, as does the first IWG volume.) I hope that our readers will trust us on this one.


FREE MUSIC

As an added bonus, there is a complimentary link where for free you can go toiwg-m_cd_cover.jpg Noisetrade and download an 18 track album of songs by many of the artists in the book.  Yep, you get to hear Drew Holcomb and Joy Ike, Charlie Peacock and Sandra McCraken, The Welcome Wagon and Coal Train Railroad.  There are worship songs from strong church composers, a modern classical piece, acoustic singer-songwriter solo songs and a fabulous jazz piece with Bill Edgar playing piano, John Patitucci on bass and the incredibly  Ruth Naomi Floyd on vocals.  18 songs in all -- what a great bonus for those who buy the book. 


Well, I don't want to miss out on the joy of explaining some of what is to be found between these cool covers.  There truly are some amazingly interesting topics and some pretty stellar authors.


So, please bear with me as I give the shout outs.  I imagine them all lining up as after a show, hands clasped, bowing in unison before the encore.  I wanna be the emcee and call out with gusto "Ladies and gentleman, give it up one more time for...."


We were imagining all the grand authors lined up at the edge of the stage for a communal bow. (I don't know who these folks are below, but you get the picture.)  They've got their arms around each other's waists, some are sweating under the stage lights.  A few are holding back a little, a few are grinning ear to ear.  They are all very glad your here.  They do indeed what God to get the glory.


So, here they are, folks, in mostly alphabetical order...


group bow.jpg

Let's hear it for:


Vito Aiuto.  He's friends with Sufjan, who makes a brief appearance in this chapter, is a gentle hipster pastor in Brooklyn, and front man for the quirky neo-folk / quasi-worship band cleverly called Welcome Wagon.  He gives us here a truly great chapter on songwriting and it would be excellent for any writer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the top essays in the entire book.  The first bit about sitting down and doing the work is tremendous -- funny, informed, and challenging. And he mentions Robbie Robertson and Paul Simon.  His quotes from Annie Dillard are so good. He tells people to read books. His candor about his own discovery of poetry, his guitar playing, his preaching and Sunday evening habits makes it real.  I love this chapter!


Diana Bauer.  This brought me to tears.  She tells of great sorrows in her life, reminds us -- as if she has to -- that most of us living East of Eden share similar sorrows, and she tells how music has helped her through stress and trouble, grief and sadness. She names mostly hymns which touched me deeply, but I'd add other musicians -- from Bill Mallonee to Jackson Browne to Switchfoot to the Indigo Girls  -- who have led me to process and cope with my deepest losses and regrets. This is one of the great chapters in the book and I sincerely commend it to you.


Bethany Brooks. Ladies and gentleman, give it up for the gal with the most footnotes!  And, man, is she sharp.  This is a true centerpiece of the book, coming in early, on the theology (and discipline) of delight, the essential aesthetic moment that is art and music.  There are various books and resources to explore this essential stuff, and I think her work here is excellent, a fine, needed, relatively short contribution and should become very often discussed. 


Paul Buckley.  The aforementioned must-read piece on the need to sing the Psalms. Some very helpful suggestions, and a guide to recently published Psalters. Very impressive; by the way, he used to be a reporter and has won writing awards. And he's studied Psalms with the best.


Mark Chambers.  Don't let this scare you off, with the transcriptions of lines of score. Yes,  he's a classical buff, and he explains some odd-ball avante garde stuff.  Hey, you want to be a life-long learner don't you?  In this exceptionally rich chapter, he teaches us how to listen. Very helpful.


William Edgar. He was in the first It Was Good, is a published theologian and scholar of culture and the arts, and a friend to this whole project.  His chapter is on jazz, perhaps from a book we pray he will someday publish.  This is very, very good stuff, for novices or aficionados.  He's a cat, so you gotta read this!


Julius Fischer. Apparently he serves in a small urban church, is a Beatles fan, and tells of playing a hymn with accordion and banjo, and I'm telling ya, this short chapter is everything I love about this cool book.  His advise to local church worship leaders --  leave the casserole for the pot luck -- is priceless.  His church is fortunate to have such a diverse, creative, musician but who also understands what worship is about.


Ruth Naomi Floyd.  Wow. Ruth is renowned as a very cool jazz singer in Philly, and she graces this book with her deep African-American insights about the blues.  I am pretty sure I recommended her to Ned as he was searching for excellent authors, and I'm glad she is here.  I admire her faith, her character, and her amazing concerts and records.  Let the people say Amen!


Jan & Mark Foreman. I'm not kidding you -- this is worth the price of the book if you are a parent, a grandparent, or know any parents.  You may know Mark Foreman's excellent book Wholly Jesus (I hope you do) but you most likely know of their famous sons, the rock and roll stars of the band Switchfoot.  This is a chapter about how to parent kids to be creative, telling how they raised their now-famous sons to be lovers of culture, discerning about the world, and aspiring to excellence.  That Jan is a children's art teacher and Mark a pastor who loves to sing doesn't hurt.  Still, this is inspiring for anyone and a truly wonderful, rich chapter.


David Fuentes. This guy does a close reading of a couple of popular songs, wondering about lyric and music, and his insight is as good as it gets.  It was so good I had to turn to the back to ask who is this guy? Man, he's good!   He teaches at Calvin College,  which, well, explains a lot.  Perhaps he hangs around with the aforementioned Ken Heffner. This is a very useful chapter, especially if you work with youth or lead discernment groups or like to talk about evaluating pop songs that you enjoy. Nice!


Keith Getty.  What a gift this man has given to us, writing so many wonderful contemporary hymns.  This chapter comes to us in a fabulous interview format and it is very, very interesting.  What a privilege to get to listen in on this as he describes his calling and career in this fine piece. If you don't know the hymnody of the Getty's, do check out their work.


Steve Guthrie. Certainly this is one of the most significant scholars represented in It Was Good -- Dr. Guthrie is a theology prof who earned his PhD from University of St. Andrews and served as a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Theology and Imagination and the Arts there.  He has written an amazing book on the Holy Spirit (Creator Spirit) and co-edited with Jeremy Begbie the very scholarly collection Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Theology and Music published by Eerdmans.)  The maestro could have phoned this in, or written his piece in his sleep, but he obviously didn't. A brilliant contribution on harmony entitled "The Ratio of Redemption." I thought maybe it was a typo, but it's Latin.  Excellent.


Drew Holcomb.  Holcomb loves music, loves live shows, and comes from a family that graciously encouraged his desire to be a troubadour. Now he plays with guys like the Avett Brothers and his pals in NeedtoBreath. If you want to know what it is like being a traveling musician, this is a great inside look; he's a fine writer and this is a lovely chapter.  If you are a road warrior yourself, as a musician or maybe even in another career that has you away from home a lot, you should read this as there is much wisdom about maintaining relationships and a faithful spiritual life from this young man.  One person said this was one of the best chapters in the book!  By the way, one of his songs was used in an Emmy-Award winning TV commercial for the  NBA and Sports Illustrated said it was the best sports commercial ever made.  So there ya go.  Give him some extra applause and buy some of his merch.  He's the real deal.


Joy Ike.  Joy Ike!  I just love this young lady whose name has been shortened from her family's traditional African name; she is as professional and serious as they come, her commitment leavened, through, by her joyful and Christ-like demeanor. She knows she is called to this work of being a pop music maker and performer and she does it well.  Hailing from Pittsburgh, nurtured through the Jubilee conference where she serves in the worship band, getting radio airplay, critical acclaim and mainstream invitations to play at places like Lillith Fare, she is a woman of great grace and maturity and we respect her a lot.  But what would she write about, I asked Ned, when he invited her to write.  Vocation. Yes!  This is perfect for her. It is great to have a working artist ruminating on this foundational Christian truth and what it means to know you are called to this particular work.


Tom Jennings.  As Music Director of the prestigious and important Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, I admit to wondering if this would be all that interesting or relevant for those in less influential life locations.  He's a highly regarded classical and jazz musician, and prominent in many ways. Ends up, this was one of my very favorite chapters, which I read twice.  It is about rehearsal -- and so much more.  Wonderful stories, good use of Scripture, theologically mature, and a great lover of his calling as musician -- in the recital hall and the sanctuary.  Of course, we all have to head to the woodshed, as they say, if we are going to get good at what we do (although he doesn't use that down-home phrase.) This chapter will make you appreciate rehearsal and practice and collaboration and experimentation and trust and... well, you have to read it!


Shai Linne.  If you haven't heard of this guy, you need to know of his important work.  He is a hip hop artist, working in the streets and recording studios, guiding, producing, teaching -- all to help proclaim the doctrines of God's amazing grace to a broken world. This is done in a fast-paced interview format, and it really works -- as a rapper, he is obviously good with words and quick on his feet.  Fascinating.  Again, I was surprised at how insightful this conversation was, and how good it was to listen in. Very highly recommended (even if you aren't a fan of the genre.) 


Sandra McCracken.  This was one of the first chapters I turned to when I first saw the manuscript, mostly because I so esteem Sandra's work, from her role in Indelible Grace to her spectacular solo projects.  Oh yeah, I thought maybe she'd drop some bit about her hubby Derek Webb.  And, again, what perhaps started as cheap voyeurism or fandom on my part ended up being a great reading experience -- I will turn to this chapter again, I am sure. Her topic is creativity and it is a wonderful rumination, good for musicians and artists of all kinds, but it is an excellent chapter about being human, finding a life, staying sane, honoring God in the rhythms and seasons of our days.  Her title is "Fingerprints and Plumbers" and it is well worth reading.


Brian Moss.  What a good call to have this wise and important worship leader in here, although it is curious.  It is a short piece, inviting us -- at the start of the book -- to appreciate silence. Moss does some good teaching about our longings for silence, reminding us of the Biblical mandates to keep silence, and invites readers to close the book and experience the lack of creative music-making.  Very impressive.  I'd invite you to give him a round of applause but, uh, maybe that wouldn't be right.


Stephen Nichols.  Now this was a surprising chapter.  It was to be on fame and I figure that anyone in the performing arts -- or in business or in ministry, even --  may struggle with this.  And it is exactly that.  By way of the true story of one Johnny Cash.  Nichols is a great biographer (his latest is on Bonhoeffer, by the way) but he loves popular culture and has a good book himself on the history of blues music. This was a fabulous way to end this fine book.  Yeah!


Brad O'Donnell.  As an impromptu writer and public speaker I sometimes worry about not having time to re-write my work.  After reading this wonderful chapter, I want to think more, and do more, in refining, which is O'Donnell's good theme.  He uses the Bible well, makes great points, and then tells lots of great little stories -- he studied jazz at the University of Miami Music School where he met Pat Metheny, he cites John Updike and includes a small bit of an interview with Hemingway  (yes "that" Hemingway.) He draws on insights by Jon Foreman and evaluates other award-winning musicians (including several Dove Award-winners such as Chris Tomlinson.) What a great chapter, interesting and wise and important for all of us. 


John Patitucci.  Again, what an amazing thing, to have a Grammy-Award winning jazz bassist, a serious man of faith, offering solid insights here.  Way to go Ned Bustard, way to go Square Halo.  And many thanks to the famous Mr. Patitucci for agreeing to do this good work, writing, teaching, explaining, sharing insight about improvisation.  How cool that he opens with Proverbs 27:17--  and calls us all to lives of interrelationship and trust and risk and playfulness.  John Patitucci is certainly one of the most renowned musicians in the book, and yet it is also one of the most carefully explicating the Biblical text.  So cool.


Charlie Peacock.  Charlie is an old friend of Ned & Leslie Bustard -- a mentor and supporter in many ways -- and it is no surprise he agreed to revisit his story as young rebel rock star, early pioneer of innovative Christian rock and pop, his being signed to Island Records (at the same time as his label-mates U-too-know-who released Joshua Tree, causing him to get lost by the label) and his journey towards a more public sort of work, guiding and producing some of the most significant rock acts of our time and founding The Art House.  He does not draw undue attention to his help with the likes of Switchfoot or The Civil Wars or the Lone Bellow but his story of working out his calling is well told and fabulously interesting for those who have followed his long and impressive career.  I like this kind of stuff, and found it to be tremendously enjoyable to listen in to the tale that, by the way, is surely not yet over.  


Doug Plank.  I said everybody was standing on the stage together, taking a big communal bow.  Each author and artist in this book make a unique contribution, yet they hold together in some broad Square Halo vision, taking in both world and church.  This is one of those -- citing Irish rockers U2 and Reformed Scotsman Carl Trueman -- writing about our world's deep brokenness and the need to honor and attend to that, even in our worship.  Plank oversees the worship ministry of a church here in central Pennsylvania and says he loves Tolkien. It makes sense that he is such a reader of JRR's powerful vision; he is a good thinker, and yet simply calls us to sing from time to time in the minor key.  I wish more pastors and church musicians pondered this.


Hiram Ring.  I hope you know this young singer-songwriter, and I am glad he is in this collection (and on the Noisetrade piece.)  It is a chapter I trust you will enjoy and I know you will benefit from reading it.  He was born of missionary parents in Africa, so is what they now call "third culture kids." His music isn't "world beat" but his themes and topics, coming from his experience and passions, are clearly global.  His chapter is called "language" and his love for words, and his passion for translation and his missionary heart is evident.  An educational and challenging chapter!


Michael Roe.  Formerly of the pioneer rock and roll band the inestimable 77s, and then of Lost Dogs fame, Roe is one of the best guitar players I've ever come across, and his solo work -- recordings and live shows -- are breathtakingly good.  He's gritty and raw and a bit grizzled from years on the road.  His faith and passion shine through in these two interviews well-conducted by fanboy Bustard.  I have to admit, this was the second or third chapter I read, as I just had to see where the conversation would lead.  It was not exactly explosive, but it was fabulous -- his bit about his jangled rock 'n roll  "nerves" and his love for Mozart and Segovia spoke right to me!  What he got at, though, was collaboration, and it was wonderful.  Kudos, Ned and Mike.  Good collaboration.


Michelle Stearns.  Give it up, folks, for Chelle Stearns!  Or, better, don't clap for her -- clap for yourselves.  She writes about participation, about being amateurs, about the joy of doing music, one and all.  I was almost scared to read this -- don't ask me why, but I don't like to dance and I don't want to have to sing along -- but, wowie, I loved it. A very strong chapter which was a joy to read, a treat to think about, and a righteous reminder.  Rock on.


Gregg Strawbridge.  Strawbridge is a heavy-weight thinker, Reformed as the day is long, and appropriately -- as the best of the Reformed vision would have it -- down to Earth.  His church grows their own grapes so they can make their own communion wine.  His study here is on church music and why the Bible insists on us using a variety of instruments.   Before he gets there, he can't help but tells us a bit about his own background of loving music  --  what fun! -- and then he does the in-depth, high-quality Bible study that a book like this calls for.  A Christian philosophy of aesthetics that can shape a view of music, that can lead us to certain musical practices is the under-girding project of some of these chapters, and no Christian philosophy or worldview worth its salt can avoid the exegetical work.  Kudos for this strong chapter about Scripture.


Greg Wilbur.  Dig this.  Wilbur, in his chapter "Throw Back the Clock" teaches us wisely in theological frame, about counterpoint.  He writes of those who misunderstand this musical feature in older music, "(these attitudes) fail to recognize the intent, purpose, and structure behind sixteenth and seventeenth century counterpoint or why it fell out of favor in the Age of the Enlightenment. In fact, the demise of counterpoint in the history of music is more an indication of shifting theological worldviews than musical tastes."  This ends up being a bit about Bach, and you simply have to read it -- I had no idea.  Got my money's worth right here in these 8 dense pages.


Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.  For sheer wordsmithyness, I think this is one of the very strongest chapters, and because she is my friend, and I've followed the project she writes about -- the Calvin College SAO concert series and their mission of cultural discernment -- I have to say it was my favorite chapter in the book.  There is such a robust view of culture, such an (underlying, undeveloped, but palpable) aesthetic theory, such a vision of God's Kingdom coming, even in the popular arts as we learn to think redemptively about entertainment and contemporary live performances. Buy the book, read this chapter, and praise the Lord that some Christians who are booking bands would rather have thoughtful, Biblically-literate excellent, soul-provoking music by the unchurched likes of Lupe Fiasco or the Indigo Girls or The Head and the Heart or Andrew Bird rather than a warmed over, overly pious, derivative prima donna Christian rock star any day.  It was a stroke of genius to include the Calvin College story here -- it needs to be understood and appreciated as few Christian colleges dare to be as intentional and thoughtful about this --  and it fills out the book with broad Christian vision and with solid, practical detail, about hosting shows and learning the Christ-like art of genuine hospitality (for artists and audiences.)  Three big cheers.  And, I'd shout, "Encore!"  More, KVGR, more!


And, certainly, we can cry "encore" for Square Halo Books, too.  May their generative output -- classy, fun, righteous, and seriously meeting a need in the publishing marketplace for evangelical reflection on and exhibits of the arts -- continue.  God bless them!  And God bless you if you buy books like this, keeping artful, indie publishing alive and well.



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