|A Christmas Worship Experience
05 December 2005
Everyone loves a good celebration.
And the season of Christmas marks a joyous time for people across the globe. But in this day and age of conspicuous consumption, where the danger of the season meaning less and less as the reminders come earlier and earlier, there is cause to stop and contemplate the origin of the celebration.
It’s a love so unimaginably pure that it’s impossible to duplicate on this plane of existence. It’s an event so astoundingly significant that it impacts the world daily more than two millennia later.
And it’s a hope so staggeringly relevant that it could only manifest itself in the form of a helpless child.
Artists in the Provident Music Group family, together with the creators behind the City On A Hill worship series, issue now songs they hope will make you stop and think, glance back with an eye on what happened then through the filter of what we know now, and celebrate the wonder of the incarnation of mankind’s greatest gift.
Come Let Us Adore Him.
In a musical genre that embraces skewed views of life as part of the “creative process,” Marc Byrd and Steve Hindalong veer away from that idea as two of the most serious minded creators you’ll ever meet.
When approached with the idea of creating a Christmas record, they knew instantaneously they wanted to do it differently. “Marc and I wanted to do something that was really more serious and very worshipful,” Hindalong says. “We both go to an Episcopal church, and while neither of us grew up in that, we’ve really grown to enjoy the liturgy. Same thing with the City On A Hill series, we really tried to bring some of that, some of those old words in.
“So when we started, the first thing we did was gather a lot of books and liturgy from our rector. Marc and [recording engineer] Derri [Daughtery] and I really worked on the lyrics, and that was our biggest goal, to have a strong, deep record lyrically. We spent a couple weeks just doing that before we got into writing music.”
“It was everything from Episcopal liturgy to Eastern Orthodox liturgy to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a book that contained a bunch of essays on the meaning of Christmas and the incarnation,” Byrd echoes. “We wanted it to be very incarnational as far as the focus, and it was a very productive two weeks as a result.”
That’s not to say the production team wanted to start completely from scratch, and included reverential classics such as “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” (performed by Jars of Clay) and a stripped-down, acoustic verse of the title track (rendered by Day of Fire frontman Josh Brown) to set and amplify the mood. “What’s cool about this, as far as incorporating other, older Christmas songs, is that there are hints of a lot of those songs through out many of the other songs, embedded in the melody and such,” Byrd says. “It happened two or three times during the writing, so we just kept going for it.”
“Christmas is a time when there’s such a contrast between the very worldly and trivial, and we wanted to do something on the serious side of that and give people a worship experience when they listen,” Hindalong notes. “It has a tone, a continuity, a feeling to the whole thing, both musically and lyrically, so it moves past the idea of just a compilation.”
Artists contributing to Come Let Us Adore Him include:
Ana Laura, Reunion Records’ newest artist, taps into the roots of her Latin heritage for the reverential opener “Sanctus.”
Bebo Norman, who contributes both pen and voice to the project, teaming with Caedmon’s Call vocalist Danielle Young for “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord” and with Christine Byrd for a song titled “Mary’s Prayer.”
Pop chanteuse Joy Williams enlists the help of producer Brown Bannister to create the epic “Here With Us,” a sonic recreation of the heavens rejoicing with the newborn king.
Members of Caedmon’s Call also contribute their unique stylings on the songs “Hail Almighty King and Silver Starlight.”
Accomplished songwriter Cindy Morgan continues her reemergence as a recording artist with the gripping “Messiah Has Come.”
Rocker Krystal Meyers shows a softer side, together with Josh Brown of Day of Fire, on the worshipful track “King of Angels.”
Brown’s vulnerable retelling of “O Come All Ye Faithful” marks the emotional nakedness with which we all approach Christ’s appearance on earth.
Jars of Clay’s rendition of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” takes the transforming event and starts to put it into the larger context of Christ’s ultimate mission and sacrifice.
Third Day enlists the songwriting skills (not to mention the vocal style) of Julie Miller to aid in the telling of the story of the “Manger Throne.”
Shepherding such diverse group of artists, both experienced and newcomers, into the shared vision of what they were trying to accomplish was a task both Hindalong and Byrd were well suited for, through their experiences on the City On A Hill series, and the subject matter made that coaching process all the easier.
“That’s one thing about working on a ‘various artists’ album, every time a singer comes in, it’s a different experience,” Hindalong says. “A brand new artist is going to have that really nervous tension that’s very exciting. There’s an innocence there a Mac Powell or a Dan Haseltine doesn’t have much in the studio anymore, mainly because they’re so good at it.
“It’s a different context, though, because Christmas is different than anything else,” Hindalong continues. “You have to be somewhat faithful to who the artist is. For example, Krystal Meyers’ song is going to be a little more aggressive than Joy Williams’ And then you have a singer like Josh Brown come in, a hard rocker…
“And he brings in energy no matter where he is,” interjects Byrd.
“He was tense, because it was so out of context for him,” Hindalong continues. “He was sweating, he was extremely nervous, he’d never done anything like this before, and his song is very exposed, very vulnerable. He’s got no net underneath him, just a steel-stringed guitar. That’s high risk.
“And that ends up being the meaning of community,” Byrd notes, “being willing to do something a little bit out of your element, to really give to the project and move out of your comfort zone.”
So the creators of Come Let Us Adore Him feel, while not in the midst of reinventing the genre, giving a more contemplative look at the season helps renew and refresh that celebration.
“G.K. Chesterton [18th century wordsmith] talks about taking a step back from old things so they become new again,” Byrd says. “I think, more than anything, if it makes people think about and meditate upon what a mysterious, spectacular event God become flesh is, and to be surprised by it, that’d be great.
“It’s a different challenge for guys like us, coming from the alternative music world, the commercial ditch if you will, where tension is an artistic goal,” Hindalong says. “Whereas when you do something worshipful, the goal is to be more accessible on a broader level. You want a 12-year-old to enjoy it, and you want Grandma to enjoy it. You know they’re going to have it on when the whole family is over…”
“And that’s really not the time to alienate anybody,” Byrd says, causing both to laugh.
“It’s been a challenge, through all of these records, but especially with this one, to make it cool and artistic and relevant and fresh, and at the same time very accessible and beautiful,” Hindalong sums up. “I hope we’ve succeeded.”
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