A few weeks ago I went to the most unique Christian music concert I have ever attended. As an artist, I always enjoy supporting the arts that help to promote the faith in visual art and performance art, but I don’t think I saw this coming.
On March 1st, I went to the Gungor concert at Grace Covenant here in Austin, and it was truly amazing. Surprisingly I was most impressed by the opening band, The Brilliance. Both bands take their musicality to new heights – experimenting with multiple instruments, poetry, and simple prayer, but I will leave Gungor for another time.
Usually, contemporary Christian music makes me think of artists like Matt Maher or Jackie Francios. Then there’s the older forms of Christian music that go back a few centuries, like Gregorian chant, or even classical that are based on prayers and the Mass. Listening to The Brilliance, it’s hard to put The Brilliance in a category with any of those.
The unexpected insight was probably the biggest surprise. I’m fairly comfortable praying with protestants, but this night showed me new lessons in ecumenism.
The very fact that a non-Catholic group decided to do EPs to explore the Liturgical calendar is enough to get my attention, but then I listened to the lyrics and I was absolutely blown away.
Each song was carefully crafted as true works of poetry. The first song “Dust We Are and Shall Return” focuses on themes of Ash Wednesday. The lyrics are based on the imposition of ashes with the reminder of our mortality and the necessity of dependence on God.
The second song, “Now and at the Hour of Our Death,” is where I was caught off guard so much that I ended up overwhelmed with emotion.
At the concert, David Gungor paused and took the mic before beginning the song. He explained that the next song was based on “an old prayer that has been prayed for centuries by our Catholic brothers and sisters.” I was certainly intrigued by what he was about to sing in a church full of mainly protestant and a few Catholics. I was on the edge of my seat.
The song begins with “Holy Mother of God, pray for us, pray for us…” I almost didn’t believe it. Non-Catholics not only talking about Mary in a protestant church, but asking her to PRAY for us. I would have fallen out of my chair if I hadn’t started tearing up. Simply beautiful.
I would have never expected that from non-Catholics. Later, I was even more surprised to find out that their Advent EP had a song to focus on the first half of the Hail Mary. Wow.
After talking about the Theotokos, they later proceeded to sing a song about communion with theology explaining the Eucharist so clearly that John Calvin would have rolled over in his Protestant grave.
“The body and blood of Your beloved son. The body is broken, God’s love poured open to make us new.”
Not bread, wine, and a table, but body, blood and Calvary. Brilliant. I wish more Catholic hymns had lyrics like that. Seriously.
My favorite thing about the EP is how authentic it feels. Sure it’s full of rich and theologically correct symbolism, but I think the honest cries from the heart are what sell the music.
Lent isn’t always easy, and then when we look at the Gospels of Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and it’s downright painful. When a lot of Christian music is out there to be only “positive and encouraging,” The Brilliance embraces songs that show the frailty and brokenness of humanity.
David Gungor, the singer and leader of the band, set out to create worship music that didn’t sound like everything else out there, and I think they succeeded. The Brilliance is band that is centered around a string quartet and a piano. The rest of the music brings in other strings and percussion to develop a very sophisticated and deep sound.
Their music isn’t the kind of music that gets you up and jumping. The Brilliance produces music that is so profound and beautiful that you can’t help but go into more contemplative prayer. If you don’t open it up to it, it might come off as more depressing, but it’s just a different type of spirituality.
I don’t have anything against hand raising praise and worship music outside of the mass, but this worship music pointed me to prayer faster and deeper than any of the usual contemporary Christian music ever has before.
If you can’t tell already, I loved Lent and highly recommend it. I only wish that it was a full album and not just an EP. Their music has a lot of lessons for Catholic musicians about quality, creativity and courage to not hide from traditions that may come off as “overly-Catholic.”
They spoke about creating music to focus on the liturgical calendar, so I am hopeful that the last, dissonant minor chord of the EP will find resolution in the hope of the Easter. I look forward to more of their music.
May God bless them in their ministry, and I pray that Catholics and other Christians can continue to develop high quality music to show the natural beauty of Truth.
If you are interested, you can buy the Lent and Advent EP along with the full length CD on iTunes.