The Ministry of Reminder

“All I ever get for Christmas is blue.”

—Over the Rhine

This past year, my dear wife and a number of my friends spent extended time away from social media due to the surplus of vitriol surrounding the election. It simply grew to be too much for some folks. Alas, for business reasons, I could not leave Facebook. I wanted to. I found myself desiring social media abstinence even more leading up to Christmas.

I confess, I abhor the onslaught of all those picture-perfect, iPhone-filtered snapshots of families doing Christmas-y things: sitting down to a feast, having a party, opening gifts, ice skating, decorating trees, decorating houses, decorating pets. You might call me a Scrooge, but I promise, it’s not that. My daughter asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year. Amongst a couple ideas of things I could actually use (a new keyboard rig would be nice, but it’s not going to happen yet), I realized what I really wanted was to be able to spend the time focusing on Christ and his coming. I wanted Advent at the forefront of our thoughts. If we as a family arrived at Christmas Day and found ourselves regretting ill-spent time pondering things other than the miraculous, time-shattering coming of Jesus, then I would be faced only with the relative vapidity of everything without Christ. Gifts, decorations, food—all things pale in light of the mystery of what C. S. Lewis called the One True Myth, the great mystery of Jesus’ coming.

Now, before you flush this little confession from your mind like so much kitsch, hear me out.

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River and Rail Theatre Co. Debuts New Musical


From Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to Jesus Christ Superstar and The Cotton Patch Gospel, stage writers and musicians alike seem to enjoy the challenge of re-imagining Bible stories. It’s quite a task to bring new depth and color to a familiar narrative without taking any meaning away from the original story, and The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby achieves this goal with great success.

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On Valuing Absences

arches

I sat in my friend Jacob’s living room, listening through Emmylou Harris’s “Greener Pastures,” from Roses in the Snow. Ricky Skaggs and Dolly Parton joined in on vocals, and Willie Nelson played a gut-string guitar solo. The song lists as an old traditional hymn, and it surfaces once in a while in the annals of classic country and its associated genres. Ralph Stanley played it on Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, and the David Grisman bluegrass supergroup Here Today covered it on their once-in-a-lifetime project. That evening with Emmylou Harris was my first introduction to it, though. Jacob’s house is the one mile stop on my evening run, and as we plowed through sundry records and tracks, Ricky Skaggs’ vocals stood out to me in the trio. They were nearly pentatonic, with the exception of a few notes, and it lent the whole performance a power that would not have been present otherwise. I was reminded of the force conspicuous absence lends to artwork.

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An Introduction to Roy Salmond

rs

Roy Salmond was the keynote speaker at Under the Radar’s Escape to the Lake music conference this past August. He is a record producer living amongst the exceptional beauty of British Columbia—a mythical land with real autumn that makes us Southern U. S. folks envious. Working with artists such as Carolyn Arends and Kelley McRae, Roy’s approach to production is less dictatorial and more prophetic, and his light creative touch brings out the best in the recording artists. He’s also a lover of the poetic works of Malcolm Guite and Scott Cairns. Roy was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of our questions.

FH: What do you see as the interpersonal role of the producer when putting a record together?

RS: The answer depends on how a producer defines “interpersonal.” If the producer is relational like I am, then the relationship of the artist with the producer comes into play. I like collaboration and serving the artist—I want to help him or her achieve their vision. I see myself coming alongside and cheering them on and saying, “Watch for this!” or, “Have you thought of this?” I also ask a lot of questions from “What is a sonic template we can use as a starting point?” to “What are you trying to communicate here?” Usually in the course of an extended album, I’m not only the sonic documenter, but also the priest, the psychologist, the friend, the fan, the lover, the antagonist, the parent, the theologian, and the musician.

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Irons in the Fire

an_iron_forge_1772

I didn’t necessarily grow up in an arts-centric home. My brother, a hard rock drummer, was the musician in the family, and when he and my dad were learning to play guitar together, I decided I had to learn also. Though they thought it was a whim, my folks very generously bought me an acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was nineteen. Two years later, I wrote my first song. I was hooked. For the next twenty years or so, my focus was on writing lyrics, words, and melodies. Several years ago, I reached a point where I needed a creative outlet for my creative profession. It wasn’t that I was brimming with ideas, but I needed an outlet that did not involve language or words. I was coming out of a dark season at that point, and though fear certainly held court, I was drawn to a new mode of expression, to push back against and confront some of my long-held fears.

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Material Limitations

potters wheel

He centers the clay with a Thwack!
Now the gritty hum of a potter’s wheel
Sends a sheen of slick mud orbiting.

My brother has spent sixteen years
Getting to know this foreign terrain,
Learning the language to make signs
With subtleties of palm, wrist, and thumbs.

He sponges water across the face,
Leaning his body forward, bearing up
Indigenous architectures in limber clay.
Pulling vessels from mire,
Carving breath along the materials,
Pulsing fluency into earth.

He co-operates within its given
Cosmos: diction’s  imprint blesses,
‘Let there be listening ‘ discovering
What forms can be uncovered—
He takes hold to unfold and free
What dust never imagined it could be .

My brother Sam is a ceramic artist. For nearly four years now, we’ve been housemates and have spent countless hours discussing what it means to make a living as full-time artists. The two car garage has never had a car in it since Sam has lived in this house; upon moving here, he immediately converted it into his pottery and sculpture studio. Some kind of wonder comes over me when I watch Sam slap a mopey lump of gray clay onto his wheel, press it down with his body weight, and slowly raise the material up until it is transformed into a beautiful vessel.

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