How Sweet the Sound


What would Black Gospel Music sound like if it blended with Eastern Orthodox liturgical tradition? Though liturgical traditions have a reputation for their timelessness, or at least for not changing, the Eastern Orthodox liturgy of singing and chanting antiphonally has changed over the past 2,000 years, particularly when Orthodoxy has met with other cultures whose own musical talents and understandings are different.

Though the broad outlines of a Russian or Greek liturgy are substantially identical, with the same prayers, the same order of service, the same structure, they do not exactly sound the same, even setting aside the language differences.  Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Shawn Wallace, Director of Jazz Studies at Ohio State University, and an Orthodox Christian himself, presented a project long in his heart.  How Sweet the Sound was a concert that presented an Orthodox vespers service as blended with, and sung in the style of Black Gospel music.

Words are inadequate to properly describe the concert.  It was beautiful, joyful, and above all worshipful, weaving traditional Gospel and other Protestant hymns in and through the prayers, psalm reading, and hymns of vespers – a service sung and chanted to mark the ending of one day, and herald the beginning of the next.  Holy Holy Holy wove in and out of Psalm 104, Wade in the Water carried, like waves Lord I have Cried, and Amazing Grace brought Psalm 117 to a beautiful crescendo.

Additional highlights of the evening were the opening remarks by Father Moses Berry, and Dr. Peter Bouteneff, who provided context and history.  Father Moses’s own journey into the Orthodox Church is remarkable, and his family’s history, living for four generations in the same place where they were once slaves, is something uniquely American.

I do not know if Dr. Wallace will continue in this work, or hold any further concerts – this was his first foray.  But it holds the promise of much joy to come.

Thankfully this concert was recorded, and you can watch it here.

There are 3 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    A fantastic find, SkipSul! I’ll go look at it now. 

    • #1
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp

    Thanks, SkipSul, I’m looking forward to hearing it, too.

    (Still putting it off, hard to explain why. I guess it sounds like it could cause a main bus B overvolt.)

    • #2
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    One form of excellence should never discourage us from seeking another.

    As this universe offers no end to scientific discoveries and technological possibilities, so artistic inspiration will persist through every age of humanity. The ways of celebrating God with music are as endless as personalities. As we should maintain a common history while adding to its pages, we should maintain common songs while embracing the best of contemporary and regional music. 

    It’s fine for individuals and parish communities to favor particular traditions. But we do not honor God by dismissing the continued unfolding of Creation. 

    • #3

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.