A Middle Way
Come O Spirit! An Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs
Salvation is Created
Conscientious objectors to the worship wars seek a way through the minefield of organs and choirs, drums and amplifiers. One such objector is Bifrost Arts, a nonprofit organization founded by creative director Isaac Wardell and executive director Joseph Pensak. With a vision for innovation, beauty, and songs that draw worshipers to participate in singing, Bifrost has released its first two albums, Come O Spirit! An Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs and Salvation Is Created.
These are also the first two releases from Great Comfort Records, whose mission is to produce worship music with high standards of musical and lyrical creativity using an independent business model. This is a natural fit for Bifrost. Wardell and co-producer and arranger Mason Neely toured churches across the United States, holding workshops in which Wardell said he frequently heard Christians talking about "wanting something more transcendent, more participatory, something less commercialized in the way that we do church music."
Come O Spirit! stands in that gap, offering both traditional hymns and original compositions that are painstakingly arranged and have congregational singing in mind. The music, played mostly by Wardell and Neely, is clearly influenced by the classic pop canon—Townes Van Zandt, Nick Drake, George Martin—but feels both timeless and timely, thanks in part to an impressive slate of vocalists like Damien Jurado, Leigh Nash, and Denison Witmer, to name a few.
Salvation Is Created—a Christmas album—is similar, though it feels a bit weightier, its arrangements more classical and epic. This is especially true on the opening "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," an instrumental rendering by a string quartet, and on the title track, which builds to a joyful Sigur Rós style climax of hallelujahs.
Both albums come with songbooks and instructions for how best to use the songs; Bifrost has plans to release additional compilations. Though modest in scale compared with the pomp of a pipe organ and power chords of a praise chorus, these records are the future of a church music that acknowledges tradition, innovation, and above all, excellence.
Joel Hartse is a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia.
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Come O Spirit! An Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs and Salvation is Created are available at Amazon.com and other retailers.
Transcending the Worship Wars | Bryan Chapell urges Christians to move past musical preferences toward Christ-Centered Worship. (September 21, 2009)
Here We Are to Worship | Six principles that might bring a truce to the age-old tension between tradition and popular culture. (August 21, 2009)
Memo to Worship Bands | Five sound reasons to lower the volume. (February 2, 2009)