Before War, A Punk Drummer Preserved Syrian Chants
Today, NPR ‘Fresh Air’ published online a great story. You’ll find the photo and 20-minute audio interview at
Here are excerpts:
Before the civil war in Syria destroyed ancient religious sites — and scattered some of the oldest Christian communities in the world — Jason Hamacher made several trips there, taking photos and recording ancient Sufi and Christian chants.
The project got its start when Hamacher read in a book about “the world’s oldest Christian music.” He tracked down From the Holy Mountain author William Dalrymple, who told him there were no recordings of the music — and that “it’s not a monastery in the desert; it is a Syrian Orthodox church in the middle of the city of Aleppo.” Hamacher ended up staying at that church as a guest of the archbishop, who has since been kidnapped by rebels.
As Hamacher tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, he is planning a series of albums called Sacred Voices of Syria.
Hamacher isn’t coming at this from the perspective of a musicologist, or as a member of a religious community. He’s a drummer who’s played in several punk bands in the Washington, D.C., area, including Frodus, Decahedron and Regents.
Here’s his notes about one special recording: So this is the Lord’s prayer done in the Syriac language and it is the Archbishop of Aleppo - it’s his nephew, who’s actually Chaldean Orthodox Christian but worked at the church. And this is in 2007. And I really wanted to record his nephew and his friend based on what I was hearing during church services. So one night when the bishop was gone, they just got the keys to the cathedral and we went in and recorded at like one in the morning. It was one of the most sacred, really holy experiences I had in Syria. We went in and it was the cathedral of Saint Ephraim and it was just the two of them - the two voices - and it was so beautiful and so holy. And they both sang for about an hour.
Listen to the audio interview to hear an excerpt of this. Hamacher has released one album so far in his series, all of Sufi chants. You’ll find it at
Some of his forthcoming albums will focus on ancient Christian songs - hear more in the audio interview.
All quotes come from the two NPR webpages referenced at the top, and NPR maintains ownership of this material, excerpted on this noncommercial blog for purposes of education and sending potential customers to Hamacher’s recordings.
You can learn aobut Jason’s company at
“Lost Origin Productions explores the past to change the future. Jason Hamacher is the founder and director of this Washington D.C. based multimedia production company. Fueled by a quest to understand the human condition paired with expertise in cultural preservation, Lost Origin Productions explores ancient civilizations to discover unique stories from the past and present to inspire and unite our turbulent world.”
'O Frondens Virga' by Hildegard von Bingen
Here’s a marvelous song from Medieval Europe in 4 musical styles: a cappella, with New Age instrumentation, with sampled techno beats, and with a worldbeat arrangement.
Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (German: Hildegard von Bingen) (1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess,visionary, and polymath.
Over 70 of her musical compositions survive today in manuscript and have been recorded.
Here’s her piece 'O Frondens virga (For the Virgin)' as sung a cappella by Chanticleer:
O Frondens virga
O frondens virga,
in tua nobilitate stans
sicut aurora procedit:
nunc gaude et letare
et nos debiles dignare
a mala consuetudine liberare
atque manum tuam porrige
ad erigendrum nos.
For the virgin
O leafy branch,
standing in your nobility
as the dawn breaks forth:
now rejoice and be glad
and deign to set us frail ones
free from evil habits
and stretch forth your hand
and lift us up.
There is an example of Hildegard’s Latin punning, “O frondens virga”—note that the punning metaphor associates the lively green vigor of a healthy “branch” (virga) with the fruitful gifts of the “Virgin” (virgo).
Here’s another version accompanied by contemporary New Age instrumental sounds:
Third, a very contemporary version by Garmarna, a Swedish band I’ve followed for decades. They were formed in 1990. They’ve done a lot of creative arrangements with Swedish folk songs.
In 1998 Garmarna did a series of concerts in churches in the North of Sweden presenting their interpretation of the medieval works of Hildegard of Bingen. They recorded the full-length Hildegard von Bingen album, which was released in 2001. The tracks in this album are based on the compositions of 12th century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen, and the lyrics are in the original Latin.
That album features some of Hildegard’s songs with jazzy keys, Swedish instruments, and sampled beats like this one. I’ve enjoyed the album since it was released. (I enjoy the two versions above equally.)
And finally, here’s the version I heard first, from the album that introduced me to the music of Hildegard von Bingen. It was released in 1994, so I reckon I’ve been a fan of Hildegard’s music now for a full 20 years!
It’s from an album of “worldbeat arrangements” produced and arranged by Richard Souther.
I can’t find the full song online anywhere, but you can hear a 30-second sample at
'We Come To Meet' - Jonathan D. Cool
Jonathan Cool wrote this beautiful song for communion with his friend Dan Wilt.
We Come To Meet - An Invitation to Eucharist
Written by: Jonathan David Cool and Dan Wilt
We come to meet with You to eat remembering
Your body broken up all Your suffering
We come to meet with You to drink remembering
Your blood poured out for us all Your offering
Oh Lord, we come to meet
We come to meet here with You
Come and wash away all that is unclean
Purify my heart make it right in me
Learn more about Jonathan’s music at
'Pray For Peace' - Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire writes, “The idea to write the song ‘Pray For Peace’ came to me last year as I was walking on our place in Gallatin, Tn. For days I’d sing, “Pray for Peace”, over and over. It wasn’t until several months later did the other parts start to fall in place. Some, not until we got into the studio to record it.
I feel this song is a gift from God. I have never worked on a song as long as this one. It went from a bass drum, fiddle and singers to guest artist singing with me, adding more instruments and even a choir and a bagpipe!
It’s an act of perseverance, prayer, hope, fellowship and mostly love.”
“Reba McEntire’s new song is almost at the two-minute mark before she sings anything other than four powerful words, over and over: ‘please pray for peace.’ It’s the repetition of that lyric that helps the tune and its heartstring-grabbing video hammer home the message that voices are perhaps the only weapons that can win the uphill battle for world peace… This is the first new music McEntire has released in almost four years.”
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/reba-mcentire-recruits-friends-around-the-world-to-pray-for-peace-20140721#ixzz39MgkJmpN
See a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the music video, which also features Kelly Clarkson, Ronnie Dunn and Caroline Kole at
Here’s an unrelated "Prayer for Peace." It began to circulate in 1981 in England. Its source is not clearly known, and it has no ties with any single denomination or faith.
"Visible Invisible" - More Than Rubies
Ann Voskamp writes, “It’s Sunday now & you read the headlines of disease & war & yet all over the Church is gathering now, the world needs us now, & this song beats out the heart of worship this Sunday on the farm, around the world —
"The thirsty pray for water, the hungry beg for bread
The desperate cry for mercy, run to them, run to them
The broken wait for healing, the orphans long for home
The slaves all cry for freedom, THERE IS HOPE, THERE IS HOPE:
We are, *we are* the visible invisible, *we are* the flesh and bone
Of Your redeeming love
We are, *we are* Your kingdom *unshakeable*
Jesus Christ alive in us — *the visible invisible*….
Written by Lee Black, David Moffitt & Nicole Witt
Performed by More Than Rubies
For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:15)
Esterlyn - ‘Woven’
"Honestly I never wanted to play music or be in a band. A girl walked up to me while i was in Bible College over in Europe and said ‘I feel like God wants me to give you this guitar’ I had never played or sang but that simple act of obedience has led me to today. We are Esterlyn. Named after my little niece who was adopted from China our bands goal is simple. To love God and to love people with a little bit of music thrown in there- We LOVE to lead worship and be a part of seeing God move in people lives. At the end of the day to us that is what matters. In anticipation of our new album LOVE (coming out on August 19th), I asked them if we could give away our last album Woven for 2 weeks for free. We hope it blesses you and hopefully draws you into a deeper more intimate place of worship with our Creator.”
Stream and download their album for free at
The album includes a pop song based on Psalm 23.
'Jerusalem' - Gentle Faith
Gentle Faith was a Christian country rock band in the 1970s, during the Jesus Music era, before the rise of the CCM industry. The group was formed in 1974 and released one self-titled album in 1976 under the Maranatha! label.
The lead singer was Darrell Mansfield, who went on to form The Darrel Mansfield Band, which is still active. Other members of Gentle Faith included Don Gerber, Paul Angers, Steve Kara, and Henry Cutrona.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, within individuals and within the nation. Here’s a live version and a studio version of their song 'Jerusalem' led by Darrell.
And now the studio version backed by a string section:
'Loaves & Fishes' in Global Art
This Sunday, the NT lectionary passage is the story of Christ multiplying the loaves and fishes. The feeding of the 5,000 men (plus uncounted women and children) is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospel accounts
Here are some artistic portrayals of scenes from the story from various cultures, along with 2 versions of a song about the story… one by Benny Goodman!
1. Tabha chapel floor mosaic, Sea of Galilee, 4th century
In the 4th century, a chapel was built in Tabgha on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It is the traditional site of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-46) and the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus (John 21:1-24). This mosaic was inlaid on the floor.
2. Picture from St. John’s Church of Little Canada, Minnesota
3. song: ”Two Little Fishes and Five Loaves of Bread”
Folk legend Odetta sings this gospel song from the album A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who wrote the original lyrics.
4. ‘Loaves and Fishes’ by Annika, New Zealand
5. ‘Loaves and Fishes’ by John August Swanson, USA (2003)
"JOHN AUGUST SWANSON makes his home in Los Angeles, California, where he was born in 1938. He paints in oil, watercolor, acrylic and mixed media, and is an independent printmaker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs and etchings. His art reflects the strong heritage of storytelling he inherited from his Mexican mother and Swedish father.”
He’s been one of my favorite painters for years, and I have one of his prints hanging in my living room.
For detailed information on this picture, see his website at
6. song: ”Two Little Fishes and Five Loaves of Bread”
It’s the same song as sung above by Odatta, this time by the legendary big band master Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. There’s no credit info on who’s singing. The CD title is Benny Goodman ‘45 & ‘47, and it came out on the Extra Large label in 2008.
7. A contemporary mosaic from a church in Scotland
8. A contemporary icon by Sister Patricia Reid, RSCJ
"Sister Reid studied drawing, design, and lettering at Manhattanville College. In 1985 she began studying iconography, and since 1987 she has been accepting commissions from both churches and individuals. For her icons, Sr. Reid uses the “puddle” method in which the egg tempera paint is kept very liquid and requires that the gessoed (plaster-painted) wood panels be kept completely level. She applies the paint in many thin washes.”
9. ‘Jesus Multiplies the Loaves” from the Jesus Mafa project, Cameroon
10. Jesus Feeds the 5,000, Ethiopia (artist unknown)
11. Feeding the 5,000 (artist unknown)
12. Christ Feeding the Multitude, Coptic Church Icon, Egypt
13 Miracle, A contemporary Coptic icon of Jesus feeding the 5000
14. Biblical story scenes from East Africa, for a children’s book.
See a set of 7 pictures illustrating this story at
Here is picture 5, “Jesus made the people sit down in groups and as he broke the bread and fish there was enough for all.”
Here is picture 6, “Jesus’ followers collected 12 baskets of left-overs.”
15. Picture used by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Huntersville, NC
16. ’Five Fish’ by Sadao Watanabe, Japan
17.’ Fish and Loaves’ by Sadao Watanabe, Japan
18. ‘Christ of the Miracle of Loaves and Fish’ by Sadao Watanabe, Japan
19. ‘Blessing Bread and Fish’ by Sadao Watanabe, Japan
20. ‘Jesus Feeds the 5000’ by Laura James (Ethiopian style)
Laura James creates marvelous paintings of a variety of subjects, including biblical scenes. Many are in the style of Ethiopian Christian art, such as this one. Read her bio at
21. Picture used by Seacoast Church
22. Coptic Church Icon, Egypt
23. The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, 1491 (Europe)
24. “5,000 Companions” by Rachel Held Evans
Rachel is one of my favorite bloggers, here’s her recent devotional piece on this Bible story.
Prayer for Peace - David Haas
DAVID HAAS resides in Eagan, Minnesota, where he is director of The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry and serves as campus minister at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota where he also directs the CDH Liturgical Choir.
Highly regarded as one of the preeminent liturgical music composers in the English-speaking world, he has produced more than 45 collections of original music. His liturgical works are sung and prayed throughout the world and appear in hymnals of many Christian denominations and in many languages.
Here is his song 'Prayer for Peace'
1. Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet.
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.
2. Love before us, love behind us, love under our feet.
Love within us, love over us, let all around us be love.
3. Light before us, light behind us, light under our feet.
Light within us, light over us, let all around us be light.
4. Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ under our feet.
Christ within us, Christ over us, let all around us be Christ.
6. Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet.
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.
Get the score from GIA at
That page also lists the 3 albums that include the full recording of the song (the video above uses an excerpt).
Motif Worship’s Funky Remix of “I Believe the Promise”
Motif Worship is a ministry led by my friend Jelani Greenidge, I really appreciate his musical and worship leading skills, his heart for multicultural worship, and insights into church and culture from the Black perspective.
Learn about Motif Worship at
Here’s his funky remix-with-rap of a song made popular by the inimitable Darlene Zschech of Hillsongs in Australia, the 90s praise-and-worship classic "I Believe the Promise," written by Russell Fragar.
"I Believe the Promise," words and music by Russell Fragar (additional lyrics by Jelani Greenidge). © 1995 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Arranged on a MOTIF-ES6, recorded with Sonar 8.5 on Windows 7.
Edited with Pinnacle Studio 16.
For comparison, here’s the original version of the song by Hillsong:
You’ll find Jelani’s though-provoking blog at