I have been a fan of the violin and fiddle since a young age, but in Gospel Music it seems like the only instrumental CDs around are piano solo. Now, I love the piano! Yet, a certain thrill ran through me when I learned on February 3rd, 2015 Michaela Brown was releasing her second violin CD.
A hymn project can be a tricky challenge. With hundreds of hymns to choose from and most abandoned between the pages of How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace, the responsibility of selecting hymns that people will respond to, yet, be different and true to your own style, can be quite the task. That said, I believe Michaela chose hymns everyone will recognize, but aren’t “over-used.” Hymns like On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, Rock of Ages and O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing are familiar, but not often recorded in this genre. In addition, there are now songs printed in hymn books that are standards in our churches, even though they were written in the mid-1900’s and are considered modern hymns. Michaela also included a number of these in her work, such as, Celebrate Jesus, He Touched Me, He is Lord and O How I Love Jesus. Her combinations of styles are creative and fit each piece like they were composed to be played together. The blending of Bach with Rock of Ages, a jig with Jordan’s Stormy Banks and traditional “church style” in several others show great appreciation for all genres and the understanding of how they can be molded together to complement one another. Combined, all of these cause the music to flow – it is cohesive. I believe that anyone who enjoys hymns, violin music, orchestration and bit of variety will enjoy Michaela’s music immensely!
1 O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Comments: A full orchestra introduces us to the majestic arrangement of the first track. After the intro, the violin begins playing the hymn in a traditional style. On the second verse, another violin adds harmony and frills around the melody, giving the piece a Classical, refined feel. I like the pace the drum gives this piece – if you belong to a church that sings hymns in a lively manner, this could be the very tempo you are accustomed to singing it. I definitely think that it was the tempo intended by the original writer.
2 Crown Him with Many Crowns
Comments: This arrangement is one that builds. It begins with a big, orchestrated intro, goes into a verse played by the violin and escalates from there! As in the first track, the melody of the second verse is played in harmony with the addition of a second violin. Though the arrangement is similar to the opening track, I like the feel that both O, For a Thousand Tongues and Crown Him with Many Crowns set for the rest of the CD. From these, we learn what to expect from the recording, and that is a creative, yet, traditional interpretation of the hymns we grew up loving.
3 On Jordan’s Stormy Banks
Comments: One of the things I love about instrumental music is the freedom the arranger has to integrate pieces from other genres. Such is the case with Jordan’s Stormy Banks. The track begins with a lively Scottish Jig, Haste to the Wedding, before slipping into the hymn itself. Listen carefully, and you’ll notice that the beat set by the jig is continued in the hymn and executed with seamless transitions. Without checking the liner notes, one wouldn’t even notice that these are two completely different songs because they fit together so well as one. This is one of my favorite pieces from the CD and is sure to have your toes tapping!
4 Rock of Ages / Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Comments: This track begins with a piano lightly playing the notes to Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and then goes into the violin solo of Rock of Ages. However, Bach’s famous cantata doesn’t end there! The arrangement slides Jesu back into the music at what we call the “turn around.” From that point on, you will continue to hear snatches of it throughout the rest of the solo. I love how the piano and violin both contribute to the Jesu portions of the medley. It is such a beautiful piece on both the piano and violin; the pairing of the two, brilliant. This is a solo that builds as the music progresses. The flowing nature of Jesu and the meditative mood of Rock of Ages make for a stirring contrast. Even more stirring, are the lyrics to Jesu that we almost never hear. (Below is close to literal translation of the German.) The thought and detail represented on this track is a true tribute to both the masterful genres these compositions hail from.
Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to him
that he might refresh my heart,
when sick and sad am I.
Jesus have I, who loves me
and gives to me his own,
ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
when I feel my heart is breaking.
—from BWV 147, Chorale movement no 6
5 Victory in Jesus
Comments: From the Classical and refined feel of the last track, the intro to Victory in Jesus launches into the traditional church style of playing hymns. With a little rhythm on the drums, the piano quickly repeats the last line of the hymn, just like your faithful church pianist would do on a Sunday morning. Then the violin begins at the verse playing solo until the chorus, where another violin adds harmony. When you listen to this tune, you’ll feel like you’re in an old country church! It will make you want to sing along…
6 Celebrate Jesus
Comments: Though written in 1988, Celebrate Jesus has quickly found its way into the heart of churches and hymnbooks across the nation. On this recording, it appears as the track with the most progressive sound. I appreciate the variety this piece brings to the project. Most hymn recordings tend to focus on a select number of hymns that people are most familiar with, which leaves a great deal of wonderful songs unrecorded. I believe bringing this “newer” hymn to the album was a positive choice. It has a steady beat, bright trumpets, piano and additional strings for an orchestra effect. At the bridge, we hear a line from All Hail the Power of Jesus Name. Very nicely done!
7 Higher Ground Medley
Tempo: Medium / Fast
Comments: The Higher Ground Medley is comprised of three hymns: Higher Ground, In the Sweet By and By and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. The piano, bass guitar and light tap on the drums provide a traditional sounding intro that leads into the first tune of the melody. After a round of Higher Ground, the medley changes keys and drops into In the Sweet By and By, then into When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. This is a fun medley that I enjoyed very much! Sweet By and By and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder are not normally recorded as solo’s in the Gospel Music world and I’m glad that Michaela included them on this project!
8 He / He Touched Me / He is Lord
Comments: The second medley to appear on this project, these three songs represent the “modern hymns” of our day. Beginning with a stirring rendition of He (written by Jack Richards and Richard Mullan in 1954) the piano gently plays the chords as the violin sings the sweet melody. At 1:18 the arrangement makes a sudden turn to the next song, jumping into the chorus “He touched me, oh, He touched me…” and repeats the chorus of this Gaither song once more before the transition between He Touched Me and the last song. This part builds and lifts the spirit as the notes climb higher and higher until they smoothly land in the melody of He is Lord. Listening to the mood and technique in this piece of music makes me appreciate the artistry behind it. One may be tempted to think that a slower piece of music is easier to play than something fast – but that’s not always true. This track is a perfect example of when emotion and technique prove a more difficult task.
9 Since Jesus Came into My Heart
Comments: With a soft rattle on the drums, the intro launches into a piece of music that sounds very Classical in origin which then tappers off into a rollicking version of Since Jesus Came into My Heart. Only two minutes long, this solo will fly by you in an instant! The music that opened the track is the same that closes it.
10 Jesus Loves Me / O How I Love Jesus
Comments: This sweet arrangement brings the CD to a close with the soft medley of Jesus Loves Me and O How I Love Jesus. Jesus Loves Me opens the track with the piano gently backing a lone violin swelling the melody. After the children’s song, the arrangement adds more violins for a chorus of O How I Love Jesus before those violins take that same melody and improvise with harmony and key changes. By the end, what started off as a soft ballad builds into a stirring piece that moves the heart.
Conclusion: This is a unique project to add to your Southern Gospel and/or instrumental collection. Some instrumental music can be recorded with the intention of being played as background music: it’s mellow, sweet and you hardly know it’s there. Not this one! I feel like this project was created to be listened to. The music of each piece keeps the project flowing – you won’t fall asleep listening to this CD! As mentioned in the introduction, the hymns that were chosen for this recording really connected with me. The project doesn’t just focus on the old, old hymns, but brings in newer choruses and songs that make for a unique collection on CD. Each arrangement is marvelous and showcases a variety of styles and talent. A superb CD!
To purchase Once Upon a Hymn …
From The Browns Website – HERE
From itunes – HERE
From CD Baby – HERE
Connect with Michaela at www.stagetothestove.com