Category Archives: Podcast

Positive Infinity’s podcast, with audio and video media from a wide variety of sources.

The Filioque and the “Field Hands”

Last year this blog featured Frederick Gere and Milton Williams’ The Winds of God, which was one of the earliest Episcopal “folk Masses” produced.  Attempting to break out of the traditional Episcopal mould of music, the folk Mass featured several types of music.  One of them was the Nicene Creed, where choir director Milton Williams sang it antiphonally with the choir responding.

Antiphonal music isn’t a novelty in the Anglican world, but the style is.  Rather than drawing from the English tradition, Williams turned to an African-American style.  It had its roots in slavery and agricultural work; the rhythmic music helped to ease the hard tedium of working in the fields in the hot South.  It appears in compositions such as Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha (which I highly recommend you see if you get the chance).

The “field hands” Williams had to work with were the youth of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA.  Although the result is quite charming, I’m sure that Williams got a good laugh at the business of having a largely white, middle class choir singing in a style which had been (and probably still was at the time) sung by poor black people picking cotton.

And, of course, the Nicene Creed sung included the “filoque” clause, which has created such a headache these days in the Anglican-Episcopal world.

It’s been a long time since this was recorded, but some more contemporary observations are in order.

The first is a question: how many of these fine Episcopal youth “stayed on the plantation” after the convulsions of the 1960’s and 1970’s turned into the church’s first major shedding of membership?

The second is that, during the second shedding of membership, the orthodox African provinces came and helped give cover to the “Anglican Revolt”.  The Africans also found out that some of the “field hands” they took on weren’t as amenable to oversight as expected, which only shows that some people are better at dishing it out than taking it.

Newbury Park

Newbury Park (Cream CR-9003)

Most Christian albums in the 1970’s eschewed secular labels and concert venues, nurturing the developing Christian sub-culture and being evangelistic in the process. This album and group were an exception, although their later work was more distinctively Christian.

But if you like the 1960’s with its “Sunshine music” (like the Mamas and the Papas,) social commentary and strange love songs, this is the album for you. It is an unabashedly “period piece,” and sounds good in the process. In spite of pieces like “I Wanna Come Home”, it’s a fun album.  (Personally, after putting this together, I smile at “My Own 1889”.) Newbury Park could have been a much bigger group had others not beaten them to their genre, but the passage of time makes this album an enjoyable–and sometimes spiritual–voyage through an era that haunts us to this day.

The Songs:

  1. My God And I
  2. I Will Take You There
  3. I Wanna Come Home
  4. Green Tambourine
  5. Hey Little One
  6. Zip A Dee Doo Dah
  7. My Own 1889
  8. When I Am Young
  9. You Only Know Me
  10. Afternoon Sky
  11. Love Now
  12. Zig Zag People

Download Newbury Park

No More Time to Run: My Response to the Newtown, CT School Shootings

Events like the Newtown, CT school shootings simply leave one numb.  As one who moves in the halls of academia, the possibility of something like that happening is one that crosses the mind.  When it does take place, it hurts.

Not so far from Newtown is Danbury, CT.  Years ago a group of very accomplished musicians from there made an album entitled Outpouring, and podcasting its ending track No More Time to Run is my response, poor though it may be, to this tragedy.  It not only comes from the area but is right for the season as well.

My prayers are with the families and others who have come through this.

The Best Part of Being an Aggie

Although the “official” entry of Texas A&M to the SEC was 1 July, the “grand entrance” (and for a Palm Beacher, the importance of this cannot be understated) will be this Saturday, when the Florida Gators visit Kyle Field.  One serious question, of course, is whether Kyle Field will stay, be remodelled, or built somewhere else, but that’s another story.

For Aggies living in Texas (and that’s most of them) entering the SEC wasn’t an obvious choice, and for some it was controversial.  For those of us who live in SEC country, it was a dream come true.  After years of being “in the wilderness” we’ve suddenly awoken to being a real part of the region.  SEC team fans–and in these parts supporting a school is a primary or secondary religion, depending upon the person–haven’t grasped what having Texas A&M in the conference means just yet.  But they will.

The subject of religion, however, brings up what is, for me, the best part of being an Aggie.  Today Texas A&M is truly a world-class institution academically, and certainly in the scientific and engineering fields being an Aggie is a major plus.  But beyond that my time at A&M was crowned not only by my academic accomplishments but more than that by the spiritual transformation that took place.

The backdrop to that transformation took place my last year in prep school, when I “swam the Tiber” and became a Roman Catholic.  Doing that not only got me out of a church being taken over by revisionists; it also broke me out of the élite cocoon that Palm Beach Episcopalianism had me in.  Both of these were crucial for what followed at Texas A&M.

Like everything else about the place, the set-up for Catholicism around Texas A&M was different.  For one thing, the distinction between the outreach to the students–the Texas A&M Newman Association–and the community–St. Mary’s Parish–were very much intertwined.   My first year I stayed out of Newman, but became a lector and got to vote in my first parish council election.  The last was slightly hilarious because my Calculus I teacher, an ex-seminarian, was running, and my voting against him did not prevent his successful election.

The second year was another story.  I decided to get involved in Newman.  Newman had very strong group cohesion, one which was partly a product of the spiritual movement there and partly a by-product of Aggie culture.  There I met people of my age who were serious Christians, something I had never done before.  They challenged me in ways that I had not experienced before.  They also introduced me to a coffeehouse ministry which, although a non-denominational counselling centre, had about a third of its staff as Roman Catholics.

My reaction to this was a combination of interest and reservations.  The interest of course was in the strong Christian fellowship to which I was instinctively attracted to.  That is what the New Testament had in mind, but up to then I had never seen it.  It was also good to run with people who put God first.

The reservations were along two lines.  The first was the distinctively anti-intellectual tendency of most of the Christians around me.  That was part and parcel with a good deal of the “Jesus Movement” Christianity of the era, a reaction to what the liberals had done with the faith.  But my intellectual interests were the opposite, primarily St. Thomas Aquinas.  But that in turn ran counter to a good deal of post-Vatican II Catholicism.

The second was the gnawing feeling that a great deal that I was experiencing was unsustainable.  I tend to spend too much time in the future; what would happen when the party was over?  And, coming from where I did, I realised that there were many out there who would shut the party down if they had a chance.  (The jury is still very much out on whether they will pull this off or not).

The result of this conflict was a year and a half internal tug of war, writing this in the middle of the thing.  But in the end–with some help from my parish priest back home–I made the decision to “go with the flow” in the living water.  The result was a grand last year at A&M, which offset my parents’ crumbling marriage back home and a challenging senior year in engineering.

I would be the first to admit that people in those times got into many strange things.  But Aggies are a practical bunch.  Most of the people I knew ended up in successful careers, stable marriages and families, and a continued commitment to God.  That kind of practicality made it easier to avoid things like covenant communities or outright communes.

That’s the kind of thing you like to take away from your time at university.  Texas A&M is more than an institution of higher learning; it is an experience, one like no other.  For me, the core of that was the spiritual transformation.  People say that an education cannot be taken away from you; in this case, the positive result is eternal.

Stewart Henderson: Whose Idea of Fun is a Nightmare

(Dovetail DOVE 35) 1975

One of the most difficult genres of albums to sell is the spoken word. That’s because it’s not easy to sustain the listener’s interest over a sustained period. Long talking head videos have the same problem.

This album is a glorious exception to that. Henderson, originally from Liverpool, regales us with hilarious (and profound) humour that entertains, holds the interest and provokes thought. He uses some interesting music to spice things up as well. It’s too English in spots for Americans to fully grasp, and some of his humour is a little dated, but this gem shows that Christian comedy doesn’t have to be banal.

Henderson, a poetry reader for the BBC, is presently collaborating with Martyn Joseph on their CD Because We Can.

The poems (for individual download:)

  1. Intro
  2. And I Received A Vision
  3. Way Past My Birth Time
  4. My Garden used To Look Ever So Nice
  5. Mind The Doors
  6. Yours, Not Ours
  7. Vegetarian Love Poem
  8. Splintered Messiah
  9. She Wrote This Poem, I Just Typed The Words
  10. To Write Of Love
  11. I Die Now
  12. I’m Dousing Myself With Cosmetics
  13. Crack, Rap, Snap
  14. Incident From A Sleeping Head
  15. Hammersmith Dream
  16. Typewriter Poem
  17. Poem For A Big Al
  18. Who Never Gets In The New Year’s Honours List

The Alethians and the Right Angle with David Pope: One Way

(Myrrh MST 6506) 1972 UK

One curiosity of Christian records in the “Jesus Music” era are albums where one side is recorded by a different group than the other. A helpful way for two groups to share the cost, it had the added bonus of not requiring one group to come up with more that 20-25 minutes of music. Given the quality of some of the groups, that was a big plus for everyone.

Although both groups get lead vocals from David Pope, that’s where the similarity ends. The Alethians are a straight-up, Fisherfolk type group whose acoustic guitars and very light percussion will gladden the heart of any 1970’s Christian folk fan. The Right Angle, however, did something that few other Christian groups tried: a “lounge lizard,” jazzy style that would be happier in a bar than in a church. Their “rat pack” rendition of Pass It On is an absolute classic, and reason enough alone to have the album.

The songs (for individual download:

Or you can download the entire album.

Phoenix Sonshine: Shinin’ In The Light

(Destiny D-4404-S) 1971

“Jesus Music” was, by definition, evangelistic. It also tended to be folksy; there were many in the movement who had strong reservations about the use of straight-up rock ‘n roll for Christian music. (There were others who didn’t, but I digress.)

Phoenix Sonshine epitomised that sound and that message with this evangelistic, folksy album. It gets a little into folk-rock, a livelier sound than, say, The Way. It’s not as well polished as this production.  But the best thing to do with this music is to get saved.

More information on this album (and its performers) can be found on Waxidermy.

The songs (for individual download:)

  1. That’s A Start
  2. New Love
  3. Faith
  4. Shinin’ In The Light
  5. Sing A Song Of Jesus
  6. He Died
  7. Love Of Jesus
  8. Lazarus
  9. Broken Wing

Interview with “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” Peter Scholtes

This week I’m taking a little different tack by spotlighting an interview with Peter Scholtes, best known as the composer of “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”   Conducted by his stepdaughter Jenna, it’s a fascinating trip through his life, career as a priest in the South Side of Chicago, involvement in the civil rights movement, thoughts on Barack Obama (the interview was done before his run for president), and his thoughts on family life and other topics.

Scholtes lived long enough to see Obama exceed his expectations, as he passed away the year after Obama was elected president.  But he also highlights something that is easily forgotten in the current American climate: that a good deal of the output of the “Jesus Music” era came from what we would call the “religious left”.  The interview also shows Scholtes to be a more humble and self-effacing figure in the 1960’s than many of his contemporaries (and those who came after him on the Chicago scene).  Although he doesn’t discuss this in his interview, Scholtes used his music to inspire people within his congregation to do better things and be better people rather than to simply spend all of their energies forcing others to change.

Originally posted here.

Word of God Chorus and Orchestra: Praises for the King

Word of God Chorus and Orchestra: Praises for the King (W/G 8020, 1980)

Throughout the 1970’s the Word of God, that Catholic Charismatic covenant community par excellence in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had two distinguishing features. The first was its authoritarian headship structure, whose main architects were Steve Clark and Ralph Martin. The second was its flat music style, heavy on chorded acoustical guitar and light on percussion. Both of these were doubtless considered “from the throne room” by the community’s leadership.

How the first came to a halt is better documented in a place like this. As far as the music was concerned, although there was certainly better quality Catholic music being put out during the era (some of which is on this site,) much of what graced parishes, prayer groups and communities alike was flat and banal. The unimaginative style that the Word of God and other covenant communities employed was no better than some, but no worse than many.

The limitations of that style were thrust in front of everyone, however, with the release of John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper in 1979. Produced in neighbouring Indiana, this skilful combination of orchestration, Talbot’s guitar work and the simple choral arrangements changed a great deal of what people thought was possible in Catholic music (and his subsequent albums reinforced that.) This obviously caused coordinator consternation in Ann Arbor. How could a recent convert like Talbot take an uncovenanted group in Indianapolis and outdo us?

To some extent, Praises for the King can be seen as a response to that groundbreaking effort. To accomplish this Jim Cavnar, music director at Word of God, brought in Cleon “Skip” Chapen to write truly orchestral arrangements for this album. They beefed up both orchestra and chorus from previous efforts, diversifying the instrumental mix and definitely changing the sound if not the song selection.

So how does it come off? It’s not as creative of an orchestration as one would like (Chapen would have done well to study both Talbot and the mysterious producers of A City Set Upon a Hill Cannot Be Hid) but it is an orchestration, and a serious step up. And, in a change that almost seems contradictory to the format, this album goes back to earlier Word of God efforts like New Life in that it replicates/incorporates the worship of the community, including singing in the Spirit. As Cavnar himself does all but admit, it is one of their more spontaneous and spiritual productions.

One feature of the album that is in line with earlier production are the acoustics. Word of God albums were generally recorded in reverberant acoustical environments, as was the case with many other Catholic efforts of the time. It’s too bad that an album they sent to London to master ended up being recorded in the basement of a church.

With all that said, Praises for the King is a creditable production, and in reality the best album the community ever put out.

The songs:

  1. Hymn of Glory/Psalm 89
  2. Be Exalted, O God/Thou Art Worthy
  3. Proclaim His Marvellous Deeds
  4. Psalm 150
  5. You Are Holy/Holy God We Praise Your Name
  6. One Thing I Ask For
  7. The Song of Moses


For more music click here

Fruit of the Spirit: He Loves You and Me

Fruit of the Spirit
He Loves You and Me (Holiday 12101, 1976)

A great deal of the “Jesus Music” of the 1960’s and 1970’s was performed in coffee-houses. An innovative form of ministry, it broke with the “church” tradition (a breaking churches struggle with perpetuating until this day) and placed the gospel in a laid back venue. At the centre of the coffee-house was its band or group, performing evangelistic music (such as this, an actual coffee-house group) and making coming to Christ a much easier road for the portion of the generation that had turned its back on traditional church. The best known group in this genre was The Way, but there were many others.

But then we had the question: what kind of music? Some coffee-houses gravitated to a more rock style. But this was anathema to others. That was partly an extension of the old “drums in church” argument, but it went beyond that. There was a strong school of thought that the sheer “artlessness” of much of the Jesus Music of the era was in fact spiritual, that venturing into “fancy” instrumentals was worldly. (And these same people went home and put Phil Keaggy’s What a Day on…) Unfortunately this argument also got a good deal of traction in Catholic Charismatic covenant communities, but that’s another post.

This album, from California, sends all of this kind of argumentation to the bottom. It eschews the percussion all right, but the acoustic guitar work (six and twelve string) is masterful, as is the interplay between the male and female vocals. It adds artistry to the message in a way that makes both very sweet, even when it branches out into country (why did we have to have Maranatha 4)?

It’s great music to listen to and even better music to get saved by. So what are you waiting for?

The songs:

  1. Won’t You Hear
  2. He’s Coming with the Angels
  3. The Rising Son
  4. Come to Him
  5. In the Beginning
  6. Tell Me Why
  7. I Cry
  8. Jesus I Love You
  9. Freely Be Yours
  10. As I Look
  11. He Loves You and Me

Or you can download the entire album at once.

For more music, click here