Friday night some friends and I went to see the Sons of Korah in concert at Calvary Chapel of Montebello.
I’ve been hooked on Sons of Korah since my first visit to Australia in 2001, but I’ve never had the chance to see them live. They’re an Australian group based in Melbourne, which rather seriously impaired my chances in any case, and when they did make it to the US, their tours were largely confined to the Midwest.
Not anymore. This time they’re playing a number of Calvary Chapel churches and some other venues in California, and best of all, a pastors’ conference in San Diego.
It was incredible.
It’s a little difficult to explain the experience. We hear the word ‘concert’ and instantly categorize the affair: guys up front playing instruments and singing, yeehaw. It’s another Christian rock band.
First of all, these guys sing psalms. Not, please notice, soulful ballads based on the psalms, nor peppy choruses made up of two lines from a psalm. They sing whole psalms, beginning to end, set to music that will adorn the words and suit the themes of the inspired text.
That ‘beginning to end’ part is important. I’m a big fan of metrical psalms, but there’s a serious problem: when you turn a psalm into a hymn, you’re going to sing the first verse and the last verse to the same tune. This is a problem because there are an awful lot of psalms that have multiple moods. The psalm may start out grabbing God by the lapels and demanding “Where are You?? Why aren’t you doing anything about this??” It may go on to rehearse the evil deeds of the psalmist’s oppressors, and then rehearse the many times that God has delivered His people in the past, and close with a vow to praise God in His sanctuary when He delivers from the present trial. That’s at least two movements, musically, and it would be better with four. One tune, repeated four times hymn-style, can’t possibly cover the emotional range of such a psalm. So to really hear the psalm the way it’s meant to be heard, you need to hear it through-composed with an arrangement custom-built for it.
And they do it for free.
You read that right. They make some money on CD sales, but they charge nothing to come and do a concert.
Why would they do that? Because it’s their ministry. All they need is enough invitations in one tour-able area to cost-justify the trip, and they’re willing to come. Their goal is to get the word out. As Sons of Korah founder and front man Matt Jacoby put it last night, the goal is “to wake people up to the psalms.” Concert performance allows the widest possible range of musical expression, so that’s what they focus on. Future projects may include teaching tools and arrangements for congregational singing, but for now, performance is the tool that brings the most people into meaningful contact with the psalms quickly.
These guys ought to be in much greater demand than they are. They should be buried under years’ worth of invitations. A cynical man might take the fact that they are not as an indication that the church has simply lost its taste for God’s songs, that the church would prefer not to know how to handle its worship, its prayers, and its emotions in a way that requires faith. All of that is certainly true in some measure. But I prefer to think that most believers just don’t know the Sons of Korah exist.
Now you do.