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Published on Oct 29, 2010
With a family ancestry that includes venerable hymn writers Isaac Watts and George Stebbins, what's an apostate 21st century composer to do? In a world animated by holy wars, is peaceful resolution possible? Gospel Jihad, for two choirs, presents the problem in musical and psychological terms.
I started by selecting some well-known hymn texts -- the most bellicose I could find, such as "Onward, Christian Soldiers," "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood," "The Fight is On," and "The Son of God goes Forth to War." One choir articulates these zealously, in various outwardly-focused, fire-and-brimstone ways, while the other singers are asked to choose their own personal favorite hymns (melody and all). This latter choir, however, sings to themselves, super slow, stripping the texts of intelligibility and leaving nothing but a holy glow behind. The two groups — extravert and introvert respectively, poised in harmonious stand-off — model some of the possible positions one might take regarding God's multiple militias that have been making news around the world for so long now.
Philip Blackburn was a choral exhibitioner at Clare College under Tim Brown before studying for his PhD at the University of Iowa. Since 1991 he has worked at the American Composers Forum where he runs the innova Recordings label.
Performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, on their 2010 US Tour. September 25, 2010, Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota