Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Getting a Testimony of THE BOOK

The Baron blogged recently about having faith without the miracle. He used as an example the many times that priesthood blessings are given, but not “fulfilled”.

His discussion of that angle is quite intriguing, and that brings up some similar things that are coming about in my wife’s family right now. I won’t mention names, and the people in question don’t get on the net, much less see my blog.

My mother-in-law is going through a sort of “crisis of faith” in that she’s been an active member of the church all her life, and in spite of some bumpy spots, has been faithful. Yet the other day she asked me why she’d never gotten a witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon.

When I asked her to go on, she said that she’d never had a manifestation of enlightenment, no flash of Spiritual “Ah-hah” that made her say, “It’s true!” She’s read about those all of her life, she’s heard people talk about it all of her life. But it has never happened to her.

I think she was surprised when I said that it had never happened to me, either. Now, I’ve had some pretty powerful spiritual experiences, but none of them in direct relation to me asking about the truth of the book.

But, I have a strong testimony of the book. Because I read it a lot, and when I do, I feel good. Sometimes that feeling is great and wonderful, and sometimes it’s just calming and settling. But I know it’s true. I’ve never had a *POW* moment that told me so, but over time, I’ve just come to know it, as I’ve come to know the book.

It’s something that she’ll have to sort out for herself, but I hope that my story helped her.

Then, today, I met up with my father-in-law, long since divorced from my mother-in-law, who has been various stages of inactive for many years. When I saw him, he was carrying a large-print copy of the Book of Mormon with him. I commented on it, and he said he’d decided to read it all. It turns out that all these years that he has been either an active or inactive member of the church, he has never read it all the way through.

So, I’m excited for him to begin his journey to his testimony, as I’m also excited for my mother-in-law to discover hers. I really suspect that they’ve both had one for years. It’ll be very interesting to see them as the uncover it.

Mark Hansen

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Songs of Zion

This is what I’m going to call a new segment of my blog. I really enjoy following the trends in LDS music, and I’d love to share that with you. As I get new CD’s, I’ll review them and then if you get them, you can tell me if I’m full of it!

“Change” by Stephanie Smith
Produced by Jonathan Shults and Stephanie Smith

Even though Stephanie and I are not what you’d call “old friends”, we’ve known each other a few years. I think we first met on the LDSmusicians.com yahoogroup. Anyway, I’m always excited to get a chance to see her play live. In fact, I even had the chance to promote one of her concerts. I remember once about a year ago, one snowy winter night, that another friend of mine and I went to American Fork, UT to hear her play in a small bookstore on a sort of “double bill” with Greg Simpson (another one of my favorites), and Shane Jackman. At the time, she was working on a second CD, and she brought with her some of the scratch mixes that she and Jonathan had recently finished.

I was just blown away by them. The two tunes she played were energetic and edgier than her first CD, and I was way excited.

So, then, a few weeks ago, she sent me a copy of the final release of the CD to review here in Mo’ Boy! I was pretty stoked to crack it open and hear the tunes. And I’m not disappointed at all.

“Change” is kind of an appropriate title for her album, as she’s been going through a lot of it since the last CD. This one is edgier than the last, which was good, but I felt a little held-back. Now, don’t for a minute think that “edgier” means “hard rock”. That’s not her style. It’s an “alt/pop-post-lillith-fair-singer-songwriter” kinda groove. With intelligent lyrics. And cool surprises for chord changes. And heart. Don’t tell anyone, but a couple of times I teared up listening to this. Ok, I’m old and sentimental…

The lyrics overall deal with a positive outlook on life, but not rose-colored at all. This is a work that acknowledges trials and difficulties, but takes the high road. One of the best of that sort is “Let Me Know”. It’s about God leading you to the promised land only to find that it’s barren. Then you plant the seeds He gives you and it blossoms. God may lead us there, but he doesn’t expect us to rest when we get there. It made me think of the wagon trains heading west to finally arrive in the dusty valley by a dead and salty lake.

She did a cover of her own song, too, in “Better Off Alone”. Originally on her first CD, the newer version is bigger and with more intensity. It’s one of my favorites of hers live, and it was cool to hear it again, new on this CD.

“Sidewalk Pictures” is about the fragility of art. And yet, somehow, we keep on doing it. This one has some really cool chord changes in it. Very fresh things you don’t expect.

There were a couple of tunes that I didn’t get, like “Save Your Own”. That one made me wish I knew the story behind the song. I might have understood it if I had. Still, melody and the tune carried me through. “All I Find” was another one”.

She just recently got married (one of the changes I was referring to), and that threads through several of her songs. I like hearing love songs that are very clearly about being married. Most love songs are so vague they can be about any kind of love. But committed and documented love is somehow different than “living together” love, or even “just dating” love. And it’s nice to hear that reflected in song. And even though she’s only been married, what, a couple of years, and I’ve been married over 15, these songs still spoke to me, as well. The best of these is “Anywhere”.

Go to her website for song samples and gigs. If you live in the Utah County area, she gigs a LOT, and travels some, too.

Mark Hansen

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

I'd just like to wish all my readers out there in the blogosphere and the bloggernacle a very merry and politically-incorrect CHRISTmas!

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

“Because the world needs more Mormon novels”

Those were the words that I read over at A Motley Vision a few minutes ago. And it really struck me.

He said it in the context of encouraging LDS writers to join a Write-a-Novel-in-a-Month challenge being put on. He was spelling out the reasons why writers should participate.

At first, when I read that line, I thought he was being sarcastic. Because there seems to be so many mo’ novels coming out almost on a daily basis, does the world really need one more? But then, he added, “even if they don't end up being published.” That showed me he meant it. It’s true. More needs to be written, even if they don’t end up being published. Or, even if they only end up being self-published on the web, or whatever.

I’ll go one step further and say that they need to be written even if they aren’t any good. Because that’s the only way the writer will ever get any better.

And, as I always do, I turned my thoughts to music, and I paraphrased that sentence as, “Because the world needs more Mormon songs!”

See, a long time ago, a good friend of mine compared art and creativity to a giant lake. And there are streams and rivers and puddles and springs that feed the lake. Each drop of water that pours into the lake is some kind of work of art that got created. Some are big drops of clear, pure water, others are not so big and maybe not as delicious. But they’re all feeding the lake. And if the rivers and streams and puddles and springs (the creators) stop creating, stop feeding the lake, then the lake dies. It dries up.

So, every act of creativity is a great thing, no matter how good or bad or publishable or whatever it is. Because on one level, it boosts the whole. It feeds the lake.

And if you take that analogy and show it on a larger scale, beyond the mo’ market, the creative lake that the world has is getting more and more polluted. And the best way to clean it up is to feed it more and more pure water.

Yes! The world needs another Mormon novel. It needs more Mormon songs. Sculptures, paintings, poems, plays... It needs thousands more.

Mark Hansen

Monday, December 20, 2004

Blogging and Elections: A Final Thought

I’ve been reading a lot about the elections and the roles that blogging played this last time around. I’ve come to the personal conclusion that the blogs had a big impact on the election, but I don’t believe they changed or determined the outcome.

First of all, the bloggers provided a vast network of grass-roots information disseminators. Facts and opinions were shared. News stories broke and were then debated. Candidates themselves hosted blogs, even though most of those that I saw were handled by staffers rather than the actual candidates. It’s like there’s this big light that is shone on the elections and the candidates, and this time, the focus of that light got shifted. Instead of shining on and reflecting off of the major media outlets, it shifted a bit to focus more on the people. It was more than ever, a return to a people’s election.

But both sides caught on. Republicans, Democrats, everyone. Left, right, up, down, were all blogging. If only one side had been doing it, and that side had won decisively, then it would be easy to ascribe victory to blogging. We could say then that they had been the determining factor. But that wasn’t the case. Everybody did it, and it was a way narrow margin.

But I hope that the face of politics is forever changed. I hope that the voter-informing-voter trend grows. I think that leads to a more informed populace and that makes for (at the very least) more exciting election nights!

Mark Hansen

Friday, December 17, 2004

Unified Harmony

OK, now I’ve got more fodder for my internal arguments of “Unison” v. “Harmony” and the relative Godliness of each one.

I went to see the MoTab Christmas Concert tonight. Great show, by the way. I saw another aspect of the argument. I saw, throughout the night, and at various times, moments in which the choir and orchestra combined more or less equally to create great art, and other moments where a soloist was clearly the focal point.

One thing I always admired about the choir, on a philosophical level, was that it represented one of the ideals of the organization of the church. And that is that the choir is a body, not a person. It’s a big mass of humans. We speak of “the choir” as if it were a single entity, but there’s not one person that stands out. The sound we hear, the tableau we see are many creating a sound. Each individual voice singing a different part with a different tambre, and nobody’s really the focus.

In fact the choir just recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, and shows no signs of slowing. People come and people go. On the other hand, could you imagine the Rolling Stones without Mick? Ever see one of those classic rock nostalgia tours where there’s only one original member of the band? It’s just not the same, is it?

There’s something cool and resonating for me in that observation. There isn’t a “Star” in the MoTab. The Tab as a whole, is the star.

Then on the other hand, there’s something very exciting about seeing someone shine. Someone stand out and really express. The soloist tonight was very impressive in her vocal technique. Out to be, she’s won, like, four Tony’s… And she got lots of applause. Two standing ovations. Nobody did that for the choir alone…

That tells me there’s also room for the lone performer, sharing their soul with the audience.

So, my conclusion out of all this is that probably in the heavens, there will be choirs and soloists. There will be times when everyone sings the same melody, and times when the harmonies and polyphony will be celestial. A time when all will be united as one voice, and a time when one single voice will unite us all in one great audience.

And I hope to be singing through it all!

Mark Hansen

Thursday, December 16, 2004

A New Way to Sample LDS Music

I recently discovered a new website for sampling current LDS music. Actually, new website isn’t really the best way to describe it. New system is better. You can find it at http://ldsdiscradio.com.

I’d been to the website, and I’d signed up. For a nominal shipping fee, they send me a CD (I got two of them, actually, at first). Just last night I got my first one and threw it on. There was about 50 minutes of audio program on the CD. When I spun it, it played just like radio. A couple of DJ’s bantered while introducing the songs, and there were even “station” promos, and a couple of ads.

What I enjoyed most about the CD, though, was the songs. Especially the variety. There were a number of mainstream styles represented. There were a couple of urban/R&B/Hip Hop tunes, some more middle-of-the-road rock and pop, some of the current acoustic folk/pop, and even some grunge and a novelty tune. What was distinctly (and thankfully) missing was the sappy Afterglow-like piano ballads of the 80’s and 90’s. Not a one of those. Woo Hoo!

Also, these were all “indies”. None of the “big names”. I put those in quotes because nobody in LDS music is truly “big”. I mean, even Julie De Azevedo has a day job. Personally, I liked that aspect of it. But then, I’m a fan of the new stuff, the oncoming wave, the cutting edge. Often it’s not as polished, but what it lacks in that department, it more than makes up for in sheer guts and freshness.

Here’s some comments on some of the tracks:

Jennifer Lemon: I didn’t catch the title of her track, but I’ve always loved her voice. She’s got the brand, too. Check out http://jenmagazine.com sometime, for the young women in your house.

The boys played a track by The Hinkleys that could only be described as pop country with a bit of an edge. I really like their stuff. Tight vocals with some smokin’ guitar and keyboard work.

Carey Judd is an interesting new singer/songwriter. There were two of his tracks on this mix, one was a Peter Breinholt-y acoustic folk alternative sorta thing, and the other was just him and an acoustic guitar, but with an almost Offspring kinda feel. Very cool.

I was pleased to find not only was Fast Sundae included, but they chose what was probably my favorite FS song, too, even though they slated it wrong. They called it as “The Burden of Babylon”, but it was really “Childish Things”, an absolutely killer modern grunge thing about growing up and putting away your childish things, all the while becoming truly childlike.

Besides Jen Lem, there were some other urban tracks, including a battle rap from TJ Fredette (I blogged about him a while back, remember?), and a thing by someone named “Fingermix”. That last one kinda confused me. I wasn’t sure quite how it fit, lyrically speaking, with the other, more LDS, tunes. It was a dance tune, all about a girl who loves her man even though he steps out on her. Nice production, but I was put off by the message. Hmmm…

Overall, I was pleased spinning the CD. Normally, DJ’s annoy me, but I actually liked their banter and their background info. I had some initial suspicions of their business model, though. I wasn’t sure where the funding for the long term was going to be coming from, but I guess there’ll be LDS-related ads both in the program, and in some of the papers that came with the CD. Even though I didn’t mind the few ads they included in the program, I hope they go more with the printed ads. For some reason, I also have to return this CD to get my next one. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the guys at LDSDiscRadio.com can jump on the comments here and explain that one to us.

Also, I’d like to see them not only tell me the title of every tune, but also, as they’re mastering the CD, drop a song marker at the start of each tune.

For me, though, those complaints are mere nit-picks. The best part of getting the CD was hearing new songs and discovering new artists (along with a couple that I had already heard). And shouldn’t the music be the focus anyway?

I truly hope this effort works out for them. I know I’ll be in on it as a listener, and I also hope to have some of my tunes on a future mix!

Mark Hansen

A Post Script:

If anyone out there has an LDS-oriented CD, or even a downloadable single, contact me, and I’d love to review it, alongside of my regular keen observations and news on the LDS pop culture scene!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

WalMart Rules!

A friend of mine here at work sent me this Rolling Stone article, published back in October. I was fascinated by it, intrigued by it, horrified by it, and excited by it, all at once.

It’s all about how WalMart is trying to dictate the prices of CD’s. They’re essentially demanding that the labels distribute the CD’s at under $10.

First of all, I was excited to see someone finally tell the record labels that the people want music to be less expensive. I remember when CD’s first came out, they were $20. We were told that as the format became more prevalent, the prices would drop to be similar to what LP’s were going for at the time. Did that ever happen? Nope. Even though they did drop some, it was no surprise that they never got that low.

Even now, with people beginning to accept $1 downloads instead of stealing the songs for free, the lower-price models are starting to become necessary!

Second, I was horrified that a business that has so little long-term interest in the music industry has so much power over it. The article said, “…Because if Wal-Mart cut back on music, industry sales would suffer severely -- though Wal-Mart's shareholders would barely bat an eye. While Wal-Mart represents nearly twenty percent of major-label music sales, music represents only about two percent of Wal-Mart's total sales. ‘If they got out of selling music, it would mean nothing to them,’ says another label executive. ‘This keeps me awake at night.’"

But since WalMart sells a lot more than just music, they don’t have to do any special effort to help promote or develop artists. No signings, no special co-op advertising, nothing.

Third, I was intrigued by the shift in the music industry. Intrigued means both frightened and excited at the same time, by the same thing. For example, a typical record store, according to this article, carries about 70,000 titles. A single WalMart, however, only carries about 5000 titles. That means that there will be fewer places for less-popular artists, and the big names will rule the shelves. A kind of scary thought for a small-timer.

But on the other hand, that also means that will drive more people to online sources of music, which will be good for the indies who are already accessing that medium to great advantage.

In WalMart’s defense, I’ve seen some local LDS artists in their Christian section, as well as some Christian indie labels and artists, too. For example, I got my Toby Mac and Superchick(s) CD’s both at WalMart.

And while I’m thinking of that, it brings me to my Fourth Point, I’m a little bit glad for the censorship that WalMart brings with it. WalMart, pretty much, only stocks the edited versions of the extreme CD’s. Their clout has caused music producers to create two versions of the music. One for general release, with the warning label, and one for WalMart.

This is truly an exciting time to be a musician.

Mark Hansen

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Seeing is Believing

A long, long, time ago (I don’t even remember when), I blogged about some friends of mine, singers/songwriters from Idaho. Brad Thompsen and Steve Brown, who together are known as Border Crossing. At the time I blogged about one of their songs, "The Other Way Around".

It’s long been one of my favorites of theirs. A very powerful lyric sung very simply with slow acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Anyway, today as I taught my gospel essentials class, we were talking about faith and belief. And that, combined with an article about a famous atheist deciding there actually is a God from A Soft Answer, had me thinking a lot about belief and faith and knowledge.

One of the things that struck me was the reason that Anthony Flew (the atheist) gave for accepting that a supreme organizing power exists was that there was too much order and detail in the world, essentially, for there not to be. And that reminded me of the verse that says something to the effect that all things testify that there is a God. I wish I could remember the reference. I did a search for it, but got too many results to plow through at this time of night.

So, back to the song. The song is all about how those that believe, begin to see, rather than those that see, begin to believe.

I hope they don’t mind me reprinting the lyrics here:

The Other Way Around
Steve Brown/Brad Thompson

There are more trees in Georgia
Than I care to count
You can look forever
And never figure out
Which way the sun comes out
Or where it’s going to rise
But I’ve seen Georgia sunsets
That’d make you cry

There’s a girl in California
Who loves to watch the beach
To feel the wind in her hair
And the sand beneath her feet
She smiles at the sun
Smells the salty air
But her eyes have never seen
What she knows is there

But Sometimes seeing is believing
Sights we’ve already found
Sometimes seeing is believing
Sometimes it’s the other way around

There’s a little boy I’ve heard of
Back in Tennesee
Who has the gift to find beauty
In everything he sees
Man says, I’ll give you fifty dollars
If you can show me God
He says, I’ll give you back a million, sir
If you can show me where he’s not


So, I played the CD to end my Sunday School class, and it really put a nice cap on the whole message of how important faith is. And how easy it is to trust your faith, and how you don’t need to see everything to believe it.

Thanks, Brad and Steve!

Mark Hansen

Saturday, December 11, 2004

OK, just so that you know that I’m not a total musical Scrooge, we just had our ward Christmas party, and a local high school madrigal choir came out to perform. It was wonderful.

They did a few traditional ones, and a few new ones. But they were a lot of fun and innovative, too. They did an arrangement of the “William Tell Overture”, better known as the “Theme From the Lone Ranger”, but they sang the notes with “ding” and “Dong” and things like that. Then they pulled out kazoos for part of it.

My boys just had a great time watching it, and Jacob was laughing out loud through much of the performance.

So, there’s still some cool Christmas music being made out there…

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Harmony and Unison

The other day at choir practice, our director was trying to decide if she would prefer a certain hymn in our Christmas program to be sung in parts or in unison. In a sort of offhanded way, she asked, “I wonder if the heavenly choirs will be sung in parts or in unison?”

I responded to the effect that I didn’t dare open that particular can of philosophical worms in a choir practice…

So I’ll blog about it instead.

I mean, there’s all kinds of levels here. On the musical side of it, there’s plenty of fodder for both sides. Parts bring lush and rich harmonies, counterpoint, and fullness to a piece. There’s a depth to it that you simply don’t get with one single melody line.

But there’s a power to unity, too. For example, when I was in high school, as a cellist in our orchestra, we played a piece, an arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. I don’t even remember who did the arrangement. After the exposition, it went into so polyphonic explorations, typical of a good development section, but the recap was absolutely amazing. The entire orchestra, including the winds, all played the entire thing. Loud, slow, and in unison. Maybe it was the contrast that made it feel so big and powerful.

Another example. Many years ago, when I was still living in Indiana, my friends and I took a roadtrip to see Yes in concert in Champaign, Illinois. It was a great show, but one part stuck with me as a monumental moment in my life’s ongoing musical experience. That was Chris Squire’s bass solo. Now, typical bass solos are a time when the bassist really gets to show off his chops. Hands are dizzy and notes fly like snowflakes in a blizzard. And Chris Squire was certainly no slouch. He could match fury with the best of them.

But he comes out, and with a single light on him from above, plays “Amazing Grace”. He plays it easily, slowly, and I might add, very loud and low. The house shook. No flashy embellishments. Nothing but the song.

And it was INCREDIBLE.

But then look how often a pop singer sings without accompaniment, or how often true unison orchestral performances happen. Look at great inspired works like “The Messiah”, which expertly flips from monophony to homophony and polyphony at the drop of a baton.

So, the big philosophical question that is the extension of all this is: Does God want us lockstepping together or does he want us individually adding to the whole?

Personally, I feel that if He wanted us lockstepped, He would have backed Lucifer’s plan in the first place. I like the thought of many different voices combining together harmoniously to add to the whole. But it seems that there are a lot of us Mormons who don’t take to kindly to differences. To our credit, there are a lot of us who do, too.

And I also admit that, in music, there are times when a single melody can communicate very strongly.

Just a thought… or two…

Mark Hansen


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