Band brings new type of worship to Calvin
“We’re going to be singing about death,” opened David Gungor, lead singer for The Brilliance. The audience laughed nervously. But as the strings swelled and piano filled the auditorium, the audience settled back.
The Brilliance is a different kind of band. With an electric guitar and drum set, but also a grand piano and full string section, its sound is musically complex and different.
Ken Heffner, director of student activities at Calvin College, said he heard The Brilliance open for the band Gungor, led by David Gungor’s brother Michael, last spring. “I went up to [David Gungor] after the concert and said, ‘let’s see about getting you back here to play your own show.’”
“They are reinventing worship music and taking it in what we would argue is a better direction,” he said. “At least, much more theologically robust and aesthetically complex.”
The Brilliance was at Calvin for a performance on Friday night, but band members also spent the morning leading chapel and doing workshops with Calvin music students. They rehearsed and used several Calvin string players in their show.
But though The Brilliance led worship in chapel on Friday morning, members would hesitate to label themselves a worship band.
In a conversation with the band after the show, John Arndt, pianist and composer for The Brilliance, said, “We find what we do to be art. I wouldn’t necessarily call this in the genre of worship music…what we’re doing is making something beautiful and presenting it.”
“It definitely wasn’t what I expected,” said sophomore Laura Sheppard. “I was expecting a concert like any other concert. But it was a full experience. The way they had the orchestra and the way it built up was a form of worship itself.”
But the beauty of The Brilliance’s music isn’t just in its rich orchestrations. The lyrics are also complex. The band doesn’t rely on a repetitive verse-chorus structure, but write songs like stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Some lyrics come directly from the psalms, others from church prayers.
Ken Heffner thinks this is an encouraging trend. “We need to have worship music that addresses the full range of the biblical story, not just the gospel,” he said. “The story of being a Christian is a very big story and our worship music should express that, and often doesn’t.”
The Brilliance sings praise music, but also songs of lament and confession. It just released an album celebrating advent, but another album focuses on the mournfulness of the Lenten season.
“We grew up in this tradition where if you’re suffering there’s something wrong with you,” said David Gungor. “But I don’t think you can get to hope without suffering.”
The Brilliance, along with bands like Gungor, is breaking new ground in worship music, whether or not they would choose that label for themselves. By sheer talent and quality, they set themselves apart. Aesthetically gorgeous, their orchestrations are equal matches for lyrics that are deep and Biblically based.
“Worship is a time when the body of Christ comes together and is reminded of what we need to believe,” said Ken Heffner. “With The Brilliance it’s not just a glorifying time; it’s a teaching time.”