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Jan 23, 2004

Jazz Psalms

Calvin's innovative Thursday-evening Jazz Vespers service began in November 2000. Since then it's produced about 80 services for Calvin students and anyone else who wants to attend. And now it's produced an album called "Jazz Psalms" and an accompanying booklet of sheet music.

Jazz Vespers at Calvin combine music, poetry, art, scripture, prayer and live jazz. Ron Rienstra, who works for Calvin in student worship, says the Calvin Jazz Vespers are patterned after the traditional services of the Anglican and Episcopalian traditions, including music, prayer and Scripture.That's the Vespers side of the equation. But the Jazz side comes into play with how those elements are presented. Readings are often poems and observations from a variety of authors, some Christian and some not. Music, led by the Jazz Vespers band, is set to free-flowing jazz harmonies and improvisations.

But each week one of the key pieces in the service is the evening Psalm.

"It can be," says Rienstra, "a song of faith or doubt, praise or lament or all of the above. And it's offered responsively: singing, speaking, singing, speaking."

The 14 tracks on "Jazz Psalms" flow from the Psalms prepared for the Jazz Vespers services the past three-plus years. Vocalist on all 14 is Calvin student Angel Napieralski of Grand Rapids.

Former Calvin student Daniel Richardson has been a local church music director and a professional jazz musician. He heads up the music for the weekly Jazz Vespers at Calvin and also took a lead role in the production of the new "Jazz Psalms" album.

"He did all the instruments," says Rienstra, "and produced and arranged all 14 tracks. He also wrote most of the songs with Angel."

Rienstra hopes that the new album and booklet will be a resource for churches that would like to try something a little different in worship services, but aren't sure where to start.

"On our website," he notes, "we are permitting, even encouraging churches to use these Psalms in their own worship." That website even includes free PDF copies of select psalms that Rienstra says "combos with even modest chops should be able to handle."

The new album is made possible by support from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship which is eager to promote psalm-singing in numerous forms and cultural contexts. It is available at the Calvin College Bookstore for $15. A complete booklet of charts/sheet music will be available in the bookstore for $20.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)