By Victor Minetola
I’ll admit it—I can be a fairly emotional guy. The opening 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up (with absolutely no dialogue) had me in tears. But, at the same time, I’m not usually given to spontaneous and unprovoked weeping. Something has got to really grab my attention for that to happen. The music of The Brilliance had that effect on me when I first heard them.
A classmate in my WCC speech class first told me about Michael Gungor. It wasn’t until his second album Beautiful Things, that I finally took a moment and listened. I was rather blown away by what I heard—musically, production-wise and lyrically (see my post about Derek Webb for more insight into my views on Christian music). I listened to the album a bunch and began using some of the songs in worship at University Lutheran Chapel.
Somewhere along the way, I had heard that Michael Gungor’s brother, David, had released an eponymous album with his band, The Brilliance. Similarly, it took me a while to get around to finally buying and checking it out. I remember the day clearly. I had to run a few errands before coming to the Chapel, so I brought my iPod with me so I could listen to The Brilliance.
I liked what I heard—quite a lot, really. The album opens with a beautiful, classically influenced piano piece before fading out to a string section alternating between two notes, setting the pace for the vocals: “Breathe / breathe on me now … Fill us with your power / Spirit of God.” There aren’t many modern worship songs that focus on the “quiet” person of the Trinity, so this was refreshing. The entire album is like a journey through a worship liturgy, using words from ancient hymns and prayers set to beautiful piano, guitar, and strings. It was “Wounded Healer” that really struck me on that first listen (and since):
“our suffering God
our Wounded Healer
upon the cross
crowned with thorns
now crowned with glory
reigning at the Father’s side…
hosanna, hosanna, hosanna…”
And I found myself sitting in my car in the Chapel’s parking lot, weeping. Look at what is going on lyrically—in one moment we go from Good Friday to the end times and back to Palm Sunday, then and now and not yet.
This beauty, depth and delicate prowess permeate the music of The Brilliance. After releasing a short EP based on some Psalms (Cavetime), and an album dedicated to Lent, they have since released two wonderful Advent albums (appropriately titled Advent, Vol 1 & 2). They feature modern renditions of familiar carols (“Joy to the World” and “In the Bleak Midwinter”) as well as plenty of originals. Several of their songs have become staples in the Chapel’s worship repertoire.
Last Advent, Jeff Greunke had the audacity to reach out to The Brilliance to see if they would like to stop in Ann Arbor to do one of our Advent services. They accepted and packed the house. Despite David having a rather nasty head cold, pianist John Arndt, guest vocalist Bekah Wagner, and two string players led a beautiful service of song.
At one point, David asked if anyone had any questions. Pastor Scott piped up: “Can Victor sing a song with you?” To my disbelief, David replied “Sure.” I anxiously made my way down from the balcony, where I was mixing the sound. After botching one of the opening lines, I had the wonderful experience of singing “Open Up” with The Brilliance—an event that made my year (and one that Pastor Scott often relives as he brings his iPhone out to play it for anyone who will watch).
David reached out to us last month to see if he could bring The Brilliance back to “the beautiful Chapel” again this Advent. We have the pleasure of hosting them on Wednesday, December 11, at 7 p.m. for an evening of Advent Vespers. Tickets are available here. And word is they are bringing a new Advent recording with them…