Advent reminds us that, in the midst of everyday struggles, we must affirm the reality of the everyday Incarnation. Jesus lived this life too. He also experienced it on good days and bad. He was rained on too. He probably had migraines occasionally. You better believe he knew suffering.
One of my favorite Christmas traditions has always been the Christmas Eve candlelight service. As a child I probably liked it most for the getting-to-light-a-candle aspect (who doesn’t like playing with fire and wax?), though even then I felt the mystical power of seeing one light pierce the darkness and gradually begin to spread throughout the congregation, illuminating and warming the church sanctuary. It was a marvel to behold, especially when—as “Silent Night” or “Oh Holy Night” echoed throughout the candlelit room—I began to fathom the symbolic significance of the whole activity. It was the image of a world-changing light that spread everywhere from one humble little plastic-cup-encased white wax candle. The Incarnation.
Today is a rare day. It is an album release day from Over the Rhine, the world’s best band you’ve never heard of. I know that’s clichéd, but it’s really true. You must give Over the Rhine a listen… they’ve been at it for fifteen+ years, and have created some of the best American music of the last decade (seriously).
Anyway, you can read my review of their new album, The Trumpet Child, here.
Listening to a new album from Over the Rhine is like coming home after a long vacation—or remembering some old, long-forgotten joy. Perhaps it’s because I have so many memories associated with the band and their music, among them:
- Being introduced to their music in college by my friend and roommate Ryan Hamm (whose incessant play of Good Dog Bad Dog won me over).
- Declaring March '03 “Over the Rhine month” in the Wheaton College school newspaper, The Record (I was entertainment editor at the time, and evidently had license to declare random “months” such as this), and letting Ryan review the major albums of OTR’s oeuvre for four weeks straight.
- Having dinner with Linford before an Over the Rhine concert at Wheaton. He spoke with such poetry.
- Seeing OTR perform the perfect concert at Schubas (an intimate tavern-like venue in Chicago) in October of 2003. To this day, it is not only the best concert I’ve seen them play (and I’ve seen them live six times), but also the best concert I’ve ever seen anybody play (and I had just seen Simon and Garfunkel and Radiohead the month before).
- Walking out from a January OTR concert at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, into a fluffy white snowstorm, the lyrics of Snow Angel still lingering in the air.
For me, Over the Rhine represents a specific time in my life, and I suppose all good music does this to us—it brings to mind a memory, a song or a sound that is forever replayable in our mind. Perhaps Linford says it best in the liner notes of Trumpet:
And me, my first memory, the sound of a trumpet at a tent meeting revival, I was sitting on my mother’s lap, I remember that bright brass bell, that eggtooth blast waking me up, snapping the world into focus, piercing the womb of distant muffled things, stirring my conscious mind, the sound of a trumpet! And I remember the small wooden stage at the front of the tent, strings of bare lightbulbs, my sister Grace’s braids, and me forming my first real thought: I need to be where the sound is coming from.
For me, Over the Rhine’s music does just this: it snaps the world into focus. I need to be where the sound is coming from, and so do you.