Masterpieces of Devotion
First Christian Hymns Reflect A Rich Tradition
The Odes Of Solomon: It's hard to imagine a more direct link to the heritage the early church. It is a transcendent gift of music harkening back to the earliest expressions of Christian worship, to a time when Jesus might still have been in living memory and worship was a joyful expression of a dynamic community in love with God. A pilgrimage of praise that continues to this day, The Odes of Solomon connects us directly to our first brothers and sisters in the faith.
Now, the splendor of this enduring First Century masterpiece of devotion, and the living tradition that it embodies, have been made accessible for today's worshippers in a groundbreaking new project. Created by acclaimed composer, arranger and producer John Schreiner, with the support of Dr. Chuck Fromm, renowned scholar and publisher of Worship Leader Magazine, The Odes Project is a two CD set of twenty-eight majestic and moving selections from what many consider to be the first Christian hymnal. Fashioning powerful new musical settings that reflect the majesty and mystery of the early church, The Odes Project is an innovative and authentic reinterpretation that brings to life a fresh devotional dimension of timeless relevance and reverence.
From intensely moving choral passages, conveying the common faith of the community, to the personal expressions of a heartfelt love of the Lord, The Odes Project is a vital testament of powerful praise compelling the listener to dig deeper into the rich history of the church.
That significance is all the more remarkable considering the origins of the Odes themselves. While attributed the King Solomon, the collection was actually written by an unknown poet and musician in the Holy Land sometime in the early years of the young church. While its' exact origins are shrouded in the mists of time, The Odes Of Solomon unerringly reflect the mystical traditions of Jewish worship of the time in all its ecstatic emotional power. Given that connection, most scholars agree that an early Jewish believer in Jesus wrote the Odes, which also show strong links to the language and images of the Gospel Of John and other early Christian document.
In the centuries that followed its composition, the Odes were repeatedly lost and found again. As late as 1909, they languished in obscurity until being rediscovered in the dusty study of a Quaker theologian. Since that time they have been the object of intense interest and scrutiny among scholars and eventually recognized for what they were -- masterworks of Christian devotion. But not until The Odes Project has this transcendent poetry of praise been adorned with musical settings that both honors and updates its ancient heritage.
The Odes Project is the vision of accomplished producer, composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, John Schreiner. A bone fide musical prodigy, Schreiner first started playing piano at age three and would go on to win a Presidential Award in a national talent contest. Collaborating with a wide variety of artists from Aretha Franklin to Fernando Ortega; Donna Summer to Brian Duncan and beyond, Schreiner had earned an impressive reputation in both Christian and mainstream music when, as a worship leader in a thriving Los Angeles church, he first began discussing the possibility of updating the Odes with renowned scholar and publisher of Worship Leader Magazine, Dr. Chuck Fromm.
"When I first read the Odes I wasn't sure how to approach them," Schreiner reveals. "Most of the praise music I was familiar with put an emphasis on expressing theological truth. This was coming from an entirely different direction, one that used metaphor and images to communicate not just spiritual concepts, but a deep emotional connection to God."
Work began on composing settings for twenty-eight of the Odes Of Solomon in the spring of 2007. "Obviously I needed to point to the past," Schreiner continues, "but I didn't want to make this an exercise in ethno-musicology. The consistent element in the Odes is the beauty of the language. That's what I wanted to capture in the music and to convey to modern worshippers." It was no easy task. First introduced the Odes while studying the history of Christian worship, Dr. Chuck Fromm immediately realized the potential of this enduring work of devotional art for today's church. "When I talked about recording songs written in the first century," he recounts with a smile, "I got polite nods and shoulder shrugs, but not much else. But I was determined to help pastors and worship leaders rediscover the incredible heritage that was waiting for them in the Odes. Simply put, I wanted to bring the past into the present."
It was a process that would continue through months of concentrated effort and see Schreiner bring a dynamic mix of approaches together to create a harmonious whole. "I drew inspiration from a lot of places," he explains. "The soundtrack to Chariots of Fire, for example, pointed the way toward using electronic instruments to create emotional authenticity, while I employed Middle Eastern and Mediterranean percussion to evoke the original atmosphere in which the Odes were written. For the choral arrangements I drew on gospel traditions and used a hundred voice choir, and at one point I even had a singer come in to perform lines from the Odes in Hebrew, just so I could get a sense of how they sounded in an ancient language."
Schreiner also made certain to acquaint himself with the historical context of the Odes. "I took a trip to Princeton," he reveals, "and spent some time with Hugh Oliphant Old, one of the foremost experts on the Odes Of Solomon. We talked a lot about worship in the Jewish temple and the early church and by the end of my visit I had an even deeper appreciation of how music and poetry worked together at that time to bind together a people whose praise was an integral part of their lives. I also felt a real responsibility to carry that tradition on to the best of my ability."
"From the beginning," adds Dr. Fromm, "our intent was to connect today's church with a pure stream of Christian worship that springs of the very fountainhead of our shared history. We hope to build a bridge across time and in that way join in worship with our first brothers and sisters in the faith. What we have discovered in the process is that these ancient expressions of hope and love and the expectation of the messiah's imminent return have as much relevance today as they did when they were first written over two thousand years ago. They are, perhaps, even more significant for us in the way they can evoke joy and profound thanksgiving for those seeking a deeper dimension in worship."
That intent has been brilliantly realized on the twenty-eight superb selections of The Odes Project. Such standout tracks as "Like A Crown," "Shower Upon Us Your Gentle Rain," "I Was Lifted Up Into The Light," "Keep On Walking" and many others do indeed reach back into the past to immeasurably enrich our present experience of worship. In the process, The Odes Project jubilantly reaffirms the promise of God that everything old shall be made new again.