The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 2nd

Divine intervention

The terms "praise music" and "Christian rock" bring to mind a style of music that has a set audience with set expectations - often to the chagrin of secular music fans. But many artists blur the lines of what defines religious music. Contemporary Christian music (CCM) is a catchall term for artists whose music concerns the Christian faith. CCM stretches to include derivations of rock, country, gospel and other types of music. CCM bands often find success by mixing contemporary sounds and trends, pairing them with overtly religious lyrics. The familiar sounds have granted some bands mainstream status. Jars of Clay, for example, has toured with other Christian artists, but also with Matchbox Twenty. P.O.D. is another immediately recognizable success story. But the CCM formula, in many minds, has created a divide between the religious and the secular. Music can integrate aspects of faith from the songwriter's personal view, instead of writing songs for the sole purpose of praise. Artists such as Sufjan Stevens have found mainstream success across faiths. His use of Christian undertones became apparent in his 2004 album, Seven Swans. Where Stevens differs from traditional CCM artists is in his songwriting. Stevens writes in a way that incorporates his faith, rather than for the purpose of confirming it. At first glance, Stevens' songs, such as "To Be Alone With You," appear to be traditional secular songs. But lines such as "To be alone with me you went up on the tree/I'll never know the man who loved me," show the writer's thought goes beyond Earthly joys and into the spiritual realm. The Chapel Hill band Sweater Weather seems to have a similar approach when it comes to religion and music. "We are eight different people from different walks of life," said frontman Casey Trela. "I can speak for myself that I try not to separate my religious parts of my life from non. I'm not writing Christian music for a Christian audience, but I am writing about my life, and my faith is a big part of it." On "Fear In A Handful of Dust," Trela's gentle tenor breaks into a scream as the repeated, building refrain of "He is. He was. And He shall come again" soars higher and higher over squalling guitars and heavy percussion. It's the band's most obviously faith-based lyric. But Trela thinks Sweater Weather's music can be appreciated by all kinds of listeners, not just ones with strong Christian faiths. "I hope that because it is music, it can reach people who come from different perspectives, but they can still relate to the struggles or the joy expressed." Danny Stellini, a sophomore music-education major, shares a similar perspective about the relationship between music and religion. Stellini is the music director of Sababa, a Jewish a capella group at UNC. But he says Sababa performs "cultural music," not just strictly religious or Jewish music. "We sing Israeli music as well as secular music with Jewish sentiments," Stellini said. For example, this semester the group is singing The Byrds' hit, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" He said he thinks many contemporary Jewish musicians are making their music more accessible by using themes that can relate to any community, not just a Jewish one. "It's not about religion or God; it's about Jewish values such as acceptance and peace." While some artists find a middle ground between religion and secularism, others stay with the more obvious religious connections. But even under the label of religious music, some artists do not fit the prototypical genre tag. The unorthodox Clang Quartet is a profound example. The title of Quartet is misleading, as the sole member is Scotty Irving of Stokesdale, N.C. "Some people have said it's a quartet because it's me and the Holy Trinity," Irving said. While he said he appreciates the religious associations, the connection is not intentional. But the "Clang" part of his moniker is accurate. Irving describes his show as "not exactly music." "I use the word 'noise' because it is sound that doesn't follow a sing-song pattern," he said. The noise aspect is an integral part of Irving's performance. Using varied - sometimes homemade - percussion instruments, a PA system and other noisemakers, Irving offers his personal interpretation of sins, the crucifixion and ultimate redemption. While other Christian artists sing overly accessible songs of praise and worship, Irving beats on cymbals and wears bizarre masks on stage to interpret his faith. "If people are paying attention, then the Christian symbolism is obvious," Irving said. With Christian-themed shirts and stickers, crosses and a crown of thorns, Irving performs the approximately 30-minute show with no vocals, only the clatter of his many instruments. Before starting Clang Quartet, Irving played in rock bands that used elements of noise and metal. But as the years passed, he realized what he wanted and what his bandmates wanted in regards to sound and performance were very different. Irving, as Clang Quartet, now performs on a regular basis at churches, nightclubs and other spaces. "I don't regret (starting Clang Quartet)", Irving said. "I regret the time I spent talking myself out of doing it." Contact the Diversions Editor at For More info... Sweater Weather Sweater Weather's next local shows are at Local 506, in Chapel Hill, on Oct. 22 and at Duke Coffeehouse, in Durham, on Nov. 9. You can check the band out online at or Sababa Sababa's next scheduled public performance is at NC Hillel on Dec. 1, as part of the organization's annual Hanukkah party. Check them out online at Clang Quartet Clang Quartet's next local shows are at Bull City Headquarters, in Durham, on Oct. 19 and at Local 506, in Chapel Hill, on Nov. 17. You can check Clang Quartet out online at or


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