When song reverberates past the notes

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Steve Bell Trio

On Saturday night I experienced a rare confluence of two loves—music and poetry.

It was my sister-in-law who alerted us to the fact that Steve Bell was in town. So we bought tickets and caught him in Surrey at only the second stop on his Keening for the Dawn (new Christmas album) tour.

Steve, if you don’t know him, is a Canadian troubadour. A Winnipeg-based musician, he has been singing and recording his own folksy songs since before we had CDs (we were first introduced to him via the 1989 cassette release of Comfort My People). He has incredible control over his tenor voice which he flips as easily in and out of falsetto as he dances his fingers up and down the neck of his ever-present guitar.

Saturday night was a treat from the first minute he and the members of his touring trio Murray Pulver and Joey Landreth took to the stage. There were harmonies and harmonics, varied accompaniments (as hat-man Pulver kept slipping off one guitar and putting on another) and several seasons of jazzy improvisation. The stories Steve told were a treat as always. But the climax of the concert for me was the rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Steve BellSteve explained to us mostly non-Anglicans, how that song has seven stanzas, each one dealing with an aspect of Christ (called the Great O Antiphons—seven ancient, prophetic names for Christ). As he delved into the song in preparation for recording it, he knew he wanted to use the whole thing, but didn’t want to go on droning verse after verse. That’s when he discovered the O Antiphon sonnets of Malcolm Guite (rhymes with ‘quite’).

Guite, a British pastor, professor and poet gave him permission to use several. Steve read two of them to us before he began the song and then Guite (via a recorded track) declared to us in rich English-accented tones between sung verses, the mystery of Jesus as Root and Key.

Bell has tinkered with the original wording in some of the verses. Listen (and read lyrics) to “O Come O Come Immanuel”—song and poetry that may set off echoes all through the sound chambers of your spirit as it did mine:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

(Here is just the mp3 file of “O Come O Come Emmanuel”)

Last night I poked around online to see if I could run this Malcolm Guite to ground. I found he has a generous web presence of his own and was delighted to read, on his blog, his side of the story of how he and Steve met, and what a thrill it was to collaborate with him.

Guite has his own release coming soon. Sounding the Seasons, a book of poems, is due out in December. Yay for Amazon. It will be for sale here and we don’t need to find a way to bring it across the sea!

Related: Keening for the Dawn - Steve Bell

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9 thoughts on “When song reverberates past the notes

  1. Hi, glad you found and liked the poems and thanks for linking back to my posts. Steve is an amazing musician and I hope I too will get to see him live on his home turf sometime and maybe join him for a few gigs too!

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    • Why thank you, Malcolm! Wouldn’t that be fabulous–to have you onstage with him! He did tour with another Englishman a few years ago–Adrian Plass–so it’s definitely not out of the realm…

      And all the best as you launch your new book in a few weeks! (It might just be my Christmas, or Epiphany, present to myself…)

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  2. I really enjoyed your delightful concert review of Steve’s Keening for the Dawn tour. Not wanting to be critical at all, of course, but Steve’s band members are Joey Landreth and Murray Pulver. (We’re thrilled to be hosting this same tour in Sylvan Lake on Dec. 8. — cannot wait!) Thanks again for your fine review!

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    • Thank you, Don! Correction made…a good thing about blogging is the living document aspect of the platform. (I hope Joey and Murray will forgive me.) You are in for a treat–but you already know that 🙂

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  3. Thank you so much for this Violet. It is so good to know folks out there are listening as deeply as this. It is this sort of affirmation that energises the artist to rise in the morning, to listen, and to transcribe…

    BTW – I’ve used the above photo as a banner on my FB page. I hope you don’t mind.

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    • Thank you, Steve, for a fabulous concert. Be energized! We love what comes out of those morning transcription sessions.

      As for the photo use – of course. I’m honored.

      I hope the rest of your concerts go as well as the B.C. portion did. May you and your family be blessed this Advent season!

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  4. Nice write up, Violet. Thanks for sharing more about these two remarkable artists and thanks for the link back to my site. It is a joy to see how God moves so graciously and faithfully in both Steve and Malcolm! We are blessed with the fruits of their labours. And with yours.

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    • Thank you, Lancia! I have so enjoyed your interviews. Just read Part 2 of your interview with Steve this evening. You ask perceptive questions, leading to interesting answers. I have actually started following your blog, so I will be reading more — and look forward to it.

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