In Faculty, Faith + Works, Music

Music Professor Christian Asplund spoke about and demonstrated nontraditional sacred music at December’s Faith and Works series lecture.

Christian Asplund presents “Sacred Music and the Punk Rock Ethic” in December’s Faith + Works series lecture. (Nathalie Van Empel)

Professor Christian Asplund characterizes the rock music that preceded the punk rock era as “burdened with an ironic sluggishness, brought about by its disconnection from live performance.” It was an era supposedly promoting “casualness, spirituality and individual freedom” but in reality portrayed “stiffness, materialism and conformity.”

“When punk rock came along in the mid to late 1970s,” Asplund said, “it felt like a liberating force to many of my generation who were on the outs with the prevailing culture.”

Instead of seeking the popular clothing of the ‘70s that was tight in the middle and loose on the edges, Asplund and his generation discovered they could buy ‘50s and ‘60s clothes from thrift stores that were loose in the middle and tight on the edges.

“We began to use our clothes and our hair to express who we were instead of conforming to a corporate-dictated phony expression of a phony ethos,” Asplund said.

The same expression applied to music as the upcoming generation focused more on free interaction between performers and audiences through live performances.

“The essence of the punk rock ethic was, to me, the idea of stripping down and getting rid of the non-essentials,” Asplund said. “The essential was this experience of making sound and listening to and moving to those sounds.”

The punk rock ethic aimed to make music more real and honest. It involved minimalizing, mysteriousness, collaboration, energy and a “do it yourself” kind of attitude.

Applying the punk rock ethic to spirituality, Asplund cited section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants and explained how we function in three realms: physical, spiritual and symbolic. Asplund noted that the symbolic realm facilitates the connection between the physicality and spirituality. That connection prepares God’s children to attain a fullness of joy. The symbolic realm becomes a problem when it prevents us from making that connection.

“In creation, I believe great works of art are those where artists are extracting or drawing from a store of intelligence (as described in the book of Abraham) and unify intelligence with physical objects and physical realities,” Asplund said.

Applying the punk rock ethic to sacred music implies stripping away the non-essentials and getting rid of hypocrisy. It’s getting down to the basics of sound and movement. Asplund explained that there is a lot of pageantry and liturgical events that happen within religion. These provide strict constraints on music. However, worship doesn’t have to take place in a church for it to be considered worship. Similarly, you can make sacred music for non-liturgical settings.

Asplund explained how the “do it yourself” (DIY) attitude can make creating music more of a creative endeavor with a bigger canvas. There is not always someone waiting to publish your music, Asplund explained, but with modern technology and local print shops you can still create work that can be performed.

Christian Asplund (left) performs songs from his “Brick Church Hymnal” with singers (from left to right) Melissa Heath, Hannah McLaughlin, Stuart Wheeler and Alex Vincent. (Nathalie Van Empel)

The “Brick Church Hymnal,” is a work Asplund started in 1990 that emulates this “do it yourself” attitude. He did it as a way to differ from his other compositions and as a way to explore creating his own hymns. He has created four volumes so far and continues to add to this sacred work.

To finish off the lecture, Asplund performed some of his own compositions. Each was a work that demonstrated not only the “do it yourself” mentality but also the punk rock ethic in sacred music.

Asplund accompanied singers Melissa Heath (his wife), Hannah McLaughlin, Stuart Wheeler and Alex Vincent. They performed a few hymns from his “Brick Church Hymnal” as well as a rendition of “With Wondering Awe.”

Asplund concluded his lecture by again performing with Heath, as well as cellist Max Olivier and faculty member Jaren Hinckley on clarinet. They performed “Jesus the Anointed One” from Asplund’s Oratorio he composed for Easter.

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