There is no holier day on the Christian calendar than Good Friday, a day of reflection and contemplation on the sacrifice of the savior Jesus Christ, whose death by crucifixion allowed him to arise on Easter Sunday and fulfill the covenant promised to believers then and now. And there is no more type of media ready-made for Good Friday than music—song is a means of communication that can touch the soul in its own unique and special way.
This Friday, April 14, 2017, Dr. Guy’s MusiQology will take the stage at 7PM at St. Paul’s Baptist Church to present a multimedia program titled “Rhythms of the Cross,” which takes the traditional Good Friday “Seven Last Words of Christ” service and combines it with the profundity of music and the visual in seven accompanying movements. “People are accustomed to having the Seven Last Words preached to them and change that up, you can have people experience something that’s very familiar in a brand new way,” Guy says. “This is where I think the music comes in: It opens up people’s hearts to the deeper message of the Seven Last Words.”
The program was conceived with Reverend Dr. Valerie Bridgeman a minister and academic whose scholarship and preaching set the Biblical in conversation with the contemporary. Reverend Bridgeman and Dr. Guy met through St. Paul’s estimable leader, Reverend Dr. Leslie Callahan, who planted the seeds for collaboration years ago. When the time came, the partnership, Reverend Bridgeman says, was a perfect fit. “Reverend Callahan wanted to really engage the art as part of being in a larger community conversation—not just about the gospel, but about what it means to be human. How do we set the gospel in the context of humanity and not just some otherworldly thing?” she asked. The answer, she says, came in the form of Dr. Guy. “Nothing interprets the expansiveness of humanity quite like music, right? And Guy, I think, when you listen to his music, he really takes you there.”
While there are still a few details (and surprises) to be ironed out, the program, which begins at 7PM on Friday April 14, uses the Seven Last Words as the foundation for a dialogue that engages with issues of the contemporary. For instance, the first verse—“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”(Luke 23:34)—uses music to engage with the ignorance of the unaware and the frustration of the sufferer. “There’s a little anger underneath that,” Bridgeman says, connecting the unjustness of the crucifixion to that of the senseless murders of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, “How can you not know what you are about to do?”
The program continues, moving through the passages with spoken word, dance, singing, a cappella work, and poetry as the service moves through the scriptures. “My job is to come up with music that sets the tone for each of these profound moments in the most important event in the Christian religion,” Guy explains.
Among the many special guests who will appear is Tulani Kinard, the esteemed vocalist who has composed a piece for the second verse, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43).” “I asked Tulani to think about that piece as joy as resistance in the presence of death,” Bridgeman says. Accompanying the performance will be visuals by MusiQology’s Mikel Washington.
When asked, Dr. Guy cites the fifth passage—“I thirst” (John 19:28)—as one that he believes has some of the most potential to be meaningful for those in attendance. The performance will feature local poet Greg Corbin, a frequent MusiQology collaborator and founder and executive director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, whose spoken-word piece, “There’s Something In the Water” situates water within a larger cultural conversation, from Flint to climate change. It’s an incredibly moving composition that MusiQology has recently recorded, but it stands out in the live setting even more. The remainder of the program features dancers; poets Reverend Clarence E. Wright, Reverend Charisse Tucker, and Tyler Brown; and a special composition from Guy’s colleague at Penn, Dr. James Primosch.
It’s a full and ambitious plan for the evening, but Reverend Bridgeman says there’s no more fitting a way to reinterpret the traditional Seven Last Words service than a program like this. “Here’s the thing that most people don’t know—most of the Seven Last Words are quotations from the book of Psalms, so they would have been sung,” she explains, citing the modern African American church’s special relationship to music that makes it the perfect site for a program like this. “People would have known them in their time as a song.”