Sitting down with Cody Curtis, composer of Romans, one gets a sense of both the anticipation and excitement he has for the full Psallos ensemble performance of the album this Friday night at First Baptist Church of Jackson.
“It’s the full band. It’s 14 musicians. It’s a lot,” Curtis said, before adding that “this might even be the last time we ever perform it with the full ensemble, just because it’s so difficult logistically.”
The logistical obstacles, however, speak to the sweeping ambition of Psallos’s album, a musical journey that translates the essence of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church into song. Seven players make up a chamber ensemble (a cello, clarinet, flute, trombone, trumpet and two violins) accompanied by the seven person Psallos band, featuring vocalists Kelsie Edgren and Thomas Griffith, who recorded the album and also performed it last Sunday at Cornerstone Community Church.
Curtis said the goal of Psallos, originally formed in 2012 by only himself and his wife, Melody Curtis, is to “create music that is biblical, artistically excellent and edifying for the Church. We wanted to elevate Christian music.”
The idea for the Romans project was born out of a single song, “Oh the Depth!” which Curtis wrote in 2010 for his church at the time, Shepherd’s Fellowship in North Carolina. The song’s current iteration is featured on the album, adapting the doxology in Romans 11:33-36.
“I wrote that song in a week or two’s notice and wasn’t really crazy about it,” Curtis said. “But it was received really well at our church. People even had it in their wedding. Down the road, then, I had the idea ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to put the entire book of Romans to music?’”
Curtis gradually wrote bits of the album here and there over the next several years to gain clarity for the concept. He began to truly make progress when he determined to approach the project in the same way that a preacher would approach a series of sermons.
The Romans album speaks to a remarkable artistic ambition that incorporates a “stylistic diversity” that Curtis is drawn to.
“Paul’s [musical voice] is bluegrass…stomp your foot, very inviting,” Curtis said. “‘I Am Not Ashamed Of The Gospel’ is more of a sing-along to invite the audience in. The condemnation section, though, is a lot of words really fast, so I wrote a sort of rap and then intentionally put Kelsie singing that because Kelsie has the sweetest voice in the world. Her voice did not add any offense, which was important to us. And then for the lamentation I thought: What is more emotional than a string quartet? It couldn’t have been anything else. Just slow moving strings that swell.”
Curtis mapped out the project to alternate between presentation songs and congregational songs, creating a call and response dynamic that allows listeners to participate but also allowing Psallos the artistic freedom to craft moving and diverse musical set-pieces.
Curtis also hopes that listeners will pay close attention to the various musical motifs that run throughout the album, brief musical identities that represent being unashamed of the Gospel, thanksgiving to God and the spirit of life. As early as the prelude in the 76-minute album, Curtis is “setting up themes that will become more fully revealed” by the end of the album.
Ultimately, Curtis wants to give people a fresh perspective on the book of Romans, “a commentary that helps guide your thoughts and your emotions. That’s one of the beautiful things about music: it can take objective lyrical ideas and it can marry those to legitimate feelings that we’re supposed to have when we think about scripture, when we think about God and our sin.”
Curtis, along with the full Psallos ensemble, will be performing the Romans album Friday, April 22 at First Baptist Church in Jackson. The show begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Psallos will be selling copies of the album at the event as well as companion booklets designed to guide listeners through the entire book of Romans as they listen to the album.
You can also purchase the Romans album here: https://psallos.bandcamp.com/