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Tag Archive: Joanne Hogg

Iona Calls it Quits

Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2016 (11:48 pm), by John W Gillis


Around the time I turned 40, I was despairing of being able to find truly satisfying contemporary music to listen to. I had been listening to (mostly) rock for three decades, and was finding both new and old rock music increasingly unbearable, both musically and, especially, lyrically.

Sometime during the autumn of 2000, I stumbled across an interview with Rick Wakeman where he was asked what his favorite Christian band was. He answered that his favorite band at that point, without qualification, was Iona. I thought that was a pretty good recommendation, and I ordered a copy of a recent (1998) multi-disc concert recording called Heaven’s Bright Sun.

After a short atmospheric piece to open the recording, the band launched into a brisk, poppy song in 4/4 time, combining electronic instruments with percussion and Irish pipes. About half a minute or so into it, an angelic voice started singing a paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching on trusting God from chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke: “Consider the flowers of the field in their beauty/more lovely than even the clothes of a king”, at which point the drummer (Terl Bryant) fired off a rapid sequence of light staccato cymbal trills as tasteful as anything I’d heard any jazz drummers produce, and I was absolutely filled with delight at what I’d found. I had a new favorite band, and I overcame the temptation to swear off contemporary music as hopelessly puerile.

The rest of that concert album was, for the most part, even more impressive than the opening bit, and I soon found myself buying up their back catalog of five studio albums, and eagerly awaiting new releases. Most of their music is far less poppy than the “Treasure” song that introduced me to the band – being not infrequently instrumental, or longer-form songs with substantial instrumental sections, although their vocal music is gorgeous. Unfortunately, there would only be two more new studio albums released by Iona after 2000: one in 2006 (The Circling Hour), and one in 2011 (Another Realm). Earlier this week, the band announced that they have called it quits as a band, and will be moving on with their own various projects.

Many of the folks that have been a part of this band since it was formed in 1989 have also produced wonderful music as solo artists or in other collaborations. The work of Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley particularly stands out for for its quality, although Joanne Hogg’s solo work is also compelling, if less musically ambitious.  All of them do well, but there was something special about the band efforts that we simply won’t have again, and that saddens me, in a way. I appreciate that everyone has to move on in life, but I don’t have a favorite band anymore, and I don’t even see any candidates – for all the old reasons: the spiritual/moral insipidity of most aesthetically good contemporary music, and the aesthetic insipidity of most Christian music. I’m going to miss knowing Iona was out there keeping the world safe from falling into absolute insipidity.

For an outro, the song that brought me such joy upon first listen sixteen years ago:

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Raphael’s Journey

Posted: Saturday, May 14, 2011 (8:32 pm), by John W Gillis


joanne1Music loving Pro-lifers might want to check out the latest solo album from Iona’s Joanne Hogg, entitled Raphael’s Journey. For those not familiar with Ms. Hogg, she is an angelic-voiced Irish beauty who has been the lead vocalist for the Contemporary Christian band Iona since its inception in 1989. Iona falls into more or less the same genre as bands like Clannad or Eden’s Bridge: playing ethereal, Irish-flavored pop, mixing traditional instruments and themes into the standard rock band ensemble. But when Iona rocks, which is not infrequent, they rock with considerably more gusto than most of the other bands of this sort, and their music is often constructed around Christian themes – and is always edifying and nourishing, even when it isn’t explicitly Christian.

Ms. Hogg’s solo efforts, of which I believe Raphael’s Journey is the third, tend musically toward the softer side, as compared to her band’s music, and are much more explicitly confessional  (her first, Looking Into Light, was in fact a collection of hymns; the second, Personal, essentially a collection of prayers set to music). This album seems to be a gentle, prayerful exploration of Joanne’s journey into the mysteries of motherhood in recent years, during which time she has borne two children. The cover of the economicalraphjourneycover packaging is focused on an angelic figure, but with a bright but indistinct image of what appears to be a human right arm reaching up from behind the angel’s right shoulder, hand extended skyward. Overall, it is hard to avoid inferring a reference to the most significant literary appearance of the Archangel Raphael, in the Biblical book of Tobit, where Raphael is sent from the throne of God to make a journey with Tobiah, son of Tobit, to heal the sorrows of two pious families through the marriage of Tobiah and Sarah.

Song titles such as Songs from the Womb, Life is Precious, and Dance of the Unborn convey the sensibility of the album, which places the mystery of human life in the heart of our Creator God, and in the hands of those of His creatures whom He has called to manifest His love. As a father, I have to smile at this new mother singing, in her song Lullaby in Colour, of her determination to let her baby sleep, despite the urge to pick him up and hold him – such a scene is truly a microcosm of parenthood on a couple different levels.

The song Life is Precious, placed in the setting of an abortion clinic witness, is a direct plea to women contemplating abortion to respect the integrity of the human being entrusted by God to their care. While there are aspects of the lyrics that rub me the wrong way (e.g. “I’m not standing here in judgment”), Joanne mentions something of enormous import, which rarely seems to get the notice it deserves in the “culture wars” around abortion, when she sings: “I see you in mortal danger” and “This is life and death for you” – referring to the mother she’s addressing, not the child whose own life hangs in the balance on the sidewalk outside the abortuary. The death of an innocent is a terrible thing, but the killing of an innocent truly manifests a deadly savaging of the perpetrators; a spiritual death sentence that too many will never be able to overcome through the grace of repentance and forgiveness.

Although I think there are better songs on the album, Life is Precious stands out for its clarity of purpose, and for the gentle and accurate portrayal of the Pro-Life movement’s most visible – and despised – champions.

Given that, I’ve transcribed here the song’s lyrics, and posted an audio stream. I encourage Pro-Lifers  to purchase the album from the Iona web store, both for your own musical and spiritual edification, and to support the work of these wonderful people:

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Life is Precious

Standing in the rain I’m praying…

Standing in the rain I’m praying…

 

Standing in the rain I’m praying / you’ll come out that door

Give me just a minute of your time / to hear the words that I am saying:

     You are precious

 

I know that you see a stranger / holding words for you to read

I see you in mortal danger / I’m the second thought

     I pray you’ll heed

 

For life is precious, life is given to us

Life is ours to live, but not to take

 

I’m not standing here in judgment / I am here in love,

Pleading for a chance to help you see / there’s another way

     For you are precious

 

This is life and death for you  / but not just you, it’s for another

God made you someone in His image / but he also made a mother 

     Out of you

 

For life is precious, life I given to us

Life is ours to live, but not to take

Life is precious, life is given in love

Life is ours to hold, but not to break

 

Two hearts beating / inside you

Mercy waiting / to hide you

Two voices speaking / inside you

Truth is waiting / to guide you

 

For life is precious, life I given to us

Life is ours to live, but not to take

Life is precious, life is given in love

Life is ours to hold, but not to break

 

Standing in the rain…

Standing in the rain, I’m praying

Standing in the rain, I’m praying

More Hope, Less Stress: Better Living

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 (11:13 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I’ve been fittingly pensive and reflective lately, almost to the point of feeling haunted. This is a time of year that used to fill me with energy, but these days seems more likely to leave me thinking about lost opportunities. I became starkly aware last night, while driving downtown to teach my CCD class, of how short a fuse I was on, and how much stress I was feeling. That’s not a good thing for me, and I quickly had to coax myself back off the ledge.

Thinking about how to go about lowering my stress level, I considered how helpful it might be to tune out the political environment, and focus on matters of a less agitated character. As tempting as that may be, it hardly seems the responsible thing to do, and would be easier said than done anyhow. At the end of the day, I have to live in the middle of it all, as does everyone I care about. I may be powerless to effect any real change in the world, but within my tiny little circle of influence, I am not free of the obligation to shed whatever light I may be able to on the greater or lesser questions of the day.

And so I’m left to confront the daily anxiety of backwards-looking regrets and forward-looking resignations. It dawns on me that I’ve never quite come to peace with myself following the crisis of my second coronary stent procedure, almost two years ago to the day. The first one, in May, had almost killed me, but I walked away from it with a sense of relief, feeling I had dodged a bullet, and ready to work my way back to health. But the prospect of the second one, several months later, felt like the bullet I’d dodged had, like a heat-seeking missile, turned around to come back for me. It was a humbling experience: half-expecting to die, unwilling to let anyone know how pessimistic I was, and dumbstruck at the profound chasm between what my life had been, and what it should have been.

And yet the ensuing two years have found me, in many ways, digging the same grave I was working on before: burning the candle at both ends, and allowing busy-ness to trump my need for quiet reflection and reconciliation. But that is hardly the whole story.

I_Testify Five years ago, on Yom Kippur in 2004, I was spending some time in preparation for my first assignment, the following morning, as a reader in the Sunday Liturgy. As I sat in the basement, browsing my reading assignment for the nth time, and listening to some music, the seriousness of what I was about to embark upon hit me with full force. I realized, with full conviction, that justice demanded that, if I were going to proclaim the Word of God to His congregation in the sacred liturgy, my life needed to likewise proclaim the Word, outside of the liturgy. This was a sobering recognition that I needed to give up the shortcuts and compromises I had become accustomed to, and it was a little unnerving. The song that was playing at the time was a perky and heartfelt piece by Margaret Becker called “I Testify.”

Now, I am a quiet and reserved man, not much given to things like testimony, and I had to smile at the irony of the moment. True to my character, I started wondering what difference it would really make what I did with my life, and how it could possibly be important. At that point, the song changed, and as I looked down at my MP3 program to see what was next, I saw it was Joanne Hogg’s rendition of “My Song is Love Unknown.” I had to smile again at the irony, and said to myself something like: ‘Yes, indeed, and that is a glorious truth hidden from so many souls, so much in need of being told. I admit it.” Driven then by what felt like a silly curiosity, my eyes glanced down at the playlist to see what was next: a song called “One More Reason,” followed by “The Lord Reigns.” Sometimes, the Lord just won’t let us miss the point – either of His purpose, or of His lordship. After having a good laugh, I snapped a screenshot of the MP3 player, and said: “You win, Lord, but the ball’s in Your court.”

Despite my continuing foibles, I can hardly deny that the Lord has truly worked a gradual but profound personal transformation in me over these past five years. It’s not that I wasn’t serious about my vocation before that, and hadn’t in many ways been even more profoundly transformed a decade and a half prior, but I learned to let go just a bit more that night. I certainly can’t claim to have realized that imperative to give up all my shortcuts and compromises, but at least I am constantly aware of its imperativeness, and I can truly point to identifiable areas in my life where I have been able to be both more sensitive to Gospel demands, and more responsive, as well. My personality has both hardened and softened in different ways as my tolerance for moral and spiritual compromise has diminished. And while I’m grateful for the growth in wisdom and piety, I’m even more grateful for the grounding such spiritual life gives to the hope I must cling to so tightly on these autumn days, when I survey that terrible, battle-scarred landscape of my life, which won’t let me forget how very much I need the redemption of that Song of Unknown Love. More hope, less stress: better living.