Taking Us to Church: The Spiritual Dimensions of Christmas from the Heart

DavidArchuleta3

Reprinted from The David Chronicles.

 I must admit that David scares me sometimes.  He digs a whole lot deeper than I would ever expect from an 18 year old of the Wired Generation.  When I impatiently downloaded Christmas from the Heart on iTunes after Amazon.com failed to deliver my physical CD on time (hey – I don’t mind shilling out moolah for my beloved Voice), I was quite giddy listening to the Voice’s interpretation of Christmas carols I’ve heard all my life. They all sounded so different from what I’m used to hearing.  

It wasn’t until I finally received  my physical CD and popped it into my surround sound stereo that I actually heard Christmas from the Heart.   David’s vocals boomed loudly and earnestly, with orchestral and synthesized instrumentals embellishing that one-of-a-kind Voice.  It was during the opening carol, “Joy to the World,” that I was truly transported.  In the lingo of Black church goers, David “took me to church” on this one.  It was during the “break down,” which routinely occurs in much of gospel and R&B songs that allow for vocal improvisation and free-styling, that got me in a spiritual mode.

“And wonders / and wooooooonders …. ooooooof / hi-i-i-is looooooooooooooove”

Gah! The lovely crevices and valleys that David’s vocals journey on that “love” note surpasses.  

“Hi-i-is Looove / He rules the world with His truth and grace” (wow, I’m hearing that Kirk Franklin inspiration right here) … Fade out. *Swoon.*

nativityThis, my friends, is David “testifying,” and it’s such a grand testimony.  David is on fire towards the end of the song (indeed, a YouTube commenter describes David’s vocals at the end of JTTW as “sick,” and I’m inclined to agree).  Was David having a “Holy Ghost” moment? I would not be surprised because the boy was feeling it.

So, that’s the spiritual journey I’m on just from Track no. 1.  It’s during this time that I start reading the liner notes, and I think: “Aha! No wonder I’m feeling this way.” Have you all read David’s acknowledgements?  

I first would like to thank God, who comes first in all of this.  It’s because of Him that I’ve gotten the chance to do something I love so much.  I dedicate this Christmas album especially to Him, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.  May it be another way I can give back to them, and to all those who listen to the songs as well so that they can feel the spirit and message within them.

Feel the spirit?  Did David just write that? 

My mind is blown.  How old is he again, and how in heck did he wind up on American Idol and on Simon Fuller’s Jive record label?  

He is scary, I’m telling you.  No wonder so many in the public try to dismiss him as some “teen pop star” or some “Disney tween.” They couldn’t handle the Voice if they didn’t.  

Between David’s liner notes and his vocal skills, inspired by everything from gospel to classical to traditional hymns to Spanish ballads, which all get showcased on this album through one carol or another, it’s quite apparent how bold David has become in declaring his spiritual influences without being the least bit preachy.  He’s not trying to “convert.” He’s only trying to get us to “feel” it.  

nativity2And we do “feel” it.  If I could rename this album, I would call it Christmas Lullaby, because David’s Voice elicits the feeling of one who is singing the Baby Jesus to sleep, as Rascal already noted in his review.  ”Hush, little Baby, don’t you weep.  For you are here to save the world with grace and love.” 

That’s the mantra, the leitmotif as it were, on every song on this album – especially on the more soulful ballads, like “What Child is This” (a masterpiece in and of itself, from David’s trademark humming to the grand strings provided by Prague’s Philharmonic Orchestra), “Silent Night,” “Ave Maria,” and “O Holy Night.”  A bit more on “What Child is This”: as others have commented, specifically Raelovingangels, it’s as if David’s soft vocals capture the humility and simplicity of Baby Jesus tucked away in a manger while the orchestra signals in epic sweep how world-transforming this event has become. 

Secular and non-Christian listeners can stand back in wonder at the Voice, while Christian listeners pick up on the nuances and subtleties.  (And I imagine Mormon listeners can detect other subtleties that non-LDSers would miss.)  Most effective are Kurt Bestor’s syncretization of numerous Christmas hymns, providing that subtext for the “spirit” of Christmas.  Whether it’s the echo of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” slipping in on “Angels We Have Heard on High,” or “Carol of the Bells” intruding on the Spanish carol, “Riu Riu Chiu.” 

This is a gorgeous call to worship, delivered by the Voice.  After giving us an album so profound, I cannot imagine the Voice going back to pop fluff.  His gifts are too precious, and his calling too great.  After CFTH, I look forward to David “taking us to church” through different genres of music – whether in an actual house of worship or just through our very bodies.  This is a soul meditation and one that might inspire us to contemplate the “true meaning” of Christmas and cut down on holiday expenses during a recession this coming Christmas season.  Well, except to gift everyone we know a copy of Christmas from the Heart.

Posted on October 25, 2009, in Christmas from the Heart. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. ” And wonders / and wooooooonders …. ooooooof / hi-i-i-is looooooooooooooove”

    Ha ha, you’re at it again, HG! I love this piece for the spiritual joy it exudes.

    I was lucky to have great youth leaders at the Baptist church I attended as a teenager who introduced me to gospel music. I would listen to borrowed Mahalia Jackson records and marvel at the intense passion expressed in those hymns. So when I heard David’s soulful Shop Around I was sold on the boy. IMHO you can’t truly experience the overwhelming beauty of the Creator or whatever you call him/it unless you’ve done that through music. David seems to share this thought.

    I said it on the other thread but I’ll say it again. I listened to JTTW as I read your article at TDC yesterday and cried tears of joy. I thank God for this journey with David and all of you.

    • desertrat,

      The video has been floating around of David at Brooke White’s concert singing Let It Be. The comments are that this also takes people to church. He has the same if not more passion in his voice on a Paul McCartney song that he has on his Christmas carols with Christian references. I get the same feeling hearing him sing that as I do Joy to the World. I guess that’s my point. What is the difference? I understand his relationship w/God. Not questioning that at all. He does do what he set out to do…connect with all people, So, when I see there is something I might be missing, I want to know what it is!! I think it is my right as as a full fledged David Archuleta mega fan (lol)!!

  2. HG, Maybe I’ll get an answer here since I didn’t on TDC but I also realize you have been busy this weekend. Not really sure what you mean by the difference in what non christian, secular folks will hear vs. the nuances and subtleties christians will hear. Someone explained the mormon reference to me in terms of the lyrics that are present but I’m missing the other part… Could you fill me in on what you were referring to? Thanks in advance…

    • Mikesd, I was also waiting to hear HG’s response to your question.

      I don’t know if this is what she meant but as a Christian, sometimes I clearly hear him openly declaring his beliefs just by the way he sings certain lines. An ex. is how he sings the line: ”And wonders / and wooooooonders …. ooooooof / hi-i-i-is looooooooooooooove”.

      On his youtube channel (chrianyday), he used to have quite a few gospel videos as favorites (e.g., Kirk Franklin, Mahalia Jackson). I believe that in some instances, he’s channeling his gospel influences. Ex. are when he hums during one of the songs (WCIT?) and the way his vocals build up over the course of some of the songs.

      • desertrat,

        Well… doesn’t quite explain it to me I’m afraid. I love gospel music as much as many other. I started listening to Aretha Franklin in seventh grade when her gospel influences were very much a part of her music. The intonation, passion, range all contributed to a musical experience that that had a strong impact on me but I still don’t make the connection of how you sing a line and declare your beliefs at the same time. I know he has them, no problem there, but I think he sang ” And I am telling you…” from Dreamgirls with a similar passion. Very gospel, very passionate, but that’s where it kind of stops for me. I understand the lyrics to JTTW being part of the christian presence but that is pretty obvious and not a nuance or subtlety. Just curious that’s all.

      • Mikesd, when I listen to David’s Star Search songs, I hear a beautiful, soulful voice but I don’t sense that he connected to the lyrics or rather, the emotions from which the lyrics were derived.

        With CFTH, as I listen to his intonation, I can feel that he understands and believes what he’s saying. I can tell that he has a personal relationship w/God. It’s not just in the beauty of his vocals, I can hear it in the way he tells the story (e.g., WCIT).

        I also have Mariah Carey’s Christmas cd and quite a few of the songs are backed by a gospel choir. I enjoy the cd and her vocals but even w/the gospel choir, I don’t feel that she has experienced a relationship w/God on the level that David has.

        Before I mentioned that in some of the songs (eg, Silent Night, JTTW), to me, David’s voice and the music don’t always match. Had he been performing w/a live gospel choir, I can imagine that the musicians would have improvised (much like in church) to follow his voice and let his emotions lead.

      • Amen to your last comment, Desertrat.
        Bring in the choir and let THEM follow David’s lead. The Voice shouldn’t have to follow anyone but the spirit within.

  3. good AM!

    hmmm: saw this on twitter:
    RT @AnnieDAFG I think IF tweet abt tonite’s private concert is legit, David might perform @ XangoThrive09 conventn 2 support @XanGoGoodness
    24 minutes ago from Tweetie –

    maybe David has a private charity event tonight? HOPE SOMEONE HAS THE SENSE TO VIDEO. Maybe not too early for Christmas songs? ho ho ho.

  4. oh and I agree with your last sentence. Have been wondering why we have so much stuff and why we need so much stuff. Yaa for scaled down
    Christmas with meaningful, fun family times and less stuff. (another david principle)

  5. Mikesd, I have a question for you. A few weeks ago, you mentioned that an actor on the tv show “Cougar Town” resembled David. Is this the person you were referring to?
    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm4137781248/tt1441109

    • Oh yeah… not a complete resemblance but close. A quick glance, and you see a bit of David. On that show it gave me reason to chuckle!!

      • Sorry for the late follow up. I’m playing catch up in my real life to the detriment of my David life. Obviously, I saw the show too. I also thought he resembled David but I wanted to confirm that you weren’t referring to the young guy who plays Courtney Cox’s son.

  6. Wow! Hello everyone, and thank you for your wonderful comments! I didn’t realize this article would be posted on Friday over at TDC. I thought it would be posted today in sync with Soul David.

    I’m just getting back from a trip to a family wedding, and I’m exhausted. So will respond to those specific questions tossed at me when I have more down time.

    Now, I need to relax, then play catch up in Archuworld.

    I’m still pretty emotional from this weekend.

    Have a great day! 😀

  7. hi mikesd… i’ll try to explain…. it’s a variation of something smokey robinson called ”the know”, when he spoke so eloquently at michael jackson’s eulogy… there is a certain tone, certain vocal intonations, inflections and phrasings so organically a part of the gospel style of singing that is instantly recognizable to many listeners when they hear secular music from singers that come out of that tradition…

    don’t know about others, but i cannot listen to sam cooke, marvin gaye and not hear the influence of gospel and the influence of the church in their pop, soul or r and b hits, i cannot listen to aretha franklin – past or present – and not hear shades of the little girl who sang in her father’s baptist church on sunday mornings – same for whitney houston, and too many singers to list…

    the influence of the sacred in the secular is deeply intertwined in these artists i’ve mentioned, and listeners familiar with the tradition can instantly pick up on it… it’s not to say that in the secular songs they are praising outright or literally singing praises unto their god, or higher power, but there is a ”know”, an intertwining of the secular and the sacred in their vocal deliveries that make for a very powerful, and sometimes deeply spiritual connection… dunno if that helped you, but it was my best shot 😉

    • ggdoorsfan,
      Thanks for your response. I have to say that I agree with what you said and that I actually hear what you hear, understand the gospel connection and concur… He brings me to a place that many others do not. I think that people can be as ecstatic and “spiritualized” as the next person and not be Christian so as I said before, what you said is the obvious. What are the nuances? I guess since HG said it I should look for her interpretation to come. I just really want to understand that comment. Sorry to be a pain but I think I can be more of a pain here than anywhere else!!

  8. you aren’t a pain at all mikesd – hg may be the best one to bring more insight regarding those nuances of which you seek to understand… let me throw what i consider to be an example of one of those nuances, as a ”christian” listener, hahahha… fantasia barrino… 2004 idol winner… a lot of folks seemed to find her vocal style on idol very annoying, the way she inserted a lot of ”yeah, yeah, yeah’s” into the songs she sang… what others found annoying, to my ears, schooled in years of listening to hundreds of great singers in my church use this ”nuance” or signature phrase, it resonated, and it didn’t grate or annoy because it was hitting me where i lived… i enjoyed everything she sang, because of the familiarity with the little ”tells” and other gospel nuances like the ”yeah, yeah, yeah’s” she flavored her songs with…

  9. Fanscene has an interesting article re. David’s grandma, Claudia Archuleta.
    http://archuletafanscene.com/2009/10/25/remembering-davids-grandmother-claudia-archuleta/

    As a follow up to raelovingangels @ 11:57 am, someone has tweeted again re. a private concert David is giving tonight. I hope someone catches video or at least pics.
    @johnzenes “Olive Garden and then private show with David Archuleta.” about 1 hour ago from mobile web

  10. Good Lord, Mike! I can imagine you pacing back and forth,pulling out your hair, trying to decipher what I could have possibly meant by my “nuances” commentary. Are you thinking, “OMG! David is sending some secret code I’m not getting?! I need to know!”

    As if “gaydar” is the only secret code out there. 😉

    Of course, this is what comes of publishing an article two days earlier than when I was anticipating it. Had it just appeared today, when I returned, this might have saved you some restless nights! 😀

    Not that I’m complaining…

    And, honestly, I wasn’t getting nearly as deep as some of the other readers (I’m loving Ggdoor’s interpretation here!). So, I love reading what others take away from what I wrote.

    All I meant to say in that commentary, Mike, is that David, in perhaps his most overt display of his spiritual leanings, is coloring his singing with some subtext. He brought some “church” into his singing, and in that singing is the improv that occurs when he “testifies.” In that improv is the infusion of that testifying, as in the fade out in JTTW when he slips in, “The Lord My God, He reigns…” (at least that’s what I’m picking up since it’s so soft). That fade is so subtle, so subliminal and not the kind of personal testifying you would ever get in a traditional carol.

    “O Holy Night” is another one. I mean, in the crescendo, David takes liberties changing the original words. What should be David singing “His Power and Glory forever more proclaim,” he instead belts out “Noelllll, Noelllll! O Night, O Night Di-viiiiine.”

    In any other musical tradition, such a change would be a no-no, but here is David singing the word Noel with the same power as “His Power and Glory forever more proclaim.” Moving away from the text of the lyrics to invoke his own words. And specifically using the word “Noel.” A word that only had the meaning “Christmas” suddenly transfers meaning, and you hear “Noel” as interchangeable with “God,” “Jesus,” “Emmanuel,” etc.

    There’s a musical subtext that gets read in terms of divine worship. If you’re a Christian listener, you’re hearing that kind of calling. I don’t know if there is any LDS calling since I’m not Mormon, but I was guessing there might be. For all I know, it’s perhaps traditional singing “Noel” in O Holy Night from David’s church background than what I’m used to hearing.

    Anyway, that’s all that I meant. Don’t know if this offers any more insight than what others have said, but you were asking me specifically, so this is my answer. 🙂

    • HG
      No sleepless nights or hair pulling for me… I just wish I had this album in vinyl so I could play it backwards and really hear a subliminal message like “eat Thai food…” or “I have jet lag…” a la Abbey Road.

      I really did get what you were saying from the get go because I think I have the same reaction only I call it something else. I see nuances and subtleties too. Mine have a different meaning, which is what David stated in his liner notes after all of the thank you notes…

      Oh, and just as an aside, our organization declassified “gaydar” years ago. I think it was modified in the handbook oh, around 1989. So many people were picking up on it, TPTB decided to give it to the masses. Seems to have been a good move. I’ve heard talk of a new digital version coming out (sorry no pun intended) in the first quarter of 2010. Should be revolutionary.

      I did listen to the whole CD again today, even though it was about 80 degrees outside, much like a beautiful summer day! With all analysis aside, it is a true work of art.

      Thanks for indulging me.

      • There’s a new “gaydar” digital version? Sounds interesting, but is this an exclusive deal (outsiders need not apply)?

        I too wish CFTH was on vinyl too! If the physical CD revealed so much more, what wouldn’t vinyl reveal (backwards and forwards, hah!).

        In all seriousness, vinyl is still the best way to listen to music. David would sound heavenly on it.

  11. Welcome back HG. Hope you had a great weekend. I did really enjoy this post when I originally read it over at TDC. I do “feel” in many of these Christmas songs that David is “taking us to church”

    Just one question………what does the word “testifying” really mean in the Mormon faith? Does it have the same meaning as “praying”?

    • I’m not Mormon, so can’t really answer your question, but what I know from my own church background, “testifying” means giving a personal account about what God means in your life, or what God has done for you. It’s not the same as praying because prayer is directed to God, while “testifying” is directed at other believers or non-believers.

  12. HG
    Wanted to reply directly under your comment but no “Reply” under it?? How does that work? I’m just full of questions aren’t I??

    No application needed. We embrace all. I hear the new version is going to have a “love application”. When the gaydar hones in on someone, an automatic dose of love is distributed. Very 21st century.

    IMO, the best way to listen to David is with him sitting four feet in front of you at his keyboard…

  13. “IMO, the best way to listen to David is with him sitting four feet in front of you at his keyboard…”

    But of course! And if one cannot hear David four feet in front of you, vinyl is the next best thing, I would think.

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