The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “Up on a Mountain”
By Sufjan Stevens
Thursday, January 15th, 2009
Photographed by elosoenpersona Photographed by elosoenpersona

I’m by no means an authority on the musicology of religious music, or any music for that matter. But I won’t wait around for an honorary degree from Union Theological Seminary to delve into a flighty dissection of the Welcome Wagon’s debut collection of cover songs and hymns, which, on closer inspection, begins to unravel an inspiring excursion through the landscape of the sacred and profane. I should know; I produced the album. And like many overly anxious producers, I’ve lately felt the motivation to impart my own brand of “rumors and ruminations” on some of the material I helped facilitate on this transcendental record. This sidebar post is meant as my own opinionated primer—a navigational brochure, per se—on the songs that appear on this new collection of “church music.” Happy journeys, godly listeners of the world!

Track 1: UP ON A MOUNTAIN
words and music by Vito Aiuto

“Up on a Mountain”

First things first: this is not complicated music. But church music—the kind that invites public participation—shouldn’t be. The opening track —one of the few “originals” on the album—appears as a Christian primer best suited for Vacation Bible School. “Up On A Mountain” works as a prelude in which cascading melodies and naturalist theology simulate the salvation of the soul and the soothing of human loneliness, all evoked in the metaphor of “heights.” Monique Aiuto takes the mic for a disarming study of the Christian paradigm of God made-manifest, a mystic divination of the wilderness, God as “native,” preternaturally holed up in the hollows of a remote mountainside, who descends, at last, to a society of thankless infidels. The classic mountaineering chronicle of the “up/down” is a familiar Jewish principle. Moses, having the beheld the divine glory, descends from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and a glowing countenance only to find the Israelites stampeding with idols. Then, there is Mt. Sinai, Golgotha, and, in the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, the holiest of homilies. The “mountain” of this song is less substantial in size, but no less vast in meaning: the mount of Olives, which happens to be the unfortunate setting where Jesus was abandoned by his closest allies, the 12 disciples. Monique’s un-ambitious Sunday school recital here best suits the magnitude of the situation, as if she were instructing, in rueful, plaintive melodies, the theology of death to unsuspecting toddlers.

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