May 29, 2024

Biblical Inspiration Spurs Musical Hybrid

Bil practices with band. Photo by Micaiah Bushnell
Bil practices with band.
Photo by Micaiah Bushnell

by: Taylor Bradford ’19



In 2013, Caleb and Ethan McCoy composed a musical interpretation of the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. Without a hook, their composition defied the traditional structure of hip hop.


Three years later, Ecclesiastes was debuted by members of Gordon College’s spoken word club, WordPlay, and the College Wind Ensemble, in Chapel on Sept. 28.


Bil Mooney-McCoy, the director of Worship at Gordon College, helped his sons with the arrangement of Ecclesiastes. He said, “This is different. I feel like the text that Caleb came up with is really powerful. He nailed Ecclesiastes.”


Caleb’s lyrics were paired with Ethan’s instrumental composition. Bil collaborated with his sons lyrics and music and arranged it for the College’s wind ensemble. Embracing the introspective and thoughtfulness of the Old Testament book, their composition focused on the book’s expression of sorrow and human longing for something more.


To emphasize this point, the McCoys left out the hook, a short riff or section of the composition that is used to catch listeners’ attention, until the end of the song.


Bil said, “Caleb was very intentional in saying, ‘I don’t want the beat to drop until the very end if at all.’ This is very unusual for hip hop. It is almost like praise and worship without guitars.”


In preparation for the performance, Bil sought the help of WordPlay. The group’s director, Bethany Nguyen ‘17, helped with vocal arrangements, spreading the vocals among three artists instead of the original one. She found spoken-word artists Imani Lennon ‘19, Wislene Augustin ’19 and Maxwell Hyman ’20, to accompany the Wind Ensemble.


The collaboration between the WordPlay and the Wind Ensemble proved to be a lesson in unity between two unexpected partners.


Augustin said, “I learned that commitment is key when doing something like this. There are so many working parts that if someone is not there or not doing their part, you could notice the difference.”


Once the lyrics, sheet music and vocal arrangements were completed, Ecclesiastes was ready to be brought to life.


While the band and the speakers had practiced separately for awhile, their first rehearsal as a unit was Sept. 27.


The Wind Ensemble is completely acoustic. The first practice as a collective brought an element of difficulty for the Center for Technology Services (CTS). Getting every mic to work over the acoustics became more difficult than anticipated.


“The orchestra plays without any amplification and is loud enough to fill the chapel with sound, so it is a challenge to clearly capture and amplify spoken word enough to be heard over the ensemble,” said technician Adam Vigneaux ‘18.


On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the room went quiet. Wind Ensemble Director Dr. David Rox’s baton was raised, and, as he motioned towards the percussion section, Ecclesiastes began.


“Man, I don’t know / I’ve been listening more and speaking less / What I found, everything is meaningless…”


The lyrics were inspired by the Old Testament book, a part of the bible that is notorious by its readers for having a depressing and sorrowful mood.


Along with the lyrics, a mellow vibraphone, precise punctuation from the percussion and plenty of work for brass and wind ensemble instruments made for an electrifying experience.


Audience members were encouraged by the performance to diversify their worship style and explore the meaning behind the book of Ecclesiastes.


Luan Cadahia ‘17 said, “What you don’t usually see is Ecclesiastes — these lamentations of frustration — in the church because of the predominant evangelical churches are all about, ‘We are overcoming, we are happy, we are joyful.’ There is not much room for our humanity.” He continued, “Ecclesiastes embodied the difference in style of worship that is spoken word and music, which is a commonly used worship vessel. ”


Caleb ends the song with an exhortation to the audience:

“Imma end this ballad / I hope you heard me / Follow God / But make sure you enjoy the journey / Stay thirsty.”

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