Norris Garner / Szymon Markiewicz
God Created: Musical Oratorio (DVD)
Norris Garner Music (2017)
By Bob Marovich
Several years ago, singer, director, and songwriter Norris Garner (“He’s Blessing Me”) wrote “God Created” while teaching gospel music workshops in Poland. His Polish colleague, conductor Szymon Markiewicz, suggested he turn the humble song into a masterwork. Garner did.
The result is God Created, a gospel oratorio recorded live on May 8, 2015, at the Sulwalki Gospel Festival in Poland and released this year on DVD.
What’s an oratorio, you may ask? It is a large musical composition written for orchestra, choir, and soloists, and usually based on scripture. God Created takes for its text the creation story, Genesis 1:1-19 and 2:1-2, but also weaves in Garner-penned songs of praise in thanksgiving for the ultimate gift of life.
The title section is the most expansive. Preceded by an extended prelude, “God Created” features orchestra, choir, soloists, and a rock band complete with jazzy sax and bluesy electric guitar. Combined, they provide the soundtrack for the Genesis passages, narrated in Polish by Jolanta Hine-Mackiewicz with English subtitles.
The hypnotic melody of “God Created” is performed in a minor key. The minor key and the strings communicate the tension of such a monumental task as creation, while soft chords and an easy tempo suggest the Creator’s confidence. Throughout, one hears influences from Richard Smallwood to Andrae Crouch to the tuxedoed soul of Philadelphia’s Gamble-Huff.
Of the soloists, two in particular stand out: Poland’s Gabi Gasior for her blue eyed gospel soul, and the Reverend Isaac Howard for his solid front-of-church singing. The mass choir, which represents individual gospel choirs and groups from Denmark and throughout Poland, navigate effectively the English language lyrics and gospel’s characteristically dense choral harmonies.
The oratorio’s finest section is its majestic conclusion, “Highest Praise.” Here the entire body moves the minor-key modality toward the triumphant major key, signifying the completion of creation and that it is indeed good (“dobry” in Polish).
Besides the music, which is at turns restful and invigorating, the cross-cultural and cross-musical sharing marks this work as important. In an increasingly divided world, God Created is about collective expression: African American gospel music being performed, with great care and respect, by choirs from Europe and Scandinavia, all to an orchestra and rock band.
Although it is not indicated anywhere in the album notes or on the front or back cover, God Created is a DVD, not a CD. I learned the lesson the hard way when I popped the disc in my CD player and it started gurgling as if it had indigestion. Also, there is no time length listed in the album notes but, to my reckoning, the entire performance clocks in at about 90 minutes.
What Norris Garner and Szymon Markiewicz have done with God Created is to merge cultures and cultural art together to celebrate our collective humanity and the God who made it so. And that is also good.
Four of Five Stars
Pick: “Highest Praise”