COMMENT: 'Lyrical' Book of Romans put to song

by Gregory Tomlin |

The Romans musical project was undertaken to develop a creative, imaginative and effective way to teach Scripture through music and to elevate and enrich the current stream of contemporary Christian music composition.

JACKSON, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – Psallos, a group of musicians consisting mostly of students and alumni of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, has developed a first-of-its-kind project setting the Bible's Book of Romans to music.

"Romans" is a blend of musical styles. When the text of Scripture is solemn, the music is fluid and symphonic. When the power of the Gospel is proclaimed in song, the music is majestic. When Paul's words are joyous, the album takes on a folksy tone.

When possible, the original text of Romans speaks for itself in the album. In other places, close paraphrasing is used to create a powerful presentation of Paul's ideas. Detailed theological concepts are treated judiciously so no meaning is lost in the transition from the text to the musical score.

According to Cody Curtis, the songwriter behind the project, setting a New Testament epistle to music while preserving its theological weight was a difficult task. It was, however, a task made possible by what he calls the "natural lyricism" of Romans.

"Passages flow seamlessly into one another through rhetorical questions and other subtle transitions. Sections swell in stages to dramatic climaxes. Tensions are constantly introduced and carefully resolved. These literary features provided a wealth of musical ideas," Curtis told Christian Examiner.

"I was also drawn to Romans because of the fact that the themes of this epistle are the themes of all of Scripture, focused and crystallized in a clear, concise line of reasoning. In a sense, if you understand Romans, you understand the overarching narrative of the Bible: the unrighteousness of man and salvation through the righteousness of Christ."

Curtis said he wanted to develop a creative, imaginative and effective way to teach Scripture through music, primarily to help listeners understand the flow of Paul's argument in Romans intellectually and emotionally. He also said he wanted to "elevate and enrich the current stream of much of contemporary Christian music composition."

The "Romans" project has received positive reviews, with many listeners expressing appreciation about the depth of the biblical content in the songs, Curtis said. Comments from those who have listened to the album give him hope that other biblical songbooks may be developed. That would largely depend on funding, he said.

Curtis and his wife funded the production of this project themselves. Now complete, the group sustains its work through sales of its album, concerts and donations. He said he hopes like-minded churches and other ministry groups will support their work, but ultimately, "we desire to submit to the Lord's will for Psallos."

Consisting of nearly 20 members who still partner with Union University in production, Psallos takes its name from the Greek verb, psallo, or "making melody" in Ephesians 5:18-19. There, Paul instructs Christians to "speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord."

"Romans" is not the group's first album. Psallos also developed an album called "Slave Songs," which focused on the biblical metaphor of slavery, first to sin and then to Christ as a redeemed disciple. Curtis and his wife Melody sang on the earlier album, but "Romans" is sung by lead vocalists Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Leaf. Both are students at Union University.

"Romans" is available for download at psallos.bandcamp.com and on iTunes.