The City Harmonic is a Juno-award winning Canadian Christian band out of Hamilton, Ont. At Faith Today, we love their sound. They are fresh, worshipful, challenging and hugely easy to listen to. The Sept/Oct. relaunch of Faith Today included a review of their latest recording, Heart. But we decided we wanted more. So, below, especially for the Faith Today blog, we interview lead singer Elias Dummer. Read on to find out what inspires them, what they think about hymns and the wonder of Montreal.
What was it like to play at the Air Canada Centre with the recent Festival of Hope?
With all of us growing up in Hamilton, playing at the ACC seemed like one of those things we never thought would happen. It was definitely a special experience. And the goodwill of Christians from such a diverse background gathering under one roof, and being “local” on top of it all made it feel like one of those bucket list moments for sure. That’s actually my favourite part of the Graham gatherings: to see churches work together meaningfully for a common goal. I tend to think that in the long run that will have as great or greater an impact in our communities than the rallies themselves.
There is a moving story behind the writing of your single Praise the Lord, where one of your band members was battling cancer. On your website you share that story along with a really long list of cities where that song is being played. How gratifying is that to see?
This entire album was really written from a place of trying to figure out how to live and become more Christ-like even through struggle—including Eric’s battle for his life. Praise The Lord came out of that season for us but I can’t say it leads to a feeling of gratification. Eric takes time every night to share about that difficult season and how it effected his faith and us together, and I know that it hasn’t always been easy for him. But I’m blown away every night that he pushes through and still shares it… I know that it has led to some profound discussions with other believers who have been through similar struggles. That’s why we do what we do.
Tell us how you are inspired (if you are!) by traditional Christian hymns?
Very! I’m always moved by the rich theology and the commitment to the role of worship in discipleship (and discipleship in worship) that the hymns embody—I sometimes think modern worship groups (ourselves included) could learn a lot from this. But not uncritically—many hymns have cultural blindspots just as we do!
What advice do you have for other young Christian bands?
A young Christian musician ought to seriously weigh whether they see themselves as writing for the church/Christians in the religious context, or whether they primarily see themselves as vocational artists in culture-at-large—and it’s possible to be both, certainly. In both settings I would think it’s essential for the artist to identify with the Church, but their stated audience and goals might be quite different.
The way that the Christian marketplace has organized itself can be misleading and make this a confusing distinction, but it’s an essential one. Christianity is infinitely more important than a marketing category and there is something beautiful about committed Christians being artists and speaking into bigger issues.
In our case, we felt called from the beginning to write songs for the Church and Christian discipleship that stemmed from Scripture and our experiences—in other words, Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs—but I don’t think that’s a must for bands comprised of Christians at all, or even better or nobler—it is no more spiritual or meaningful a vocation than being a dentist, a garbageman, or a musician in the general market. As it happens, being human is a universal quality amongst us humans and speaking meaningfully and redemptively into the human experience is no small calling, no matter what title you hold.
Any funny stories you can share from touring Canada?
Our lighting guy (Andy) is originally from Georgia—he’s actually the only touring personnel we have who isn’t from the Hamilton area. So one day the crew had finished up all their work early and the church
Andy, lighting guy for The City Harmonic goes goalie.
had a pretty serious floor hockey setup in the gym. He wasn’t really skilled enough to play any other position so Andy opted to play goalie. He emerged from the equipment room dressed like this (attached)–turns out he was pretty awesome too. I’ve never seen a non-hockey player take ball-hockey goalie so seriously! It was like watching an actor try out for a role in the Mighty Ducks V.
What should we expect to see from your band in the next year? two years? five years?
From the beginning we’ve been on a journey as we continue to try to figure out how to be a band made of worshippers from different denominations/traditions. The Praise The Lord Tour that we just finished in Canada was our first attempt at beginning to step forward in wearing that message of Church unity on our sleeves.
There was this one night in Montreal where I realized that a bunch of Ontario boys and a diverse group of Christians from all around Montreal had gathered to sing and take communion together. It was such a profound moment for me and an example of the power of the Cross—to see not just denominational lines but political and traditional lines crossed to stand together as family in Christ, and reminded me of one of our most formative moments as a band—when Church leaders from over a dozen denominations in our hometown gathered to pray and commission us out into the field as artists. And, over the course of the tour, we heard that sharing communion as we did led to some pretty thoughtful discussions in different circles after we left. Just the idea that something as silly as a band at a liturgical-rock-concert-thing covertly launched those kinds of conversations about the implications of our theology blows my mind.
Artistically, theologically, whatever–we stand on the shoulders of giants! So much worship music has typically come from churches with financial resources and has, in a way, been a representation of their own church culture. I’m not necessarily saying that’s good or bad, but rather that that’s just not our story. We don’t have that common culture to draw from—our churches do things differently–so, in a sense, we’re coming to terms with the fact that we have to be more courageous and creative than ever and forge our own way with the Church and culture and our artistic calling in mind. It’s like we have this renewed sense of adventure and drive to remind the Church just how huge and unimaginably beautiful the body of Christ–and the person we represent–truly is.
What is the one myth, or assumption, people have about Christian bands that you would like to destroy?
The weirdest thing to me is this idea that because a marketplace or a product is deemed “Christian” that all the products within it are necessarily good, or good for you, or even made with the best intentions; and alternatively, that everything outside that category is bad for you. At some point it stopped being about the good of what’s being said and became about who gets to sell what’s being said—and there’s something about it that just isn’t right. We’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover, but perhaps we should also judge art and media by its content rather than which shelf it sits on.