Music for ‘The Chosen’
by Warren L. Maye
“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
— Romans 8:26 (NLT)
Composing contemporary music of biblical proportions was the monumental task given to Dan Haseltine and Matt Nelson of “The Chosen,” the breakthrough Christian streaming series now in its third season. The show, which was the largest crowdfunding project in history, is being produced on the grounds of Camp Hoblitzelle, a Salvation Army facility in Dallas, Texas.
Dallas Jenkins, creator, and director of the series, said in a soft, low voice and smiling eyes, “From the beginning, I was going to have a hard time imagining doing this show without Dan Haseltine.”
Haseltine, who is also soft spoken and carries a disarming smile, said in an exclusive interview with SACONNECTS, “So, I’m asked to do this show and, it’s about Jesus. But it’s not just Jesus. It’s a human story about the people around Jesus and the way that He affected them and the way that they affected Him and the way their stories intersected and are woven together. At that point, I just felt like this is worth it. I’ve always trusted Dallas.”
Matt Nelson then heard from Dan via text message, who asked, “Hey, what are you doing in the next couple of months? I might have a TV scoring kind of opportunity for us.” Nelson thought, nothing more perfect could happen to me right now, timing wise, and doing this kind of work. “Writing music for a picture is something that’s been on my bucket list,” he said.
Finding the musical blend
So, the question was, how do you give a contemporary spin to the sound of music when it is designed to represent the ancient life of Jesus Christ?
Dan explained, “Dallas and I really wanted to create something that gives the audience a little more credit than just a typical music score handed to them on a cinematic platter. We wanted to find some of those emotional spaces that would make our musical palette different. We wanted to push the artistic envelope.”
“I want you to have complete freedom,” said Dallas. “There’s no rules on this. We thought we could add certain elements of Blues music to Middle Eastern music and then add music that has come out of oppression, such as the spirituals that had been written and sung during the height of slavery in America. We could combine those three textures as the core of our music.”
So, Dallas, Dan, and Matt sat in their small studio, surrounded by exotic string, wind, and percussion instruments, and created a human sounding musical bed for this show that was a mix of pain and hope. “One of the things that came from slave spirituals was immense suffering, but also this dignified beauty that came from the hope and belief that God was present and that He would rescue them.
“That’s something that was also taking place 2,000 years ago, this immense oppression, enslavement, pain, and suffering. But there was also this beauty and hope that emerged from it. So, I wanted us to capture that in some way.”
Building the sounds
Combinations of sounds, captured from actual and sampled instruments, filled the studio as they repeatedly watched scenes from the show on laptop computers. “Music lovers out there will probably notice this is not perfectly tuned,” said Matt, “which is part of the reason we were so drawn to it.
“We’ve got a drone texture that we brought in, which comes from India. The drone sound is essentially just one note that keeps going under everything else,” says Matt who refers to a rich, consistent, bagpipe–like tone. “That drone is a spiritual metaphor for God. That sound is there, no matter what’s going on in the scene. It undergirds everything.”
The voice of Ghanaian singer Ruby Amanfu, now based in Nashville, Tenn., is creatively woven within the drone as she utters deep moans. She is well known for being one half of the duo Sam & Ruby, whose offering in 2009 was named Associated Press Album of the Year.
Various string instruments, some guitar, and an octave mandolin were part of the mix. Other percussion tools keep the textures interesting. “There are places where things are a little bit out of tune, where things are not perfect, and where the sounds are a little bit raw and vulnerable. I think that brings out those elements in the presentation of history,” says Matt.
Creating the opening
“They had to create a theme song that was a bit more startling, right off the bat,” remembers Dallas. “We wanted the audience to think, hey, this isn’t my grandfather’s Jesus show. Even though it’s set 2,000 years ago, it still feels current. It still feels fresh. We also had some of that gritty Blues guitar in it.”
At the end of episode four, a climactic scene occurs. It is a moment of joy. The music sounds triumphant, almost like an Irish jig. “I just wanted it to feel like, it’s a party,” says Dan.
“I think that’s the feeling that music provides,” says Dallas. “It is just an unexplainable, supernatural thing that happens. What Dan and Matt have done with the music and the show is bring you to that place. That’s not just an emotional place, but it’s also a spiritual place.”
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