Christian folk music with a contemporary flair

Published December 1, 1999

The Common Cup Company (from top, clockwise) Bob Wallace, Jim Uhrich, Ian MacDonald and Gordon Light

FOR MORE THAN 15 years, four clergy from across Canada have united their voices and their songwriting craft to offer a gentle, contemplative brand of Christian folk music.

Known as the Common Cup Company, their membership includes vocalist/songwriter Gordon Light. Canon Light is principal secretary to the Primate. Based in Toronto, he is joined by three clergy of the United Church of Canada ? Ian Macdonald of Burnaby, B.C., Jim Uhrich of Peterborough, Ont., and Bob Wallace of Surrey, B.C. While instrumental musicians join the quartet on most of their projects, they are the core lineup.

It is one that Canon Light describes as “four clergy, two bards, three beards, three voices (two trained, and one partially tamed!), two guitars, a banjo and piano.”

While Canon Light has a great respect for the more typical of contemporary Christian music – the praise song – he emphasizes that the genre of the Common Cup Company is distinct. In his words, “although Common Cup’s music would be styled contemporary… it has a different feel than some other contemporary Christian music.”

Indeed, it does. The lyrics of the Common Cup Company – from the earliest of their seven albums to their most recent effort, Outside the Lines – are marked by a gentle, probing nature. Reflection and questioning mark the series of vignettes, Scripture paraphrases and prayers that make up their original material.

According to Canon Light, “(our) music reflects a range of concerns including peace, justice and refugee issues, personal faith and spirituality, music for the liturgical seasons, as well as songs about the stages of our life, from birth to death.”

The call to action has marked many of the efforts of the band through the years. Besides conducting parish missions and serving as music resources for meetings of clergy and laity within both the Anglican Church and the United Church, they have raised money with their music for the Canadian Council of Churches’ court challenge on refugee legislation. They have also toured to raise funds for the Dr. Jesse Saulteaux Centre, a United Church theological college for indigenous people.

Stylistically, the Common Cup Company recalls much of the music of the folk pop revival of the early ’60s, with some ’90s instrumental and production flourishes thrown in. Its gentle style gives the potential for wide appeal demographically. Indeed, some of their music is found in three Canadian hymnals that have come out this decade ? those of the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches.

Canon Light finds the contrast between the focus of the Common Cup Company’s music and the more evangelical praise music that dominates the “Christian music” marketplace of great interest and richness.

“I am intrigued by the differences,” he explains, “as they seem to reflect distinct viewpoints of our faith ? viewpoints or positions that sometimes come into conflict.”

In that the four members of the Common Cup Company are involved in full-time ministry across Canada, they do not get to spend a great deal of time together.

Again, Canon Light puts a positive spin on this reality: “Being from all over makes rehearsal time precious, completed projects next to impossible and miraculous, and time just to be with one another a great gift. It may well be that living at a distance from one another has helped the group stay together as long as it has!”


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