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People and places

Hiram Ring (Handout photo)

People and places

A passion for regions and languages infuses the music of Hiram Ring

Handout photo

Stephan Micus

At 6 foot, the Ghana-born singer-songwriter Hiram Ring is hardly the “tallest man on earth,” but he’s a fan of the music of Kristian Mattson, the Swedish performer who goes by that pseudonym. “It’s really gripping in a lot of ways,” Ring told WORLD, “and his songwriting is amazing. So that’s a lot of the direction that I wanted to go with this album.”

The album to which Ring refers is Home, his second full-length release and the followup to his 2009 recording, Breathe Deep. An immediately arresting collection, Home’s 12 original acoustic folk songs explore, from an intimately human perspective, the abundant hope to be found in Christ.

Home’s simplicity belies the richness of experience behind its making. The son of Wycliffe Bible translators, Ring has been soaking up international experiences of one kind or another for 30 years.

And although he attended university in New York state (Houghton College) and has spent much of the last decade based in Lancaster, Pa., he considered Ghana home for his first 17 years (during which he learned to play the guitar on a diet of Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, and his older brothers’ 1990s Contemporary Christian Music favorites). Currently, he’s dividing his time between Australia and Singapore while completing what he’s calling a “degree in language documentation and description” based on his first-hand studies of the northeast-Indian language Pnar.

“I usually like to go somewhere for at least a month,” he says. “I find that if you go for less than a month, you don’t really get to know the area, the people, or the language.”

Areas, people, and language infuse Ring’s music. One of Home’s most vivid songs, for instance, is “Virginia,” a celebration of the Blue Ridge Mountains couched in dark, romantic metaphors worthy of medieval balladeers and set to an acoustically jazzy guitar riff that reflects Ring’s interest in American folk tunes.

As for language, one need search no further than Ring’s 2007 YouTube video “Hiram Plays a Norwegian Song.” “I learned enough Norwegian to communicate with people, and then, with a friend, I took verses of Scripture and put them to music.”

And when it comes to people, none looms larger than Ring’s Savior, specifically in Home’s Gethsemane-blues song “My Lord.” “I’ve always been really fascinated by the whole Passion sequence, the fact that Jesus was suffering but He didn’t just seek His own safety or His own relief. He realized that there was a greater purpose in His suffering.”

“My main purpose in releasing music,” says Ring, “is to help others connect with who God is—and with the story that God wants to make of everyone’s life.”

Inadvertent message

The main purpose of Stephan Micus—the 60-year-old experimental musician best known for performing and recording on obscure, ethnically authentic instruments collected from around the world—is in some ways profoundly different from Hiram Ring. He dedicates his latest album, Panagia (ECM), to the world’s “female energy” and intends it to balance the “overemphasized … male aspect” of the “three monotheistic religions.” By basing Panagia on ancient Greek petitions to the Virgin Mary (panagia is an Eastern Orthodox Marian title meaning “all holy”), Micus may have inadvertently tilted the scales in favor of male energy after all. From the wedding feast at Cana onward, Mary’s message was nothing if not “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” As for the intense reverence with which Micus sings (in Greek) such prayers as “I Praise You, Sacred Mother” and “I Praise You, Cloud of Light,” it’s nothing if not monastic. —A.O.