“You know, without audio I’d swear this crowd was at a seriously great hard rock show,” suggests the Bible camp’s video producer as he watches footage from a worship concert played by The City Harmonic the night before. The crowd pulses along to the band’s piano hook-laden “Manifesto” with hands and fists raised in worship while they swing back and forth like a hammer to its steady, driving beat. And even when the band puts down their instruments the crowd takes over, raucously singing again and again the chorus to a tune they have only just heard. Before long the band stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, and eye-to-eye with their audience, gathering whatever instruments they can find and leading the room in a rowdy, folk-tinged rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” In the middle of the stomping, clapping and shouts of “comin’ for to carry me home,” it’s clear that for the crowd, this moment isn’t only shared with God, but also each other.
When listening to The City Harmonic, you instinctively turn up the volume and join the chorus as the music dynamically bounces from sparse intimacy to soaring celebration and back again. It’s a musical metaphor for the band that plays it—with their feet in the dirt and their eyes toward the heavens. It isn’t long before you find yourself singing along and not because you ought to, but because you want to. Like a spontaneous outbreak of “Hey Jude” around the campfire, you want in on the moment. And getting people in on the act—hearts pounding and feet moving—is at the core of what The City Harmonic is about.
The Canadian band’s six-song EP debut, Introducing The City Harmonic, is a nostalgic Brit-pop meets campfire sing-along mix that features raucous, gang vocals along with agile, soaring anthems crafted to include the listener. The band, consisting of front man Elias Dummer, bassist Eric Fusilier, guitarist Aaron Powell and drummer Josh Vanderlaan, isn’t as interested in finding fans as they are looking for participants in the journey. “Both art and worship are participatory acts—not consumptive acts,” says Elias. “What is meaningful for people is the experience, that creative moment when art is shared. To us, it’s almost as though these songs just don’t sound right without everybody involved.”
The songs on the self-produced EP seem to embrace the horizon line between the wonder of God and every-day life, and nowhere is this more evident than the opening track, “I Wonder.” A pulsing chant-a-long driven by Aaron Powell’s soaring, echoey lead guitar and accompanied by a sweeping string arrangement, it is a song that captures the band’s fascination with the overlap between this world and the next. Front man Elias shares, “There’s this old Celtic proverb that I love: ‘milking the cow is Holy.’ It reminds me that everyday moments are profound and that we worship with our lives, not just a couple of songs. Just think about that first ‘true love’ moment in your life. People have written more songs about that moment than any other event. How much more profound will our first face-to-face moment with God be? ‘I Wonder’ is really about approaching these moments with wonder and knowing it’s a glimpse of even better things to come.”
Even the band’s name is partly derived from the sense that in communal worship we catch a fleeting glimpse of the world that we pine for. Elias explains: “C.S. Lewis said this thing that’s always stuck with us: ‘If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.’ It’s like there’s this hopeful nostalgia within us all for the way things ought to be. It’s great when coming together feels like that – like it’s the unveiling of something bigger and better than ourselves. If we can somehow spark in people a dream, something they just can’t shake, then that will inspire them to sing like every word matters, to live like every day matters, and having tasted heaven they’ll get on with helping this world feel more like home.”
For much of the past decade the band members have worked with TrueCity, a movement of local churches in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario working together for the good of the city. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’” “Sure, we hear this all the time – but there are six important words that are often overlooked: and the second is like it,” says Elias. “God doesn’t separate our ability to love our neighbour from our capacity for loving Him. It doesn’t matter how much so-called religious fervour we muster up if we’re living selfishly. It’s no wonder, then, that we should care about social justice if the thing most like loving God is to love my neighbor. It’s a no-brainer. It just makes sense.”
With a sound informed by mainstream acts like Arcade Fire, Coldplay and The Beatles, The City Harmonic seek to create music they enjoy themselves “I guess we didn’t worry too much about whether these songs were ‘singable’ or not,” admits Elias “People don’t sing along to old hymns because they’re ‘singable’ – the songs move them and mean a lot to them. They weren’t simple in the way that people sometimes suggest worship songs should be, but people connected with them anyway. We can’t make worship music formulaic, we have to move and inspire people. I hope we can write songs that are creative and honest. The kind of songs that capture people’s hearts and minds – then I believe their voices will follow. I pray people can connect with them and make them their own. Hopefully they aren’t worship songs simply because we say so, but because they come from honest, worshipful lives and inspire the same in others.”
Introducing The City Harmonic is just a taste of what’s to come from this creative Canadian foursome. The band’s upcoming full-length album will continue the journey—songs and stories that tell of hope, unity and seeking a greater kingdom, and music fans are already pulsating and singing along at the top of their lungs as they eagerly await this highly anticipated debut.