Music as a universal language? Consider Enoch Train.
On the group's newest CD, "Shall We Gather," eight LDS musicians play old-time Christian hymns, using American folk instruments and styles that range from New Orleans gospel to Brazilian Carnaval to Jewish klezmer with some jazz, bluegrass, classical and country thrown in along the way. And they do it with such exuberance and grace that their enthusiasm is contagious.
"We hope this CD will bring people joy," says Clive Romney, director and a principle arranger for the group. "We got joy from doing it. That's why we're musicians, because music brings us joy." And, he says, it's even more joyful when you share it.
The group — Romney, Janice Andersen, Daron Bradford, Dave Compton, Rich Dixon, Tom Hewitson, Rob Honey and Jay Lawrence (Chuck Smith also provides engineering support) — is excited about this latest project. The CD was actually due out last September, but, "we missed our deadline and took an extra five months," said Romney. That's partly because each member of the group is a stellar musician in his or her own right, much in-demand as studio musicians, concert performers and songwriters and arrangers. But also because they had a vision of what the CD should be.
"In the past, we've had to make some compromises to meet deadlines," said Romney, "but this one is everything it should be."
The CD was released March 26, and to celebrate, Enoch Train will perform a concert on April 3 as a benefit for the Unity Spiritual Center, a non-denominational place of worship in the old Murray theater. The center bought the historic theater last fall, stretching its resources to the limit, said Romney, "and then they found out the boiler was shot."
A woman from the center knew Andersen, and the idea of a benefit concert was born. It will give Enoch Train a chance to play its multi-denominational music for a good cause, she said. "We think it will be a lot of fun."
"Shall We Gather" represents a few departures for the group, said Dixon. "It's more ambitious. We've never done as much with orchestras or choirs as we've done here." They hope that might open up new possibilities; they could find themselves playing with orchestras around the country, for example.
At the same time, the group wants to remain true to its own sound. "We've developed a strong music personality over the years," Dixon says. "We've defended that core from the start. But we'd like to bring it to other audiences."
Enoch Train, he said, "is easily the most diverse group of musicians that have ever played together. We all bring something different to the group." But while the group's members have diverse musical training and skills, they also share intrinsic values and abilities. "We have enough differences to make it interesting but enough similarities to hold it all together."
It has been "terrifically exciting," added Bradford. "We've gone a bit beyond ourselves, but it's been a good step. We see exciting possibilities coming up."
Already, the group has enjoyed new opportunities. It recently provided background music for a "Food Nation with Bobbie Flay" television show taped in Salt Lake City, and recently returned from a two-day young-musicians festival in Evanston, Wyo.
Sometimes, it's challenging to shoe-horn everything in, Bradford said with a laugh. "But it's worth it."
As a drummer, Lawrence had a good time laying down all the tracks for the Brazilian Carnaval piece, which combines "All Creatures of Our God and King" with "All Things Bright and Beautiful." "I don't think there's ever been a more eclectic collection of well-loved hymns," Lawrence says. Among other songs are "Amazing Grace," "O Divine Redeemer," "Master, The Tempest Is Raging" and "A Mighty Fortress."
Though the songs and melodies are traditional, Enoch Train's treatment of them is anything but. "This is an expression of our collective souls," said Compton. "You give us 10 more tunes for another album, and they will sound totally different. Everyone likes to dream up something new. And every time you try something new, that gives you a whole new cave to explore."
It has turned out so much better than first imagined, grins Hewitson, "it makes me want to do Daffy Duck cartwheels."
And that's what Enoch Train is all about. it has a definite vision of what music can do, "and we want to get that message out," said Honey. "It's important for us to use our talents, to play great music," he said, music that has deep roots and soaring branches.
Even though the musicians have a lot of fun with the melodies, they also have an abiding respect for the music and its power to uplift. "We're not in this for the money," said Hewitson. "But we hope we can make a difference in people's lives. When we were in Evanston, we played for everyone from kindergarten kids to people in rest homes. You see what music does, what wonderful medicine it is."
If you go . . .
What: Enoch Train
Where: Unity Spiritual Center, 4961 S. State
When: 7:30 p.m., April 3
How much: $10
Phone: 467-8499 or 1-800-888-8499
Tickets: Smith'sTix outlets
Also: Chicken dinner preceding the concert, $10 per person (281-2400)