Shane Heilman tells us about his New Album “Volume 6: Psalms 47-55” and The Psalms Project

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With an impressive following spanning YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify, Heilman has captivated audiences globally with his distinctive blend of contemporary melodies and timeless Psalms. 

Transitioning from the education sector to music ministry, his journey underscores deep faith and unwavering commitment.

What initially began as a humble church initiative has blossomed into a celebrated presence in worship music over the past 12 years. Collaborating with over 85 musicians, including Grammy nominees like Phil Keaggy and Jeff Deyo, his approach treats each Psalm as a unique narrative, earning him widespread acclaim.

The recent release of Psalm 51 serves as a precursor to his forthcoming album, “Volume 6: Psalms 47-55,” which represents a significant milestone for The Psalms Project.

This new endeavour introduces external producers and infuses a contemporary pop sensibility, signalling an evolution while retaining the project’s fundamental reverence for the Psalms.

Melodic Mag spoke to Shane earlier this month all about The Psalms Project and his most recent release.

Can you elaborate on the pivotal moment that led you to leave your career as a high school principal and fully dedicate yourself to The Psalms Project?

I’ve loved the Psalms since becoming a believer – their honesty and stirring poetry really gave me a picture of what real relationship with God looks like.

When I got the idea to put them to music, I was praying and worshipping on a mission trip, and I became really intrigued by the idea of telling the ENTIRE story of the ENTIRE Psalm with music, rather than just taking out snippets. Plus, I loved the idea of putting the pure Word to modern music with modern, powerful instrumentation.

How has your background as an educator influenced your approach to translating the Psalms into contemporary music?

I’m a teacher at heart – I believe that is my core calling – and so I’ve really seen this project as a way to “teach” people the Psalms through the power of music, both emotionally and intellectually.

What challenges do you face when setting ancient Hebrew poetry to modern music, and how do you navigate those challenges?

The greatest challenge is making the songs singable and aesthetically beautiful while being faithful and accurate to the text. Sometimes the structure of a song will line up great until there’s an “extra” line in the text that I need to make sure is included at that point, which requires some creativity and thinking outside the box musically.

English Bible translations and Psalms commentaries (which dive deeply into the Hebrew) really help me to be sure I’m conveying the text accurately, since I myself am not a Hebrew scholar.

With over 12 years and 7 albums under your belt, how has The Psalms Project evolved since its inception, both musically and in terms of its reach and impact?

Musically, the project has evolved a lot, from just a few local church musicians coming up with the best arrangement that we can in a garage to hiring professional producers and musicians to fill out the arrangement in ways that are beyond my gifting. I’ve grown a lot in my knowledge and philosophy of music production as well, which has given me a more complete vision for how I want a song to sound from beginning to end – and how to get there.

Lyrically, our later albums (especially from Volume 3 on) have been literal to the text – on Volumes 1 and 2, I added a little “commentary” at times (most of it straight from Scripture) to help people understand the passage. Now, my philosophy is to simply let the text speak and let people do their own research.

Could you walk us through your creative process when composing music for each Psalm, from memorization to the final arrangement?

I memorize the Psalm first, then study it Psalm with several commentaries and try my best to capture the emotion and message of the Psalm with music and the melodies. Then the musicians and I get together to decide what instruments would be best in the arrangement for the song that’s been written. After we record the initial arrangement, it goes through several edits, and we often add extra instruments and elements when it seems like something is “missing.” We also subtract elements sometimes when there is too much going on in a certain part of the song. We like to add too much and then subtract until the arrangement sounds perfectly appropriate at every moment of the song.

The Psalms Project involves a diverse cast of musicians. How do you select the appropriate vocalists and instrumentalists for each song?

It’s a lot like casting a play – after writing the song, I have a pretty good vision of what the finished product should sound like, and a pretty good idea of which vocalists and musicians will best bring that out.

Can you share any insights into the decision to feature outside producers on Volume 6 of The Psalms Project?

When we made our last album, Volume 5, I came to a place where I knew that working with professional producers was going to produce the highest-quality sound possible. They just bring so much to the table that I could never even imagine myself. That’s always what this project has been about – producing the very best music from the Psalms possible, no matter who gets the credit.

What distinguishes Volume 6: Psalms 47-55 from previous releases, both in terms of musical style and thematic content?

The thematic content is determined by the Psalms in that particular collection, and there’s really no prevailing theme among the individual Psalms – there are always a variety of topic and emotions, which I think keeps the album fresh throughout. In terms of musical style, I believe Volume 6 is the strongest musically of all our albums – the partnership between myself and the producers combined my vision for the “subtleties” of the song with their sonic brilliance. The best word I can use to describe the music on Volume 6 is “rich.” It has a lot of “muscle” and “punch” throughout – but also a lot of beauty throughout – just like the Psalms themselves.

How do you maintain the integrity of the Psalms’ original texts while adapting them to fit contemporary musical genres?

I probably already answered this, but it involves having a very strong understanding of what the text is saying, and then fitting that text with that meaning to singable melodies. This can involve using a synonym here or there, or “scrunching” a phrase into a smaller phrase that means the same thing, but it always works out somehow! It’s amazing how flexible the English language is.

What inspired the selection of specific Psalms to highlight in Volume 6, such as “Psalm 47 (Shout to God)” and “Psalm 51 (Cleanse Me From My Sin)”?

I chose those two Psalms as the first two singles because I thought they were the most appealing Psalms on the album, and had a nice contrast – Psalm 47 is joyful, loud, and celebratory, whereas Psalm 51 is somber, quiet, and mournful (yet full of hope).

As an artist who infuses spiritual themes into your music, how do you navigate the balance between artistic expression and faith-based content?

I’m not sure a balance is necessary. I believe all art is “faith-based” in that we as artists express what we believe in. As R.C. Sproul once said, “Everyone is a theologian – the only question is whether you’re a good one or a bad one.” As someone who sings about the triune God of the Bible, who I believe is the one true God and eternal life itself, I believe I’m singing about the deepest and truest things in the universe, which should lead to better and more impactful art, not the other way around. I know that a lot of “faith-based” art focuses so heavily on the message that the art gets lost, and that is a mistake and a tragedy when it happens. But that is not the way it should be, and is not the way it has been throughout history. Most of the most moving and epic art ever created was created by Christians as a response to the transcendent beauty and truth of Christianity, from the music of Bach to the painting of the Sistine Chapel.

 

Connect with The Psalms Project: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Spotify / YouTube

 

 

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