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Culture

Paula White’s wild Trump sermon is begging for the Steve Reich treatment

Whatever you think of her views on religion, we can agree that yesterday, evangelical adviser to the president Paula White produced a most prodigious bop.

At a prayer service for the reelection of President Trump, the man she won over with her teachings of “Prosperity Theology,” White delivered an impassioned sermon heavy on rhythmic repetition, angelology and a soupçon of tongues. By turns alarming and amusing, the service sounded a lot like the early work of minimalist composer Steve Reich.

Minimal music, the purview of Jews like Reich and his one time moving company colleague, Philip Glass, has long had a relationship with impassioned Christian evangelism.

In 1965, Reich emerged with his first major composition, “It’s Gonna Rain,” made from a tape recording of an apocalyptic Pentecostal street preacher, Brother Walter.

Reich looped the piece creating a unique and jarring soundscape of recursive harmonies and revolutionizing process music. As the work’s title suggests, the refrain was “It’s gonna rain,” a phrase which melts away from conventional meaning and becomes its own, overwhelming, overlapping ambience. Created in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, it is a jeremiad in the original sense, recalling that prophet’s overlooked portents of doom.

In content, White’s riff is quite different — though it’s spectacularly violent in its own right.

“We will strike and strike and strike and strike and strike… (White says ‘strike’ a lot in quick succession, making any minimalist’s work at generating a pulse profoundly easy) until you have victory.”

The televangelist takes a huge gasp of air — another aural gift rich in possibility. God will give victory to the Trump cause, she pledges, claiming she hears “a sound of an abundance of rain.”

Here, the rain isn’t Brother Walter’s expurgation, but an omen of victory, a rising tide for Trump and evangelical values. Perhaps this rain is but droplets of a belated red wave.

As White flails at the lectern, the audience sustains a long note, adding to the soundscape as Brother Walter’s followers did.

There’s a subtle clapping. A man in shorts and a T-shirt, carrying a sheaf of papers and his coat, paces behind White as she slips into tongues and says some stuff about angels being dispatched from various continents. It’s just the sort of raw material Reich or his heirs use to produce a thrum of ominous, garbled noise.

While White’s sermon will surely require some production — some have already remixed it in a more popular mode — it has great potential for a new minimalist masterpiece.

Given White’s favorite congregant’s late, unhinged tweets the resulting track would be a fitting anthem for this stage of Trump’s campaign. Or, for that matter, his presidency.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].

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