cities-album-Final-Jonathon-for-webWe are proud to announce the release of Cities, a five-song cycle personifying biblical cities. Each track responds to a specific city in the Bible–Bethlehem, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Jericho, and the “New City” as described in Revelation. They are inspired by specific passages that personify–Bethlehem being told in the book of Micah that “though you are small, out of you will come a great ruler”, and Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16 described as an adulterous wife, for example.

It was composed by Spark and Echo Arts founder Jonathon Roberts, in collaboration with co-founder Emily Clare Zempel (both left), and involved several other musicians who have participated in this project. It was developed in part during a 2015 residency with Spark and Echo Arts. You can listen to the entire album below and also purchase the album here.


Jonathon Roberts: vocals, piano, drum programming
Emily Clare Zempel: vocals, bassoon(4)
Ariana Rosen: violin
Kevin Gosa: soprano and alto saxophones, backing vocals (1)
Meaghan Burke: cello, backing vocals (1,4)
James Hall: Trombone, backing vocals (1)
Walter Roberts: backing vocals (1)

Lyrics by Emily Clare Zempel & Jonathon Roberts
Music and production by Jonathon Roberts

1-I’m Small

Text: Micah 5:2
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

The bulk of this song was written a few years ago before we had kids, imagining a small Bethlehem embracing this news, but it never came into focus until jamming with my then 20-month old Walter. I guess it takes playing with someone small to finish a song about smallness.



Text: Acts 18:19-21, 19:8-12, 20:16-24; Ephesians 1:1-2, 1:15-17, 6:23-24; Revelation 2:4
“…Yet I hold this against you, [Ephesus]: You have forsaken the love you had at first….”

This song takes the above passage from Revelation, written by the Apostle John as a warning to the city of Ephesus, and combines it with historical information that my wife Emily and I learned while visiting Ephesus on our honeymoon. The shore line used to be close to biblical Ephesus, but as the water receded, the city moved with it, faithfully preserving what was left behind as ruins in the dirt.

This piece also draws from the books of Acts, Ephesians, and historical accounts. It imagines Ephesus loving the years when Paul lived there, when the city was alive, and then missing his presence dearly as he traveled away. The city pines for his letters and news of his safety and potential return.


3-I Passed By

Text: Ezekiel 16:4-42, Ezekiel 16:59-63

“…Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked…” (excerpt)

This was the first piece written for this “Cities” project, many years ago as a piano and vocal solo I used to perform in clubs in NYC. It launched this whole idea of personifying biblical cities. What a startling section of Scripture, of God speaking to Jerusalem as a lover who has betrayed him. Of all of the pieces in this cycle, this piece has the most lyrics taken straight from the Bible.



Text: Joshua 6

“…Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in….”

If you are a city with emotions, how does it feel to hear you will be captured, devoted, cursed, redeemed? It was curious to imagine this, to dwell on Jericho’s collapse, and then imagine how the city might feel to know that one part of its city, a part it was sure God would hate, God loved. From this small part, comes the Savior of the world.



5-New City

Text: Revelation 21, 22:1-5

“…Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…” (excerpt)

This beautiful text has the new Jerusalem personified, beautiful and “coming down out of of heaven.” At the same time it’s also told from Adam and Eve’s point of view, remembering the garden and the “tree that had them damned” and feeling the relief of regret being washed away. We look through their eyes and see heaven for the first time; we are baffled and mystified by the big and small things we notice. We see Christ and feel the surrounding beauty of his love and this New City.


Follow the development of the Cities project in the firstsecondthird, and fourth posts from the 2015 Artist Residency.


This work is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.


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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.  The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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