Thinking Out Loud

November 26, 2018

Let’s Talk Classical Music, If You Think You Can Handel It

Saturday night the choir in which my wife sings presented, a more or less complete performance of Handel’s Messiah. Despite being intimately familiar with some of the pieces either through playing or singing, this was my first time hearing everything in full context.

Handel‘s orchestral works are among my all time favorite classical pieces. Especially the Overture to the Royal Fireworks and the Finale from the Suite in D major of the Water Music. (Is it nerdy that I have favorite classical pieces? I don’t think so. Yesterday at church I was belting out the lyrics to Jesus Culture and Elevation Worship with everyone else.)

I knew some of the Messiah pieces well enough to spot some changes in interpretation that the new music director of the choir was bringing to this performance. I suppose this is how music critics get started, but even as a seasoned writer, I would find a choral concert review a rather daunting task.

So two thoughts here:

One is the same question I found myself asking when the same choir performed a Requiem by Fauré: How many of these singers and musicians truly know the One about whom they are singing? Do they believe that “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth?” Or let’s get really Evangelical: Does the Lord God omnipotent reign in their hearts? (Not a recommended opening evangelistic question.)

Exactly a week earlier, I had stood on a stage in front of a much smaller audience and sung the Andrae Crouch lyric, “No, it’s not just a story, but reality.” It was part of a larger, 3-night series of mini-performances involving people from across a wide spectrum in the community. I did wonder how many of the performers would be in a worship service that weekend. Everyone knows the lyric, “God and sinners reconciled;” but how many can tell you how that atonement process works? Or how they’ve experienced it?

Perhaps that’s asking too much. Students of classical music simply take the religious texts as a given. That was the music of the day. People went to church on Sunday, too; but that’s another discussion. In the choir were some of the best of the best musicians in our little town; people who themselves would be directing church choirs the next morning — being paid to do so — but the question would still stand; is this just another gig or do they know the Jesus of whom we speak? Let’s face it, musicians are the worst. The poster children for total depravity.

All this begs a greater question when it comes to the members of the audience: At a personal level how do they relate to the lyrics as they are hearing them? Are they simply captivated by the soloists vocal ability or the richness of the full choir harmony in a glorious crescendo? Or do they internalize the message that “He shall reign forever and ever.” (And ever and ever.)

We never really know the spiritual state of someone else. How God has worked and continues to work in their lives. Or what masks of pretension they don when walking into a church building. 

Messiah is about Jesus. He’s not in the choral work insofar as he doesn’t show up to turn water to wine, feed the 5,000 or raise Lazarus. But it’s all about him. It’s helpful to know that on a personal level.

Second, I marveled at the texts from Isaiah in a new and fresh way. They were almost… I don’t know… prophetic. (Okay, that was bad.) You grow up in church and you know that the writings in that section of your Bible are called ‘Major Prophets’ for a reason, but when your mind is awakened to the details of those prophecies — particularly the Messianic ones — it’s as though the writers were inspired. (Okay, that was also bad.)

…Messiah doesn’t end with the chorus ‘Hallelujah.’ There is a much shorter third part and then the climax is ‘Worthy Is the Lamb.’ provided below.

Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him!

► One of this blog’s all-time most popular posts is, Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand? There are now 112 comments and they are far more interesting than what I wrote! (Yes, we stood on Saturday night.)

 

 

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October 24, 2010

The Grand Diversity of Christian Music Styles

Last night my wife was one of a number of featured artists at community Christian music concert.    Because it was in my best interests — if you get my meaning — not to miss her musical number, I ventured out only to discover the the vast number of participants pretty well guaranteed an equally vast number of audience members.   After circling the block twice, I finally gave up on getting the perfect parking spot and arrived after the first number had already started.

The performances included:

  • two church choirs doing a total of six songs throughout the program
  • a modern worship band doing two songs that I’m sure were only recently assigned their CCLI numbers
  • a preteen girl doing a number from The Prince of Egypt
  • an organ solo of Elgar’s Nimrod (not sure why)
  • a small but talented group of kids ringing handbells on a well known hymn and a more modern Graham Kendrick song
  • my wife’s somewhat jazzy take on a song by Christian artist Rich Mullins
  • a guitar/vocal solo of an original song
  • a group of four young girls doing a hymn arrangement I’m sure was by John Rutter with mandatory British accents
  • a Pentecostal worship band channeling the spirit of David Wilkerson’s church in New York with approx. 40 slides’ worth of non-stop lyrics (they were numbered) to songs only they knew (though the audience was at least clapping at the end)
  • the classical (almost operatic) vocalizing of Albert Malotte’s The Lord’s Prayer by a baritone soloist

Of all the songs, I think the bell-ringers’ choice of Crown Him With Many Crowns was among the best known; otherwise we were charting what was, to me at least, new territory.

Just as political expediency governed my choice in attending the concert versus staying home, so also did some political expediency determine that the choir of the host church would sing a total of four songs; double that of the modern worship band or the other choir, unless you count the sheer length of the Pentecostal worship band’s single medley.

Let me explain here that throughout the evening there were times when the lyrics of the songs were projected at the sides of the auditorium at which point everyone — except for maybe those of us nursing sore throats — was expected to sing along.

For its third of four numbers, the host church choir made what I consider to be a rather odd choice:  The Beatles’ Let it Be.

Question.   Which song do you think the audience sung most wholeheartedly?

Yep.  That one.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Ah, yes!    The concert was billed as a “Celebration of Hope” and there was the hope… “There will be an answer, let it be.”

Now, on the one hand, it somewhat warmed my heart because in addition to being involved in Christian music;  I’ve always thought the popularity of the annual Handel’s Messiah singalong — where the audience participates throughout — warranted a “Songs of the 1960s” singalong.   It’s an idea that I’ve been promoting since days long before PowerPoint and video projection; potential copyright issues notwithstanding.   I know people love those songs.   I’m glad to know the singalong thing actually is workable.    And I think the audience was highly predisposed to sing at this point, because the program’s artists had chosen such a high degree of unfamiliar titles.

But on the other hand, out of all the possibilities in that gigantic compendium we once called “sacred music;” it seemed to me somewhat of a “what-were-they-thinking?” kind of moment.   A lapse of judgment.

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

Am I being narrow here?   And what Mary is being referred to?   Though the Wikipedia story is quite different — it talks about a dream McCartney had about his mother — at the time the story was that the song was written as a response to a hallucination by a member of the band’s road team and the original lyric was “Mother Malcolm.”    You remember him, right?  Or her?

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me.
Shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

I just think that there are so many songs that offer so much spiritual richness and depth that to choose an “inspirational” song instead from the pop music market is just to contribute to the ongoing watering down of the Christian message.

If I were a member of that choir, I would have said, “Sorry, I can’t join in on this one.”

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