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.)

 

 

June 27, 2015

The Hallelujah Chorus Tradition

 

Hallelujah Chorus

This weekend we’re re-posting two of this blog’s all-time most viewed posts, and today’s couldn’t be more different from yesterday’s. It looks at the tradition of audiences standing during the playing of Hallelujah from Messiah by G. F. Handel. Unlike yesterday’s topic, this one also generated a lot of comments. If you want to leave yours, you’ll have to do so at the original posting, so that we keep all the responses together in one place.

Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand?

We live in a world where many formal traditions are dying out. I was thinking a few days ago how the mug has replaced the cup and saucer. How a generation of North American men don’t know how to tie a tie. How the courtesy of a reply to a letter has gone the way of the dinosaur. So what about this seemingly quaint tradition involving a popular classical choral work?

Wikipedia tells us the origin of the tradition under consideration here:

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. The tradition is said to have originated with the first London performance of Messiah, which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. Royal protocol has always dictated that when the monarch stands, everyone in their presence is also required to stand. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

  • He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
  • Out of tribute to the composer.
  • As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.
  • He had been dozing and woke with a start.

But it could be argued that, “that was then and this is now.” I mean, if historians can’t agree as to the why, it really leaves us with a tradition that is somewhat empty.

So, with Handel’s Messiah still being performed frequently — especially at Christmas and Easter — should audiences continue the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus? Turns out this is a very heated topic, now with over 50 responses. Be sure to read the comments and take a moment to add yours.


Comment highlights:

  • Handel’s Messiah has more entertainment value than that of liturgical worship…
  • …even if no one else stood with me, I would stand.
  • No one stood. I could not remain seated! I had to stand out of honor for my King. After several stanzas someone behind me asked me to sit down, they couldn’t see. I was so sad.
  • …we always seem to be dumping wonderful traditions.
  • I now find that it is very disruptive and halts the flow of the music. Not only is the magnificent introduction to the movement often drowned out by the noise of an audience rising, the final bars of the preceding tenor aria are often ruined by the shuffling of people in their seats waiting to stand.
  • It is absolutely nu-American to stand. Why are we still honoring the grandfather of George III? Read the Declaration of Independence.
  • There is nothing to say that we have to stand while the Hallelujah Chorus is sung, but there is nothing that says we have to say when our team scores a touchdown either, but we do.
  • I was told as a youngster that this was sort of the national anthem of music. We always stood. Went to Boston Pops Christmas concert today and no one stood.
  • Tradition and respect are two wonderful things which sadly are being diluted in today’s world
  • …current thinking is that King George II just needed to use the lavatory…
  • Just came from the full performance in one of the great acoustical halls. Disney in Los Angeles. The standing sheep seriously degraded the sound. (I got really mad at that one and suggested that the “standing sheep” are really “informed concert-goers”)

and many more.

December 21, 2011

Wednesday Link List

If you missed it, be sure to check out the special-edition link list that appeared here on Saturday.

April 6, 2011

Wednesday Link List

I want to do something different this week and begin with a link to a page that contains about a dozen other links.  Last week seven influential pastors gathered together to discuss “the elephant in the room” — several of them actually — at the appropriately titled Elephant Room Conference. Trevin Wax does a subject-by-subject set of links to two other bloggers, Canada’s Chris Vacher and Arizona’s Jake Johnson.  It’s not full transcripts, just what you’d expect to post yourself if you were listening with two ears and typing with two fingers (or thumbs).

The Elephant Room subjects and speakers were:

  • Session 1: Preaching to Build the Attendance vs. Preaching to Build the Attendees
    – Matt Chandler & Steven Furtick
  • Session 2: Culture in the Church vs. Church in the Culture
    – Mark Driscoll & Perry Noble
  • Session 3: Compassion Amplifies the Gospel vs. Compassion Distorts the Gospel
    – Greg Laurie & David Platt
  • Session 4: Unity: Can’t We All Get Along? vs. Discernment: My Way or the Highway
    – Steven Furtick & James MacDonald
  • Session 5: Multi-Site: Personality Cult vs. God’s Greater Glory
    – Perry Noble & Matt Chandler
  • Session 6: Money?
    David Platt & James MacDonald
  • Session 7: Love the Gospel vs. Share the Gospel
    – Greg Laurie & Mark Driscoll

…I know, I know; now you’re curious.  There are a lot of interesting quotations from this one-day conference, which originated at one of the Harvest Bible Chapel locations and was simulcast to 15 U.S. and one Canadian location.  So here again is the magic link.  Also, Zach posted a video clip from the conference yesterday.

And now here’s the rest of this week’s blog connectivity:

  • Yesterday marks one year since the passing of Internet Monk founder Michael Spencer.  His wife Denise shares Michael’s approach to adventure.
  • Tony Campolo suggests to Huffington’s readers that there’s other dynamics at play in the saga that might be called, “The Rise and Fall of the Crystal Cathedral;” dynamics owing to the changing ethnic demographics of Garden Grove, California.
  • Here’s a special link to the first chapter of former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson’s book Unplannedfile opens as .pdf .
  • If your first name is Tim and your second name begins with Ch—, chances are you have a new book about pornography.  First it was Tim Challies, and now Tim Chester.
  • Summer is coming!  If you want to get dirty on the streets of Philadelphia with Shane Claiborne’s Simple Way community, here’s how you connect to attend events.
  • Donald Miller buys a copy of Love Wins online and offers a straight-forward and concise review.
  • For all you worship leaders out there:  Here’s how to tell if you’re a classical music nerd.
  • This one’s from 2007, but our YouTube link this week asks the musical question, “What if Worship was Like an NBA Game?
  • From the blog, Small Steps to Glory, here’s a look at a modern day Goliath (well the height part anyway) which gives some perspective to the “David And” story.
  • At Arthur Sido’s blog this week, I discovered this trailer for an upcoming documentary on the education system, Indoctrination.
  • For all you techies out there, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to broadcast your church services on the internet.
  • 130 Churches in Calgary, Alberta, Canada are coming together to raise $1.5M to reduce the mortgage on a transitional housing facility established in 2009.
  • Proverbs 3 promises us, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid;when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” So then what about those of us who simply don’t get a good night’s sleep.  Ryan rumbles through a topic that I totally identify with.
  • If you find the links I run to religion stories at CNN and USAToday a little too American for you and you’d like to explore stories from the broader world of spiritual interest, here’s the link to the religion page of Reuters News Service.
  • send your own link suggestions by 8:00 PM EST on Monday.
  • Today’s picture:  Songwriter Mandy Thompson cures writer’s block by going analog:

  • I’ve always had a huge interest in the spiritual themes that turn up in the comic pages of the daily newspaper.  Comic writers can say things in ways others cannot.  I’ve used Dennis the Menace — now drawn by Marcus Hamilton — here a few times, with the result that one of the panels now hangs in my office.  Here’s another kids-eye-view of God as only Dennis can see it:

December 15, 2010

Wednesday Link List

It’s a busy week for most so I’ll keep the list short(er) this week…

  • Yes, I do list the links in order of importance, so for this week, it’s got to be a Christianity Today story in celebration of 50 years of Youth With A Mission (YWAM).
  • “Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?”   That question, included in the online, advance-publication announcement for Rob Bell’s forthcoming Love Wins, may explain why the title is with HarperOne, and not with Zondervan.
  • The Amish are causing problems for building contractors in Philadelphia where they are underbidding local companies on jobs, and then leaving town without spending any money.
  • Lots of time to answer our poll question from yesterday — Should audiences still be expected to stand for the playing of the Hallelujah Chorus?
  • A look at Brad Lomenick’s “Young Influencers List” for December led to the discovery that he’s been doing this list for a few years now, with some names you might recognize.
  • If you own a business in Dallas, Texas, you’d better not be substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” or First Baptist Church will put you on their “Naughty or Nice” list.
  • It’s minus 12 degrees Celsius, or 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Fairbanks, Alaska.  What better time for an outdoor baptism service.
  • Because of remarks made by Canadian Pastor Charles McVety, the National Post reports that Crossroads Television System (CTS) has been found to be in violation of Canada’s strict “anti-hate” Canadian Broadcast Standards.
  • Cedric Miller, a New Jersey pastor “believes the forbidden fruit had a QWERTY keyboard and came with status updates.”  He’s ordered his church leaders to either quit Facebook or resign.
  • Canadian readers:  Don’t forget you have less than two weeks to help us fill our Salvation Army iKettle.  No matter where you live, donations stay with the S.A. Family Services branch closest to you.
  • Joel Spencer doesn’t blog frequently, but if you like your bloggers with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, you might enjoy his catalog of Jesus action figures for 2010.
  • Bonus link:  In the days before Weird Al, there was Ray Stevens (Guitarzan, The Streak, Bridget the Midget, etc.) filling the novelty music category.  He’s back with a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
  • Today’s cartoon is a 2009 entry at ShoeBoxBlog, while today’s picture is none other than Shane Claiborne at the White House which appeared — National Enquirer style — at the blog OutOfUr.  BTW, you need to drop by your bookstore to actually see, touch and feel what Shane is doing with his new book, Common Prayer.

December 14, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus: Should Audiences Still Stand?

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:51 pm

Note: The main substance of what’s here is in the comments left by readers like you. Take time to read some or all…

We live in a world where many formal traditions are dying out.   I was thinking a few days ago how the mug has replaced the cup and saucer.  How a generation of North American men don’t know how to tie a tie. How the courtesy of a reply to a letter has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Wikipedia tells us the origin of the tradition under consideration here:

In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. The tradition is said to have originated with the first London performance of Messiah, which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. Royal protocol has always dictated that when the monarch stands, everyone in their presence is also required to stand. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries.   It is lost to history the exact reason why the King stood at that point, but the most popular explanations include:

  • He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
  • Out of tribute to the composer.
  • As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.
  • He had been dozing and woke with a start.

But it could be argued that, “that was then and this is now.”   I mean, if historians can’t agree as to the why, perhaps it really leaves us with a tradition that is somewhat empty.

So, with Handel’s Messiah being performed frequently at this time of the year, should audiences continue the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus? Be sure to read the comments and take a moment to add yours.

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.”

July 10, 2009

A Merry Heart Does Good Like Medicine: Friday Funnies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 pm

For about two decades of my life it was completely impossible for me to read this aloud without completely losing it…

Violin Concert

Around 1955 a Rumanian gentleman was owed a favor by the celebrated violinist, George Enesco. He was persuaded to give violin lessons to the gentleman’s untalented son.

Three years later the father insisted he give a public concert, saying, “His Aunt said that nobody plays the violin better than he does.” Although Enesco feared the consequences, he arranged a recital at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. Since the soloist was unknown no one bought a ticket.

“Then you must accompany him on the piano,” said the boys father, “and it will be a sellout.”

Reluctantly Enesco agreed and it was. On the night an excited audience gathered. Before the concert Enesco became nervous and asked for someone to turn his pages. In the audience was Alfred Cortot, the brilliant pianist, who volunteered and made his way to the stage.

The soloist was uniformly bad and next morning the music critic of ‘Le Figaro’ wrote: “There was a strange concert at the Salle Gareau last night. The man whom we adore when he plays the violin played the piano. Another whom we adore when he plays the piano turned the pages. While the man who should have turned the pages played the violin.”

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