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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