Thinking Out Loud

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.

Advertisements

February 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Things I Hate

They left the worship band’s spotlights on during the sermon this week, and my pastor saw his shadow, which meant six more points before the benediction. Here are some links as I try to forget… 

Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, which has exclusive rights to the mid-week link.

…if you’re new to this whole link list thing, I did a rare Weekend Link List about ten days ago with some reruns from 2011.

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.”

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.