Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Concert: Church Music at Its Best

Today Good Shepherd hosted its annual Christmas Concert. Photos of the concert, and audio recordings of each piece in the performance, can be found here. Our web admin has done a spectacular job of creating a "value added" concert by uploading all the special music for the day!

The music speaks for itself, so I encourage you to listen first, and only then read this blog post. What follows is a theological celebration of the value of this concert in our congregational life.

First, it is worth noting that all the music was under the admirable direction of Dr. Robert Mueller, conductor of the University of Arkansas symphony orchestra, and professor of music composition and music theory. He is GSLC's music director and organist. Bob writes a lot of music, and much of it was on display today at the concert, either as arrangements of traditional carols, or new compositions. It's hard to underestimate the value of a music director who writes music for our local context. It reminds us that we are, in some ways, co-creators with God, especially when it comes to worship and music.

Second, Bob has mentioned to me more than once that he writes music that plays to the strengths of the individuals and groups in the ensembles he leads. He writes music that helps the performers shine. In this sense he exercises the ministry of encouragement, encouraging gifts in others with his own gifts.

Third, as you read through the list of performers, you will see that many of the pieces were performed by families singing or playing together (see, for example, The Holly and the Ivy, Good King Wenceslas, and Savior of the Nations, Come). Since I was blessed with the opportunity to just sit and listen to the concert with my family, I took the opportunity to imagine each of these families rehearsing their songs together. This is something I aspire to for our own family as our children get older. There is joy in singing praise together to God as a family.

We also had individual soloists highlighting their musical gifts (see, for example, Christmas Bells, Silent Night, and Still, Still, Still). I love to watch someone lovingly play an instrument on which they are proficient. When that already wonderful event is happening between a person and their instrument who is also a member of your congregation, there is vicarious satisfaction in "making a joyful noise to the Lord."

Bob also nurtures special instrumental groups in our congregation (see the performance by the Band of Shepherds and the Contemporary Worship Ensemble), and since many of the music faculty attend our congregation, some of the performances were special duets or trios between those instrumentalists (see, for example, Infant Holy).

Most remarkable of all, especially if you seldom witness this, are our congregational choir, and our handbell choir. Our congregational choir is one of the most outstanding church choirs I've ever heard. They practice often, and again, because Bob writes music that helps them shine, they feature wonderfully in this concert.

Finally, I have a special place in my heart for handbell choirs. The first piece they performed today (Do You Hear What I Hear?) simply knocked my socks off. Part of the piece was done with mallets hitting the handbells, in the lower registers. Other than the organ, handbells are the instrument that make me feel like I have entered an alternative worship universe. It's an instrument (ensemble) so unique to worship. It takes incredible precision and teamwork to accomplish what they are doing in these recordings.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth. Thank you to all our musicians, and God be praised for the opportunity to serve in a congregation that is gifted with such fine musicians and a spirit of musicianship.

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