I will be glad and rejoice in you. I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalms 9:2 WEB)
Music has and continues to be a major part of my life, our family and our ministry. The right melody, the choice poetic rendering, the appropriate tempo can move a person’s thoughts toward God in a way ten thousand words will never accomplish.
One year Beth and I put together a small ensemble of missionary colleagues for the Christmas holiday season. Using parts of a cantata we assembled a presentation of songs to worship God and proclaim the incarnation of Jesus to any who would listen.
Church was one place to share this musical message. One evening we shared our few pieces with the congregation in preparation for a time of communion and remembrance of Jesus work in our lives. Another less conventional presentation took place at the Governor’s mansion. The governor at the time was a Christian and permitted a number of religious events.
One of these was a Christmas gathering at the official mansion overlooking the Philippine Sea. Christmas gatherings were not unusual. They were held each year. However, allowing an “evangelical” group, non-Catholic was outside the norm. We gathered for the festivities and shared God’s love and salvation through song with the dignitaries and invited guests.
Christmas wasn’t only a time for special music and ensembles but it was a time for church choirs to gather and present the annual Cantata! Our church, Bayview, was no exception. For months I directed the choir through rehearsal after rehearsal to reach the point I thought we were ready for a public hearing.
Cantatas are interesting pieces of work. In most churches, ours included, everyone practices for months to be prepared. Then, one fine Sunday morning or evening, or maybe on Christmas Eve, the presentation is made before the congregation. An hour later it’s finished, not to be repeated. The works of months of preparation are poured into one hour of concentrated ministry to proclaim the wonder of God to those present.
During this concentrated presentation things can become rather tense for the choir on the platform, the accompanist, and the director. Regardless of careful preparation things can, and will, go wrong.
I love to see my choir smiling while they sing. In fact, I believe they sound better when they’re smiling and enjoying the music they’re singing. If it becomes too laborious then it becomes a task and not praise to God.
Since the director faces away from the congregation there are opportunities to do things only the choir can witness. I like to put on a big smile and poke my cheeks with my fingers to get the choir on the verge of laughter. It helps to get everyone relaxed and ready. One year I borrowed a Christmas tree pin with little lights. I pinned it to my shirt. Unknown to the congregation I turned it on just before the choir sang. They sounded happy and cheerful that year.
Another year I purchased a bowtie with flashing lights which became a regular part of my Christmas attire, especially for the church choir. Not all activities to get the choir’s attention come from the director. Sometimes the music, if pre recorded, can glitch or someone can forget the melody to their solo. I figure, if you start right and end right what happens in the middle can be forgiven by the congregation.
One Christmas this was tested to the max. We were performing one of my favorite cantatas with a marvelous missionary message woven into the arrival of our Savior in Bethlehem. The choir was pumped up. We knew the music, the intros, the exits and the cut offs. Everyone was smiling and the music began to play.
Things went well. My son was operating the sound system and knew my hand signals. Ellice was one of my altos while Beth was busy with the sopranos singing their hearts out for the Lord.
Ellice was an old hand with church musicals and presentations. Starting when she was about four she took every opportunity to sing, dance or act her way across the platform. She has an excellent voice, and a very outgoing personality which is important in any musical or play. Singing a Christmas cantata, after singing in the youth choir, the school choir, and singing with mom and dad, was routine.
About half way into the cantata I noticed Ellice looked a bit pale. Sure enough, near the end of the song she swayed one way, then the other, and then . . . collapsed on the floor.
Normally this type of activity will stop things immediately. My choir, bless their wonderful hearts, looked at me, watched me direct and keep time and completed the song we were singing with an amazing crescendo.
I motioned for Joel to stop the music and then looked at Dr. Vince. He was one of my tenors and also the family doctor. He and Beth helped Ellice through the side door into the small classroom just off the platform. The choir faced the director. I lifted my hands in preparation and Joel started the music once more.
We sang the next piece right on cue. A few minutes into the song Dr. Vince came back and resumed his position in the tenors smiling to indicate everything was just fine. Ellice was just a bit too nervous and it was a hot night.
The choir sang the remainder of the cantata with renewed energy and careful attention to detail. The final piece was as spectacular and moving as any other Christmas cantata I remember. When the cantata was over most people forgot about Ellice’s swan dive. We finished well and that was important.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:12. “If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, He also will deny us.” We make mistakes along the way to our heavenly kingdom. However, it’s not every step along the way which counts but the direction we’re heading and how we end the race. Paul reminds us to run to receive the prize. If we stumble, we need to get up, brush ourselves off, take a bearing on the direction of the goal line and enter the race once more. In this eternal race there’s more than one winner. All who finish well will win an eternal prize in God’s new heaven and earth.