Many people enjoy “sacred music” without realising that each piece represents only a part of the Biblical narrative that underlies it. A church choir in eastern Canada put a number of such pieces together, so that by “joining the dots” they could tell the old, old story in a way it is seldom heard.
In the early 1990s, Canon Robin Gamble, now the Diocesan Missioner for the Diocese of Manchester (England) produced an evangelistic presentation based around the music of the rock band Queen, called The Gospel According to Queen. The aim of this was not to call people to faith at the end of the evening, but to raise questions in their minds as they were brought up in the lyrics of the songs. Tracks with such titles as Who Wants to Live Forever? or I Want It All gave scope for the sharing of Gospel ideas.
Fast forward to 2003: I am now the Rector of Stone Church in Saint John, New Brunswick. During our carol service that year, I sat listening to our ad hoc choir and realized that they sounded excellent. This led me to asking a question: is there a way of using this skill in evangelism? After some thought, I spoke to our Musical Director, Marilyn Williams, and floated the idea of The Great Composers Tell a Great Story.
Essentially this is a choral evening which tells the story of the Biblical narrative through choral works. We began with creation and made our way through to the second coming, each illustrated by a different piece of choral music. Obviously, there are some parts of the story which have more material written about them than others–Easter for example–but the others do exist if one looks hard enough. Between the musical works we placed a narration to explain where the particular item fitted into the story.
During 2005 we developed a second project for which we stole the title One Solitary Life. This followed the same pattern, but this time explored the life of Jesus through choral works, and narrated his story using the music as a basis.
Both the performances ran for about 90 minutes, including a 15 minute break. In addition to the music, we produced a printed program containing a short explanation of the Gospel, based around a musical theme.
The question has been asked: what do we do in 2006? The plan right now is to work with our local Shakespeare Festival to produce an Elizabethan Service of Evening Prayer based around Cranmer’s early prayer books. This will include some period choral works and I hope either to write or borrow (maybe from Cranmer, Donne or Baxter) an appropriate sermon for the event.
Here are the choral pieces we used for The Great Composers Tell a Great Story (bear in mind that there is a narration before each piece):
1) From Haydn’s “Creation” “In the Beginning”;
2) From Haydn’s “Creation” “In Splendour Bright”;
3) From Haydn’s “Creation” “The Heavens Are Telling”;
4) Vivaldi “Laudamus Te”;
5) S. S. Wesley “Lead Me, Lord”;
6) Mendelssohn “Lift Thine Eyes”;
7) Pachelbel/Hopson “Canon of Praise”;
8) J. S. Bach “Sleepers Wake”;
9) F. Gruber “Stille Nacht”;
10) Tallis “If Ye Love Me”;
11) Handel “He Was Despised”;
12) Handel “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth”;
13) Stainer “God So Loved the World”;
14) Weatherly/Adams “The Holy City”;
15) Beethoven “The Heavens Are Declaring”.
The intention of these events is not necessarily to see people come to faith in Jesus during that evening. The aim is rather to present ideas in order that people might think about the Gospel message expressed in terms that they can relate to. The next step would be to link the evening to an Alpha Program or another such enquirers’ group.