Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gospel Music: Marveling in His Story

We sit in the loge seats at the Aronoff Center waiting for the champion competition to begin in the Gospel category at the World Choir Games.  After listening to the end of the open competition we prepare to just take in the experience of the games.  

I turn toward my mom and say, “I’m glad that even though we missed most of the first set of choirs, the one we did hear was made up of people we knew.  I didn’t expect that and it was kind of fun.” 

She nods assent and I continue.  “I’m not really sure that “gospel” singing is my style.  That’s probably strange since we’re at the gospel competition.  I really do like the words, but I’m not sure that I care for much more. I’m glad we’re here, but I kind of wish that I’d pre-bought a pass to hear the show choirs tomorrow.  They’re all sold out now.  I do love a good show tune.”

As I say all this, I realize it is a little ironic telling my mother all this, since she sings in a gospel choir.  However, she just nods kindly, without judgment; and we talk about her choir’s performance at the downtown mall, the day before.  They sang for one of the World Choir Games’ Friendship Concerts.  

Soon, a couple comes out to welcome all the gathered people to the competition.  They announce the choir that is walking onto the risers in black and shimmery gold, behind them, and tell us of their song selection.

Mom and I settle back in our seats and listen as the keyboard plays and voices begin to shout at randomly spaced intervals.  “Ow.”  It’s like their voices are doing these little leaping praises. 

“This is a bit odd,” I think.

Then, they really begin to sing. 

And their words, they capture me, as they sing to a very catchy tune.

“We lift our hands in the sanctuary.
We lift our hands to give you the glory.
We lift our hands to give you the praise.
And we will praise you for the rest of our days.
Yes.  We will praise you for the rest of our days.”
So, as they stop to shout their praise again, mid-song, it no longer seems awkward.  It is a joyful noise unto the Lord and my insides are leaping in praise right alongside their voices. 

As the song comes to an end and the clapping of the audience is all around me, I offer up an “Amen” and wait curious to see what will come next. 

A young woman steps forward from the choir and picks up a microphone.  She begins to tell the creation story in a spoken musical sort of way.  She pauses and after a musical introduction, in which I can picture the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the deep, the choir begins to sing this unfolding story of Genesis. 

As they sing, I can picture it happening—the word of God speaking in the deep voices of the young men and the burst of energy that creates something from nothing, as voices sing a line with speed, sending it back and forth across the voice ranges. 

It is beautiful.

It takes my breath away.

I marvel in His story.

It is this story that begins the Gospel.

I wonder how I could have ever thought that gospel music isn’t my style. 

It is His story that captivates my heart.

I’m riveted.

This is what happens to me when I really hear His story.

When this choir leaves the stage after their last two songs, I have been moved to tears.

I didn’t expect this.

Maybe I should have.  But I didn’t.

There are more choirs that follow. 

Musically, the sounds vary.  Some choirs sing fast and beat driven music, others sing slow and harmonious.   This doesn’t sound like gospel music to me…should it?  It is midway through the second choir when I begin to think that I don’t even really know what gospel music is.  

I keep listening.

The words of the South African girl’s choir stick with me:

“Born to die. 
Died only to rise again.
Rose only to live eternally.  […]
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”
I think I begin to see it.

Gospel music shares the story.  It tells the story of the gospel…in song.

We hear choirs from around the USA and others from around the world—Germany, Canada, and South Africa.  I am reminded of the diversity of the body of Christ and smile. 

I hear God's story over and over again.  I listen to so many different brothers and sisters in Christ share different scenes in this story.  It is beautiful, the way they share the Good News. 

They each tell it in their own special way, each communicating the message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”

As I begin to process all this, I know I’m glad that I didn’t miss this. 

Show tunes are toe-tapping good.  But this…

This tells of the goodness of God and salvation for the world.
And this might just be the very best music after all.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name; 
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.   Psalm 96:1-3 NIV

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we sing of what the Lord has done and tell of His story to the world.  Whether it is by song or through our words may we bring glory to His name.

Jessica :)

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