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Sacred music gala sings glory to God

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Spirits were inspired as voices and instruments lifted praise to God during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s third annual gala concert of sacred music Feb. 2.

More than 1,700 people gathered to hear the 225-voice Southwestern Seminary Oratorio Chorus in concert with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the city’s Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall.

The gala is one of the main features of the annual Church Music Workshop organized by faculty, staff and supporters of Southwestern’s school of church music.

“The gala was a unique opportunity to turn Bass Hall into a sanctuary for one evening,” said Stephen Johnson, the school’s dean. He noted that the annual workshop and the opportunity Southwestern’s music students have to perform in the oratorio chorus were two of the main reasons he came to the seminary a year ago.

“I was especially happy to see our music students take their music to a professional level in the oratorio chorus and still perform it from the heart,” Johnson said.

The program included classic Christian hymns, several secular pieces and a touch of congregational singing, all under the direction of C. David Keith, chairman of the seminary’s department of conducting and choral activities.

The evening began with the chorus and orchestra leading as the audience sang Isaac Watts’ beloved hymn “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

For many audience members, a highlight of the evening was gospel harpist Greg Buchanan. Playing a custom-built, eye-catching, art deco blue Salzedo harp, Buchanan introduced many listeners to the tender strains and booming declarations of that instrument for the first time.

The connection Buchanan made with even the youngest audience members was demonstrated when he played his own arrangement of “Amazing Grace” with “Jesus Loves Me.” As he played the simple, tender notes of “Jesus Loves Me,” several small children could be heard singing along.

Parker Webb, a student from Greensboro, N.C., in The College at Southwestern, connected with Buchanan’s presentation as well.

“I loved it,” Webb said. “I think that’s the first time I ever cried during ‘Jesus Loves Me.’”

During the second half, Buchanan had toes tapping with a lively version of the old-time gospel song “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”

With a standing finale of the always-popular “Hallelujah Chorus” from Georg Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” the gala of sacred music was drawn to a close with sustained applause.

Two music professors from The Master’s College in California were in attendance, Carolyn Simons, associate professor of musicology, and Claire Blackwell, associate professor of hand bells.

Simons described the gala as “a full performance with lots of variety. The hymn arrangements were outstanding. And the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ and the other congregational songs really seemed to resonate with the audience.”

Blackwell agreed. “The integration of the audience was more than just a token,” she said. “It felt like we were a real part of it.”

Few gala participants were as happy as Keith, whose career at the seminary spans more than 25 years and who has become a key part of the local arts community in his role as chorus master of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

“It seems that over the past three years the response [to the gala] has grown,” Keith said. “To be able to do this in an environment such as Bass Performance Hall with the Fort Worth Symphonic Orchestra and oratorio chorus provides great expectation.”

Keith voiced his hope “that the seminary, better than any other institution, could help people know, find and communicate with God through music.”

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  • Brent Thompson