These are the best words I can use to describe last night's "Christmas Candlelight Concert" by The Bach Society of Saint Louis at Powell Symphony Hall. Under the direction of A. Dennis Sparger the Bach Society treated us to a host of Christmas classics that clearly proclaim the Birth of our Savior Jesus Christ for our salvation, and it did so with such beauty, dignity, and grace that come only from God's gift of music. Hope's own Erica Rosebrock (wife of Kantor Stephen Rosebrock) is a "principal singer" for the Society.
The opening "Joy to the World," arranged by Randol Alan Bass, made me think, "This is what heaven's music will surely sound like." One does not often hear such majesty when singing this beloved hymn in annual Christmas services or caroling, and so it was quite the treat for ears, mind and heart. The Society also gave its premier performance of "Carol of the Holy Child," composed by Stephen Mager, Bach Society's composer-in-residence. Erica Rosebrock had a soloist part in this piece, and what an angelic voice! (I already knew that from her service at Hope, but what a delight it was to hear her in the concert hall as well.)
The crown jewel piece of the concert's first portion was W. A. Mozart's "Exsultate, jubilate" K. 165. The featured soloist, Mary Wilson (soprano and Bach Society Young Artist 1997-1999), fabulously conveyed the meaning and emotion of Mozart's text as it calls for rejoicing and sweet songs at the birth of the Savior. I always marvel that God has blessed certain voices with the ability to soar so high and express so much joy.
The Society rounded out the first part of the evening with a Christmas Medley including "In
dulci jubilo," "Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine," and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."
After intermission, the Society treated us to "Candlelight Procession," arranged by A. Dennis Sparger. Members of the chorus carried candles (albeit battery operated, by necessity and for cleanliness, to be sure) and processed through the aisles around the audience. All the while they sang: "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Silent Night," and "Angels We Have Heard on High." Familiar pieces, all; but the dignity and beauty with which the chorus sings them is well worth the listen.
The audience was privileged to sing a couple of Christmas favorites as choirs changed places. Ron Klemm (of classic99.com) served as guest conductor for "The First Nowell" and "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen." Between these two songs, the St. Louis Archdiocesan Children's Choir, directed by Dr. Horst Buchholz, sang, "Laudamus te," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Ave Maria." Talk about angelic voices, and such wonderful talent evident in these young singers!
The Society rounded out the evening by singing "Let the bright seraphim" (by Handel), two traditional carols ("Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head" and "Pat-a-pan"), "Love Came Down at Christmas," and, finally, "Star Carol."
This was the first time that the RAsburry family attended a Bach Society Christmas concert, but I can assure it won't be the last. It was a family Christmas gift to one other that will certainly have to happen again in coming years. After all, now that we've done it once, it must be well on the way to being a tradition. :-)
One thing that struck me through the concert last evening and through the day looking back on it. The Church would appear to have a grand ally in the arts community in preserving, treasuring, and proclaiming the joyous mystery of Christ's Birth. Nowhere could be found a hint of the two PCs--political correctness and pop-culture--that scorn and/or cheapen the Christmas message. The "Christmas Candlelight Concert" was pure, unabashed singing of the Christ Child and why He came into the world. How marvelous and refreshing it is to witness and hear, in a public place, the Christmas message without the embarrassed hush-hushing of anything resembling Christian, and without the vapid, vacuous songs that merely say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas."
Another thing that caused this casual reviewer to marvel was the simplicity of the rich sounds and joyous strains. Simple vocal cords, vibrating strings, air through instruments, and well-timed percussion create such rich, soul-stirring, and peaceful music. This is a far cry from the blaring, technology-driven music, replete with eye-catching (-distracting?) special effects, to which we are so accustomed. There is certainly something to be said for the simplicity, beauty, joy and majesty of the gifts that our Incarnate Lord has given to His fellow human beings--many of them brothers and sisters in the faith, to be sure--for singing His praises.
With that thought it mind, Martin Luther's great words on music and God's Word provide a grand wrap-up for last evening's musical treat:
I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone.... Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions--to pass over the animals--which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them....
Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener's soul, while in other living beings and [sounding] bodies music remains a language without words. After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words. (Cited in Treasury of Daily Prayer for December 21)