Conducting the Great Story

Mary and JosephWhenever a large group of singers raise their voices in some classical or inspirational song, I get chills and often cry. Last year I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Utah during a practice session. It was a sound and an experience I hope I never forget.

The conductor demanded perfection of the 360-member choir and 110-piece orchestra. He often stopped and insisted that he wanted more volume for a particular phrase. I laughed several times at the way he handled his musicians. If they weren’t looking up, articulating words, or were missing timing, they received a rebuke. “If you don’t lift your heads and let me hear your voices, I’ll make you stand for the rest of practice.” “No, no, no! Not like that, like this.” His performers obeyed him. He was the law, and he was grace. He led; they responded.

Recently, I went to see Handel’s Messiah. The Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of volunteers, as well as featured singers delighted us with the familiar strains of this amazing oratorio—a piece the world still loves after 250 years. I didn’t realize the whole choral work is composed of nothing but scripture.

Handel’s Messiah begins with a tenor’s moving but melancholy voice, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God…The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord…”

The hope begins.

The music takes you through the whole story of redemption: the plan to restore us, the prophesies of Messiah’s birth, his appearance, his healing and redemptive work, the Passion, the resurrection, the start of the Church, the world’s rejection of Christ, and God’s ultimate victory. The final third is devoted to eternal scenes and concludes with the great, “Amen” and Christ’s final exaltation.

As conductor Jory Vinikour conducted and played the harpsichord for the piece, I was moved in a way that surprised me. He punctuated his expectations to the choir with sharp jabs, outstretched arms, smooth movements of his hands and arms, and occasional foot tapping when his own excitement and demands rose.

Similarly. God has conducted his plan of redemption from creation to the day of Christ’s final glorification.

He raises His baton, all creation watches, and the music begins. He punctuates great moments in that history with powerful images, promises, and words for us to remember, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” He speaks from heaven to Isaiah and us.

To angels He sends the message, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

ShepherdsThen comes the loud choral refrain, “Glory to God, in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men.” My heart swelled at the sound of the staccato-like “Glory to God!”

The conductor occasionally danced across the stage drawing volume from his musicians, demanding precision, and occasionally sitting down to play the harpsichord—I saw the beauty of God’s conducting the universe with energy, purpose and design.

Handel wrote the Messiah and conducted it while he lived; the Great Composer and Conductor still leads His chorus and instruments in the continued, unfolding plan of redemption. All is done by His command. He allows no variation. No one halts the flow of His divine creativity, majesty, or power.

The earth moves, trembles, celebrates, sees, is judged, and redeemed by His decrees—by the wave of His baton. And all of the music is inspired by unimaginable love.

He leads with delight, dancing across the stage as His purposes unfold. We wait for the final chorus—the one where we all sing when we finally understand His being, His power, and His majesty.

“Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever! King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, Hallelujah!”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Singing “The Hallelujah Chorus”

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