Thursday, February 28, 2019

Singing--Part 5: Singing Scripture

Me in high school
While I was in high school, I was the school chorus soloist and was often asked to sing for special events--talent shows, weddings, funerals, etc. During my senior year, the churches of Seward, Alaska, combined their choirs to sing Handel's Messiah for Easter. At the time, I knew nothing about this perhaps best-loved oratorio of all time, but I was asked to sing the soprano solos.

As a child, I had memorized many Bible verses and even chapters of the Bible. Even before I started school, my mother taught me a Bible verse for every letter of  the alphabet, just as her mother had taught her. (For a list of those verses click here.) Then during summer Vacation Bible Schools, I always stepped up to the challenge to memorize Scriptures. One summer, I won my first very own Bible by memorizing the most verses.

I soon discovered that the libretto of the Messiah is entirely Scripture--passages from both the Old and New Testaments of the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming--all set to perhaps the most inspired music of all time.

George F. Handel courtesy
George Frideric Handel, I learned, was born in Germany but had settled in London in 1710, as a young man. He had composed many operas and oratorios, as well as court music, and was well-established in English society and music circles.

Eventually, society tired of his Italian operas, and his debts mounted. Due to the pressures of his debts, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right arm. His doctors believed it had also caused a permanent brain injury and his days as a musician were over.

But Handel refused to give up and surprised everyone when he miraculously recovered his strength and declared, “I have come back from Hades.”

In 1741, still in debt and 56 years of age, Handel received a libretto from Charles Jennens, a poet he had worked with previously. He sequestered himself for 23 days and, writing night and day,  composed the entire 260-page oratorio, which he entitled Messiah. The work was debuted in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and was soon recognized as his greatest work. To this day, the Baroque-era oratorio still awes listeners 250 years after the composer’s death.

I immediately fell in love with Handel's Messiah. I have sung it in choirs several times since. Every Christmas I listen to my CD of it and sing along.

One thing I discovered is that singing the Word of God is just about the best way to memorize Scripture. The melodies bring the words along with them.

That Christmas in high school I sang the aria in the Messiah, "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth," from the Book of Job and echoed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20. It quickly became my favorite.

As part of my senior vocal recital in college, I performed another aria from the Messiah, Romans 8:31-34, "If God Be for Us Who Can Be Against Us?" What a precious promise!

In the 70s and 80s, I loved the Scripture choruses, which helped me learn even more Bible verses. I can hardly read the Psalms without bursting into song frequently. I find that the verses I memorized as a young child and the ones I learned set to music are the ones I can still quote word for word as I grow older. The Psalmist wrote,

Psalm 119:11, NKJV Courtesy
I recommend it!

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