Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nashville Symphony Hymn Sing!

We're back in Nashville! We did the whole drive yesterday. I have to admit: We had rain for the first few hours of the trip, and I was very nervous because of it. But deep breaths and constant prayer kept me calm, and we arrived home safely and in good spirits late last night.

And we had to arrive home quickly because I had a 12th row centre ticket tonight to the Nashville Symphony Hymn Sing!

Let's just start by getting it out in the open: AMAZING!!!

The event was held at the brand new Schermerhorn Symphony Center's Laura Turner Concert Hall, which is nothing short of spectacular. It's very ornate and built in the style of an old European recital hall, with gorgeous white and grey details, a fabulous pipe organ, and long galleries on all sides.

I saw this concert advertised weeks ago, and it immediately appealed to me for many reasons. First off, we all know how I feel about hymns. Second, it was a hymn sing lead by a huge orchestra and choir. (The Nashville Choir is similar to Toronto's Mendelssohn Choir.) And third, it had a killer line-up of soloists, including my favourite: David Phelps.

And this is where the only disappointment of the evening occurred.

There was no David Phelps! They weren't really honest in their advertising (in my humble opinion), because David was only singing in the Sunday show. I was at the Friday and, therefore, Davidless show. Not impressed.

But I was able to recover quickly because the show was brilliant from the first note.

It opened with the choir singing the Doxology, acapella, from all different parts of the galleries. Gorgeous acoustics and stunning harmonies. Hearing this choir brought back so many great memories of my time with the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir!

The choir then moved to the choir loft, and the hymn sing proper began. Everyone was given a beautiful hymn booklet when we went in, so when the choir arrived up front, we all joined in the singing of the Doxology again. The conductor encouraged us to sing, but the audience needed no encouragement. Voices soared all around me, and I could even hear an audience member singing the occasional harmony line.

Gerald and I have a test for great songs: they can bend, but they won't break. The great hymns fit this category. Tonight's program ranged from gospel classics to the lovely Irish and British hymn tunes. They were sung acapella, with solo piano, or with full majestic orchestra. Each song bent to fit into it's chosen interpretation, but none fell under the weight of diverse rhythm and harmony.

Our first guest soloist was Steven Curtis Chapman. I know I'm so behind on this, but I am only a recent fan of Steven's. He accompanied his own solo of "Fairest Lord Jesus", and then acted as emcee to introduce the other guests and lead in the audience singing. His humility and warmth were perfect for the occasion.

I was incredibly excited about the next soloist: CeCe Winans! How can you not love that voice? CeCe is so well-suited to sing with an orchestra - so much poise and a voice that was never overwhelmed by a stage full of musicians and a 100 voice choir.

Next, we were treated to the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and I mean treated! They sang 2 spirituals, acapella, and they were just incredible. Clear tones, perfect blend, and sopranos that make you sit up in your seat. And here's the wild part - Their conductor walked out with them, but he stood behind them the whole time. A chord would play on the piano, but he wouldn't give so much as a downbeat. Without a physical act that I could see, the choir was completely self-directed. I was just in awe! I've sung in lots of choirs, and seen lots of choirs, and I've never seen a choir do this. I kept thinking, "Maybe he's poking them in the back to tell them when to start?" Okay, pretty sure that's not true, but you've got to wonder...

Next came the song that, Sunday, will be the David solo, "What Wondrous Love is This". Tonight it was performed by CCM artist Steve Green. And I don't mind admitting, I was completely impressed. He had incredible poise, stunning tenor notes, and a heartfelt performance.

Our final soloist also gave cause for excitement: Alison Krauss! Who's not a fan of Alison's? I have to admit, I don't think she was entirely comfortable singing in front of the orchestra. She had her lyrics with her and never seemed to get physically comfortable. But that voice! Her song was "Be Thou My Vision", and I can't think of a more perfect marriage of voice and melody.

But even with all those artists and all those musicians on stage, the best part was still the hymns and the corporate singing. Thousands of people, all singing the great songs of the church. When we reached the 3rd verse of "Amazing Grace", I had to catch my breath. "Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come." I flashed back to last week, sitting in our car on the side of the road, and realizing Gerald, Sebastian, and I were all completely unharmed. God has been so good to us, so I sang extra loud on "Great is Thy Faithfulness".

I don't think I can even properly express how wonderful it was tonight. From the theatre to the songs to the choir to the soloists, it was all just overwhelming in its power and beauty. Where else but Nashville could tonight have happened?

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