Wednesday, January 27, 2010

High School Memories from JoJo's Carport

Sometimes, our minds make unusual connections, jumping from one memory to another until we finaly arrive at something. If we do this in conversation, it often comes out as a random change of subject to a totally unrelated topic. This morning, my memory took me on a musical journey back to my senior year of high school, in the spring, on my grandmother's carport. We call her JoJo, and we'll get to her carport momentarily. First, let me explain how I got there.

This morning, as I was preparing to teach Isaiah 40 at tonight's Bible study and prayer meeting, the words of v. 21 stuck in my mind. In high school, I auditioned for the all-state chorus and made it. I got to spend time rehearsing with kids from my high school and from all over the state, and one of the pieces we performed was "Have Ye Not Known? w/ Ye Shall Have a Song" by Randall Thompson. These connected because the opening of this piece is found in the words of Isaiah 40:21: "Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?" It's a wonderful piece of it if you have time.

After finding this and listening to it while I continued working, my mind made another 'quantum leap' to another choral piece by Randall Thompson, simply entitled 'Alleluia.' This was not one of our all-state was a piece we sang in our high school ensemble, and we went to a state competition with it and did quite well. That competition was just 7 miles from my grandmother's house, so we all packed into our cars and headed to JoJo's for some food and to hang out. To say 'thank you' for her hospitality, we decided to perform this piece of music on her carport before we left. I don't know that I will ever forget being on that carport, singing that piece (with a little too much gusto, I might add), being with those friends, and having JoJo listen.

So, this morning...I decided I would listen to that one as well. In 1940, the Berkshire Music Center was founded as a summer music academy for young musicians to train. The founder, Sege Koussevitsky, wanted a living American composer to write a kind of choral fanfare that would be Berkshire's anthem, and he turned to Randall Thompson. As you can tell by the date, World War II was going on, and Thompson was moved by the events of the war...particularly the fall of France to the Nazis. So, he didn't write a powerful, choral fanfare...he wrote 'Alleluia,' a 5-minute piece whose entire lyric is made up of that one word (with one simple 'amen' at the end. Though different than Koussevitsky expected, the piece became the mark of the Berkshire Music Center, and each summer, this piece is sung by all 400 students as part of their opening ceremony.

When asked about the piece, Randall Thompson said, "The music in my Alleluia cannot be made to sound it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.'" Blessed be the name of the Lord.'" Surely at that low point in world history, such resolve to say 'Blessed be the name of the Lord' is a good one. Think about the low points in your own history...those times during which you feel like you have nowhere to turn...those times when the Lord feels distant from you. May our confidence in the truth that God will never leave nor forsake His children, neither in this life nor in the world to come, give comfort to our hearts, and may our souls echo 'Alleluia.'

In my ear, I'm not sure anything can beat the sound of my friends and I singing this piece on a Spring afternoon with a slight breeze encouraging JoJo's windchimes to sing along, but I encourage you to watch the video below and enjoy.