A few Sundays ago, I had the privilege of singing three settings of the Te Deum – that great text of proclamation, praise, and thanksgiving – with the Bradley Community Chorale accompanied by the Bradley Orchestra. What a great experience and great opportunity to enter deeply into that great text of Christendom and into the minds of three great composers. The settings we sang were by Franz Josef Haydn, Antonín Dvořák, and Anton Bruckner. Each of them had their great moments of intimacy, majesty, and beauty as the composers were moved by the various verses of the text.
However, probably my favorite moment, and one I will never forget, is what one of the singers said at the Saturday rehearsal after the conclusion of the Dvořák Te Deum. Dvořák ends his Te Deum with some phenomenal fanfares by the orchestra while the choir exclaims “Alleluia!” over and over and over again. After the last chord had died down, a young Bradley student behind me, who was either in his late teens or early twenties, summed it all up by simply saying, “Epic!”
I smiled in agreement. In one word he had summarized what sacred music offers us. Sacred music, and choral music in particular, provides us with “Epic!” expressions of the faith. It allows us to experience all the attributes of God – His divine majesty, His divine mercy, His enduring love, and the divine mystery of it all – in a much deeper way, a way that goes far beyond even the spoken word (not to challenge the importance of the spoken word).
Of course, God knew this from the beginning. That is why throughout Scripture he uses music to proclaim His love for us and reveal Himself to us. Fortunately for us, the song is not over. When we combine word with music, we enter into the eternal song of the angels. As it says in the Te Deum:
Tibi omnes Angeli; tibi Caeli et universae Potestates;
To Thee all the Angels, the Heavens and all the Powers,
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:
all the Cherubim and Seraphim, unceasingly proclaim:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestatis gloriae tuae.
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
the wonderful company of Prophets,
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
And that was just the start of that week. Then I went down to St. Louis to conduct the American Kantorei in some more “Epic!” expressions of the faith. Another unforgettable experience in many ways. More on that later.