Happenings, News

Hymn singing is very much alive!

US musician leads Wesleyan Hymn Festival

HYMN SINGING is alive and well, as evidenced on May 18 and 19, 2010.

At the invitation of the Methodist School of Music, Dr Michael Burkhardt, a name relatively unknown to Singaporeans but well-known in many parts of the world, arrived on our sunny shores. His mission – to lead a people called Methodists to unite their hearts and voices in a Wesleyan Hymn Festival, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

An acclaimed hymn festival director, choral conductor, organist, composer and a specialist in children’s choirs from the United States, Dr Burkhardt left an indelible impression on the hearts of the many hundreds who participated in the Hymn Festival and the two workshops he conducted.

The Wesleyan Hymn Festival was held at the Victoria Concert Hall, which was next to where the Town Hall was. It was here that Dr James oburn conducted the first Methodist Service in Singapore 125 years ago.

Originally scheduled for only one evening on May 19, the response to the Hymn Festival was so overwhelming that the closed-door rehearsal intended for May 18 had to be changed to accommodate an Open Rehearsal.

The programme proper was crafted as a series of hymns, a choral anthem based on Psalm 90, and scriptural and inspirational readings. This reflected the faith, work and influences of Charles and John Wesley, and of the Christian experience.

Bishop Dr Robert Solomon gave a brief exhortation to the attendees, while the Presidents and leaders from the three Annual Conferences, as well as the Chairman and Principal of the Methodist School of Music (MSM) led in the readings.

The Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Primary) Angklung Ensemble, led by Mr Jusuf Kam, opened each evening with ethnic arrangements of familiar tunes. The 150-voice Festival Choir, amassed from 15 Methodist Churches and the MSM Choir, along with 65 girls from the Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Primary) Choir, sang with highly enthused hearts and voices. They were accompanied by the Anglo-Chinese Junior College Brass and Timpani Ensemble, the Methodist Girls’ School Handbell Ensemble, Dr Burkhardt and myself at the majestic Klais pipe organ in the Hall.

As the conductor/director, Dr Burkhardt effused enthusiasm and excitement, which both the congregation and participants found spiritually uplifting. As an arranger and accompanist, he lent a creative bent to familiar hymns, ornamenting and highlighting their diverse musical influences through colourful and tasteful improvisation. These respects proved highly captivating, inspiring and educational for all. The worshippers sang with gusto and understanding, befitting what the Wesleys had prescribed in their “Directions for Singing” [John Wesley, Select Hymns, 1761].

The highlight of the evening was the premiere of a hymn, “Together in God’s Mission”, which was commissioned for the 125th Anniversary celebrations. With lyrics by Bishop Dr Solomon set to music by Dr Burkhardt, the hymn points to the history and work of Methodists in Singapore. Complimentary copies were given to the attendees to introduce the hymn to their respective churches.

The Methodist School of Music is grateful for the opportunity to have served as the lead organiser of the Wesleyan Hymn Festival.

Dr Evelyn Lim is the Organist/Lecturer at the Methodist School of Music.