Methodist Church

Wesley festival in New York’s Lincoln Center benefited UMCOR

NEW YORK – A United Methodist-related concert at New York’s Lincoln Center honoured hymn writer Charles Wesley as it raised funds for relief work.

The 2007 Wesley Choral Festival, presented by Music Celebrations International, commemorated the 300th anniversary of Wesley’s birth. Events began with a Feb 15 gala dinner in Little Italy and culminated in a concert at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on Feb. 18.

The idea for the festival originated with Mr James Ramsey, the Director of Worship and Arts at St Luke’s United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Mr Ramsey considers Charles Wesley to be “the largest hymn writer known to mankind” who also had a significant impact on the denomination his brother founded. “From a historical perspective, without the hymns and without the rich history of hymn singing, the musical context of The United Methodist Church would be vastly different,” he said.

Charles Wesley, who was born in December 1707, is said to have written at least 9,500 hymns, and may have produced three hymns a week for 57 years. The familiar tunes include “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

As those hymns demonstrate, he is an important musical icon for Christianity as well. “Charles Wesley had some great inspiration and great prose and great verse,” he said.

But Mr Ramsey’s goal is to do more than acknowledge Wesley’s inspiration and influence. “Over the course of the last five years, we (at St Luke’s) have raised US$75,000(S$112,500) for mission,” he explained. “It provides a passion and a purpose for making music for a cause. It transforms the experience for the performer, in my opinion.”

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In this case, 100 per cent of the proceeds of the Charles Wesley tercentenary concert will benefit the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which will designate the funds to landmine removal in Angola.

Participants included an estimated 275 singers – including choirs representing churches across the denomination’s five jurisdictions and Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tennessee – and the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra, a community orchestra in New York.

Besides Mr Ramsey, directors of the Wesley event were Professor Eph Ehly, Professor Emeritus at the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Mr Timothy Koch, Director of Music at First United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The first half of the concert, led by Mr Ramsey and Mr Koch, included familiar sacred music. “My point was to stretch the 300 years with great music that people would recognise,” Mr Ramsey said.

Mr Carlton Young, Editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, has also edited an anti-war hymn taken from Wesley’s first hymnal, which was used for congregational singing and mass choir and orchestra.

The concert’s second half featured the world premiere of “Directions for Singing,” by Mr Andrew Fowler, a composer from South Carolina. The work, which celebrates the life and writings of Charles Wesley, takes its title from the series of seven instructions written by Charles and included in John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761.

“Directions for Singing,” directed by Prof Ehly, was a 45-minute piece with soloists and full orchestra. The Rev David Money, Associate Pastor at St Luke’s, served as narrator, portraying John Wesley.

Prof Ehly is a guest conductor at Carnegie Hall in New York several times each year. He has also conducted more than 80 all-state choirs and 500 festival ensembles. As a lecturer, clinician and conductor, he has appeared in 48 states, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and several European countries and made presentations on more than 100 college and university campuses.

All the proceeds from the US$35 to US$55 ticket sales went to UMCOR’s landmine removal programme in Angola. The agency is using lessons learned from its de-mining work in Mozambique to help the Angolan government train its own de-mining teams. UMCOR is also teaching mine awareness to prevent further fatalities from these hidden explosives. – United Methodist News Service.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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