The voices and instruments of more than 2,300 people were knit together in resounding praise to God during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s fourth annual Gala Concert of Sacred Music, March 9. In an event that was sold out two weeks in advance, audience members stood and joined in singing with the Southwestern Oratorio Chorus and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra hymns such as “When In Our Music God Is Glorified,” “Come Christian Join and Sing,” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.”

            The seminary’s plans for a 3,500-seat chapel were announced in the program. Guests were greeted and hosted by members of the seminary administration and faculty. The orchestra was rousing and focused in providing a solid foundation for the entire evening. The chorus was in particularly high form. In their rendition of “Fairest Lord Jesus,” their voices melted together with a sound as sweet as the toffee-colored hues inside the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall.

            The noted piano duo Nielson and Young played several selections from their repertoire of hymns and concertos. With a spry and playful “CWM Rhondda,” a tender, even romantic version of “New Britain,” and an inspiring and patriotic “Hymns of God and Country” that brought spontaneous clapping and shouts of approval, Nielson and Young showed why they are one of the best-loved Christian piano duos in the world.

            Arrangements and compositions of Southwestern Seminary professors were performed with tenderness and beauty. The gentle tones of Albert Travis’ arrangement of “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” brought murmurs of satisfaction from many audience members. It was one of many numbers after which audience members were swept beyond hide-bound traditions of when to clap, and enthusiastically applauded the performance.

Soprano Anne Beloncik and Southwesterners Angela Cofer (alto), Scot Cameron (tenor) and David Robinson (bass) took the stage for Michael Cox’s ever-popular composition “Deo Gratias (Thanks Be to God).” In the section titled “Hast Thou Not Known,” the quartet’s voices were creatively combined: soprano with alto, then tenor with bass, then soprano with tenor, then alto with bass. The chorus and orchestra came in on “Sing a Joyful Allelulia,” and the audience gave ovation at the deep, mighty declaration of “Sing, Deo gratias! Amen.”

            “We were pleased with all the performances,” said Stephen Johnson, dean of the seminary’s School of Church Music, the event’s sponsor. “The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is always a success, they are always so good. We are grateful for their continuing excellence. It was an emotional night for the chorus because this year’s gala was Dr. Keith’s final one to direct. He has been directing them for many years, and the members put out an extra effort. They gave it their all, and so did Dr. Keith. Everyone really benefited from that.”

Johnson said that one of the things that pleases him the most about the annual gala is the many members of local churches who come year after year. Albert and Barbara Linehan have been coming to the gala all four years. This year they came with a group of 20 people from Friendship Baptist Church near Weatherford, Texas.

“We just love this gala,” Albert said. “We are in our church choir, and so we appreciate all the hard work it takes for the chorus to sound so good.”

Plans are underway for next year’s event. With 2008 marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of Southwestern Seminary, Johnson said the fifth gala will be a must-see, must-attend celebration.

“We are planning to pull out all the stops,” Johnson said. “We have already booked Bass Hall for April 3, 2008, and we are very close to securing a very prominent musical ensemble as our special guest artists next year. Once plans are in place, we will announce them. Suffice to say I am very excited about this ensemble and next year.”

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