NEW YORK, N.Y. (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Master Chorale premiered compositions of two seminary professors during a performance at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City’s Lincoln Center, May 8. The concert provided a prominent venue for the Fort Worth-based seminary.
The Master Chorale was accompanied by the New England Symphonic Ensemble, under the direction of David Thye, professor of church music at Southwestern and principal associate conductor with MidAmerica Productions.
“The performance establishes the Southwestern Seminary Master Chorale as one of the elite choral ensembles in the nation,” Thye said. New York City’s Lincoln Center, he explained, only invites elite ensembles to perform, and its Avery Fisher Hall “is the residence of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and only showcases the world’s most renowned musical organizations.”
“What a tremendous honor for our school and chorus!” Thye said. “I pray, ultimately, that Jesus is glorified and highly lifted up as we, His followers, rise to a level of excellence that demonstrates our passion for an awesome God who gave His utmost for us.”
During their performance, the Master Chorale premiered the works of William Mac Davis, professor of music theory and composition at Southwestern, and Stephen Johnson, dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern Seminary. The performance also featured a rendition of Mozart’s Requiem.
Johnson’s composition, Peace Ascends, was inspired by the story of a student from a seminary who, while ministering in Haiti, died in the country’s massive 2010 earthquake. Buried under rubble, he breathed his last while singing, “God’s peace to us we pray.”
“Christianity is arguably the only religion that does not promote an escape from pain that we have in this life,” Johnson said. “Instead, we are told that, as believers in Jesus, we will encounter trials and tribulations. So, for the Christian, the question is, how do we respond to tragedy?”
In answer to this question, Johnson’s composition calls suffering Christians to “cry out to God for mercy and for peace” and to love one another. According to Johnson, the final movement to this composition, which looks forward to the coming of Christ in glory, was written in honor of Thye’s brother-in-law, Doug Barnett, who battled leukemia and who, Johnson said, “was known to have a spirit of victory in the face of death because of his relationship with Jesus.”
Prior to the performance, Johnson expressed his excitement that Southwestern Seminary would be featured during a whole performance at Avery Fisher Hall, an opportunity given to few schools.
“This may be a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the students in the School of Church Music,” Johnson said, “and we have an entire concert in New York that will be a proclamation of Christ within the context of musical excellence.”
According to Davis, his composition, Excursion, was motivated by the excitement of this journey to New York City. He desired to open the concert with a piece “that contrasted with the subject matter and mood of the other two works in the concert.”
Johnson testified that Davis’ Excursion brims with excitement and energy.
“Dr. Davis has a remarkable ability to present music that has a youthful energy to it,” Johnson said. “There is a rhythmic vitality that exists in every moment of his compositions. Excursion is no exception to this.”
Before embarking on this excursion to New York City, the Master Chorale performed their Avery Fish Hall repertoire during the Spring Concert at Southwestern Seminary’s Truett Auditorium, April 15.