Written by Beth Richardson. Media by Cord Buchanan.
The Greenville University Choir is celebrating its 91st concert season this year as they continue a rich tradition of singing liturgical music as well as other genres. Each year, Dr. Jeff Wilson takes his time selecting choral pieces to fit the tour program theme for the season. As a member of the GU Choir and Chamber Singers, I find it especially fascinating learning the context that goes into creating the tour program as well as the verses which support what we are singing. Some of the highlight songs for me this year are “Hail, Gladdening Light,” which is set up as two choirs singing back and forth to each other, “O Nata Lux de Lumine,” which is a Latin piece that the Chamber Singers perform with swelling melodies, “And Can It Be?,” and “Sure on this Shining Night.”
This year, the theme is “From Darkness to Light” and it starts with a focus on the darkness that existed at the beginning of creation. Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Each concert is made up of four parts, which contain four to five songs. The concert finishes with a transition to a new focus on the light and life that Jesus brings. The last part, which may include optional selections that choir members have been rehearsing, stems from John 8:12 which says, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” I find the transition from darkness to light to be a hopeful one and encourage audience members to really think about the words we are singing.
Because each piece in the tour program is so carefully selected, they carry great weight when sung. Dr. Wilson takes time teaching choir members how to emphasize certain words or gives pointers on pronouncing the Latin or German so each song is given proper justice. Often, my friends and I sit on stage and discuss what each line means to us as Christians and how we should be singing it to portray those emotions. Everything about singing choral music is spiritual, from the community of believers singing together to the liturgy that is recited. Some pieces sung have the power to bring me to tears with their words and astounding melodies.
In order to further spiritual growth, every year, the choir elects officers to serve in leadership roles. There is a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and two chaplains (one male and one female). The chaplains are responsible for bringing spiritual development into choir time and sharing truths to ponder the rest of the student’s daily lives. They alternate creating devotionals that are shared during choir time each week. Chaplains hold a great deal of responsibility during spring tour, which is a period of ten days of traveling and singing concerts almost every night. Last year, the choir toured the Northeast, this year it is traveling around the Midwest, and next year is an international tour year. On tour, the chaplains are responsible for doing devotions twice daily, focusing on the verses in the program to keep choir members thinking spiritually about the music they are sharing with audiences. Kaylee Gaines, one of the chaplains who was elected for a second time, says of the job, “I enjoy getting to intentionally look into the more spiritual aspects behind what we’re doing…Especially being a chaplain, it helps reinforce the fact that we aren’t just singing a bunch of songs. Every rehearsal and every concert is in its own way not really a worship session, but a time to connect with God.”
Personally, choir has been a time for me to leave all of my stress at home and come connect with God by making beautiful music. There is an inexplicable feeling of singing with others and making a joyful noise to the Lord.