IVP - Strangely Dim - The Gospel in Glee

December 18, 2009

The Gospel in Glee

I'll admit it. I'm a fan of the popular show Glee, a new FOX offering all about a high school glee club. For all its moral ambiguity (and there is quite a bit--see this great little article in Time), there is something in this show that resonates deeply with me. Is it the fact that I myself was a choir geek? Probably. Is it the fact that I often associated with the misfit crowd? Likely. Yet it still doesn't account for why I find myself so moved during the musical numbers. Or during great choral music in general. What is it about music performed by groups that strikes such a chord? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I have to tell all of you nonsingers out there that singing in a skilled choir, no matter how geeky it may appear, is one of the greatest joys in this life. I'm not kidding. There's not much that compares. Singing great music is like seeing the back of God after he has just passed by. You know you've been close to glory, and you wish it wasn't so fleeting.

I remember singing in Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah in college under the direction of the renowned conductor John Nelson. We practiced for hours at a time three days a week for months. It was challenging. We worked on tone and balance, learning to listen to each other and match our voices to the group's voice. We worked on diction, making sure that text like "slumbers not nor sleeps" didn't sound like "slumber snot nor sleeps." We learned how to breathe and cut off together. We were 300+ individuals, but we became something more: an organism of sorts, a giant voice that created a fully-orbed sound that none of us could produce on our own. We moved and breathed and sang as one. And on the night of the first performance, the results were electrifying.

Imagine us watching the auditorium fill with 2000+ audience members, many of whom had never heard oratorio in their lives. Would they like this kind of music? Would they understand it? Would they leave at intermission?

The overture started. The crowd was hushed. In one motion we stood to our feet and the first glorious chords began. As the first half came to a close, I had to stop singing because I was so overwhelmed by emotion. "Thanks be to God, he laveth the thirsty land," we sang. I felt the flood of God's presence washing over my thirsty soul.

We worked our way through the rousing Baal choruses and Elijah's calling down fire onto the altar of God. We followed the prophet to the end of his life, when he was taken up by God in a whirlwind. The excitement mounted until the final chord echoed out over the crowd and fell silent.

Immediately everyone was on their feet with thundering applause, waving, shouting and cheering. You would've thought we'd won the homecoming game. The thrill was palpable. The joy was ecstatic. It was heavenly.

I think that's a big part of why people like Glee--not because everyone loves show choir music or can sing, but because the story of a group of flawed people coming together and being transformed into one voice that creates something beautiful is a foretaste of heaven. It speaks to the longing we all have to be unified in God and with God, to contribute to something extraordinarily beautiful and bigger than ourselves, to be caught up in the redemption and consummation of all things.

This Advent I again had the pleasure of singing with a wonderful choir. And I was reminded of who it is we await: the master conductor who comes to bring all of his creation into harmony. We will one day have the supreme pleasure of coming together in him to experience ultimate, never-ending glee.

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Posted by Rebecca Larson at December 18, 2009 2:04 PM Bookmark and Share


Wow, I can relate to that as well. I sang in choirs in junior and senior high school. In high school the choir kids started an impromptu encore of the "four-fold blessing". We would start up after the choir director started to walk off the stage. The audiences loved it.

Comment by: Don Vorwerk at February 1, 2010 2:20 PM

This is beautifully stated and oh soooo true! May God be glorified by this writing and others touched by its truth! Amen and amen!

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Comment by: Simba at February 28, 2010 4:24 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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