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?
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.
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.