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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Echo

Taylor Chorale and Sounds hosts 'Music of Lent'

Music reflects on Christ's sacrifice.

Taylor University’s Chorale performed “The Shadow of Thy Cross: The Music of Lent” in the Euler Atrium on March 16. Students and faculty were invited to enter a time of reflection on Christ’s suffering through singing, instrumental music and the service’s symbolic meanings. 

The atrium was dimly lit with electric candles that lined the stairs and isles between the chairs. A cross hung at the back of the stage, draped in purple, red and black cloth. Reed Spencer, associate professor of music and director of chorale, said the colors symbolized God’s patience, royalty and sacrifice. 

After the chorale had filed into position, two members stood to light six candles at the front of the stage. 

Attendees lined three different levels of the atrium, sitting on the bridge, balcony and first floor. They faced the stage, waiting for the chorale members to break their silence. But the first strains of music came from the back, where a group stood by the stairs singing “Steal Away,” by Joseph Jennings. 

“This is our first concert back in Euler Atrium after the dining services have moved back to the dining commons,” Spencer said. “We love singing in Euler Atrium because of the acoustics and the creativity that the space allows.” 

To take full advantage of the atrium’s acoustics, the chorale spread their performance amongst the audience. They stood on the bridge, at the back of the room, and even walked through the audience as they sang. During “Hosana,” they stood along the isles on the first floor, projecting their voices over the listener’s heads. 

Between songs, sophomore Hannah Wylie read scripture and invited people to meditate. The song, “Were You There,” was a recurring theme during the night. A student from the choir would extinguish a candle each time a different iteration of the hymn was performed. 

As the candles were extinguished, the cloths from the cross were gradually taken down, until only the black material remained. 

The final one, the Christ candle, was carried out of the room to “There is an Old Belief.” 

“We wanted the candle to be removed during ‘There is an Old Belief’ because the text of the song highlights the tenuous emotional world that lives between sorrow and hope in death,” Spencer said. 

The sun set over the course of the performance. When all of the candles were extinguished and carried away, the atrium sat in darkness. The audience was invited to stand and join voices with the chorale to sing, “Were You There.” 

Although designed to meditate on Christ’s suffering and death, the night was not completely dedicated to despair. Hopeful songs and promises were sprinkled throughout the concert.

The chorale meditated on song selections for weeks before the performance, as they prepared. They engaged with Lent by memorizing the music and considering its meanings, Spencer said. 

Their performance was an invitation to their audience to participate in Lent and Christ’s sacrifice. Through the candles and cloth, the audience was able to engage with Christ’s suffering in a more tangible way. They could pause, meditate and sit in the Lenten season. 

“A lot of us love the Easter holiday, but we don't necessarily feel comfortable sitting in the sorrow,” freshman Klara Becker said. “Which is fair; sorrow is hard—but Jesus was called the man of sorrows. Part of our Christian faith is accepting our sorrow and accepting suffering because that's what Jesus went through.”

Becker said that she hoped people would walk away feeling encouraged by what Christ went through for them. 

Spencer selected the music, choosing pieces that would challenge the audience in different ways. “Judaskuss” by Z. Randall Stroope considered Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion from Judas’ perspective. Watts said it was one of the more provocative texts to think about and wrestle with. 

“We've been working on some of the music all year, and then some we just started this semester,” junior Ethan Watts said. “I think just in the process of memorizing the words of the piece and all of that, it's really interesting to sort of always be meditating on the texts of the piece. We're seeing these words over and over again, and they sort of become a part of us.”

Spencer’s selection of music walked the audience through the passion of Christ. He said it helped viewers reflect on Christ’s suffering, but noted that it was not all sad. He worked to strike a balance between songs that would move the audience while also allowing his students to meditate on them for the six to eight weeks they worked on the pieces. 

Spencer said it is important to have the season of Lent before celebrating Easter. He added that just as Christ bore mankind’s burden on the cross, we are to take up our own crosses.

“I hope that people will be able to see the weight, beauty and sacrifice that that requires of us as Christians—that they will be moved to follow in that way of suffering in order to celebrate the victory of resurrection even more fully,” Spencer said.