Hymns for a Millennium

If the turn of the calendar has demonstrated anything about human nature, it is our ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. With an entire concert based on hymn tunes, amidst musical fireworks and all the arpeggios of Fantasia, the Seminary’s Chancel Choir, the Princeton Chamber Orchestra, Princeton Pro Musica, and area church choirs joined to present a Festival of Hymns in celebration of the millennium.

The concert, which took place on November 20, 1999, drew an audience that filled the pews of the University chapel to capacity. With its focus on the community music of the church, the program was designed to reach a diverse gathering. Classical, jazz, 18th-century, contemporary, choral, and orchestral works lived comfortably on the same playbill, in the same ethic with which hymns unite congregations.

The theme of hymnody was explored both in breadth and in depth. Variations by Bach, Mendelssohn, and composer Otto Nicolai on the hymn “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” demonstrated a close exploration of one hymn. Ronn Huff, as a counterweight, calls in six different hymns for his “A Collection of Well-Loved Hymns in Spectacular Arrangements for Chorus and Symphony Orchestra.”

At the center of these works lay Charles Ives’s “The Camp Meeting,” the finishing complement to the theme of community. Ives, a master at recreating historical events for his listeners, transported the chapel into a revival gathering of “Old Folks Gatherin’” (first movement) and “Children’s Day” (second movement). The third and final movement brought all ages together again in “Communion.”

Ives also uses hymn tunes in recalling the gathering of a great congregation, and in doing so he reminds his listeners of the true spirit of hymnody. As the first concert of a three-year effort bringing together the Princeton Chamber Orchestra and Princeton area choirs, it is not misplaced to highlight, with trumpets and fanfares, the hymns that bring new and old community together.

Copyright 2000 Princeton Theological Seminary
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