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MUSIC: The College Choir as an Evangelistic Agent

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Archives / 1952 / June

 

 

MUSIC: The College Choir as an Evangelistic Agent

Walton J. Brown

Former President, River Plate College, Argentina

 

Soulsaving is the main objective of all departments of the church organization, and must be the principal reason for the carrying on of any activity in the church, in the school, or in the home. A college choir can be a great influence for good an evangelistic instrument, in the ample sense of the word, a friend maker for the church.

Although a church choir is many times limited in its activity by its territory, the number of rehearsals, the nature of its programs, and other such factors, this is not necessarily the case in a college choir. The latter may act in a larger territory through well-planned tours, may have its members close at hand for regular and frequent rehearsals, may, if it wishes, pre sent varied programs, and also may have other favoring factors.

College choirs in the United States, a pre dominantly Protestant country, generally limit their repertoires to religious music. The reasons are obvious: (a) Practically all those who listen are accustomed to singing or hearing hymns and sacred music. (b) On account of the nature of the curricula, each college may have other organizations, such as glee clubs, bands, and preparatory choirs to provide other forms of musical entertainment.

This is not always so in the case of non-Protestant countries. The Latin American, for ex ample, excepting the relatively few members of the Protestant churches, sings no, hymns and hears only a little classical religious music, and that which he does hear is presented in a classical language in the cathedrals of the popular church.

My experience has been in connection with college choirs for several years in those countries some in Brazil, and more recently in Argentina and has led me to certain conclusions as to the use of college choirs in Latin America. For the sake of illustration let us consider the recent performances of the River Plate College a Cappella Choir.

The accredited secondary course in the college in Argentina is not light, for it demands between thirty-seven and thirty-nine forty-five- minute class periods each week. This has also affected college courses, which require forty-six hours in a school year, or twenty-three class periods weekly. This limits the possibility of having a great number of extra-curricular activities and places a greater responsibility upon the few that are carried on.

Choir Objectives

Taking this into account, and taking into consideration some of the facts mentioned above, I thought of the following as legitimate objectives of the River Plate College Choir:

1. Provide worth-while entertainment to a large group of young people. (There are forty regular members and twenty substitutes in the choir.)

2. Furnish music to the local church on Sab baths, as well as sacred music programs from time to time.

3. Contribute patriotic, folk, and other types, of music to the general college programs.

4. Give sacred music programs in our churches, thus giving favorable publicity to the college.

5. Create friends for the Seventh-day Adventist Church by giving combination programs (sacred-folk-patriotic) to the general public over the radio and also in public halls.

Possibly none of these objectives will be disputed by anyone, although questions may be raised as to the propriety of the latter point, which goes against the tradition in some quarters of not including religious and secular music on the same program.

In 1948 the ministry of education of the province unexpectedly requested the college choir to contribute half of a program to the public in the largest auditorium in the city of Parana, the other half being furnished by a group of students from one of the normal schools in Buenos Aires. At that time the choir had only two or three nonsacred songs in its repertoire, so the program was made up of sacred classical numbers and hymns such as "Canaan," "Follow Me," et cetera. The general comments of the public afterward centered around two points: (a) how well the choir sang, (b) how unfortunate it was that there were so many hymns whose music the general public did not understand. It brought to our minds the reaction of the average Occidental to Oriental music.

Since that time the choir programs for the non-Protestant public have included music of four different types, so that practically all hearers will find something that pleases them: (a) hymns, (b) sacred classical, (c) classical, (d) patriotic and folk. Care has been exercised so that each program also contains several numbers by national musicians, something which should not be forgotten if a public audience is to be pleased.

This naturally has necessitated a large choir repertoire. During the last years the choir has taken between forty-five and fifty numbers on its tours. To round out all the types of programs, the choir also adds a girls' group, a girls' trio, two male quartets, a male duo, soloists, and several instrumental players. The total of the possible musical numbers that are required for presentation has reached around ninety. The,, choir members are also ready to preach, teach Sabbath school classes, give full JMV programs, sing, provide instrumental music, or do practically anything that is asked of them. It has been an all-purpose evangelistic choir.

Although the annual turnover of its members is generally a third of its total, the substitution system maintains the choir in fair condition, so that generally it is ready to function on the first Sabbath of the school year, and is prepared to give a full hour-and-a-quarter sacred music concert by the end of the second month. By the middle of the school year it can give a complete hour-and-forty-minute program to the general public. From this time onward the choir must budget its time carefully so that students will not be harmed in their studies, at the same time serving the college and the church organization to its maximum capacity.

The costs of transportation have always been borne by the places visited, by the conference, by the church, or by the donations of individual members. More recently much of the cost has been covered by the sale of tickets to the public programs (generally when the choir visits a place for the second time). It has been interesting to notice that many people feel uncomfortable when they attend what is supposed to be a good concert, and have paid nothing to enter.

"Combination" Programs

The question will undoubtedly be asked: How does the combination sacred-secular music program function? The programs are organized by gradual transition through intermission periods. The first of the three groups consists of hymn-type music combined with some classical-religious numbers. The second group is composed of classical- religious songs and others of a classical nature. The last group is entirely secular.

During 1951 practically all the places visited heard two or more programs: a sacred mu sic concert and a con cert prepared for the public. As an illustration, the three programs presented in the city of Rosario, Argentina, are given:

Sacred concert in the church: (Image)

It has been found that with such programs both the church members and the general public appear to be satisfied, and the college and the Seventh-day Adventist Church win many friends.

 

 

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