NQC 07: Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

A friend of mine who attended the Friday afternoon Brooklyn Tab showcase was kind enough to write up some reaction to it. Obviously, she’s a real fan, so feel free to quibble. But I did hear from several people that it was pretty good stuff.

Friday’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers’ performance was one of the showcases but was certainly more like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers experience. It was certainly the absolute highlight of the NQC for me and as my companion remarked, I never knew two hours could pass so quickly.

The choir is a total of 290 voices and the 16 singers that appeared were described as “the best of the best voices.” I was somewhat disappointed when I first learned that this was just the singers and not the entire choir but I was certainly NOT disappointed at all by their performance.

Jim Cymbala opened the time with congregational singing, moving from “How Great is Our God” to “Here I am to Worship.” Now even for those not into praise and worship (and I count myself among them), to hear the singers doing these P&W classics was fantastic. Unfortunately, this was only one of two times when one of the group was playing the piano and I think the entire experience could have been improved even more by having at least a live piano if not other live musicians for a few more of the songs. Jim prayed after the two choruses and noted something to the effect that the purpose of the time was to worship, not to entertain. I know this is a sentiment that is one that is commonly expressed by groups in a sort of pseudohumility, but I really believed Jim meant it as that was kind of the mood of the entire performance. He remarked something to the effect that Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to have music to entertain us.

After this opening the singers sang four songs basically back to back, all to track accompaniment. I’m not sure who was running the sound but the tracks seem to overpower especially the solo vocals and had LOTS of treble. The crowd was very responsive throughout but seemed especially moved by the mid-tempo song “I Never Lost My Praise.”

Jim Cymbala returned to the stage and began to tell a story about the singers going to Angola Prison in Louisiana to give a concert. I think the main purpose of this entire account was again to emphasize the choir and the singers as a ministry more than a group of performers. In a way if Brooklyn Tabernacle is kind of an outreach center in the heart of Brooklyn so then the choir and the singers as representatives of the choir are more of an extension of that. The story of Angola and its inmates is definitely one of bleak statistics: the average sentence is 88 years and according to warden Burl Cain, 90% of the inmates will die in the prison. A short video began to play that showed an elderly black man relating his experience in the prison as well as his conversion followed by other inmates and then finally a clip from the actual concert. The singers rose from their chairs and picked up the song that they were singing on the video onstage. Many of the hundreds in the audience wer Thise very moved and wiping away tears at the stories of the inmates. Cymbala then began relating the story of Eugene Tannehill, the man at the beginning of the video, who entered Angola a little over 50 years. He said that the man entered when he was 22 and was now 73 years old. Tannehill had become a Christian during his time in Angola and had gained the title “Bishop” due to his witnessing to other inmates. Though an appeal and pardon are seemingly unheard of for the inmates of Angola, the warden actually worked diligently to gain a pardon for Tannehill and was able to have him released. Then amazingly, up on stage walked the elderly Tannehill to proclaim his newfound freedom in, most appropriately, Freedom Hall.

Next was the older, uptempo medley they simply refer to as “The Church Medley,” which includes “Living He Loved Me” and “Send It on Down.” This was followed by “I’m Amazed” which I must confess I desperately wished Jason Crabb had been present to sing on. Their last song was another sort of praise and worship song.

Cymbala concluded the service with a kind of sermonette on peace. And actually, I found this to be very refreshing and fairly appropriate in the whole atmosphere of the NQC. He remarked that in his pastoral experience, few people come up to pray for the peace that is promised. They pray for jobs or finances or family, but not the peace. Carol Cymbala moved to the piano and began to play the chorus of “Wonderful Peace” behind Jim as he prayed and then again, coming full circle, he led the entire audience in singing.

I think the most remarkable thing about this whole showcase was the fact that in a week that is all about the music, this group was able to come in and create a place of worship in Freedom Hall. Most likely many that were in attendance were probably aware of the great music of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir but maybe not the ministry-mindedness of the entire organization. All in all, this was the monumental experience I expected it to be and as many were saying while walking out the door, I left feeling a little different and a whole lot better.

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