Musical excellence gains a hearing for the gospel.
Sixty-two choirs from 23 nations competed in the International Choir Festival held last summer in The Hague, Holland. Only one of the division winners, the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club, was from a non-Communist country. The Wheaton, Illinois, choir won the festival’s men’s division.
The competition included a required performance of “Jubilate Deo” written by Dutch composer Henk Badings, who was present in the audience. Badings said Wheaton’s chorus was the only group that sang the composition as he intended—with “joy and animation.”
The competition was the climax of a six-week European tour during which the men’s chorus presented 48 concerts in six countries, including Israel.
Yohanan Boehm, Israel’s premier music critic, wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “This is one of the most extraordinary choral ensembles ever to perform in Israel.”
More than the compliments, the choir’s director, Clayton Halvorsen, will remember the words of the competition’s master of ceremonies, who was also on the organizing committee. He noted before a widely mixed audience that the group’s primary purpose was “to present a Christian witness.”
Halvorsen, in his twenty-fifth year as director, believes that musical excellence and spreading the gospel are inseparable. He says those who are impressed with the music will listen also to the reason behind it.
Ironically, most Wheaton College glee club members have to consult a dictionary to interpret the technical terms critics use to describe them. Only a small percentage are music majors, and many have had no formal music training. Almost anyone who can sing is in—Halvorsen takes it from there. His skills as a director and the hard work of the club’s members have molded a tradition of internationally acclaimed musical excellence. Halvorsen says part of the Christian walk is striving for perfection. “Dedicated mediocrity,” he says, “is still mediocrity.”
One of West Germany’s top music critics wrote that German directors would do well “to learn from Clayton Halvorsen … how to motivate and to lead young men, how to inoculate and instill them with brimming enthusiasm … to experience music right into their skins … and to give it back with élan.”
While in France, the glee dub was asked by the U.S. embassy in Paris and the consulate at Lyons to sing at a Catholic mass. Halvorsen had some reservations, but said they would do it if they could choose what to sing. The request was granted.
After the mass, Halvorsen asked some evangelical missionaries if they thought it was proper for an evangelical choir to perform at a French Catholic mass. The missionaries replied, “This was something the church in France has been waiting for for 15 centuries.
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