18 Dec 2013 by Jason Law CM –
Last Sunday, the 15th of December 2013, Grace Convention Center was blessed with yet another great concert, this time featuring a choir group, OperaFest Malaysia. Christians have a tremendous appreciation, capacity, and propensity for music. We find this reflected in the immense variety of musical forms dedicated to our faith, ranging from the traditional, to the modern groups like the Christian Rock bands PlanetShakers and Delirious?. Of the great traditions, we have two which are still very popular, one being Gospel Music, the other being Choral Music.
Choral Music, as a form of spiritual expression towards the glory of God, is one of the oldest ones in the Christian world, with the Greek Civilization displaying hints of it. Today, we find variations of choirs in such other forms of music as cantatas and oratorios. When Jesus came to Earth as the Saviour of Mankind more than 2000 years ago, that wonderful news was proclaimed by many signs, among which was a choir of angels. Until today, we still remember that event through the practice of Christmas Caroling. Being limited humans, the music of choirs is the closest we will probably ever get to the sound of angels. As a result, Choral Music is still in great demand today, and groups like the traditional Vienna Boy's Choir and the more contemporary Libera still fill halls today with their concerts.
While there may not be much chance for Malaysians to ever witness such choir groups perform live, what many may not know, is that we actually have many locally-trained choir groups that have won international renown, some of which are even outside the Christian circles. OperaFest Children’s Choir is one of the many renowned local groups. They have performed all over the world, garnering acclaim from the media of such countries as China, Brunei, South Korea, India, America, Greece, Ireland, and Argentina. Every piece of music and song performed in GCC that day had a history behind them, introduced by Choirmaster, Mrs Kam Sun-Yoke.
One of the great demands of Choral Music is the pitch control of not just one singer but a whole group, and how they harmonise with each other. The kickoff to the concert was the Yellow River Cantata, a true display of OperaFest’s skills. This cantata was composed by prominent Early Modern Chinese composer, Xian Xinghai, in 1939 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It has a great patriotic significance to the Chinese, symbolized by the Yellow River, considered to be the cradle of Chinese Civilization. Mrs. Kam related many stories about the background of this cantata, including the persecution during the Communist Cultural Revolution. The 21-year-old pianist, Mr Ng Teck Yong and the choir brought alive the sounds of many elements, such as the roiling waters of the great river, of birdsong, turmoil, inner strength, spring and renewal, to the performance.
Choirmaster Mrs. Kam started the ball rolling for the songs part of the programme by personally performing two songs of her own; ‘Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion’ from Handel’s Messiah, and ‘O Holy Night’. Mrs Kam explained the context of ‘Rejoice Greatly,’a depiction of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the great hope and rejoicing women, and men, have in the person of Christ.
Some of the great Christmas Carols performed after the grand kickoff was ‘O Holy Night’, performed personally by Mrs Kam, ‘Joy to the World’, and ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’ but there was great variety in the presentation apart from the carols. Mrs. Kam shared that music is a great gift from God, and as such, should be used for the glory of God. One of the aims of OperaFest, is in fact to share the Good News of Christ (presented in the concert through the song ‘The Gift of Love’), reclaim the sacred songs to its rightful position, and to raise awareness of the diversity and vibrancy of Choral Music as an expression of praise to God.
As a reflection of these values, many songs performed during the concert came from influences beyond the traditional British, European, or Western influences. One Zimbabwean song, ‘Jesu, tawa pano’ was performed as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, commemorating his burial day. Mrs. Kam shared about the choir’s experience visiting Mvezo, South Africa, the birthplace of Mandela to perform. The children in the village performed the song as a welcome even before the choir got down from their bus, and the clear joy and hope given by Christ shown on their faces really touched the choir. In English, the title of the song means ‘Jesus, we are here’. OperaFest also performed one Hindi choral song, reflecting the global hope in Christ.
Throughout the concert, there was great colour and movement besides the vocal showcase. The concert ended on a high note with a medley of Christmas carols, including ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ and ‘Away in a Manger’.
The senior pastor of the church, Rev Henry Pillai, shared a short message about the reason for Christmas. He shared that the reason why Jesus became flesh was so that we have tangible hope through Him. Our testimony of Christ does not depend on hearsay; they depend on accounts of actual eyewitnesses, not just one or two of them, but a multitude with eyes and ears. For the revelation about the season, we need to go back to these original witnesses who were actually there. Rev Pillai advised us to not substitute the Word of God for anything else. His exhortation is that we put the power of God back into the Gospel and do not be ashamed of it.
References for pictures