Voices Find Harmony in Finney
By Faith Richards

The sounds of over 1,000 voices raised in song could be heard outside Finney Chapel last Sunday afternoon. Over 50 church choirs from Oberlin, Elyria, Cleveland and the surrounding area joined with the Oberlin College Choir to celebrate the tradition of hymns in a program titled “Songs for the Journey.”
Not only could one hear the joyful harmonies of hundreds of singers but also the powerful voice of the Kay Africa Fisk Memorial Organ.
“Songs for the Journey” was conceived by the Conservatory of Music and religious leaders throughout the community. The Reverend Fred Lassen, Oberlin College’s Protestant Chaplain, and Mary Louise Van Dyke, member of the Hymn Society and coordinator of the Dictionary of American Hymnology co-chaired the event.
The Hymn Festival itself was directed and accompanied by John Ferguson, OC ’63, who currently holds the position of Professor of Organ and Cantor of the student congregation at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Ferguson is nationally known for his involvement in hymn festivals and performances across the country.
The focus of “Songs for the Journey” was the beauty, majesty and power of music. The program was intended to be a celebration of the place of music in religious settings, but also to celebrate the sheer beauty of the music itself even when taken out of context. The music made by the choirs and organ was heavenly.
There were two small choirs who sang from the balconies on either side of the organ, and the other choirs participating sat in the main seats in front of the stage. The two smaller choirs consisted of the Oberlin College Choir and a combined choir of community and church choirs.
These ensembles, conducted by Director of Choral Activities at the Oberlin Conservatory Hugh Floyd, performed five selections arranged by Ferguson including “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’s Name,” and “Cristus Paradox.” The other choirs sang “Amazing Grace” in a strong, four-part canon and various other traditional hymns.
As Mary Louise Van Dyke said during the dress rehearsal: “Take a look at the ceiling . . . because it’s not going to be there when we’re finished.” And she was almost right – the music was incredibly powerful.
The pieces sung by the two smaller choirs provided a nice touch to the backdrop of powerful music. The Oberlin College Choir especially deserves recognition for its beautiful singing. At the beginning and end of the concert, they sang an a capella section in Latin that was gorgeously performed, especially with reference to the choir holding their last notes beyond the sound of the organ so that Finney was converted acoustically into a 14th century cathedral.
Interspersed with the music were “reflections” on the theological ideas behind the words of the hymns, including a version of the creation story read by Jonathan Green accompanied by the organ.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these reflections was the sign language interpreter, Merry Beth Pietila. Her animation and facial expression added a great deal to the readings. The audience, other than the choirs, seemed to become somewhat restless during the readings, however, and even some members of the choirs participating in the program said that the reflections detracted from their enjoyment of the experience.
One member went so far as to say that the readings took away from the intention of the program and its focus on music, stating, “let the music speak for itself.”

But overall, “Songs for the Journey” met with great success and appreciation from the audience. Although the audience was already standing when the last notes of the final hymn died away, it is safe to say that the program received a standing ovation.

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