All posts in “Music”

‘His mercy is more’

On Sunday, the congregations at all three of our main campus venues sang the modern hymn His Mercy is More. The refrain goes:

Stronger than darkness, new every morn
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

Written by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, the hymn draws from a 1767 letter and sermon by John Newton. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you?
But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear?
Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.

True to his letter, Newton’s sins were many. Read More

Glimpses of glory

Earthly surprises can point us heavenward

By Jim Killam

On January 30, 1969, the Beatles went to the roof of their Apple Corps studio building in London and began to play. In the film shot that day (hard to find online now because of copyrights), people smile and point five stories above when they realize what’s going on. Some climb fire escapes for a better vantage point. This was, after all, the band’s first concert since 1966.

Others walk resolutely, never looking up or acknowledging what’s going on. Some are ticked off because their predictable day has been interrupted. Almost 51 years later, the whole world remembers that concert, how the London police busted it up when the band might have played much longer … and how it turned out to be the Beatles’ last public performance.

Like everything in popular culture, surprise concerts have been so overdone that they usually feel cliché. Subway platforms are particularly popular venues (U2, John Legend, Elton John, Miley Cyrus), along with fans’ wedding (Ed Sheeran) and even a middle school class (Beyonce).

Former Beatle Paul McCartney did one last year with James Corden on The Late Late Show — a program that almost no one really watches but which has an enormous YouTube following. Toward the end of a “Carpool Karaoke” segment, they sneak into a Liverpool pub. When someone puts a coin in the jukebox, the stage curtain opens and Paul starts playing Beatles songs. It’s pretty great.

• • •

So what does any of this have to do with Christmas Eve? Read More

Wrestling with a masterpiece

A writer crumples under the weight of Handel’s Messiah, until …

By Jessi Uran 

What on earth was I thinking? I can’t write this.

I stared at the computer screen for what seemed like the 50th time in three weeks. I’d scribbled research notes on three different pages and formed five different outlines, only to fill a garbage can with what I emphatically told my husband was “mediocre rubbish, not worthy of a garbage can.” (Dramatic much?)

Writer’s block is not uncommon for me. But this was different. It was less of a block and more of an unscalable, cement wall. The task was simple, really: Write about Handel’s Messiah. I could take it any direction I wanted and write in whatever form. There were no expectations, no criteria. Just a deadline.

Autographed composition draft of ‘Amen Chorus’ from British Library Treasures

Not only did my father used to play Handel’s Messiah every Christmas season on our family’s living room stereo, but I also had heard it performed live last year, in the annual concert by the Rockford Choral Union. Listening to the product of their countless hours of practice and dedication had left an indelible mark. To begin, there seemed no more festive way to usher in the season of Advent than in the reverent architecture of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Experiencing history in this way, with people young and old, and hearing the scriptural account in such grandeur was awe-inspiring.

The concert left me with a conviction: In a somewhat disciplinary way, I need to carve time to sit, listen and behold the wonder of Immanuel. At Christmas, ironically, the act of sitting and listening often gets lost in all the things there are to do. Deep joy came from spending an afternoon doing nothing other than marveling corporately at the story of the Savior.

And then a moment of … what?! During a Part 2 tenor solo from Lamentations — “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow” — a woman up the aisle from me decided to clip all 10 fingernails. At the same instant, a man four rows up raised his hands in complete rapture. I judged Madame Fingernails immediately, but days later I began to wonder: How many awe-deserving things do I treat just as flippantly? Read More

Handel’s Messiah: ‘Our gift back to Rockford’

Choral Union’s performances date back 74 years

Rockford Choral Union has performed Handel’s Messiah every Christmas season since 1945. This year’s choir includes 112 people. It’s open to anyone who wants to participate and commit to the rehearsals. Singers live as far away as Rochelle to the south, Janesville to the north, and the western Chicago suburbs.

“The nice thing is that we have a lot of people who have been with the group for a number of years, and now we are starting to see more and more young people singing with the group,” says second-year conductor Michael Beert. “So it becomes more of a mentor-student situation.”

Cherice Ullrich (left) and her mom, Cindy Jensen, sing during a rehearsal last year. Photo courtesy of Rockford Choral Union.

Multiple churches and denominations are represented.

“It used to be just a Lutheran Choral Union and we found that we would have Catholic, we would have Missouri Synod, we would have Assembly of God, we would have pretty much any denomination joining us,” Beert says. “And so we thought, why are we calling ourselves the Lutheran Choral Union when there are fewer and fewer Lutherans? It’s great that it’s interdenominational.”

Seven people from First Free Rockford are part of this year’s choir: Lynne Berglund, Sandra Hogan, Cindy Jensen, Keith Johnson, Sasha Pogwizd, Cherice Ullrich and Art Upmann.

The choir and guest soloists are accompanied by a 15-piece chamber orchestra.

Here’s part of our conversation with Beert, who is a renowned cellist and a music professor at Rock Valley College. His wife, Rachel Handlin, is concertmistress (first-chair violinist and instrument-playing leader of the orchestra).

Read More

vintage record player with snowflake pattern

Christmas music: candy canes and lumps of coal

Want to fill your house with great Christmas music, but maybe not the same old stuff you’ve listened to for decades? Or, do you want to know which timeless Christmas albums to avoid at all costs? Either way, we’ve got you covered.

 

The A side

Here are three newly released albums we think are worth your time.

 

Sing! An Irish Christmas – Live at the Grand Ole Opry House

Keith and Kristyn Getty

This live album’s 19 tracks radiate joy and worship. Most of the songs are familiar, but carry a fresh sound that’s part Celtic, part Nashville and part contemporary worship. (You have not heard Sleigh Ride until you’ve heard it played like a sea shanty on Celtic instruments, but also with banjos.)

The Gettys are a husband-and-wife hymn writing team who split their time between Nashville and their native Northern Ireland. This is their second live Christmas album, following 2015’s Joy — An Irish Christmas, which also became a PBS TV special.

 

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Neighbor Songs: stirring stories of grace in community

I recently celebrated my 15th wedding anniversary with my wife, Jessica. We asked a friend who’s a chef to prepare a private meal for us. I also contributed by preparing a fantastic… mix tape. OK, OK. I’m not that cool. It was a Spotify playlist, and good thing it was. I had over 100 songs queued up to serenade us during the meal! But it was more than creating a mood to enhance our candle-lit evening. Each song marked a specific season or experience in our relationship, and stirred us to retell every story as they played.

Album cover for Neighbor Songs by The Porter's Gate

Album cover for Neighbor Songs

The Porter’s Gate worship project, founded by Isaac and Megan Wardell, seeks to do that for the church: write songs that connect with our life experiences and communities, and stir up our stories as God’s family. In 2017, they released a collaborative album titled Work Songs that focuses on worship and vocation. Last month, they released their second project titled Neighbor Songs—another collection of songs focused on loving our neighbor as ourselves.

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Church music for a new century

By Jim Killam | Illustration by Nathan McDonald

This summer’s “1 Hit Wonders” sermon series got me thinking about the term’s origin. It refers to any singer or band that produced a single popular song, then was forgotten. Think: The Macarena. Think: Who Let the Dogs Out?

Over the next day and a half while you’re trying to get those songs out of your head (sorry), think about Christian worship music, why we sing the songs we do in church and how many of those songs will be remembered years from now. Differences of opinion about church music might seem like a purely modern discussion. Hardly. 

 

Pastor Luke Teaching about Church Music in the One Hit Wonders Series

Pastor Luke teaching in the “1 Hit Wonders” series

Rediscovering a timeless perspective

Recently, I happened upon a box of old books. One red-covered volume particularly caught my eye: How to Promote and Conduct a Successful Revival, edited by R.A. Torrey and published in 1901. Torrey was a ministry partner of Dwight L. Moody and a key figure in the early days of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute.

Thumbing through this brittle, old book, I stopped on the chapter called Music in a Revival, by Daniel B. Towner. Towner wrote Trust and Obey and dozens of other hymns. He was music director for several churches and finally at Moody from 1893 to 1919.

Here’s what Towner recommended as the 20th century dawned.  It’s a 381-word paragraph, which would have gotten me kicked out of journalism school. But stick with it. Let his thoughts simmer. I’ve bolded a couple of key sentences.

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Patriotic Celebration marks 50th milestone

Our annual Patriotic Celebration received more buzz than ever this year as we celebrated 50 years of honoring our military heroes and thanking God for the true freedom we have in Jesus Christ.

To help recognize the big milestone, we invited all former choir and orchestra directors back for the celebration. We’ve had six directors in total during that time:

  • Bruce Erickson (1970-1983)
  • Otis Skillings (1984-1989)
  • Doug Thiesen (1990-1998)
  • Renee Cooper (1999 to 2001)
  • Kristyn Thor (2002)
  • Eric Walker (2003-2007)
  • Renee Cooper (2008 to present)

Renee Cooper, who serves as our classic worship director, was our director again this year and is the longest-serving director in the group. Bruce Erickson, our first director, attended this year’s festivities, and a few others were unable to attend but did send us videos sharing wonderful memories of the event.

According to Bruce, Patriotic Celebration started in 1970 as a way to bring together a divided country/community during the Vietnam War. It was a positive offering and initially took place at the Sinnissippi Park Music Shell – sometimes after the Fourth of July and sometimes in June. The celebration began with one night, was eventually expanded to three nights, and then scheduled for two nights once it moved to the current First Free Rockford main campus.

In addition to special outreach for past directors, we also invited all former choir and orchestra participants to celebrate with us this year. We had people join us from many states, including Texas, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina. More than 200 volunteers total helped organize and participated in the event, and over 2,100 people attended the celebration performances.

The color guards from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and the Rockford Police Department presented the colors both nights, and our procession of veterans was once again a highlight for the crowd. A freewill offering collected during the program are being divided between three local veterans’ nonprofits: The Veteran’s Drop-in Center, the Oscar Mike Foundation and Brightening Veteran’s Lives (Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 984 Rockford).

Woman raising her hand during a contemporary worship service.

We Bring Our Highest Praise

Something that has really sunk deep into my heart lately is the concept of us bringing God our highest praise. What that means to me is that no matter what I may feel or get out of it, I’m to give God my everything. This is because of how incredibly worthy and deserving our God is.   As human’s, we are very feeling driven. We desire to receive and to “feel the Spirit” as we worship God. That is a wonderful thing but I believe there is a danger when that is the driving force behind why we worship. Regardless of what we feel, we should humbly come before the King of Kings with a great offering of praise and worship on our lips. David sums it up so well in Psalm 145:3, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.”  When we come before the Lord, let our hearts declare His glory. Let us not come with the attitude of selfishness, but with a posture of thankfulness, gratitude, praise and surrender. When we worship collectively and individually, let our anthem resound as it is so eloquently written in Psalm 100:4, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.”  What I have come to find is that when I personally enter into worship and take this attitude with expectancy in my heart, God hears my cry. When we are willing to chase Him with reckless abandon, He will pick us up. He hears our prayers. He will not fail. He never does. With that in mind, let’s not be so concerned about what we are feeling when we worship. Let’s lift and turn our hands outward as a sign of surrender to Jesus Christ, the only one who can save us. The only one who is worthy and who deserves our highest praise. 

Savior King
By Nathan Fry

Let our hearts declare Your glory
Let our praise reach to Your throne
Here and now we have but one purpose
To lift the name of Jesus, our Savior King 

All praise to You who saved us
We cry to You, be lifted high
You alone have set us free
Savior King, oh Savior King

Our voices rise before Your presence
Declaring holy is Your name
Your kingdom here as is in heaven
We lift the name of Jesus, our Savior King

All praise to You who saved us
We cry to You, be lifted high
You alone have set us free
Savior King, oh Savior King

All the earth will know Your power
You reach the farthest heart
Oh, Savior our defender
Our strength is in Your arms
Oh, Jesus have Your kingdom
Oh, undefeated God
We stretch our arms toward heaven
Be praised Oh Matchless One

All praise to You who saved us
We cry to You, be lifted high
You alone have set us free
Savior King, oh Savior King

 

Savior King

Listen to “Savior King” online now.

 

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