Find Harmony in Finney
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
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
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.