Sing Alleluia to Praise the Lord¡I

David Ni ¡]­Ù§B®p ¡^

¡uLet everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.¡v

¡]Psalm 150:6¡^

Thanks to Mrs. Rice, it was decided that "Alleluia" would be included in the list of songs to be sung at this Choir reunion. However, due to the degree of difficulty associated with this song as well as the short duration of the rehearsal sessions we were not able to sing "Alleluia" to perfection at the performance. It was regretful that we could not do the song justice (similar to our singing the folk song, "Little Road", which gave the distinct impression of what happened when a group of Taiwan mountaineers lost contact with their base camp while attempting to ascend a peak a few months ago.) Still, to be able to sing "Alleluia" with my fellow Choir members is the most touching moment of this reunion for me. Personally I feel "Alleluia" is one of the most meaningful as well as the most profound of the many sacred songs we have sung in our Choir.

If I remember correctly, Mrs. Rice taught us to sing "Alleluia" in 1968 when I first joined the Choir. Perhaps because this piece is fairly long and difficult, we did not get to sing it at our spring tour in 1969. However, when we concluded our performance at the Taipei International House that year, the audience was most enthusiastic and embracing. We ran out of our encore songs and they still wanted more. I remember we had to sing "Alleluia" because they simply would not take "No" for an answer. Back then we sang without our music on the concert tour. So we must have sung "Alleluia" by memory and without accompaniment (the nerves we had!) I remember we ran into some slight difficulty in the middle, but were able to bring it to a noble conclusion (Please pardon my memory which may be faulty!) (Note: Recently I read, on our Tunghai University web site, an account of the 1969 concert tour written by Mr. Jiang Niao, and it proved that my memory of that tour we did more than 40 years ago was quite accurate - thanks to Yuan Chu-Ping for alerting me to this particular resource.)

40 years had gone past, in May of 2009, the choir I joined in a church near Seattle selected "Alleluia" as one of the songs to sing at the Mother's day special Sunday service. The conductor told us that this was a song which reminded us that we should still praise the Lord even in times of difficulty and sorrow. Randall Thompson wrote this song in 1940 in the midst of World War II when the horror and pain of the war was constantly on his mind. "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord".

At that time, I had just lost my mother. To meet up again with this song on Mother's day brought bittersweet memories. For various reasons, the choir, shortly after singing "Alleluia" at the Mother's day special service, was disbanded. It spelled the end of my 40 year church choir singing career and added to the emotional turmoil I was experiencing at the time. I got Mrs. Rice's email address from Sun Shao-Tang, wrote a short note to Mrs. Rice and wished her Happy Mother's Day. I also thanked her for teaching us so many beautiful hymns and songs. Indeed Shao-Tang agrees with me, Mrs. Rice has broadened our horizons and introduced us to a great selection of Chinese, Taiwanese, English, Latin, and French songs (Remember "Requiem" by Gabriel Faure?) Randall Thompson deserves special mention here, his "Alleluia", "Glory to God in the Highest", and songs like "The paper reeds by the brooks", "Have ye not known", "Ye shall have a song", "Say ye to the righteous", in the "Peaceable Kingdom" are all American contemporary sacred choral music brought to us by Mrs. Rice (just like how she taught us the contemporary Taiwanese songs composed by Rev. Lo Wei-Tao.)

Twenty some years ago, at the recommendation of a voice coach, I gave up the light and went into the dark - I became a turncoat to the Bass group and started singing the part of a Tenor (literally reaching the stage of 'gotten stuck in the middle'.) When "Alleluia" was assigned, I vaguely remembered how to sing the Bass part, but it was going to be a real challenge to switch to the Tenor part. Although the lyrics of "Alleluia" contains only two words (Alleluia and A-men which appears at the very end), the melody is ever changing - there is almost no repeated pattern from start to finish. Each of the four parts has its own beautiful melody, combined together the melodies merged into this perfect unity. Our conductor at the time emailed a YouTube link to us asking us to sing along with the YouTube choir to learn our parts (the high tech rehearsals surely tried by choirs all over the world nowadays.) This gave me the incentive to go online to do some research on Alleluia and Randall Thompson. I found out there were many YouTube versions of "Alleluia" by choirs large and small, but few could sing it well. This is a complex song with a high degree of challenge. One must pay close attention to the conductor while listening to the other three parts. The melody, the rhythm, and even the lyrics (don't be fooled by the fact it contains only two words) are intricate and complicated. To sing it well, one simply could not afford to bury his/her head in the music (lest one becomes one of those mountaineers lost on the slope.) Only when everyone has his/her part well memorized and can closely follow the conductor would the group be able to appreciate and sing this song to perfection (it was thus understandable that our reunion performance of this song was not up to par.) Back then I got on YouTube to learn the Tenor's melody; I even followed along with the Sopranos and the Altos. Thus I came to appreciate how each melody was unique and splendidly beautiful, sometimes in concert with the main melody of the Sopranos, sometimes running off on its own. This is especially true when we come to the section of the song labeled Largamente near the end, Tenor, Soprano, Alto each sings Alleluia over an octave in double forte, and the song seems to me a heavenly melody, one that truly deserves to be sung in order to praise our All Mighty God in heaven!

At our reunion, I turned away from the wicked and returned to the righteous' - I went back to the embrace of the Bass. After our many rehearsals and the culminating concert, my dear comrade-in-arms Shao-Tang and I came to the conclusion that we Bass have been really well blessed. Even though we could not recite the songs backward, still we retained the 'muscle memory of mystic gong fu' established all those years ago. Every song from the selected list was right at the tip of our tongues and most melodies were solidly within our grasp - this is obviously thanks to Master Rice's strict and capable teaching from all those years ago, but neither can we ignore the fact that the Bass usually has the easiest part of the four. As we sat behind the Alto ladies and watched them relearn and rehearse some of the difficult pieces; and also watched them circle around the piano to put in more serious practice time when the other three parts were all taking a break. I have to sympathize with the Alto ladies and truly esteem their dedication to their craft.

I had an opportunity to chat with Mrs. Rice when we went on our Hsi-Tou trip. She mentioned that there were some songs on the 'must sing' list in this reunion. For example, at the Sunday morning service when Pastor Tseng Ji-Hong gave the sermon, she felt we 'must sing' Mendelssohn's "He, Watches over Israel" in the program. It did not matter whether we felt confident we could sing it well, it had to be sung in concert with the sermon by Pastor Tseng, the title of which is "Once more to reveal glory - And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". At the time, I did not ask her why she wanted us to sing "Alleluia" at this reunion since it was clear most of us did not feel competent while rehearsing the song. Later I thought more about it and realized the answer was obvious - we must praise the Lord constantly, whatever situation we find ourselves in and whether we feel we are well prepared.

It is such a rare opportunity we could come together again after more than 40 years. Surely one's life experience cannot all be smooth sailing. There must have been various tastes of sweet, bitter, sour, and even biting, there must have been sensations of bitter cold and embracing warmth, there must have been successes that were glorious and failures that were dismal, there must have been happiness touched by sadness. Perhaps your life is, like mine, still in a stage similar to that of a "mountain existing in the ethereal state of void and illusion". Or, perhaps you have reached the stage where you appreciate "the world belongs to all - the state of the great harmony", and "beneath thy shadows, All my cares and troubles cease" (we sang this Brahms song in 1972). In the end though, I must confess to "A mighty Fortress is our God, He helps us free from ev'ry need". Therefore we must sing "Alleluia" to praise the Lord, ("O Sing Unto the Lord"). I remember when we first started to rehearse "Alleluia", Mrs. Rice mentioned her husband Bill asking her, "shouldn't Alleluia be sung loudly and joyously?" She said Bill did not understand at the time that yes, we could indeed sing Alleluia to praise the Lord quietly, peacefully, and longingly.

Mrs. Rice shared with us that her life had not been worry free and smooth sailing either. She has had to put her trust in the Lord and follow His guidance. We are so happy to see her at this reunion to be quite her old self. Although her movement has slowed down due to her knee replacement surgeries, she still led us (her little kids) tirelessly through the many many hours of practice. We all feel such respect and gratitude toward her giving spirit. After the reunion, I received an email from Chang Pi-Rong from Seattle. She mentioned Mrs. Rice in her email. It was so well written and it described each Choir members' true feeling so fittingly. I am quoting her below without asking her for permission first. Surely Pi-Rong would be magnanimous and forgive me my oversight.

¡§I was fortunate to share a room with Mrs. Rice on the evening we stayed at See-tou, at age 79, she is an encouragement for all of us. She shared with me her sorrow about her son's loss and frustration of not able to find employment in music field, but her attitude toward life or dealing with problems in life is an good example of how Christians should be. Although we did not sing well on Friday or Sunday morning, I believe we all had a good time being together like a dream. Back to Tung-Hai refreshed our memories of good old days while we were young.¡¨

40 years ago I did not know I was a frog at the bottom of a well. I got my Tunghai diploma and went out into the world with only what I have learned (as in the song: We were the younger generation and the future of the nation, tum tum tum ...) I felt I was carried along by this stream called life and tossed left and right. After "40 years of fame, fortune, dust, and dirt", I realized "my youth is like a bird, gone and never to return". I feel that I have reached the age where I understand and accept what I am. Life seems to me a journey where one "while away the time until the hair has turned white - can only sigh in vain". However, recently I got down on the floor to play with my eight month old (lovely) grandson and I was thinking he has such a life long journey ahead of him. Suddenly it dawned on me that if we pull the lens back (to zoom out), in the eye of our Creator, aren't I just another little (quite ridiculous) baby still learning the ropes of life? Still an ignorant frog not knowing how many "thousands of miles of clouds and moon" still lie ahead of me? Let me take this opportunity to thank Dr. Rose who introduced me to the genius Mr. Mozart at our 1973 summer music camp. I listen to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos K448 with my grandson every day. According to some expert research, listening to K448 frequently can enhance a child's IQ and prevent Alzheimer's disease (even improve husband/wife relationship), believe it or not, it is up to you!

Christmas of 2011 I ordered two chorus CDs from Amazon for Mrs. Rice to wish her Merry Christmas. One CD was "Randall Thompson - The Peaceable Kingdom" by Schola Cantorum of Oxford. Mrs. Rice sent me the following note:

¡§This seems like a very fun year to look forward to another reunion at Tung Hai. Actually it will be very hard to wait for the year to pass in order to see you and other choir members. I'm already very excited!! I hope you will have a blessed Christmas season, and that your family will be together. Love, Liz Rice¡¨

Now that the 2012 reunion is but a sweet memory, it is time to welcome the arrival of another Christmas, just as in our song: "Midnight sleeping Bethlehem, Stars above are shining bright. Praise the Lord, alleluia! Peace on earth, good will to men."

At this wonderful time of Christmas, let us ask the Lord to "Teach me, O Lord", and to "O Sing unto the Lord". More importantly, let us "Rejoice in the Lord always". When we are troubled, let us "Cast thy burden upon the Lord". When we feel unsure, we can "Lift Thine Eyes - Thy help cometh from the Lord" because the Lord watches over us "slumbers not nor sleeps". In the mean time, remember what Maria stated, "My Soul doth Magnify the Lord and my Spirit hath Rejoiced in God my Savior" (we sang this in 1972.) Most importantly though, whether we are ready or not, let us sing "Alleluia" at any place and at all time to Praise the Lord.

Thank you, dear Mrs. Rice, our beloved teacher, for teaching us all these beautiful songs, that we can enjoy the benefits throughout our lives, time without end!

Finally, let us sing together one more time, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You!"