It was almost a full house in the auditorium of Bartley Christian Church, where many gathered to attend the annual concert of the Hallelujah Oratorio Society. The house lights dimmed, the string ensemble was ready in front, the choir walked onstage, and the stage lights came on. It was Showtime.
If anything, it is the sheer dedication that the members of the Hallelujah Oratorio Society (HOS) show, along with their passion for serving the Lord, which touched the hearts of their audience that evening. The fruit of their labour shows and culminates in this concert after eight to nine months of rehearsals. Members have given up some weekends and public holidays to hold intensive 3-day rehearsals with conductor Lu Lee Hui, who resides in Sabah and makes trips to Singapore to train the choir. The choir is, at other times, directed by Rev Lee Chong Min, who founded and grew the for thirty-four years and counting. The HOS comprises of over 100 members from different churches and different walks of life. The newest priligy member has been with the HOS for less than a year, and some of the others have been in the choir since it was founded.
Titled “Behold the Lamb of God”, the concert was divided into seven different segments, with narration in between to set the tone for each segment. Although the songs were taken from almost anywhere and put together for the concert, it was evident that this was not random, but careful programming on the part of the organizers.
Opening the concert was “Sanctus”, meaning “Holy” in Latin. It was based loosely on a slow movement of Bach’s concerto for oboe BWV 1056. It was interesting to see how the hymn Holy, Holy Holy was juxtaposed with Bach’s theme. Following that was Lord, I lift your name on High, a very different rendition from the Hillsong version that is usually sung in churches. Psalm 1 was mellower, almost pastorale-like, but transformed later on, into a grand, broad wall of sound when singing of the Lord’s righteousness in the later verses, “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
The second section took a turn for the darker as it documented the death of Jesus, starting with The Garden of Gethsemane, describing the agonizing scene where Jesus pleads with God, “Father, take this cup from me,” and later on, “Not my will but yours be done,” creation heard him say / The garden of Gethsemane, where all alone Christ prayed.” This was preceded by the heartrending rendition of Face the cross and the jubilant Resurrection Alleluias, proclaiming the resurrection of Christ.
Soprano Leona Quek, who took to the stage in a black gown, then treated the audience to two solo works. Accompanied by the pianist, she showcased her virtuosity by singing Mozart’s spirited Exultate Jubilate followed by the tender, passionate Via Dolorosa, describing the scene at calvary and moving the audience to tears with her sensitivity and her delicate voice. Later on, she reappeared on stage in a shimmering white gown, and further displayed her vocal prowess by singing a traditional Chinese folk song, and then the famous duet The Prayerwith a student of hers. In between her performances, the Hallelujah Singers, a chamber choir made up of a few members of the main choir, sang a variety of a capella works. They were remarkably tight as an ensemble, blending well and projecting quite well in spite of their small size.
|The Hallelujah Singers
In fact, while taking notes during the performance, I found myself writing again and again on their faultless intonation and their perfect blending, not only for the Hallelujah Singers, but also for the HOS. The rest of the concert built up from the triumphal march Lead on, O King Eternal and culminated in the theme song Behold the Lamb of God. It then drew to a close with The Great Commission, not before they pronounced a benediction of God Watches Over You.
|Pianist and pastor Chang Kok Sieng
Working tirelessly throughout the concert was pianist and pastor Chang Kok Sieng, of Changi Bethany Church. Not only did he have to learn a tremendous amount of music, he also had to grapple with the page flips and follow the conductor as he played for the choir. Adding the extra sparkle to the concert was a group of string players and a percussionist, organized by Hillary, a violinist from The Philharmonic Orchestra. She also arranged all the music for strings from the piano score, which was no easy feat. In all, with so much effort and very careful planning put into this concert, it was no wonder it turned out to be a huge success, of which no one would have expected anything less.