UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2007 / 0123 - Wesley festival at Lincoln Center

Wesley festival at Lincoln Center to benefit UMCOR

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—A choral concert Feb. 18 at New York's Lincoln Center will honor hymn-writer Charles Wesley's 300th birthday and raise funds for relief work. All the proceeds will benefit United Methodist Committee on Relief, which will designate the funds to landmine removal in Angola.

The 2007 Wesley Choral Festival, presented by Music Celebrations International, commemorates the 300th anniversary of Wesley's birth. Events begin with a Feb. 15 gala dinner in Little Italy and culminate with a concert at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18.

The idea for the festival originated with James Ramsey, the director of worship and arts at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Ramsey considers Wesley to be "the largest hymn writer known to mankind" who also had a significant impact on the denomination his brother founded. "From a historical perspective, without the hymns and without the rich history of hymn singing, the musical context of The United Methodist Church would be vastly different," he added.

Wesley, who was born in December 1707, is said to have written at least 9,500 hymns, and may have produced three hymns a week for 57 years. The familiar tunes include "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," "Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

As those hymns demonstrate, Wesley is an important musical icon for Christianity as well. "Wesley had some great inspiration and great prose and great verse," he said.

But Ramsey's goal is to do more than acknowledge Wesley's inspiration and influence. "Mission provides a passion and a purpose for making music for a cause. It transforms the experience for the performer, in my opinion."

Singers and leaders

Concert participants include an estimated 275 singers - including choirs representing churches across the denomination's five jurisdictions and Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn. - and the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra, a community orchestra in New York. United Methodist Bishop Warner Brown of Denver is among those expected to attend the concert.

Besides Ramsey, directors of the Wesley event are Eph Ehly, professor emeritus at the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Timothy Koch, director of music at First United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The first half of the concert, to be led by Ramsey and Koch, will include familiar sacred music. "My point was to stretch the 300 years with great music that people would recognize," Ramsey said.

Carlton Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, also has edited an anti-war hymn taken from Wesley's first hymnal, which will be used for congregational singing and mass choir and orchestra.

The concert's second half will feature the world premiere of "Directions for Singing," by Andrew Fowler, a composer from South Carolina. The work, which celebrates the life and writings of Charles Wesley, takes its title from the series of seven instructions written by Charles and included in John Wesley's Select Hymns, 1761.

"Directions for Singing," directed by Ehly, is a 40- to 45-minute piece with soloists and full orchestra. Fowler will be at the piano. The Rev. David Money, associate pastor at St. Luke's, will serve as narrator, portraying John Wesley.

Ehly is a guest conductor at Carnegie Hall in New York several times each year. He also has conducted more than 80 all-state choirs and 500 festival ensembles. As a lecturer, clinician and conductor, he has appeared in 48 states, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and several European countries and made presentations on more than 100 college and university campuses.

The landmines crisis

UMCOR is designating all of the proceeds from the $35 to $55 ticket sales for a new landmine removal program in Angola. The agency is using lessons learned from its de-mining work in Mozambique to help the Angolan government train its own de-mining teams. UMCOR is also teaching mine awareness to prevent further fatalities from these hidden explosives.

The work involves local communities as well. When de-mining activities begin in an area, people immediately start preparing for their return, making the bricks that will be their homes and schools and setting up tents at the edge of the site.

The Rev. Janet Forbes, St. Luke's senior pastor, was made aware of the landmine crisis in Angola when she visited there as a member of the denomination's General Council on Ministries in the late 1990s.

Meeting with members and clergy of six United Methodist congregations at an Angolan refugee camp, she heard the story of how an elder chief, their "angel," had led the group some 400 miles from their villages to the camp without losing anyone to landmines. "They were celebrating that God had led them, like Moses," she recalled.

Forbes, who is singing in the Lincoln Center concert, is pleased it will benefit the UMCOR work in Angola. "It's, for me, a very important project for us to be involved in," she said. "Angolans will never have their country back until the landmines are cleared."

To order tickets, visit online or call Center Charge at (212) 721-6500 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.