Andrews University hosted a variety of events in honor of the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church.
In light of this, on Nov. 1 in the Howard Performing Arts Center, the Andrews University Singers directed by Stephen Zork performed a reformation concert. According to the Andrews University Website, the University Singers led "congregants in numerous examples of Luther’s hymnody. In conclusion, the University Singers (performed) Luther’s choral “Christ Lag in Todesbanden” in which Luther’s translation of scripture into the vernacular of the people is married to the compelling descriptive musical setting by Johann Sebastian Bach."
Melody Morgan (senior, vocal performance) said, “What we sang wasn’t very complicated, it wasn’t very showy, but sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. I’m glad I got to sing for this special day.”
The concert started with the song, “A New Song Shall Now Be Begun” composed by Luther himself. This hymn, dating back to 1523, is the first hymn of the Reformation. The concert program explains how “wandering minstrels and their ballads served as the mass media of the day—Luther used this ballad form to tell the story of the martyrdom of Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, two Belgian Augustinian monks and devotees of the Reformation.”
Anna Kim (freshman, community and international development) said, “Luther's music was definitely different from other classical pieces or even hymns that we sing nowadays. But through his music, I was able to get to know the time period and the worship style better.”
An excerpt of the lyrics gives more insight to Luther’s views on reformation: “These voices quiet, but they resist in every land. The Foes rage and defy it. The ashes go on singing. Let men heap falsehoods all round, their sure defeat is spawning.”
The University Singers sang a total of six songs written by Martin Luther. At the end of the concert several members of the choir commented on the performance and the message of the music.
Katharina Burghardt (junior, music education) said, “Singing in the concert, I felt like I was connecting with Luther, despite the 500 year gap. The music is still relevant today.”
The starting point in Protestant Christianity, Luther advocated for the belief that people are saved through grace and not by works. Students affirmed the importance of Luther’s beliefs.
“I was honored to be able to perform music from such a historically significant person and learn about the beginnings of the reformation from a first-person perspective,” Joanna Deonarine (sophomore, biology) said, “Musically, it was enriching to see how such simple melodies and harmonies could come together so beautifully.”
Other students commented on the overall themes and messages of the songs they performed expressing the redemptive nature of Luther’s theology and his image of Christ.
“What I liked about the hymns we sung was that no matter how grim or sad they may have started out, the hymns tend to end with praises and positivity,” said Letitia Bullard (junior, graphic design, music), “One hymn in particular, A New Song Now Shall Be Begun, tells the story of two martyrs. Yet it ends with a message of hope and with thanksgiving to God.”