Music Tells the Story: Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers”

Yesterday my wife and I had the opportunity to listen to the Wichita Chamber Chorale perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vespers at St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas. The cathedral filled out very well and one could sense the anticipation from the audience.

The performance easily ranks as one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Combined with the spectacular acoustics in the cathedral, the chorale soothed our ears and filled our souls.

Thou Didst Rise from the Tomb

There are 15 movements in Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. I would like to draw your attention to the fourteenth movement, “Troparion: Thou Didst Rise from the Tomb”. Here are the lyrics:

Thou didst rise again from the tomb and burst the bonds of Hell, O Lord; Thou didst destroy the condemnation of death, releasing all men from the snares of the enemy. Revealing Thyself to Thine Apostles, Thou didst send them forth to proclaim Thee. And through them Thou has granted Thy peace into the universe, O only All-merciful One.

The movement is toward the end of the great epic, and often resurrection themes find themselves with grand melodies, ringing harmonies, and Sopranos peaking at the top of their range. This movement, however, did not go that direction. Much more reflective and with gentle gratitude, the movement draws us into the reality of Christ’s resurrection. More specifically, I would like to note that the end of the movement does not resolve.

Consider what it might mean that a resurrection piece does not resolve. Intentional or not, what does this movement end up communicating? The moment my wife commented that the movement did not resolve, I thought, “That’s because the story does not end with the resurrection.” Although a crucial event in salvation history, God’s work did not end there. Rather, Christ ascends to His rightful place next to the Father, the Spirit comes upon God’s people, and the story still finds itself in motion.

Music Tells and Interprets the Story

The point of my noting this seemingly subtle musical event within Rachmaninoff’s pinnacle achievement is this: that the music we use to sing God’s work and praise interprets the story.

Often all our time during song selection is two part: one, whether the lyrics are sound or not, and secondly, whether we like the music and whether our congregation will or not. Music plays a much more significant role than just our personal preferences. Music interprets the story.

As you select songs, strive for sound and strong theological content, but do not forget the role music plays in communicating that which we seek to proclaim.

Peace be with you all.

JP#4Jason Palmer is the Administrator of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.

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