Middle East Resources

The Great Gift to the World: Christian Choral Heritage

Bassam Michael Madany

November 2021

It’s rather unusual to say the least, for a Levantine whose area of scholarship is in History and Theology, would venture to write on the Western Christian Choral Heritage.

The year was 1936, I was 8 years old. Living in a Levantine town where several European institutions operated schools where French, English, and Italian were taught, as the population was ethnically diverse. Our neighbors owned a radio set with access to Long, Medium, and Short-Wave frequencies.

King George V of Great Britain died on the 20th of January 1936 at Sandringham, Norfolk. His funeral took place on 28th January 1936 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle following the Lying-in-State in London. Our neighbors invited us to listen to the funeral service. I heard the Hymn, ABIDE WITH ME FAST FALLS THE EVENTIDE, sung by the royal choir. I was gripped by the tune, and caught most of the words, as at that time, I was studying at a British run School.

When WWII began, we were blessed with a radio that broadcast news about the war in Europe, the Middle East, and Russia. On Fridays, I listened to a BBC program, “THINK ON THESE THINGS,” with hymns from the Book of Common Prayer.

Early in 1950, I heard an excellent recording of Felix Mendelssohn’s Oratorio Elijah, recorded on the new 33.3 RPM disk. During the 1960s, FM stations competed with AM stations, with certain FM stations broadcasting Classical Music, including the great Masterpieces of European composers, Bach, Beethoven, Handle, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and others. The Internet and YouTube made Western Sacred Music available to a global audience.

All that couldn’t have happened without the work of the Martin Luther who translated the Bible into German, thus giving rise to a new German language that went beyond the provincial German dialects. Luther’s hymns became “engraved” in the memory of worshippers as they sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” “The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us with us sideth; Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.” Nowadays, this treasure is available to the world via the Internet and YouTube.

It is possible to listen to Bach’s Cantatas on the Bach Hour of WGBH, of Boston, MA
https://www.classicalwcrb.org/the-bach-hour

Also, to the Choir of the Swiss J.S. Bach Foundation
J.S. Bach-Stiftung Channel on YouTube