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HALLELUJAH FOR CENTRAL’S CHORUSES: A Review of Hallelujah Choruses Volume 27 by Donald James

First published in SA BAND WORLD, January 2021 Edition; Reprinted with permission.

It seems quite unbelievable that the USA Central Territory’s ‘Hallelujah Choruses’ have reached 30 years of publication. Since inception, the published series has provided innovative settings of contemporary and classic songs, hymns and choruses for accompaniment groups of all sizes and instrumentations, leading the way in what many of us would call ‘blended musical worship’, allowing instruments such as piano/keyboard and guitar (both lead and bass) to mix with the traditional brass band score. There are also instructions at the back of the score about adapting for concert band or orchestra instrumentation, along with lead sheets with chord symbols, melody line and lyrics designed for song leaders. The guitar lead sheet shows capo chords where necessary and, to ensure flexibility and usefulness, the instrumental parts in this series are published in a variety of transpositions. Optional rhythm section scoring is also provided – all this with the added bonus that the journal’s items can be played by a minimum of five players!

The music provided has always been solely for leading people to worship. Originally conceived by Peggy Thomas and William Himes, the publication has become a staple form of music ministry, particularly in North and South America, and it does seem something of a shame that Europe has not really taken it up. In the United Kingdom, we have the Scripture Based Songs and Settings’ publication, to which this journal could be seen as a comfortable companion, without being in competition.

On first view of the score, it is excellently originated and has a presentable layout. Difficulty levels at the beginning give opportunity for leaders to gauge whether it is something that they could pick up, or need to rehearse before presenting.

The songs presented in ‘Hallelujah Choruses 27’ are a pleasant mix of contemporary Christian songs, such as More like Jesus, I will rise, Build my life, Christ for the world, Living Hope, Jesus, we love you and All is well, which reflect very much the setting of the original contemporary material. Living Hope is a particularly beautiful melody and a powerful worship song that with the transparency of score, would be excellently received by many congregations.

What is excellent about this publication is that the older, more established hymns are not forgotten. Hymns, such as the reflective settings of I’m set apart for Jesus and the clever New Orleans street beat setting of the first SA generational song, ‘At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light’, offers salvationists a new approach to songs that, in their original form, are firm favourites. I did note that the powerful and compelling song, Lord if your presence, originally written by Major Yvonne Field, is included. This song, which builds beautifully verse-by-verse, is included in the recent 2015 edition of The Salvation Song Book and its inclusion here too reflects a desire to include SA songs in ‘Hallelujah Choruses’. Overall, the choices for this journal are excellent, offering music and corps leaders opportunity to bring new and fresh songs for worship. To accompany the publication, there is a CD recording of all the tracks featured, performed by Chicago Staff Band members, which offers combined music and words, as well as a music-only option to singalong to. I am not sure if this recording would have been easy to bring together in the current Covid climate, but the balance between brass, keyboard, guitars and singers is commendable. There are some moments where the intonation between the brass and keyboard is a little awry, but overall the recording brings an excellent reflection of the published work. For many, this recording could not only help as a demonstration of the publication, but also aid in rehearsing and presenting the songs in worship.

Congratulations must go to Dr. Harold Burgmayer, as well as his staff within the Central Territory Music and Creative Arts Ministries Department, for continuing the fine tradition of this journal. As mentioned before, the production of both music and recording is excellent. The arrangements themselves are of the highest standard, with names such as William Himes, Harold Burgmayer, Leonard Ballantine and Stephen Bulla heading a list of notable arrangers written on the top right-hand corner of the music.

For all those serious about presenting music to congregations, who also want to include more than a brass band during a worship service, ‘Hallelujah Choruses’ continue to be a serious and much-appreciated resource for ministry. This is a jewel that still needs discovering by many within our worldwide movement, particularly in the UK, and I hope there will be a realization in my corps that this resource is worth experiencing!

DONALD JAMES SA Band World January 2021

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