The ninth annual Hymn Festival, “In Christ Alone,” gathered 450 people from denominations and traditions across Salem to worship together with more than 75 Corban musicians. A marvelous venue acoustically and visually, the First Presbyterian Church hosted the event as one of the concerts in their spring series. In conjunction with new and returning Hymn Festival appreciators, the church held a packed house!
Hymn Festival highlights included an expressive arrangement of “I Love You, Lord,” as well as a finale setting of a passage of scripture from Revelation: Worshippers heartily sang “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “How Great Thou Art,” followed immediately by the Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s “Worthy Is the Lamb.”
This glorious finale then led to an encore offered by the voices of the Chamber Choir in “Amen” by Glad. Director Matthew Strauser’s summary, “That is the ‘amen’!” brought an engaged laugh from the crowd; their enjoyment of the music was evident.
Associate Professor of Music John T. Bartsch, Jr., in his element behind the church’s recently enlarged Moller pipe organ, facilitated this year’s Hymn Festival. He said his total goal was to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, and he chose music with that purpose in mind. The theme “In Christ Alone” was based on the song with that title by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Bartsch also spent close to a thousand hours orchestrating almost half of the program’s pieces. He also helped to prepare the groups musically and iron out administrative wrinkles. He credits, “I specifically see how God worked out so many of the details, like acquiring the two specialty trumpets we needed to perform ‘Worthy is the Lamb.’”
Corban’s own hymnologist, Professor of Music Virginia Cross, reports, “The preparation by John and Matt in minimizing musical distractions enhanced the focus of worship for me.” Cross also appreciated Chair of the Ministries Department Greg Trull, who officiated the service, for his directing of thoughts toward Christ.
Cross started Corban’s Hymn Festival in 2001 because she believed it would benefit her students’ musicality. Not only would students grow in appreciation for hymns (many of whom had no prior hymn experience), but they would also experience using hymns, choirs and organ effectively in worship. Creative hymn leader and composer, Benjamin Harlan of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, led an exciting first event. Subsequent festivals have been led by various members of Corban’s faculty, each event unique—but all educative and worshipful by design.