“For God is great and worth a thousand hallelujahs!” proclaims the psalmist (The Message).
On Jan. 23, a mass Faith and Life Male Choir united to celebrate more than 25 years of ministry and to proclaim this message with the psalmist.
Treacherous driving conditions and heavy snow did not deter more than 2,200 concertgoers who came to hear the “A Thousand Hallelujahs” concert at the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall. A 24-voice boys choir, 53-voice youth choir and 190-voice male choir, which included the 34 men of the Faith and Life Male Choir, comprised the mass choir.
“The spirit and energy were astounding,” noted Darryl Neustaedter Barg, chair of the concert’s planning committee and associate director of media ministries for Mennonite Church Manitoba. “Many are saying this is the kind of significant community celebration we haven’t had for awhile.”
The Faith and Life Male Choir began in the mid-1980s under the organization of Victor Sawatsky, director of Faith and Life Communications for the then Conference of Mennonites of Manitoba, primarily to record songs for the conference’s radio ministry. However, it only took one occasion of singing at a Sunday morning worship service for the mission to expand to “leading others into worship of God through singing,” recalled Henry Loewen, who has been with the choir since its beginning.
The choir has visited well over 100 congregations in North and South America and Europe. It has given concerts in such venues as the upscale Glinka Concert Hall in Zaporozhye, Ukraine, and a straw-strewn machine shed in Mexico.
“The festivals, both with mixed and male choirs, such as the one today, have a long history in the Mennonite world,” said Loewen. “They can be found in the stories of our people wherever they made their home. In North America, the Sangerfests (Singers’ Festivals) were the forerunner of our concerts today.”
“A Thousand Hallelujahs” comes out of such a tradition. The choir members for the mass choir came from across Western Canada. This was the first festival that included boys and youths. The concert concluded with the commissioned work, “Arise!”, by Larry Nickel.
“We will be launching a few conversations with the choir executive to look at the future,” said Neustaedter Barg, noting, “The average age of choir members is not going down. Younger people don’t mind participating in the festival events, but will they continue to come if it stays the way it is?”