Happy New Year! The good worship leader’s first New Year’s resolution is, of course, to make Easter plans, and we’re here to help, as always in January, with this year’s crop of excellent Easter musicals.
Arise, My Love
In recent years, Bradley Knight has cranked out quite the collection of quality cantatas, all infused with soulful-yet-singable melodies that choirs eat up. If Arise, My Love doesn’t break any significantly new ground here, fans will not find that too disappointing, and there are plenty of things here for Knight neophytes to enjoy—chief among them, the title track. Those new to the NewSong song will find a resurrection power ballad of intense strength, and Knight’s exquisite arrangement features trio vocals darting in and out, alternating entrances for effect, all undergirded by strong SATB choral vocals that arise to new heights with each turn of the page. Other nice moments include Ronnie Freeman’s “Orphan” set in a medley with Joel Houston’s “The Stand” and a haunting rendition of the spiritual “Were You There?” used as an overture.
I Will Rise
Mike Speck et al.
I Will Rise features only five songs, but four of them are medleys, and all of them cover a wide spectrum of musical genres, making it this year’s go-to musical for churches pursuing blended worship. For example, the opener, “Christ Is Alive,” begins with the Gaither classic “Because He Lives,” moves to the contemporary power-pop standard “Alive Forever, Amen,” segues to the traditional hymn “Christ Arose,” and finishes with the MOR worship chestnut “He Is Lord.” The only song that is an entity unto itself is the title song, Chris Tomlin’s marvelous contemporary anthem, set here with splendor and majesty. The tunes work together as a collection but also make for easy pull-outs, giving lots of flexibility.
It Is Finished
Russell Mauldin and Sue C. Smith
The Ready to Sing series has shown up frequently in this space over the years, and for good reason. Few collections craft such fun-to-sing songs in ways that are just challenging enough but not too challenging for most volunteer choirs. In a typical RtS musical, Russell Mauldin and his host of compatriots (Sue C. Smith here) blend older songs with newer fare for a combination that’s hard to beat. In the case of It Is Finished, we find “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “When He Was on the Cross (I Was on His Mind),” and “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” among others. Consider using the optional drama (simple staging; six main parts with a handful of non-speaking roles) to enhance the worship experience.
It Would Take a Cross
Kenna Turner West
Another shorter work, this one of mostly original material, It Would Take a Cross takes a cross-section of modern Southern Gospel styles and blends them together for a mix that will be gospel enough for most older folks but not so Southern as to alienate younger folks looking for something a little more hip. In the foreword to the musical, West convincingly argues that God always had a plan for redeeming fallen humanity, and said plan serves as the narrative arc running through the five songs, the best of the bunch being the capstone tune, “Hallelujah, What a Morning,” a driving celebration co-written with West by Don Poythress and Sue C. Smith.
The Story—The Musical
It would be understandable if skeptics viewed The Story—The Musical as yet another example of the encroachment of Madison Avenue values upon the Church. (“Wow. This has been successful! How else can we squeeze a few more dollars out of The Story? Hey, let’s make it a choral musical! It worked for Shrek!”) Nevertheless, as one who serves at a church that is, at the time of this writing, finishing up a yearlong trek through The Story’s wonderful chronological rendering of Scripture and working through Max Lucado’s and Randy Frazee’s supplementary material (especially their marvelous focus on the Upper Story and Lower Story), I can attest to the insights that come from such an approach to reading the Bible, and Hamilton’s adaptation for choirs is faithful to the original’s intent. The Dove Award-winning songs of Bernie Herms and Nichole Nordeman are arranged masterfully here, but the highlight of the musical for practitioners will be its flexibility. Performance options include a 37-minute Easter-focused set, instructions for pull-out anthems to use the entire year, and a 60-minute presentation that goes from Genesis to Revelation.