When I was in high school a new music teacher came to town. He was fresh out of college and full of ambition. But here he was, stuck in a very rural community where people didn’t put up with (as they called it) “long-haired music,” either from the Beatles or Beethoven.
Still, he was determined to teach us good music. We were going to sing selections from Handel’s Messiah for our Christmas concert. Most of us had never heard of Georg Frederic Handel, and when we first tried to sight-read through the selections we became convinced we didn’t like his music. It was too hard, too complicated. More than that, Handel wouldn’t allow us to sing simple harmonies; no, he created different parts for each voice, and we in the bass section weren’t able to hide all our typical mistakes when Handel and our new director demanded that we sing alone.
Our fearless leader did his best, but half-way to Christmas it was obvious that we were all losing: we in the choir ad lost our places, he as director and new teacher on the block was about to lose face, and Handel had long ago lost interest in all of us. Still, we had gone too far to turn back, and with a grace we didn’t feel we stumbled through the first part of our concert. Our parents smiled politely, while our little sisters and brothers squirmed restlessly. Some of our grandparents with hearing problems even managed to smile.
Finally, after too many minutes of painful lapses and a competition between ourselves and the piano which neither won, we came to our last section, the one we knew best. As we raced through the opening lines, a few people actually stood up! At first we thought they were walking out on us, but they just stood there beaming until we had shouted our last “KING OF KING, AND LORD OF LORDS! HAL – LE – LU – JAH!!”
Later, of course, we learned why these few fearless folks had risen to the occasion. When the German prince George II became king of Great Britain, he had a special fondness for Handel’s music. At the premier concert of the Messiah in 1743 the king and the crowds were deeply moved by the glory and grace of the masterpiece. When the musicians swelled the “Hallelujah Chorus” and thundered those mighty words “…and he shall reign for ever and ever!” King George, whose English wasn’t all that great, jumped to his feet thinking that they sang about him.
The whole crowd, naturally, followed suit, although they were standing more out of ceremonial habit, and thinking about a different King. Since that day, though, people have continued to stand for the “Hallelujah Chorus” to worship the glory of God whose kingdom shall know no end.
Good leaders know how to choose the right music for the choir to sing.
They coax the band into developing deeper harmonies and more complex riffs. Most of all, good leaders know that they derive their own skills and the melody of their mission from others who have gone before. Singer songwriter Dan Fogelberg honored his own father-mentor powerfully in his great tribute, The Leader of the Band:
An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son His hands were meant for different work And his heart was known to none He left his home and went his lone and solitary way And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay A quiet man of music denied a simpler fate He tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn’t wait He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand I thank you for the music and your stories of the road I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough And papa, I don’t think I said I love you near enough The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band