Signs of the Holy Spirit Among Us
by Rev. Debra Tyree
The Global Praise ministry of the General Board of Global Ministries traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in January 2011 to lead a two-week Worship and Music Training with the leaders of Global Ministries' Mission Initiative in Laos and Thailand. The participants took "core" classes in worship, music theory, and piano or guitar every day.
Plenary topics included Covenant Discipleship, creative arts in worship, praise bands, Wesleyan theology, sacramental theology, stewardship, and music as ministry. Students also chose to take a high-level class in advanced piano, advanced guitar, bass, drums, composition, or vocal technique and song leading.
Garrett Intorn, faculty member of the McGilvary College of Divinity, Payap University, and a well-known composer and teacher in Thailand, led the composition students in the foundations of composition, including musical form and enculturation of music within their cultural context. Professor Intorn also led a plenary session on enculturation of traditional music and performed several of his own compositions with the assistance of his wife and a student at the university.
Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of Worship Resources at GBOD, worked with the composition students as they developed their texts. He shares: "St. Augustine is usually attributed [as saying], 'Whoever sings, prays twice.' And Methodism, with Charles Wesley on board, is clearly a singing faith! Charles Wesley intentionally wrote and collected hymns not only to praise God and enliven the worship of Methodist society and class meetings, but also and especially to help the people called Methodists confess and learn the faith with body, mind, and spirit."
He continued: "For our composition class in Chiang Mai, I provided 'song starters'--brief quotes from the writings of John and Charles Wesley and from Scripture that typified the heart of Methodist theology and practice. These included, among others, 'Best of all, God is with us' (John Wesley, on his deathbed), 'Rejoice in hope, rejoice with me! We shall from all our sins be free' (from Charles Wesley's hymn 'Ye Ransomed Sinners Hear') and 'Your reproach, O Christ, we gladly bear. For you we will be the filth and offscouring of the world. Whatever evil they may say, we are yours' (based on the second of the General Rules).
"To these texts, translated into Thai and Lao, participants in the composition class brought their own musicality and experience of Christian discipleship in their contexts, and composed a collection of new, truly indigenous hymns for use in their worship. What a blessing and sign of the Holy Spirit at work among us!"
The students met in daily class sessions and spent many hours in individual study. For most of the event they were learning to write and read music notation in the morning, then applying these new skills in the afternoon composition class. The leadership team supported the student composers by listening, helping to discern difficult rhythms, answering music-theory questions, and serving as supporters of the process of composition and of the composers themselves.
The composers presented their new works during the final program of the two-week training. Some were accompanied by piano, some by a small praise band, and some were sung a cappella. All participants began to talk about ways to share these songs and others that will be composed in the future. We look forward to hearing more compositions from the members of the Thai and Laos United Methodist Church.