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Mennonite Brethren HeraldVolume 44, No. 11August 12, 2005
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“Hymn is hip”
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“Hymn is hip”

Conductor Herbert Tsang champions hymn singing

Helen Rose Pauls

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The seventh traditional hymn singing festival, entitled “Wonderful grace of Jesus,” took place July 9 and 10 at the Evangelical Chinese Bible Church in Burnaby, B.C.

Conductor Herbert Tsang

Conductor Herbert Tsang

Photo: Simon Chu

A sea of mostly Chinese faces fills the huge church as my husband and I enter, and there is a buzz of energy and anticipation. In the pew, the only hymnbook, Hymnody, has lyrics in Chinese and English and was printed in 1994. We are given a large folder with the evening’s program and see that all the lyrics are in English. Although we don’t see many children, the audience is surprisingly young.

Choir Number One, as conductor Herbert Tsang expresses it, faces Choir Number Two, which is the audience. Tsang, in his wide lapelled tuxedo, charms the crowd with humour and spirit, as he directs us, the choir, and the Sinfonia Mosaic orchestra.

“Let’s be joyful Christians, notwithstanding our circumstances, because we know where our hope is,” says the emcee. And we begin to sing. Oh, how we sing. The voices seem sweet, light and melodic. Tsang gives short vignettes about some of the songs, and the powerpoint illustrates them while it flashes the words.

There is enthusiasm and a love of music in Tsang’s voice. He makes his living with music, surrounds himself with music, and tries to spread this joy into the wider community. He is a conductor, composer and prolific writer, with seven CD recordings produced under his musical direction. He has participated in opera at the Surrey Arts Centre, written the scores for two musicals, won numerous awards and scholarships, and was nominated for a regional “Emerging Artist Award.”

An active member of the Mennonite Brethren churches of B.C. since 1998, Tsang is currently at the Port Moody Pacific Grace MB Church, where he directs the worship choir.

He is also the music director of the chamber orchestra, Sinfonia Mosaic, a Vancouver-based ensemble “dedicated to presenting young and talented musicians and emerging composers in concerts.” Tsang advocates contemporary music and is able to commission and premiere many new compositions. However, he has another love: hymn singing. He wants to let the word out that “Hymn is hip.”

Promoting hymns

Tsang is the director of the “David C. Lam Christian Hymn Society,” founded in 2002 by B.C.’s former lieutenant governor (1988–1995). Sad that classic hymns with their “soul-cleansing” lyrics are almost disappearing from our churches, Lam decided to do something about it. He began the “cross-cultural, multi-denominational organization with a mission to promote hymns that touch the human heart.” Choirs and singers from 23 Vancouver churches take part in upholding the mission of this non-profit society. Wishing to promote the value of traditional hymns as a means of Christian worship and spiritual enrichment, this group hosts quality hymn-singing events to “bring this movement back into their lives, churches and communities. . . . to lead us to appreciate the greatness of God and His blessings.”

Sometimes only the choir sings, but mostly it is a sing-a-long of familiar hymns such as “I Gave My Life For Thee,” “Amazing Grace” and “Blessed Assurance,” which happens to be David C. Lam’s personal favourite. He loves the line “Jesus is mine,” which is foundational to his faith.

Tsang’s enthusiasm on this evening continues to the last stanza. Born in Hong Kong into a Christian family, he has developed a passion for church music. Currently, he is studying theology at Alliance Bible Seminary to equip himself to educate people to seek excellence in worship and church music, where he feels direction is lacking. He also writes a column in a Chinese Christian newspaper, is involved with the Chinese Christian Church Music Institute for Worship, and is hoping to branch out into English venues soon.

“Excellence is never an accident,” Tsang says. “It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skilful execution, and vision. Seeking excellence in music is the kind of attitude we need in today’s church.” One of the choir members e-mailed Herbert after Sunday’s performance to say that at 23, she was not interested in hymns, but after this weekend she understands what he meant at their first choir practice when he said, “Hymn is hip.”

One of the two CD set of hymns everyone is given as they leave the church is inserted into our player on the drive home and this stanza emerges: “This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Saviour, all the day long.” We find ourselves doing just that as we listen and sing along.

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Category: B.C. MB Conference

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Last modified: Aug 10, 2005


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