The Gift of Singing

by Glen Wiberg

Recently Bryan Leech, a cherished friend of many years, called and engaged me in conversation around a number of our common interests, mostly of music. As a composer of 17 hymns in the Covenant Hymnal out of a collection of some 250 hymns and anthems, our conversation has never lagged. His purpose in calling, however, was to speak about a festival of worship and hymn sing held last year at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles where two of his hymns were sung with organ and orchestral accompaniment. It was an ecumenical choir of 1000 voices and a children’s choir of 400 in the setting of this magnificent Cathedral. Two of his hymns were the familiar “We Are God’s People,” and a hymn less familiar to me but moving, “Giver of the Gift of Singing.” It needs to be said that this festival of worship was planned by Fuller Seminary, The Fred Bock Music Company, and with the support of the Cathedral and the angels hovering round.

A few days later, we received a CD from Bryan recording that evening called “In Faith, Hope” (Hymns Ancient and Modern), as well as a collection of Bryan’s most recent hymns along with a new Christmas anthem, “Evenings Like This.” It was not long before Jane and I sat down listening, worshiping, and living these moments on the recording with Bryan, moved by the children’s choir singing a beautiful arrangement of “What a Friend We have in Jesus.” A welling up of tears accompanied a moving rendition of “It is Well With My Soul” sung by the choirs and congregation.

The readings by Katherine Lee, an artist with words, provided beauty and spiritual depth between portions of the music. Many of us have been to choral concerts where God was made palpable to us in wonder and “awesomely splendid” (Bryan’s phrase); but this event was special in another way as “one of our own” Covenant pastors was recognized not by name or applause but by performance, and his integrity of text and music. Bryan Jeffery Leech has honored the Covenant with his gifts as we honor and claim him as our own with the thanks he deserves. Our worship is richer for the singing of such hymns as “Lord, When We Praise You with Glorious Music,” or empowered by the singing of “We Are God’s People,” or renewing our commitment by ”Your Cause Be Mine, Great Lord Divine,” or lifted up in celebration by “Glimpses of Glory.” Bryan belongs in the company of composers in Sweden, Rosenius, Ahnfelt, Sandell; and in the early American scene, of Frykman, Hultman, and Skoog. As we honor Bryan we also honor Royce Eckhardt, Richard Carlson, Dennis Moon, and other newer voices who bless us now. I conclude with a verse from the more recent hymn of Bryan’s that was chosen to be sung at the Cathedral of Angels:

Giver of the gift of singing
You invented such delight.
Thank you for the music—makers
Those who sing and play and write.
For we join the host of heaven
Though we cannot hear their song
Moving nearer to the moment
When we’ll join that perfect throng.