Choosing the Music for Toronto

Richard Stenbakken

Richard Stenbakken, Department Director for Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, served as chair of the music committee charged with the responsibility of selecting music for the SkyDome, primary venue for music at Toronto. Stenbakken, who is not a musician, was chosen for his organizational gifts and ability to work quickly and efficiently. He was assisted by thirteen other members, chosen from persons at the General Conference headquarters or from the immediate area so as to minimize expense and expedite the work. While most of the committee members were not professional musicians, several are well known for their work in church music.

The music committee appointed by the General Conference wanted the music featured on the main stage of the SkyDome to reflect the fact that the church is truly a global community of believers. Accordingly, every attempt was made to choose well-performed music that was culturally authentic and represented the region or country it was from.

The selection process began over two years ago when all of the world divisions were invited by the GC music committee to create division-level music committees to review, select, and recommend possible groups and artists that w`ould represent their region for the 130 two- to three-minute openings that existed. The division submissions were to include a performance video or recording and a written evaluation, and were to be ranked. Also, the groups or persons who were selected would need to be able to cover their own travel, lodging, and meal expenses, or be sponsored by their own division.

Over 400 submissions were made. Quality was a primary consideration and as the screening of the submissions began, equally important factors such as variety, appropriateness, cultural authenticity, appeal to all age groups, and balance in representing the world field came into play. The task proved time-consuming and challenging, but in the end, the committee made its choices, trying to schedule music that satisfied the criteria and reflected what they felt was mainstream Adventism.

Confirming letters were sent to all participants with encouragement to wear native attire when possible and to perform with demeanor appropriate for a worldwide audience. Specific numbers for the performances were chosen by the committee from the submitted audition materials. Although the acceptance letters were sent in a timely fashion, in many instances groups were unable to get visas for travel to Canada. This was also a problem for some regular official delegates.

Music for the divine worship services was provided by a GC mass choir organized by Michael Meyers, who was associate choir director at Utrecht in 1995. Interest in performing in the choir and space constraints necessitated a limit on size (350-400). The choir was assisted on the first weekend by The New England Youth Ensemble orchestra. Musicians were not paid for their services. However, travel and hospitality expense for Meyers and the four keyboardists who performed throughout the sessions were covered.

It should also be noted that some divisions offered other special musics during the evening meetings in their presentations. Furthermore, speakers were allowed to feature music of their own choosing if it was within the time alloted for their address. There was no attempt by the GC to limit or screen any of this additional music.

In addition to chairing the committee, I also coordinated the music scheduled during the sessions. This proved to be a challenging assignment, similar to the stress I experienced during a year of actual combat in the military many years ago. Dealing with last minute cancellations, finding suitable replacements, meeting the needs of the performers, and being sure the schedule was kept created an unrelenting pressure . . . and a vast sense of relief when it was over.

Published in the Summer/Autumn 2000 issue of Notes, an IAMA publication