I’m currently studying the meaning of the word ‘Hallelujah.’ In the process I came across this inspirational report in my Logos Bible Software files.
One day a young Indian named Bill Hayes came to George Walker, the missionary on the Pima reservation, in Arizona and said: “Mr. Walker, our choir would like to learn to sing the Hallelujah Chorus.”
Mr. Walker gasped.
“But did you ever hear the Hallelujah Chorus? It’s big music, Bill.”
“No, we never heard it, but we understand it’s pretty good.”
“Good? Bill it’s tremendous! But it’s very hard to learn, and it’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t want to spoil by singing it poorly.”
Bill just stood there, and finally said: “Well, we could at least try, couldn’t we?”
The choir members worked hard at odd jobs until they had accumulated thirty-five dollars for the musical scores. The books came, and that same night the choir assembled for their first practice. In fact, the whole village assembled to see the project launched.
Bill studied the music for a while and then started “dinging” with one finger on the scarred old piano. What Bill lacked in technique and experience, he made up in infinite patience and determination.
He picked out the soprano part with his one finger and turned to the soprano section. “You sing that much.” They sang it over several times. Then the same for the altos, and the tenors, and the bases. Over and over again, then, “Now, everybody sing that much.” They worked at it for months. The old piano groaned under the one-fingered musician. The choir laboured under the 115-degree Arizona heat. They sang a measure at a time, repeated endlessly.
Mr. Walker said that wherever you went during those months you could hear snatches being sung by youngsters and grown-ups alike. Children played ball while singing, “Haa-le-lu-yuh.” The farmer, irrigating his beans, sang “For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!”
Finally, Bill was at last ready to do a full rehearsal with full accompaniment. They still had never heard the chorus played by an accomplished musician, and had never heard it sung. Bill came to Mr. Walker:
“Could you get us a musician to play the piano for us so we could hear all the parts? We want to see if we can do it with all the parts just right.”
Mr. Walker recruited a music teacher from the state university. They were all waiting when the missionary and his friend arrived. All of the villagers were present on this night of nights.
The pianist cringed as she tested the old piano; it was tuned one whole note lower than standard pitch. The choir rose in unison putting their music books behind them, stared resolutely at their director.
“King of Kings … and Lord of Lords …
And He shall reign for ever and ever … ”
They finished, and a sigh of relief swept over the entire assemblage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Both the accompanist and George Walker were too choked up even to speak.
After driving a quarter of a mile, Walker got his voice.
“Tell me, how did they do?” Another quarter of a mile and the accompanist revived—”Oh! Mr. Walker—it was perfect—perfect.” Another pause and she said—”How I wish Handel could have heard those Indians sing!”