A dozen Birmingham-area Baptist churches will present “All Nature Sings: A Night of Sacred Music” Sept. 25 at the Alabama Theatre.
The event will be a night of worship for church members and Birmingham community members alike, organizers said.
“We wanted it to feel like it belonged to everybody,” said John Woods, music and worship pastor at Dawson Church in Birmingham, which is why the event is being held at the Alabama Theatre. “In that spirit, we also wanted not to be a night just for church people who love church music but for the larger Birmingham community to come and enjoy great music.”
Woods added that this event is not only for people of faith but for those not sure about faith or not claiming any faith. Any lover of music is invited to attend.
The production started with one man’s yearning to make the great hymns of faith become fresh and new.
Phillip Keveren, composer of “All Nature Sings,” has a long history of writing both instrumental and vocal music for churches and for Christian artists such as Steve Green, Sandi Patty and Jeremy Camp. After the isolation of the pandemic, Keveren said Psalm 96 and Romans 1:20 inspired him to “set the particular hymns that celebrate the majesty of God’s creation to new music,” resulting in this oratorio.
The evening will start with Brent Reeves, who serves as Dawson’s staff accompanist and arranger, improvising classic hymns and making them new on the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ (“Big Bertha”). This will be followed by congregational worship led by Jeremy Jackson, music coordinator for Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, so the audience has the opportunity to sing the seven featured hymns in their original arrangements.
After Keveren shares about the project, the evening will close with a 200-voice choir and a 40-piece orchestra performing the lyrics from those hymns in a fresh way.
Months of preparation
The 12 churches, Brookwood, Dawson, First Birmingham, Lakeside, Meadow Brook, Mountain Brook, Raleigh Avenue, Shades Crest, Shades Mountain, Sixth Avenue, Valleydale and Vestavia Hills, started working together months ago to make this happen.
The vocalists and musicians are volunteers, learning the music for this venture on top of their regular roles at their home churches.
“On behalf of my colleagues and I, one of the privileges of our lives is to serve with committed volunteers that are in the choir lofts or the orchestra pits or the rhythm sections or the front lines … those people showing up each and every week are examples of Christ to us,” Woods said.
These dedicated individuals spend time practicing with rehearsal tracks at home and have extra rehearsals the final week when the choir and orchestra finally come together. Then there’s a hectic Sunday of regular church services, a quick lunch and a final rehearsal at the Alabama Theatre before the doors open at 5.
This type of partnership, though fulfilling, always adds more to the regular workload of these worship ministers, Woods said. However, one great benefit is in getting to see the skills and talents of others.
“I’m always really inspired to see my friends and music and worship colleagues in other churches do their thing. I never get to see that up close because I’m always in my church on Sundays,” Woods confessed.
“Many of those churches’ worship pastors are also participating in the choir, as a soloist or as a part of the administrative support for the event, and it is absolutely humbling and inspiring to see these people do their thing at such a high level. It’s almost overwhelming. It just makes me proud to be a part of this community of Baptist friends. It’s really inspiring,” Woods explained.
Having the composer attend a premiere of his work is always nerve-racking for the participants, and that’s after many hours of practice and rehearsing.
According to Woods, Keveren attended one of the early rehearsals to share the history of the project. After he spoke, he stayed and listened to the group practice.
“I think one of the things that I’ll never forget was this composer that has written this masterful work, shared a lot about it and sat off to the side. At one point, he just decided he would come to the tenor section and sing along,” Woods said.
“I’ll never forget the encouragement and humility that showed to our group … to say, ‘This person who has created all this Is not above standing shoulder to shoulder with us and joining us in singing,” he added.
“Singing as a part of a choir is not a new idea,” Woods asserted. “It’s a biblical idea — not a contemporary idea or a traditional idea. Any time we can find an excuse to bring people together — to sing together or play music together — we should celebrate that and find a reason to do it again.”
Tickets can be purchased at alabamatheatre.com. Find “All Nature Sings” under the tab: Events and Tickets.