Fred and Joy Allen spent 27 wonderful years as Southern Baptist missionaries to Zambia. Missionaries take on many responsibilities in the field and they were no exception. Fred and Joy distributed food and seeds for planting, coordinated the digging of water wells and established churches across the Western Province.
But Fred’s heart is in God’s music. He led worship, organized and led choirs and taught music to the people in the churches of Lusaka, Zambia.
The following story is one that Fred wrote in 1984 after a very interesting and unusual preparation for the cantata Jesus Is Coming.
Ministers of music are always desirous to have plenty of time to prepare a choir to sing a musical such as this one. For instance, for a Christmas presentation, work begins in August or September. But when you are in Zambia and your choir members are scattered across the region, you must be creative and determined. I hope you enjoy Fred’s story.
A ONE-REHEARSAL CANTATA
By Fred M. Allen
“Unbelievable!” “Fantastic!” “Just beautiful!” “The most up-lifting presentation I have ever heard.” Such were some of the many comments made by Christians of many denominations who packed the auditorium of Woodlands Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia. They had just heard a 24-voice choir present John Peterson’s cantata, Jesus Is Coming, after only one full rehearsal.
The choir, under the direction of Fred M. Allen, Southern Baptist Music Missionary in Lusaka, Zambia, since 1971, was composed largely of Southern Baptist missionaries and their own “missionary kids” of the Baptist Mission of Zambia, who were together for their eight-day Annual Mission Meeting. Six members of other missions joined them for the presentation.
The missionary families are located in different parts of Zambia, where God has called them to serve, some in the cities and some in the rural areas called “the bush.” Some of them arrived in Lusaka five days prior to the cantata. Many of the missionary kids had recently returned from boarding school in Kenya to be home with their families for the spring break.
So how did everyone learn a new cantata and present it so effectively with only one complete rehearsal together? The Baptist Mission of Zambia is blessed with several missionaries and MK’s who are particularly talented in music, several of whom were either ministers of music or choir members in churches in America prior to their coming to Zambia; some also sang in college or seminary choirs.
Copies of the music was sent to the singers; solo assignments were made. Everyone was urged to practice at home and learn his or her own part thoroughly. Some small group rehearsals were held in Lusaka before the out-of-town singers arrived, and other brief times were found between the business sessions of the Annual Meeting to work on the most difficult sections of music; but not until two hours before the presentation did the full choir come together with all singers present for one full rehearsal. Plans had been made to use a taped accompaniment, but it was apparently lost in the mail and never arrived. Although our Mission had several talented pianists, none were available at the right time to prepare for the cantata. A frantic, last-minute search resulted in the securing of an excellent pianist in another denomination who agreed to accompany the choir.
The choir members, all meeting together for the first time, sang through the 80-page cantata in the final rehearsal without any difficulty, and 30 minutes of free time was given to the choir members to rest and relax before the service was to begin.
We presented the cantata with enthusiasm, and after the last words of the song, “Jesus Is Coming Again,” were sung and the presence of God was so evident among us, I asked Missionary Franklin Kilpatrick to lead us in a closing prayer. He responded, “What more can I say; ‘Maranatha,’ even so, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.”
Note: A few weeks after the presentation, a state Baptist paper, Baptist Message, in reporting on the unusual event, wrote, “Most music directors wouldn’t dream of presenting a cantata with only one full rehearsal.”