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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Armstrong muses on Moses in Chapel

By Laura Trude
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 5, 2004

Who am I to make a speech before Pharaoh? Moses asks God in James Weldon Johnsons 1927 book Gods Trombones, a retelling of the story of Moses.

Dr. Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, read three of Johnsons sermons in chapel Feb. 23 in honor of Black History Month.

James Weldon Johnson, Armstrong said, is one of the greatest African-American writers of U.S. history and I think [he is] often underrepresented in what we know, so I was glad to make his works once again available to a wider public. Armstrong read The Creation, The Crucifixion and Let My People Go.

Armstrong later discussed how Johnsons sermons are applicable today. He compared one of Johnsons sermons, The Crucifixion, to Mel Gibsons new movie, The Passion. When you see the brutality in the crucifixion, Armstrong said, you understand how much weve been saved, how great Gods love for us was.

He also discussed the portrayal of Moses fear in Let My People Go. Armstrong said, I think a lot of us [are] very timid and very shy, and we emerge.

Armstrong reflected on how that emergence has played out in his own life.

Growing up, Armstrong felt kind of embarrassed because when people asked what he was going to do, he would say, I [want to] teach people to sing. Sounds kind of lame until you understand that music is but a means of grace; music is a way to transform broken souls.

In Let My People Go, Johnson portrays Moses easing the suffering of the Israelites.

Armstrong believes that music can have a similar healing effect on people; he called music a seed of hope, and a seed of love.

Every year after the St. Olaf Choirs tour, Armstrong receives letters from people whose lives have been touched through the choirs music.

One persons letter read, Your message last night went far beyond music, and another read, Last night as I listened to the choir, Gods love enveloped me in a way I have not experienced for many years.

Just as Moses was Gods vessel, Armstrong believes that music is another way to express Gods love. As St. Francis of Assisi said, Lord, let me be an instrument of thy peace. And I think thats what happens, Armstrong said.

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