The Power of Perspective: A Tribute to Hope Orchestra’s “Symphonic Story” 

As someone with very limited musical experience and technical knowledge, the world of orchestras, bands, choirs and ensembles tends to blend together in my mind in a confusing heap. When someone says they have orchestra practice later, my response typically consists of a nod and a question about what instrument they play. The person answers, I say “cool” and the conversation ends there. All of this is to say that there is not much technicality behind my analysis of the Hope College Orchestra’s recent performance, which was held in front of a packed auditorium on Friday, April 19. I am writing, instead, with a realization of the self-transcendence that art like this can offer.

Entitled The Symphonic Story of Hope, the program consisted of eight pieces that together told the sweeping story of God’s faithfulness despite the brokenness of humanity. Each composition was paired with a historical or thematic topic, including “The Human Attempt for Supremacy (Genesis 3),” “The Horrors of the Holocaust,” “The Sins of the Slave Trade,” and more. The show ended with Camille Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony. According to the program description, the “final C major chord” at the end of the composition is meant to “represent the everlasting glory of the Son of Man as he reconciles all things to himself.” 

Samuel Pang, who serves as an Assistant Professor of Music Instruction and the Orchestra director, conducted the performance and narrated the show’s structure. Pang acknowledged that the program design was “very atypical,” explaining that “everyone put their ideas in, and it was a collaborative effort.” He expressed his desire that the music be a form of “embodied worship,” which was reflected in the Orchestra’s decision to invite audience members to join in singing Sarah Fuller Flower Adams’ “Nearer My God to Thee.

Watching the performance, I was struck by the dedication and time required of all the musicians to form the cohesive whole that the audience perceived. To play music with others demands, in some ways, an extension beyond oneself. It involves becoming part of the whole, taking turns to both move and to be still, and to gain a big-picture perspective. The same can be said for the audience members: music like the kind that the Orchestra performed prompts listeners to consider the patterns of history and the range of human experience.

As stated in the program booklet, The Symphonic Story of Hope is meant to “paint a biblical story of hope, redemption, and salvation.”

In his closing comments, Pang celebrated the Orchestra’s recent accomplishment of winning an audition to perform in Carnegie Hall by 2025. He noted that the seniors in the Orchestra exemplified the spirit of Hope Forward, as they worked tirelessly to win the audition despite knowing that they would not be able to participate in the performance next year. “They give the best of themselves so others have the chance to perform,” said Pang. “They do it not to get a better grade, but because they love another and they love the community.” This generosity and willingness to play not for oneself but for others speaks to the power of perspective the musicians have gained. 

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