31 March 2003

Choir of a thousand Methodist voices sings praises at Royal Albert Hall

A choir of over a thousand Methodist voices raised the roof at the Royal Albert Hall last night during filming of a special edition of the BBC's Songs of Praise. 

In all, more than 1,400 Methodists, mainly from across the south east of England, joined forces to form a one-off choir. They had been invited by the BBC to take part in the special programme to celebrate the life and works of John Wesley on the 300th anniversary of his birth. This gathering of what must be one of the largest Methodist choirs ever was a highlight of a noisy evening of celebration and song in a full Royal Albert Hall in central London. 

Songs of Praise presenters Aled Jones and Pam Rhodes kept the evening ticking over, introducing the performers and songs, many of which were compositions by Charles Wesley. These were chosen by the Songs of Praise producers to celebrate the Wesley legacy and the influence of Methodism today. 

Members of the Methodist choir had taken part in a rehearsal afternoon at Westminster Central Hall the previous Sunday. They also spent the afternoon before last night's filming, running through the songs being recorded. Among the hymns they sang included, appropriately, Charles Wesley's "O for a thousand tongues to sing." Also featured were "Love divine, all loves excelling," and "See how great a flame aspires". 

At one point in the proceedings, Ms Rhodes interviewed three members of the Methodist choir who had travelled all the way from Ohio, USA, to be part of the evening. They said that the trip was for them "the ideal way of marking John Wesley's anniversary". 

The President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Ian White, led the crowd in prayers at the end of the evening. He first prayed for peace in troubled times, invoking the words of Francis of Assisi to "make me a channel of your peace" and asking that politicians and leaders be given clarity to bring the world to justice and peace. He went on to offer prayers of thanks for the life and work of John Wesley as well as for the gifts of music and poetry used to celebrate the presence of God. 

Conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Saint Michael's Singers and Royal Choral Society, was Methodist Paul Leddington Wright, a former director of the MAYC Orchestra & Singers. Other performers that kept the crowd entertained and uplifted included BBC choirgirl of the year Lucy Rhodes and talented a cappella group Covenant. 

Filming took place for two editions of the BBC TV's popular Songs of Praise. The first, a general celebration of music and praise entitled "The Big Sing", is due to be broadcast in April. The special edition celebrating John Wesley will be seen in June to coincide with anniversary of Wesley's birth.

BBC Songs of Praise
John Wesley's 300th anniversary

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