Isaiah lived and prophesied in Judah during some rough times. Not long after his death, Judah was taken into complete captivity by the Babylonian armies of the famous Nebuchadnezzar. There they remained for 70 years before a chance came of returning to their homeland.
Toward the end of that 70-year period, Medo-Persia conquered Babylon. A few short years into the Medo-Persian reign, a King named Cyrus showed great favor toward the Jews and allowed all who wished, to return to the land Israel to rebuild and resettle it.
Where does Isaiah come into all that?
Amazingly, over 100 years before Cyrus allowed the resettling of Israel, the prophet Isaiah spoke a message from God specifically for Cyrus. In this message (found in the 44th and 45th chapters of his Biblical book), long before the birth of king Cyrus, God calls Cyrus by name, describes how He will bless his reign, and how Cyrus will perform God’s will and allow Jerusalem to be resettled.
In this message, however, God cares about more than just bringing the Jews back to Israel. God explicitly states that He wants Cyrus to know Him. “I will bless you” God says, “that you might know that I am God.” (my paraphrase of Isaiah 44:28-45:6).
God sees and takes interest in the heart of this king, over 100 years before Cyrus is even born. In addition, God wants not just the heart of Cyrus, but the heart of every person who is ever born. Isaiah 45:5-6 tells that God will bless Cyrus, so that all people may know who the real God is, and that there is no other god.
God is good! If he would take the time to let a king know that He cares about him and has a calling for him, even though the king did not know God at all and had not even been born or named yet, it shows me that God cares about you and me too. It makes me want to write music about how good He is.
That’s why, although most of the choral music I write is written for the concert setting, my music is primarily sacred. Stories like Cyrus’s make me want to praise God for His great care for us. A good example piece is my Spiritual, “Soon One Day.”
I’ve noticed a trend in some places to relegate sacred choral music to church choirs. Sacred choir music, specifically Christian choir music, makes up a huge percentage of all choir compositions, both historically and in modern times. And much of this music is intentionally written for the concert setting, though it’s generally appropriate in most church settings as well (varying somewhat from church to church).
Whether it is music of Handel, Bach, Brahms, and Verdi, or music of modern composers such as Eric Whitacre, Dan Forrest, René Clausen, and countless others, much of it is great concert music that is sacred in classification.
I would appeal to conductors not to forget or neglect sacred concert music. Music reflecting the rich and great history of the Bible deserves a place in the concert repertoire if it is great music. After all, great music is great music!
For me personally, I love writing sacred music because I love God. I believe He has blessed my life, that He offers hope and happiness to all who wish to take it, and that one day He will end all suffering, sorrow, and death forever.
I believe God is good.