Congregations of various Christian faiths from across Davis County, Utah, are coming together for a unique musical celebration of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Together they will perform Rob Gardner’s magnificent oratorio Lamb of God in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square on Friday, March 10.
Since its premiere in 2010, the music of Lamb of God has become a treasured part of many Latter-day Saints’ Easter celebrations. In 2021, the oratorio even hit the big screen with a limited theatrical run, and a DVD of the film was released.
Now, Lamb of God is reaching an audience beyond the Latter-day Saint community. The Davis Interfaith Choir & Symphony began 12 years ago as a Christmas concert sponsored by Layton City, and this will be the group’s fifth time performing Lamb of God.
Kendall Miller, a Latter-day Saint member of the Davis Interfaith Choir & Symphony, particularly loves the sense of unity and community that comes from the interfaith collaboration. There are 12 different religious groups represented in this year’s performance, including members of local Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical, and Latter-day Saint congregations. Each rehearsal takes place at a different place of worship, usually accompanied by a devotional from a member of the host denomination’s clergy.
“It’s been incredible to go to these different churches and be able to hear from these clergy and get their perspective [on the Savior], says Miller. “I grew up in an interfaith family, … and I’ve always really enjoyed seeing similarities in our faith in Jesus Christ. … When I meet people of other faiths, I love being able to see that we all believe in God.”
Lamb of God composer Rob Gardner sat down with LDS Living in 2021 and shared his experience writing the oratorio as well as what he hopes listeners take away from his work.
“Lamb of God has always been, for me, about hope,” Gardner said. “The main centerpiece is a song called ‘Here Is Hope.’ It’s the song that Mary the mother of Jesus sings just after Christ dies. The line came to me that she would say, ‘Hope did not die here, / But here was given.’ I feel like we are always in need of hope, but right now everything in the world seems so crazy, so I think it is more appropriate than ever to say, ‘Hope did not die here—here hope is given.’ Whenever we step out on stage, that’s what I want people to leave with—a sense of hope.”
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As Kendall Miller has sung “Here Is Hope” in rehearsal, it has sparked new insights about the strengths of the Savior’s mother, Mary, and some of the beliefs of other faiths.
“It‘s a moving experience. Sometimes it‘s hard not to break down when you’re singing. … I hadn’t ever thought of Mary in that way. There hasn’t ever been anyone like Mary, and there will never be anyone like Mary. She brought the Son of God into the world, and she is there when He dies on the cross. To watch that happen, I had never really thought that through. The Catholic Church focuses a lot on Mary, and I didn't quite get that before, but I do now.”
Jillyn Abel has been playing violin with the Davis Interfaith Choir & Symphony for three years now and has experienced similarly touching moments. “Our dress rehearsal on Tuesday we went from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., so we were exhausted and really worn out; our shoulders ached, our necks hurt. But we kept doing it because the Spirit is so strong. You just tear up thinking about it. It’s just so beautiful. And that’s the reason why you keep doing it over and over—because you want a lift up.”
The oratorio is clearly emotionally powerful, but also physically grueling. As part of the live concert recording released in 2021, cellist Nicole Pinnell brought the Savior’s voice to life as they were recording the song “Gethsemane,” but not without her own agony and pain:
We finished the oratorio, and only … “Gethsemane” was left. I was excited. I was scared. My arms were on fire. My neck was on fire. My back was on fire. I guess it’s kind of like an athlete at the end of a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon, but at that point I was in the marathon of cello playing. My mind was tired, my muscles were tired. I didn’t really think that I could actually play this any better at this moment because I wasn’t fresh. I wasn’t at my best. I’m trying to act like none of that’s happening because this is my job. …
And then right at that moment, I noticed some drops of blood on the floor. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m bleeding.” It sounds worse than it really was, because for string players and pianists, honestly, our calluses split open in the winter all the time. There’s not a lot of feeling to the calluses. …
Well, as soon as I put my bow on the string and started playing, I realized that it wasn’t just that my callus had split, but the thumb—the nail—was separating from the skin of my thumb. So even though I was holding my bow really lightly, just that little bit of pressure … every time I moved, I was pulling the skin away from the nail. This had never happened to me before. It was so painful. I really didn’t know how I was going to keep playing. But I knew I shouldn’t stop. The musician never stops.
So I prayed again. This time, I really cried out in my mind, like, “Help.” And right away, it felt as if there were hands on my head. I recognize the feeling. That’s what it feels like when you receive a priesthood blessing. Even though the pain was excruciating, it didn’t change the pain. I knew that there was an angel there. I didn’t really have a sense of who it was, but I knew I was being blessed and it comforted me.
You can listen to more of Nicole’s story in the player below.