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A Mennonite Tapestry

A West Coast choir provides a glimpse into the Mennonite experience of faith, pilgrimage and journey

By Brad Ratzlaff

A Mennonite Tapestry
By the West Coast Mennonite Chamber Choir; Tony Funk, conductor

 Over the past few years, the West Coast Mennonite Chamber Choir has released a number of CDs to support the Mennonite Central Committee’s work with the learning disabled.

This new recording features hymns associated with Dutch and German Mennonites who settled in Ukraine during the 18th century because of persecution in western Europe. As they migrated across Europe, the Mennonites adopted German-language songs that captured their isolation and hardship, as well as their faith in Jesus Christ.

The choir has a warm and beautifully blended sound, with intonation that is generally solid and secure. The male section is especially strong, in the wonderful German choral tradition of men’s choirs. Conductor Tony Funk brings to each selection a fine sense of phrasing and musicianship. The recording quality is first rate.

My one reservation has to do with the choral and instrumental arrangements of many of the hymns. Thick choral textures embellished by extraneous piano passages distract from the beautiful simplicity of many of the hymns. I come from a Mennonite background and vividly remember singing many of these very hymns at my grandparents’ home in four-part harmony, a cappella. The experience captured for me feelings of caring and comfort in times of trouble. It felt like community.

When the choir sings a cappella on this recording, the sound is truly stunning. Music and text become one, and we get a glimpse into the Mennonite experience of faith, pilgrimage and journey. My only regret is that it doesn’t happen more often.

Available from MCC Supportive Care Services, Box 2460, 31414 Marshall Road, Clearbrook, B.C., V2T 4X3. Phone 1-800-622-5455.

Brad Ratzlaff is the music director at Trinity-St. Paul’s United in Toronto.
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