February 29 is something extra, something special, something that doesn’t come along every year. So is jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s first major composition, which premiered on that date in Cincinnati. He completed the oratorio on the teachings of Jesus, Light in the Wilderness, in January. A month before, he had ended his jazz quartet’s sensational sixteen-year history.

Both Brubeck and Duke Ellington—perhaps America’s two greatest living jazz musicians—have recently invested much of their talent in expressing the beliefs of the Bible through music. (See story of Ellington’s sacred concerts in January 21, 1966, issue.)

Brubeck’s religious background is eclectic: “reared as a Presbyterian by a Christian Scientist mother who attended a Methodist church.” He has read the Bible “all the time” for many years, despite a “nomadic existence” in which he once crammed 250 one-night stands into 365 days. During tours he has developed friendships with a couple dozen clergymen and has read such theologians as Tillich and Schweitzer. He got theological advice on the oratorio from Vedanta, Unitarian, Episcopal, and Jesuit leaders.

Although Brubeck has dabbled in religious efforts and once did several TV shows for the National Council of Churches, the idea of doing a serious composition began two years ago. His nephew Philip, 17, suddenly died of a brain tumor. In his grief, Brubeck wrote a choral number of considerable beauty on the text “Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” It was months before he would even send this personal memorial to his brother Howard.

“I just jumped into it,” he says, but he found he could express himself in choral writing and began developing the oratorio.

“The struggle between good and evil is apparent in all of us,” Brubeck said in an interview. The problem has been bugging him ever since World War II years, when he went as a callow youth from a California farm to the front lines in Europe. He was “bewildered” by bloodshed, hypocrisy, and—in particular—racial prejudice. “I came to the realization that things you accept from your youth as Christian ethics are gladly skirted by everyone.” Even the Church was at fault.

Now, by writing music, he hopes to do something to “save our country” through a moral revolution both of individuals and of social processes. Mindful of impending racial disaster he says, “We don’t have the time to play around.”

To highlight the good-versus-evil theme, he begins the oratorio with the baptism and temptation of Christ. His program notes imply a struggle between God and Satan over the soul of Jesus the man, in contrast with the traditional view of recognition of Jesus as the Son of God and the subsequent struggle between the Son and Satan.

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Brubeck is “not really set” on his view of Jesus. “I would certainly say he is divine,” he says. But “man at his best is divine.” He has been affected by the views of higher critics on some questions of historicity of the gospel accounts.

But with the teachings of Jesus, “I’m right there with every word. I’ll go along with the teachings and the miracles.” How about the Resurrection? “Why not? He probably did more fantastic things that aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. Anything and everything is possible with Jesus.”

The bulk of the libretto is drawn verbatim from Jesus’ teachings recorded in the Bible. In one case, “For I was hungry and ye gave me food,” the moral teachings are intact but the significant context of God’s final judgment upon men is missing.

Whatever its theological underpinnings, the work offers Scripture in a well-conceived, refreshing setting. Unlike Ellington’s patchwork quilt, Brubeck has woven together an organic whole. The cerebral construction Brubeck used when jazz went to college and concert hall is here expanded to major (sixty-minute) proportions.

There are suprises (not so much in the use of jazz and other modern idioms, which have been used in religious music before, though usually less expertly). Examples: (1) The morose, dutiful feeling we sometimes take into the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) is shattered by Brubeck’s up-tempo 6/8 tune that stresses the “blessed” as it bounces along. The Cincinnati Enquirer reviewer thinks this “banal” section should be cut, but others will find it charming. (2) One expects the final section to pull out all the stops for a rhythmic, rejoicing romp, because of the pulsations built into Psalm 148 by the ancient Jews who worshiped the living God. But Brubeck’s interpretation is majestic.

Since everyone will be looking for jazz, it should be stated that this is not a jazz work. Brubeck was on hand at the premiere to provide some improvised interludes, but these are optional. The work survives without them; in fact, it probably is better without them.

The “love your enemies” theme produces the most dissonant, wild section of the piece. All sorts of musical eras are pulled in to show the universality of the idea. (But really, “Turkey in the Straw”?) The music seems strangely complex for such a simple idea and the crashing dissonance that closes the section is almost menacing. The suggestion is that “do good to those who hate you” goes more against the grain of man than anything else Jesus said.

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Many sections are in the 5/4 meter Brubeck’s quartet popularized. None of the modern techniques, none of the sounds from the percussion bank, are used for their own sake; they are used to impel the listener on through the themes. As Jesus announces that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the mode of big-band brass seems to blow the dust off the Bible on the bookshelf. The music recaptures the intense excitement the longing Jews must have felt when the words were first spoken.

The same feeling carries into the scriptural potpourri “Where Is God,” early in the second half of the oratorio. The chorus, more twentieth than first century, chants, “This is the generation of them that seek him: Where is God? Or is God dead? Who is man? And who is God?” Here as elsewhere, the baritone soloist sings only the words of Jesus: “I was with God before the foundation of this world.” Under Jesus’ spell the chorus decides, “This is the generation—our generation. Only the fool says in his heart: there is no God!” No vague humanism here, despite the emphasis on teachings!

Performance notes: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Miami University Singers under Erich Kunzel performed capably. Baritone William Justus was excellent. Fortunately, the huge Ecumenical Chorus drawn from seventy-three local churches and synagogues was mainly for window-dressing. A few sopranos scurried into their wooden seats after the concert had begun! The occasional cicada-like rasp of a movie camera was disturbing. The audience was the kind one would expect—older church-pillar types, arty youths who didn’t look like regular darkeners of church doors, a good sprinkling of nuns. The site was Cincinnati’s grand old Music Hall, with its coffered ceiling and wooden-slat floor.

With such a beginning, it is good news that Brubeck is already toying with two more “very important themes,” though he’s keeping them to himself at this point.

Meanwhile, he’s appearing at Northwestern University’s annual church-music conference next month. A second performance of Light in the Wilderness is scheduled for the July convention of the American Guild of Organists in Colorado. Late this year he plans to take the oratorio on a European tour.

Brubeck is also weighing two offers to be a part-time composer-in-residence of religious music. One is from a Jesuit college in Detroit, the other from Washington (D. C). Episcopal Cathedral.

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The United Presbyterian education board received $1.9 million in the will of Mrs. Ida Belle Ringling, widow of a founder of Ringling Brothers Circus.

The Church Journal, published by the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), condemned sex education in schools and related wearing of miniskirts to sex crimes.

The Worldwide Radio Church of God (of Herbert Armstrong’s Anglo-Israel cult and “The World Tomorrow” broadcasts) and its Akron pastor were ordered by an Ohio jury to pay an electrician $30,000 damages for alienating his wife’s affection by telling her the marriage was adulterous because the husband had been divorced.

United Church of Christ agencies began a national program of counseling youths on the military draft and “the demands of their conscience.” Another UCC agency issued a series of five-minute radio programs featuring comments of congressmen on Viet Nam. The Vermont Council of Churches staff ended two years of draft counseling, under pressure, and left the matter up to local clergymen.

A team backed by Myers Park Methodist Church, Charlotte, is providing three weeks of free medical care in the Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Lutheran World Federation agencies shipped 73 million pounds of food, clothing, and relief supplies worth nearly $14 million during 1967.

There are now 29,817,707 Baptists in the world, an increase of 2.6 million over the year before, the Baptist World Alliance announced. North America’s total is 26,412,866.

The Salvation Army is setting up a new program in Hong Kong to rehabilitate refugees from Viet Nam.


William Miller, Jr., 41, was elected president of the higher-education board of the Christian Churches (Disciples), becoming youngest head of a major agency in the denomination.

Wittenberg University President John Stauffer will be the first lay president of Juniata College, and the first selected from outside the Church of the Brethren. He is a Lutheran.

Gordon College announced March 14 that President James Forrester, currently on leave, has resigned as of August 31. He has been offered a post with a university, as yet unnamed.

The Rev. Floyd Honey, mission-service secretary for the World Council of Churches in New York, was appointed chief executive of the Canadian Council of Churches. A United Church of Canada member, he was a missionary in China until the Communist takeover.

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A church court in Athens deposed former Greek Orthodox Primate Iakovos Vavanatsos for “losing his good reputation.” Charges were not made public.

Alan Paton, South African author and critic of apartheid, was choked into unconsciousness and robbed by two Africans this month.

Archbishop of York Donald Coggan said U. S. renunciation of such “obscene” weapons as napalm bombs might be a first step toward peace in Viet Nam.

Anglican Bishop John Phillips of Portsmouth, England, quit as local head of the Family Planning Association, charging that recent laws assume pregnancy and contraception are the only choices for young people, and neglect a third possibility: chastity.

The Rev. John Byrnell of Shaugh Prior, England, refused to help his wife with the dishes because it “isn’t a man’s job.” Wifey won by quoting Second Kings 21:13 (from the King James Version).


An American Civil Liberties Union report charges that half of sixty New Jersey towns receiving federal school aid showed favoritism to Catholic students. A federal official replied that lower family income was the reason.

Continuation of tax exemptions for the Vatican is threatening Italy’s shaky coalition government. The finance ministry said Vatican holdings in the Italian stock market are $158.4 million. Income tax on this would be about $1.9 million per year.

The Roman Catholic Church ended its historic ban on entering Masonic lodges, except for groups in Italy and France, according to unconfirmed news reports.

Church World Service is rushing blankets, clothing, and tents to 70,000 Arab refugees who fled camps in the Jordan valley during recent Israeli and Jordanian fighting. Jordan Christian leaders protested the Israeli shelling, in which seventeen persons were killed.

The West Indies Mission radio station in Haiti, which has just quadrupled its power, was praised by Haitian educator George Marc for providing agricultural, medical, literacy, and hurricane-warning information as well as evangelistic programs.

Seattle area churches provided $8,689 for overseas welfare last year by getting members to save and turn in unusual stamps from their daily mail.

Both Protestant and Catholic groups are fighting a proposal to repeal anti-gambling laws in the Philippines in favor of state-controlled gambling.

The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students reports Ethiopia has banned an active group of 500 students in Addis Ababa, along with all other university religious groups, under pressure from the official Coptic Church.

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A meeting of 800 pastors, missionaries, and laymen this month in Guatemala laid plans for a drive to get 100,000 evangelicals to seek 100,000 converts.

Inter-Church Evangelism teams led by evangelist-educator Myron Augsburger held one-day seminars on the theology and practice of evangelism last month in Denver, Salt Lake City, and Miami.

Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam sent a mailing to 230,000 voters to swell the “peace vote” in this month’s New Hampshire primary.

The American Friends Service Committee is suspending its day-care and rehabilitation centers in Viet Nam because of war disruption.

The Orthodox Church of Greece declared it would boycott the July World Council of Churches assembly in Uppsala, Sweden, because of blatant intervention in Greek domestic affairs by the WCC and Sweden, the New York Times reports.


“There must be a reasonable subordination of religious faith” in the military service.—Major Roy Smith, Air Force prosecutor, explaining sentencing of humanist Captain Dale Noyd to a year at hard labor for refusing to train pilots for Viet Nam on religious grounds.


JOHN W. BEHNKEN, 83, former Houston pastor who was president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod from 1935 to 1962; in Hollywood, Florida.

REUBEN K. YOUNGDAHL, 56, pastor of the 10,000-member Mount Olivet Church, Minneapolis, largest U. S. Lutheran congregation; of lung failure; in Hawaii near the end of a Far East tour.

CECIL ALDERSON, 67, Anglican bishop in Rhodesia who denounced the 1965 breakaway from Britain and said Christians might have the duty to disobey unlawful laws; in South Africa, of a heart attack.

PHAM VAN QUI, 28, Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself to death as “a holocaust unto Buddha” for peace during a national day of prayer.

ALOYSIUS P. MCGONIGAL, 46, who extended chaplain duty in Viet Nam a year, then joined a front-line Marine battalion that needed a Catholic priest; in the battle of Hue.

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