A local musician is combining music and faith in a unique and not-so-brand-new way.
Yuri Hooker, principal cellist for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO), says both faith and music have been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.
Originally from Calgary, Hooker first decided to pursue the cello after seeing a cello concerto performed by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. He was seven at the time, and had grown up playing piano and performing in choirs.
"My mom was a piano teacher," shared Hooker, "and my dad was an avid choir singer, so it was in the house."
The journey to connect faith and music, however, has not always been as easy as his musical giftings.
"From the time I was young, or even a teenager, there was a tension there between performing, at least, and faith, because you have to do different things to get up on stage or to have a really vital faith," said Hooker.
With two very conflicting passions in his life, Hooker has spent years learning to balance music and faith, and the varying demands of each. "To get up on a stage, you have to have a certain amount of ego," the musician explained, "but of course you have to get rid of all that, at least you strive for that, to have a vital faith."
Musical repertoire can both complement and be at odds with faith, and even pieces that Hooker says seemingly affirm his beliefs can be played in a different context.
"I've always longed for an experience where I could actually worship God through playing a Bach Cantada or [Handel's] Messiah, and do it explicitly, as opposed to just in the privacy of my own heart or mind," explained the musician.
It's this tension that has helped lead Hooker SOLAS:Vespers, his latest project.
"I have a knack for picking kind of obscure titles for things," Hooker chuckled.
Vespers refers to the ancient evening hour of prayer in the church and was intended to pay tribute to the seven times a day Psalm 119 encourages Christians to pray and bring praise to God. While the practice of prayer every three hours is something that has fallen by the wayside in many belief systems, Hooker hopes the reference will acknowledge the church's history of worship. Solas [alone] refers to the five pinnacles of the Reformation period considered essential to personal salvation, including scripture, faith, grace, Christ, and glory to God.
"I have acquired a real interest in the Reformation over the past few years," the cellist shared. The solas, in particular, have captured his attention. "My own feeling is that we need a return to some of these first principles... where we return to scripture, where we return to the principles of sola fide [by faith alone] and sola gratia [by grace alone].
"In every generation, it's easy to get distracted with what we're doing in the church, and we constantly need to bring ourselves back to those kinds of foundational principles," says Hooker.
This return to a richer, more traditional worship also presents Hooker with a chance to satisfy his own longing to bring faith and music together.
"Music is this incredible gift and vehicle for worshipping God, that God has given us."
New worship music, while wonderful in its own way, is not the same as music in its original heritage, Hooker says, and SOLAS:Vespers hopes to sustain the art of classical worship in a new and tangible way.
Hooker's hope is to tie together congregational worship and preaching using art from throughout the last 2000 years, and primarily from the last 300 years.
"We are bringing together strands from various different traditions... with an evangelical perspective."
Their first service in two weeks' time will feature a performance of the Genevan Psalter, a collection of musical psalms hardly performed in the English-speaking world, and the Mendelssohn String Quartet, which Hooker will play along with three of his colleagues from the WSO. Alongside the symphony players, a 16-person choir will also be featured.
"Mendelssohn was a composer who took faith seriously, who took his Christianity seriously," Hooker says, explaining his partialness to performing Mendelssohn's piece. "He was a Jewish man whose family converted to Christianity... what I love about this particular piece by Mendelssohn is that it expresses a longing... it's full of this desire for something that can't be satisfied in the material world."
From the selection of music to be played and sung to the message Hooker has prepared to speak, the event has been carefully tailored to explore, strengthen, and celebrate the God-given connection between music and faith.
"It's been such a rich experience for me, and so I hope that other people will also enjoy that," the musician smiled.
The first SOLAS:Vespers performance will take place on Sunday, October 14, 2018, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at St. John's College. Everyone is welcome and there is no cost to attend the service.