The Redeemer: A Sacred Service of Music by Former Tabernacle Organist Bob Cundick
Composer Robert (Bob) Cundick once said, “I compose because it is my natural form of speech. I can compose and be able to portray things that I can’t do with words.”
Cundick was born on November 26, 1926, and lived a musical life. Growing up, he played in bands and orchestras and was called to be the organist for his congregation by age 12. In 1965 he became a Tabernacle organist, where he served for 27 years before retiring in 1991. He passed away on January 7, 2016.
Of the many pieces Cundick has composed in his lifetime, his masterwork is widely acknowledged as The Redeemer: A Sacred Service of Music. Former Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Jerold Ottley proclaimed, “His crowning achievement was The Redeemer because it was not just a musical composition; it was an expression of his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In the documentary titled Robert Cundick: A Sacred Service of Music (watch here), narrator Carmen Rasmusen Herbert recounts, “The Redeemer started with the idea of creating a sacred work that would have meaning to Christians of every persuasion.” Ralph Woodward, the music and choral director at BYU, assembled text from the Bible and other revealed scripture with the emphasis on the most important references to Jesus Christ’s mission on earth. When it came time for Robert Cundick to work on it, he arranged the text into lyric form in two days. “Then in an intense 10-week period, he found that if he approached God in prayer, the musical notation would flow from his pencil,” explained Rasmussen.
The work was debuted in 1978 by BYU’s choir and orchestra and had an enduring impact on those involved. “I’ll never forget the rehearsals that we had for The Redeemer. I remember there was kind of a reverent awe that would come over the choir as we sang it. I would go around for days after that thinking about what the words were and thinking about the music, and it would just kind of go through your soul,” remembered Charles Cranney (1978 BYU a cappella choir).
The Redeemer: A Sacred Service of Music lives on today—it was recently performed in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Rexburg, Idaho, by more than 400 students from Brigham Young University–Idaho’s symphony orchestra, men's choir, women's choir, collegiate singers, and concert choir, conducted by Eda Ashby. A section of the documentary focused on these rehearsals and performances of The Redeemer at BYU–Idaho. One of the students involved in the performances, Sarah Nicholes, said, “I feel like The Redeemer was made and composed just for me. As we rehearsed and performed The Redeemer as a choir, it brought a feeling of infinite truth.”
Ronald Staheli of the BYU School of Music perhaps summed up what many people think about Cundick’s The Redeemer by saying, “I think there have been a lot of pieces that have come and gone and are now forgotten. I doubt that that will ever happen to Bob’s piece because it is just so extraordinarily well written. Some of the choruses will go on forever.”
In the words of the composer Robert Cundick himself, “Music can influence people in a way that no other medium can because it speaks to the heart.”
Watch a behind-the-scenes bonus feature from The Redeemer DVD, which includes the composer’s thoughts on The Redeemer: