Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Durch Adams Fall (Wed night's prelude)

Through Adam's fall human nature
And character is completely corrupted...
Just as another's guilt has brought us
Shame in Adam,
So another's grace in Christ has brought
Us all reconciliation;
And just as for me through Adam's fall
Everything perished eternally in death,
So God through Christ's death
Has renewed what was ruined.

(Hymn's full text available here)

We're nearing the end of Lent. The week before Holy Week is always a busy time of preparing music, and it can make me feel bipolar to rehearse for the last Lenten service and Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. There is such a contrast and variety of musical styles and moods involved in the Passion story that follows the celebration of Palm Sunday.

Before that story unfolds in scripture, music, and worship, however, the prelude this Wednesday hearkens back to Ash Wednesday and the necessity of Christ's sacrifice. The prelude will be a trio setting of the hymn "Durch Adams Fall" by Wilhelm Friedrich Bach (grandson of J.S. Bach). The hymn no longer appears in many modern hymnals, but it has a long and notable history in the Lutheran and musical traditions.

Luther quotes the hymn in the Book of Concord when discussing original sin. The hymn begins with the reminder that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, dust of the earth, as we confessed on Ash Wednesday. But the text goes on to speak of redemption: Christ, as another Adam, has redeemed us all.

The music for the hymn can be found in church books as far back as 1529, and it inspired multiple arrangements, fugues, and chorales from many notable composers, including J.S. Bach, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, and Telemann. It's a shame that we don't sing or know this hymn any longer because it negates the meaning of the melody. This Wednesday night, though, I hope you listen to the music and meditate on the transition from Lent to Holy Week.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wisdom from unorthodox sources - Part 2

Lent is mainly a time of introspection - a consideration of our sins and Christ's sacrifice. I once had a friend who would attend church with me but refused to recite the confession because he said it focused too much on what a bad person he was, when he thought of himself as a basically good person. In my opinion, though, it's liberating to confess that we are imperfect (and some people will no doubt chuckle at that, knowing what a perfectionist I am). To me, the Ash Wednesday confession in particular ("by my own most grievous fault") is both beautiful poetry and reassuring in the knowledge that we are forgiven.

But to forgive and love, and to do either of them unconditionally, is basically beyond our human abilities. My dad, who teaches in NDSU's Department of Education, points out to his pupils that it's very easy to love all your students in the abstract. It's much harder to love the student standing in front of you - even when he or she is being difficult or disagrees with you or even just comes from a different background, perspective, or lifestyle that you don't understand and can't relate to.

So today's unorthodox source is about forgiveness and love: the song "I Don't" by Danielle Peck. If you're not familiar with it, you can hear her sing the basic version, but I'm talking here mostly about its dance mix version, which I can't find on a free site online. The dance version has a strong disco-style beat that makes the beginning feel a lot like "I Will Survive" - basically your standard post-break-up anthem:

"You say you're doin' better
For your sake I hope it's true
I wish you well
But that's all that I can do
Save your 'I'm sorry's'
Just leave 'em at the door
You can't make me feel guilty anymore."

But it's the chorus of this song that has the punchline. To forgive is divine. We are saved through God's forgiveness, even when confessions and apologies cannot bring forgiveness from our friends, neighbors, and loved ones:

"You say I should stay with you
That Jesus forgives you
You pray I will, but I won't
The difference is
Jesus loves you,
I don't."

I can't help it; the chorus makes me laugh every time I hear it. We can all relate to the singer's anger, can't we? But Jesus loves and forgives us all (even those people we can't bring ourselves to forgive and love). That's good wisdom, even if it comes from the dance mix of a country song.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dupre and bells

Our first prelude this week will feature the Bell Choir. I hope you enjoy the novelty of the Sundays when they play. I hope that the variety of instruments available to us - piano, harpsichord, organ, choir, and bells - helps keep your ears awake to the different sounds of the prelude. For me, the chance to listen rather than play the prelude always makes for a calmer worship experience simply because I've taken that extra moment to meditate and pray before the service begins.

The second prelude will be a setting of the hymn "Now the Green Blade Rises" by Marcel Dupre. It's a simple one-verse chorale, but it clearly incorporates a more modern chord structure so that you can hear the hymn in a new way.

Dupre (1886 - 1971) was a French organist and a famous organ virtuoso. Some of his compositions are considered among the most difficult pieces ever written for the organ. He was an academic and a performer, however, and not primarily a church organist. Those are some of the reasons his work is not often performed. However, the modern sound can provide a welcome change of pace from the Bach I've been playing through Lent up to this point.

I hope you enjoy the music on this 5th Sunday of Lent. Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter will be a big change musically from the past weeks!

Friday, March 27, 2009

More healing music

ELW 871:
Sing praise to God, the highest good, the author of creation!
O God of love, you understood our need for your salvation.
With healing balm our souls you fill;
All our lament with peace you still.
To God all praise and glory!

There's a strain of "new age" thinking that posits when you are thinking of something the universe responds with an answer, and there are pyschologists who say it's simply a matter of heightened awareness of things that were already there. Either way, I'm still hearing and reading more about the healing effects of music.

First, this study purports to find a link between listening to favorite songs and stroke recovery and therapy. It reminds me a bit of the "Mozart effect" (about which I think most scientists have become quite skeptical of any major effects). But there remains a fascination and ongoing study of a certain je ne sais quoi that lies embedded in the power of music. We may not be able to quantify it, but our mood and our health seem improved when we listen and sing music we love.

Also, I received a program in the mail today from my grandmother. Her 50-voice choir (all senior citizens) recently performed a Broadway tribute concert. I'm sure they all had a great time singing well-known tunes with friends, and I wish I could have heard them. She'll be turning 80 this year, and she and my grandfather (and my other grandmother who also turns 80 this fall) continue to amaze me with their health and vitality - playing golf, biking 10 miles at a time, travelling, going to church, and singing! I wouldn't say music is central to their lives, but it certainly has a place.

Music has an almost infinite variety, and it seems like everyone has some tune that enlivens their soul. Joanne shared a beautiful story in response to my previous post about the power of music. It's something to think about - what tune gives you the greatest sense of healing - is it something calming and soothing in a time of struggle or something energetic and lively to get your foot tapping?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Prayer will have to be enough

A personal reflection today: Only some of my readers may know that I lived in Fargo for two years while working on a graduate degree at NDSU. Every spring brings a flood and one year that I was there the water was high enough that a temporary dike was built, but nothing could compare with this year.

The picture I've posted was taken on Wednesday with the river at 36 feet - at least 5 more to go they're saying. My dad (whose comments appear regularly on this blog) has been driving bus loads of volunteers to help with the effort, and he has a bag packed if evacuation becomes necessary. My brother-in-law serves in the National Guard and is in the area on active duty to help as much as possible. My former colleagues, classmates, and friends are all hoping that somehow their homes and their city will be spared.

It's staggering to think of the challenges the city is facing. It's already a federal disaster area, and outlying towns, homes, and farms are already being lost. In the city, they're making evacuation plans and urging people to update tetanus shots. They've cancelled all classes and businesses are closed so that everyone can be a part of the desperate effort to hold back the river.

You and I can't fill a sandbag (much as I wish I could do more), but please keep them in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days. There are more pictures of the area at this link and plenty of news coverage this week.

The hymn I'm singing in hope today is ELW 626:

By gracious pow'rs so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning,
And never fails to greet us each new day.

Music Near the Market

Since I'm on spring break from classes this week, I was able to attend Trinity Lutheran's "Music Near the Market" afternoon recital. It's one of the organ institutions of the Cleveland area, but it was the first time my schedule had allowed me to go hear the instrument. And the organ itself is definitely the draw for this event - constructed by Rudolph von Beckerath in 1957, it is entirely mechanical. The instrument was hand-built using basically the same methodologies of Bach's era. It has nearly 3,500 pipes in 65 ranks and 5 divisions. (For comparison, Bethany has roughly 700 in13 ranks and 2 divisions, so we're talking about a major organ that's roughly five times as big as ours.)

The half-hour recital itself was quite nice with plenty of Bach and an overall focus on shorter hymn-based chorales that were appropriate for Lent. The playing was superb, and the audience of 25 was appreciative.

However, when it came to outreach and ministry, I felt that the event fell a bit short. I think it was a missed opportunity that no one greeted newcomers at the door, no formal introduction was made, nor was an invitation extended to join in worship. The church facilities are well past their glory days, with crumbling plaster and loudly clanking radiators. I had trouble balancing my joy from the music and the event in general with the small crowd and the dismal surroundings. Perhaps it's my theatre background - we're always glad to have an audience of any size, but we always wish the marketing effort had brought in more people!

If you happen to be free on Wednesday afternoons, the event is definitely worth the trip. You can even stop by the nearby West Side Market for some shopping after the recital, go to one of the great restaurants in the area, or just enjoy a walk around the area in the spring air like I did. A great way to spend a few hours of my spring break!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Church tour - the organ

Since we've had communion at the altar rail since the beginning of Advent, many of you have had the opportunity to walk by the organ while I've been playing. I've especially noticed some of our youngest members peeking around the corner at all the buttons. Today, I want to share some of the basic facts about our instrument.

At Bethany English Lutheran, our organ is officially titled Austin Organ Company's Opus 1649, originally installed in 1929 and extensively rebuilt in 1981. It has two manuals (keyboards) of 61 keys each, a pedal keyboard with 32 pedals, and an electro-pneumatic action.

The organ has 13 ranks of pipes. That essentially means that there are 13 distinct sounds that can be made by pulling out the stops, based on the shape, size, and characteristics of the pipes. Each rank requires one pipe for every key, which means there are around 700 pipes in the wall behind the organ (on the pulpit side of the church).

Additionally, the church has a set of Ahlborn "electronic pipes" that are controlled by the black box you can see sitting on top of the organ. The speakers for these sounds are on the lectern side of the church, so you can likely tell when I'm adding these sounds to the pipe organ, based on where the sound is coming from. (The big bass sound for the closing hymn this past Sunday was from the electronic pipes, where our best 16' and 32' sounds come from.)

I don't want to bore my readers with too much technical writing about the instrument (hopefully I haven't already), but there's a decent summary about pipe organs in general at this link, if you'd like to read more. I also encourage you to satisfy your curiosity by coming up between services or anytime you see me in church. I'm always happy to demonstrate the instrument and talk about the music at Bethany!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Healing music

This Sunday, we'll be having our afternoon Service of Healing. Coincidentally, this month's American Organist magazine included the following facts from recently published scientific studies in its letter from the president:

"Singing in a choir can rase the level of the disease-fighting protein immunoglobulin A in singers...by 240%."

"Choral singing may reduce stress, improve mood, and increase lung function."

"Listening to 30 minutes of claming music is equal to the effect of a dose of a prescription tranquilizer." (That isn't to say that organ music should put you to sleep!)

Those are just some of the physical effects of singing and listening to music - things we do every Sunday. That doesn't even consider the psychological benefits.

I'll close with a bit of text from ELW 610 "O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come." I think the hymn captures the spirit of the healing service: we ask not just for relief from our own physical suffering but for strength and faith and wholeness for our community and the world.

Grant we all, made one in faith,
In your community may find
The wholeness that, enriching us,
Shall reach the whole of humankind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wisdom from unorthodox sources - Part 1

Let's admit it: sometimes churches take themselves too seriously. Sometimes musicians are too stuffy. Sometimes wisdom can be found in the oddest and most unexpected of places - a diamond in the rough.

As an eclectic musician, I find inspiration in a range of places - songs and lyrics that make me smile or make me think. We can't bring all music into our worship services, but we can take a Lutheran understanding out into the world where we can laugh or think (or both). So here's the first in a new series of unorthodox songs that I hope will make you hum to yourself and smile and discover God in the least likely of places.

Do you recognize Susan Sarandon from the picture and have you guessed the source? Here's the lyric that I'm "Christianizing" today:

"In the velvet darkness of the blackest night,
Burning bright,
There's a guiding star.
No matter what or who you are,
There's a light..."

Our light is Christ (not the Frankenstein place), but wouldn't it be great if we could always spread the Gospel with such popularity, energy, and fun!

Like it says in the Bible...

The other day, a friend of mine related the saying (with full irony) that her father always loved to tell her: "Like it says in the Bible, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'"

I'll just set aside the political overtones that the conversation could take at this point to observe that in some ways the Bible really does say that, and so do some of our best hymns.

For instance, my concordance lists six psalms about living without fear. The birth of Jesus is heralded by angels who proclaim "Fear not!" His ministry is full of the command to followers and believers not to fear, and even from the cross He calms the fear of the criminals crucified with Him, proclaiming they will see Him in paradise.

I've found it impossible to think of a hymn with the word "fear" in its title (but I welcome comments from anyone who can think of one). On the other hand, so many verses repeat the message of hope and trust in God's guidance during times of fear:

*ELW 600 (Out of the Depths I Cry to You): "We rest our fears in your good Word and trust your Holy Spirit"

*ELW 778 (The Lord's My Shepherd): "Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale, yet will I fear no ill"

*ELW 787 (On Eagle's Wings): "You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day"

The ELW has an entire section of hymns under the heading "Trust, Guidance." During times of turmoil, change, and fear - be they economic, personal, or spiritual - these are just some of the hymns that repeat God's message for us: "Fear not!"

Incidentally, none of my examples above come from the title or first verse of a hymn. It's so important that we read and proclaim the Word by singing every verse as well as through reading scripture. Repeatedly exploring the source material (sola scriptura) is how we deepen our faith and understanding. From a similar point of view, Slate.com had a long-running series by David Plotz about his experience reading the Bible (read more here and here).

If you had to sum up the Bible in two words, "Fear not!" wouldn't be the worst attempt. It's a message many of us need to hear right now.

Lenten movie review

For about 10 years now, it has been a tradition of mine to watch the movie Jesus of Montreal during Lent. It's a great film, winning a number of awards and being nominated for the foreign language Oscar in 1990.

The quick summary is that a troupe of actors is asked to write and perform a passion play in Montreal. Their decidedly liberal and unorthodox approach brings on the ire of the church and eventually the public. Meanwhile, the lives of the actors mirror the characters they play, setting the passion story in the modern world. At the end, there's a gorgeous scene in the subway (hence the movie's poster) that includes one of the more beautiful soprano duets you'll ever hear in a movie.

I first watched the movie in college as part of a class assignment. Half the joy of the movie was trying to spot all of the Biblical references and their echoes in the modern story. It's worth watching with a group of people to discuss afterwards! It can definitely spark a great conversation about Lent and Easter.

Yes, you do have to accept a film with subtitles, as well as some partial nudity and violence. (On the other hand, Mel Gibson's version of the crucifixion makes this film seem tame by comparison.) Also, like many religious movies, it uses a straw man of the established church as its antagonist.

You can read more about Jesus of Montreal here, and I know it's available through Netflix and several area libraries. Let me know if you see it; I'd love to know what people think of it!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Musical heritage

The music at worship this week covered more than 300 years of music history, from Beethoven to Manz, from an old favorite "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" (ELW 803) to a relatively new hymn, "In All Our Grief" (ELW 615). Who would have guessed just from hearing it that the latter was composed in the 20th century?

I'd venture that Christian churches have wrestled with the challenge of what to say and sing in worship for 2000 years. For instance, I mentioned in a previous post the influence of Vaughan Williams on the Anglican church, and Pastor Ferro pointed out that the Church of England has their share of disagreements with his compositions and a troubled relationship with their musical heritage. (Read more in this article, if you're interested.) The ELW has been a cause of dissension within the Lutheran church, which brings me to my topic of the day: why does our organist hate "Shine, Jesus, Shine" so much?!

Yes, that particular hymn is my cliche punching bag, I will admit. What you don't know is that secretly in my heart I truly enjoy the rousing chorus. I can remember singing it at Luther Crest Bible Camp at an evening outdoor worship and being inspired by it. So what's the problem with it for regular Sunday morning worship?

My personal test for the quality of a hymn always begins with two questions:
1. Is the text appropriate?
(Including, does it expound proper Lutheran theology, not simply does it mention God.)
2. Is the music appropriate for congregational singing?

It is on the second count that I have my biggest issue with several selections in the ELW. In particular, "Shine, Jesus, Shine" has a tempo issue. If you sing the refrain fast enough to be exciting and uplifting, then the verses become completely unsingable. So the congregation is stuck with the choice of a compromise tempo, tongue-twisting verses, a depressingly slow refrain, or changing tempos (among the worst of sins to any trained organist).

I'm always reminded of my years as an organist for a Catholic church in Minneapolis. For that congregation, the hymn is perfect: the "vocal leader" would sing the verse into a microphone while a few members of the congregation perhaps mumbled along, and then a few more people would join in happily on the refrain. The Lutheran church, however, places a strong emphasis on participation. That is one of the reasons our music is based on the chorale - it has a regular beat and a predictable form, while allowing creativity for composers and arrangers.

Of course, we'll continue to sing some hymns that aren't my favorites, an experience we all have at some point over the course of the year. But we'll also sing my favorites and yours too. We add to our musical heritage and pass it on, simply doing our best week after week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Pi-Day weekend!

I'm letting my math geekiness show in my title, but I hope that you all enjoy Pi Day on Saturday.

This Sunday we're singing a hymn from the Bethany Hymnal that is arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (#1021, O God of Earth and Altar). Vaughan Williams was an English composer who lived from 1872 to 1958, and he is famous for, among other things, editing the Church of England's hymnal, published in 1906. His work on that volume shaped the sound of the Anglican church for the remainder of the 20th century.

Vaughan Williams especially loved to arrange English folk tunes as hymns, like the tune for this Sunday's closing hymn. It's also full of fantastic, earthy poetry, the kind of text you might miss on Sunday morning as you try to sing along.

The hymn's title alone points out that God is of the earth and the altar. Christ, the word made flesh, is a logical inversion of human dreams. After all, don't we love comic books in part because we want to have god-like powers? At Christmas, that story is inverted when God comes to earth, humbly becoming a God of earth.

I also want to draw your attention to verse 3, in particular. In a very Anglican way, it speaks of drawing together prince and priest. Beyond nationalism, though, the text asks God to tie us all together - what Lutherans might think of as the priesthood of all believers. In corporate worship, we join our voices together in praise. The poetry is beautiful, and the tune is a lovely, flowing folk tune. I hope you enjoy it. I'll close with the text of verse 3 as a text to ponder before, during, or after worship:

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall;
Bind all our lives together;
Smite us, and save us all;
In ire and exultation,
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Excellence and joy

One of my recent posts drew a greater than usual number of comments, and we spent a brief moment discussing it at the recent Worship & Music committee meeting. I mention it because it exemplifies the purpose of this blog: to spark discussion and feedback. Thanks to the joy of Google Analytics, I know that our readership has been steady, so if you're reading this I encourage you to join in and leave a message anytime!

Another thing I loved about the earlier discussion was that we ranged from classic Lutheran hymns, Bach, and Mendelssohn, all the way up to Duke Ellington and country-western music. I'd say a rough consensus was that we do need a variety of styles in church, all done well and balanced over time. We can't sing your favorite, though, if you never tell us what it is.

Church music is about more than just who composed it, and my philosophy is to strive for excellence and joy in the presentation of any music. If the musicians don't feel confident joy about what they're singing, how could the congregation?

Joy, you might be asking - during Lent?!? Yes! We are in a season where a part of our soul should be giddy with anticipation of the greatest news ever received. The climax of the Gospel story is near (and Gospel means "good news," after all).

Rather than prattle on in my own feeble attempt to explain my musical philosophy of Christian joy, I'll leave it to you to hear it in my music, as well as in this quote from Gene Robinson's autobiographical work In the Eye of the Storm:
"If we acted as if we truly believed the message of Incarnation...if we believed that human flesh was an appropriate and honorable abode for God and for ourselves...if we saw our souls and bodies as a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God...then people would be beating down the doors of our churches to find out what makes our lives so joyful, our relationships so full of mutual respect, and our outreach to the world so central to who we are."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Talking about music

Tonight is the Worship and Music Committee meeting, a group of people who spend a significant amount of our time involved in the task of talking about music. It's an inherently odd endeavor, to talk about music, just as odd as writing about music. It works best if we share an aural language of sound in our collective memory.

What we'll try to accomplish tonight is an appropriate mix of musical styles, familiar and new hymns, appropriate liturgy for the season, and all of it in the Lutheran-inspired, God-focused endeavor of worship. Quite a task!

In a brilliant autobiographical play of Maria Callas, Terrence McNally has her recite this line: "Vowels are the inarticulate sounds of the heart. In consonants lie the meaning." That's such a simple but intriguing approach to music. So many emotions can be easily conveyed in simple, vowel-based sounds: gasps of surprise, an "oooo" of admiration, the "mmmm" sigh of relaxing in a warm bed on a cool spring night. So we can think of music as emotion mixed with intellect, pure sound with added layers of meaning, all projected through the wonder of the human voice.

Not everyone talks about music in terms of composers and music theory, not everyone wants to talk about the minutiae of pronunciation (as outlined in the diagram), but if you simply want to share an opinion about what music gets sung in church (and when and how), then you're always welcome to join our online conversation here or in person anytime!

Friday, March 6, 2009

More WTC and Dies Sind

This Sunday's preludes both hail from the root of our Lutheran musical traditions. First, I'm continuing with my Lenten presentation of selections from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, this time the c minor from his second book. I'll be playing it on the piano instead of the harpsichord, and I'm hopeful that it will make the fugue structure even clearer.

Second, I'll be playing a setting of Luther's hymn of the 10 commandments. Most of you will know that we're singing it on Wednesday nights, and I'll be echoing that melody in the prelude on Sunday morning. The hymn may be unfamiliar now, but it will be returned to its rightful place in our congregation's musical canon by our repetition of it this spring.

Incidentally, I read a brief snippet this week that claimed Bach's later career was "Christianity's gain but...music's loss." The author lamented that Bach was not free to explore all of the musical forms and instruments that were becoming known in his later years. I can't help but disagree and argue that a man who wrote "Soli deo gloria" on so many manuscripts was too devout ever to view his years as a church musician as negative for his musical career.

How do you feel about Bach and his music in the church today? Should we hear more of it? Should we move on to a more contemporary sound? Should we strive for balance? I tend to fall into the latter camp, and I hope you're enjoying the WTC series for Lent!

Happy Birthday, Michelangelo

Michelangelo is one of the great historical figures of all time - a temperamental artist, a genius who got into street fights, a man who fought with Popes, quarried his own marble, and created enduring works of such beauty that mere words can't do them justice. His Pieta (at right) is among his most famous sculptures. Amazingly carved from one piece of marble, it depicts Mary holding the crucified body of Christ.

As a lover of all things Latin and Renaissance, I get goosebumps thinking about the ancient, artistic connections that join the Gospels, the Roman virtue of pietas (duty or devotion), and the artistry of Michelangelo. It brings to my mind musical phrases from various settings of Pie Jesu and Agnus Dei. That common heritage of a musical language is one of the joys of church music. Learn just one version of the Magnificat and you will never be at a loss for something to hum in praise of a warm spring day. Then church music has not only opened the door to the arts in general, but has become truly integrated into daily life.

I suggested the Magnificat, but what hymn or text would you proudly sing to celebrate life?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The ill-tempered organist

Those of you who saw (or heard) me at church last night know that I'm suffering from the flu bug that has been going around. While that does tend to make me a little grumpy, I'm thinking of other meanings of the word tempered today: the tuning of a piano and the strengthening of steel.

Geeky musicians can argue for hours about the technical issues of tuning, and many of the arguments are about Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. To give the quickest possible summary, the musical scale cannot be perfectly tuned to all keys simultaneously. It would be like building new cupboards for a kitchen, with everything at perfect 90 degree angles. We all know, however, that the kitchen walls will probably require a shim somewhere to make everything fit and keep it all level. Basically, tempering is the process of "shimming" the notes on the piano so that we can play in all keys. Thus, the little-known fact that the modern piano is purposely "out of tune" in comparison to a pure tuning.

This week, my body is ill-tempered - out of homeostasis and out of tune. Being sick in Lent is always a vivid reminder of the Ash Wednesday scripture that we are dust and to dust we shall return. With rest and fluids and stretching, I'll hopefully bring my body back into proper tempering soon.

Lent is also a season for reflection and tuning of our spiritual lives. Like the tuning of the piano, our daily lives are full of little problems, mistakes, and sins. It's my understanding that when you temper metal for a knife blade the molecules line up, strengthening the steel. Similarly, Lent can be a season for integrating our lives so that mind, body, and spirit all point in the same direction. Then we will be well-tempered Christians, in both senses of the term.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What did Cassie sing at the beginning of the psalm?

If you were at second service this Sunday, you might have wondered about the "introduction" that Cassie sang prior to the psalm and repeated at the end of it. That short musical phrase is called an antiphon. It tends to be just a few measures of a simple melody, with the text coming either from that day's psalm or another closely related Biblical verse.

The reason to sing an antiphon is to clarify the fundamental thought of the psalm. It helps focus our mind on the emphasis of that day's psalm and guides our interpretation of it. In that way, it uses music to help instruct us and tie the lessons together - the main goal of all good Lutheran church music! For the most part, we use the ELCA's published psalter, but we occasionally substitute other published music or even compose our own simple antiphons.

Incidentally, if you are interested in participating in our music ministry without the ongoing time commitment of joining the choir, singing a psalm could be a great opportunity for you!