Monday, May 31, 2010

Congrats and Thanks!

Last night's concert was a big success for the choir. I think I speak for everyone involved when I say we were pleased to see so many people in attendance, especially on a beautiful holiday weekend, and we appreciate the applause and kind comments.

I also want to add my personal thanks and admiration for the hard work and talent of everyone involved. Last night went so far beyond a typical choir concert by incorporating original musical compositions, poetry, photography, sculpture, and drawing - I suppose even the food represented a creative art form. It was a fantastic finish to the spring season, and the choir will definitely be missed during its summer vacation.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unorthodox Wisdom

Musical geeks everywhere have fallen in love with "Glee," of course, but for pure unadulterated geek-dom, you really need to be watching "Big Bang Theory." The story follows four college professors and proud dorks and their interactions with the girl next door.

The most recent episode included a quote about theology that made me laugh. In response to one character's disclosure that his mother makes him attend church at least once per year, his blind date replies:

"I don't object to the concept of a deity, but I'm baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance."

It's both funny and shows a profound misunderstanding of some of the benefits and purposes of worship. Music is one of the best expressions of corporate worship, with all our voices raised in songs of praise together. That is an experience that you cannot have unless you gather with others. It made me think of the song "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and it's answers to why the singer sings. The reasons for worship are the same (not simply to get attendance credit!):

"I sing because I'm happy.
And I sing because I'm free.
His eye is on the sparrow.
And I know he watches over me."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Patriotic music by Beethoven

This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer with the arrival of Memorial Day. For me, the holiday always brings to mind warm mornings spent toting my trumpet from cemetery to cemetery to play taps and marching with the band in the VFW's small parade in my hometown. Besides veterans, high school musicians may be among the most likely people in the country to observe the holiday properly for a moment at least - not simply going shopping or lounging at the beach.

This week's prelude will sound to the congregation like "My Country Tis of Thee." But I will actually be playing Beethoven's piano variations on "God Save the King." We don't get to hear much of Beethoven's music in church. He was a transitional figure from the classical, enlightenment period of the late 18th century toward 19th century romanticism. Furthermore, he lived at a time when he could make a career as a piano virtuoso and composer, no longer as reliant on employment as a church musician as Bach and other earlier musicians had been. For all these reasons, he composed very little that is appropriate for church music, so I like to take the opportunity to play this particular piece on patriotic holidays from time to time.

I know that some members of our congregation have been directly affected by our ongoing military engagements around the world, and I know that our prayers are certainly with them, our military and government leaders, and veterans on this holiday.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Choir concert this Sunday

Mark your calendars for this Sunday evening's choir concert. The concert begins at 7:00 and explores the theme "Love and Creation," dedicated to the memory of Bill Pearsall.

The evening will feature art, poetry, and music that has been created by members of the congregation. In that way, it epitomizes the sense of community that should always infuse worship in a congregation. We'd love to have a full church Sunday night!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Veni Creator Spiritus

That's Latin for "Come, Holy Spirit." Tomorrow is Pentecost, so remember to wear red. It's the one Sunday of the year that we focus explicitly on the Holy Spirit. One medieval Latin chant that is appropriate for the Sunday still appears in the ELW, but we won't be singing it this week. Instead, it will be the meditative prelude. You might want to open to ELW 577 to follow along to the text there.

Here is one translation of the first verse, for our own prayers to be guided by the Holy Spirit:

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
And in our souls take up thy rest;
Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Would Julia Do?

The world lost a great actress with the recent passing of Dixie Carter, and symbolically, we lost her most memorable character, Julia Sugarbaker from the television show "Designing Women."

I always enjoyed the show, and Netflix has recently reacquainted me with the episodes. I always admired Julia. She was the embodiment of intelligence, style, class, and wit. She managed to combine strongly voiced liberal views with a devout faith. For me, her personal philosophy was the driving element of the show, and her rendition of "How Great Thou Art" is a stirring scene from the show.

But there's also a quote from Suzanne that came to mind when I was thinking about possible links between the show and church. One of Suzanne's role is to drum up business for the decorating business, and in one episode she notes that it isn't easy just to stand on a streetcorner hawking throw pillows. How do we market the church and keep it relevant? What roles do fellowship, stewardship, and outreach play in our mission? How do we balance our daily lives with our church membership? Somehow I always felt that Julia knew the answers to such questions and confidently lived her life to the fullest. May we all be so lucky.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mary and Martha

Having worked within as many community theatre organizations as I have, you can safely assume that I've performed, directed, played piano for, or just generally been a part of all of the popular musical chestnuts. A list of such shows would definitely include "Nunsense" - the ongoing saga of five nuns and their work to maintain their small convent.

This week's sermon reminded me of one anecdote from the show. One character asks if you're more like Mary or Martha - do you play the piano or do you feel the need to dust it?

The story of those sisters can be a frustrating story for the hardest working members of any congregation. Don't we all want to recognized and rewarded for our good works? (Recovering Catholics in particular perhaps?)

But I personally hear the story as a reminder that we are meant to do work that we love, out of love. As always, it seems that children's Sunday school songs convey such a message most succinctly: We love, because God first loved us. Our love and service can take many forms - be it playing the piano or dusting it!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


The Easter season is coming to an end this Sunday. It's amazing how the spring has flown by, and we have reached the time of Ascension. This is not a holiday that is marked by famous hymn tunes, like most festivals of the church year.

The closest we will come this week is our opening hymn "Hail Thee, Festival Day!" It may not be the best known hymn, but the chorus is memorable and hopefully allows an opportunity to ring in tunefuly for part of each verse at least.
We'll also sing "Beautiful Savior" at communion. As a St. Olaf alum, it's naturally one of my favorites, and I expect to hear plenty of voices during communion for a change! The closing hymn will bring a musical ending to the Easter season with "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing!" which is sung to one of the most well-known Easter tunes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Who is the patron saint of music?

My guess was Gregory, after all, Gregorian chant has been the foundation of so much liturgical music for 12 centuries. Who else could it be?

Well, the answer turns out to be slightly more complicated. According to the trivia question I heard at lunch, the patron saint of music is Saint Cecilia. It surprised me so much that I had to spend a few minutes online tonight looking it up. According to what I can find, I wasn't completely wrong - Gregory is the patron saint of musicians, while Cecilia is the patron saint of church music and poets. I was reminded of the series of church music books named after her and then read the story of her martyrdom and life, which was said to be full of the power of music.

Does such arcana truly matter? On the one hand, not at all. These are people who lived centuries ago, and my significant other would certainly argue that saints can quickly become inappropriate idols who distract us from the proper objects of worship. On the other hand, can't the saints and their stories help inspire our own faith? Besides, it's good to have an example of a pious, notable woman associated with church music as we approach Mothers' Day.

And if nothing else, maybe you'll get it right in a Trivial Pursuit game someday!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A moment of silence

Moving to Kent, Ohio, means that May 4th will never be the same. This year is the 40th anniversary of the infamous shootings. The site has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and campus has been over-run with media and alumni. There have been plenty of memorials, peace rallies, and other recognitions of the tragic events.

There hasn't been much music, though. So often, we recognize tragedy with moments of silence. Our response to such pain and loss is complicated and difficult. Many memorials in recent years have involved listing the names of victims, tolling bells, or speeches. Concerts and sing-alongs have been notably absent.

I wonder if a politically correct desire not to offend people of diverse religions has precluded many of the hymns of comfort. But musicians have responded to so many events with music - I will never forget the first time I heard "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," for example. The silence that follows music is even more profound and more comforting than an artificial moment of silence, in my opinion.

I've been trying to think of the hymn or music that would be appropriate for May 4th, and the best suggestion I've thought of is MacDowell's Requiem, which uses the text of Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," rather than the typical Latin mass. But perhaps that doesn't properly capture the turmoil of the period. Anyone have a better suggestion? In the meantime, please observe a moment of music and a moment of silence to ponder the implication of May 4th for civil discourse and peace among us all.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tra La! It's May!

I've had a long tradition of listening to Julie Andrews sing "The Lusty Month of May" on May Day. Yes, I know it's silly and corny, but it's become a touchstone of my year, like putting the star on the Christmas tree, preparing a special dish for Thanksgiving, or making S'mores on the 4th of July.

May Day is not a religious holiday. It's among the most pagan celebrations of nature. But Christianity has a long history of absorbing and transforming pagan traditions and symbols. The Bible and the Gospel message are capable of embracing our entire lives, and sometimes we do need a reminder to throw caution to the wind, to be happy and enjoy our lives.

Surely our celebrations today won't take quite the same form that Guenevere's song implies, but I hope everyone does embrace life with a lusty zeal. Sometimes I see May Day as another chance to renew New Year's resolutions. It's the season of spring cleaning, summer plans, miles of running in the warm weather, yard work, and all kinds of ambitious new projects. Think of Julie/Guenevere and sing Tra La as you embrace spring!