|Posted on November 22, 2017 at 8:50 AM||comments (2)|
Organ Petting Zoo
by Jessica Nelson
After lots of Sunday services, I can be found sticking around the organ, helping small, eager hands pick out "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Even though it adds to the post-liturgical din in the nave, every time I catch a child (or an adult) eyeing the instrument, I invite them in for a closer look, and to play if they'd like. (Yes, it can be terrifying to have small children play instruments that can cost millions of dollars, but with proper supervision and your instrument's technician on speed dial, it's a worthwhile risk.)
Last St. Francis Day, I invited small children to stay after the service for an "Organ Petting Zoo," a (somewhat) organized introduction to the instrument. I spoke in the broadest terms about how the organ was made, let them handle wooden pipes from a dismantled instrument, and demonstrated the different voices by imitating animals. Sweet flutes became songbirds, wheezy reeds became ducks and geese. We had as many creatures, real or imagined, as I could manage - deep singing whales, dragons, purring cats, growling dogs, buzzing bees, and even a visit from the zimbelstern fairy. Everybody had a turn to play a few notes with the animal of their choice. It was loud and chaotic - and required some parent helpers for crowd control - but fun.
Absolutely nothing went according to plan, but nobody cried, there was no damage to life or property, and maybe - I hope - somebody learned something!
St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Jackson, MS
|Posted on May 31, 2017 at 8:15 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted on May 22, 2017 at 9:30 AM||comments (0)|
Self-care for the Church Musician
As church musicians or ministers working for a church, often we give everything we have to our parish and forget to take care of ourselves spiritually and emotionally. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who put their whole heart and soul into their church work. That means that every day of their lives they are giving their all to their parish and often forget to give to themselves—this is a problem; eventually, you will get burned out or get your feelings hurt. In a field where we are celebrated for putting our heart into everything we do, we usually are not celebrated when our feelings get hurt. My goal with this article is to start a conversation about self-care: what do you do in your life, and how it has helped you get through the good times and the bad times? Also, what could we do better in our lives to ensure that we are taking care of our needs while still giving all we need to give to our parishes?
I would like to stress how important it is that everyone has someone they trust to speak to about what is going on in their life. Whether this is a therapist or a good friend, it is vital that you have someone in your life to whom you can vent and tell your truth. I am very fortunate to have both. Having a therapist has been a lifesaver for me as she constantly reminds me of the bigger picture. Life is too short to focus on the small stuff; I have learned to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and I usually realize how small the issue truly is. However, I am not perfect, and I still stumble and get in my head—and—that is okay!
Having a circle of local friends that are in different fields and are in various walks of life is vital. Church musicians are known for basically living at the church. With all our office hours throughout the week and the rehearsals trying to perfect every note, we lose sight of life outside our vocation. We live and breathe the church year and work very hard each week to bring beautiful music to provide an authentic and meaningful worship experience. Having a group of friends outside of this is critical and can be a breath of fresh air.
Finding ways to worship when you are not the leader is essential. Every week we are in ministry roles where we are the leaders of worship. If you never leave that space and find a space where you can get fed, how can you experience God at the level we want our parishioners to? Worshipping without being a leader allows you to be vulnerable and allows other to lead you. This is tricky as it is hard to find times to go to other services when we are always working. Make time!
I say these things not to say I do not like my job or I am overwhelmed, I say all of this because I know it to be the way I will be able to stay in my ministries for years to come. Self-care is like tires on a car. If you care for them, rotate them, and service them, they will last much longer than if you just use them every day without special attention. I want to be directing and leading music when I am eighty-years-old, and I know the only way that will be possible is if I take care of myself and keep my mind, body, and soul healthy. I love the work I do in the Episcopal Church, and I would not trade it for anything; but, over the years I have learned how to take my off days, focus on my self-care, and truly grasp a solid relationship with God.
I hope that if you read this, it will get your wheels turning as to what you can do better in your life for self-care and what you could do to help others. We are all in this together, it truly is one Church, and we must support, encourage, and sometimes cry with one another. Peace my friends in Christ, take care of yourself and keep making beautiful music!
Director of Music Ministries
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Peoria, IL
Co/Editor, Church Music Forward
|Posted on November 11, 2016 at 9:30 AM||comments (1)|
In Search of Perfection
November 27th, 2016, will mark the two-year anniversary of one of the most significant changes I’ve ever made in my 25+years of music ministry. In 2014, following a long, painful, and toxically dysfunctional leadership transition at my previous church, I decided to leave NYC, my home of over 15 years, and accept a call to be the Minister of Music & Arts at a church on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Initially, I’d planned to spend a year in ‘paradise’, and then return to my ‘real life’ back in New York—but God had other plans. I’d spent months on my knees, praying my heart out, pleading with God to give me the courage and strength to hold fast while witnessing the faith community that I served and loved being torn apart. When God answered, it wasn’t to fortify my heart, but rather, to change my situation…and God apparently had something more long-term in mind.
I’d made a number of other big moves in the past—from Boston to the Bay Area, and from San Francisco to NYC, but I’d never experienced the kind of culture shock I felt during the first few months of my recent relocation. Other than moving to a place like Montana and trying to live off the land, I can’t think of anything that would be a more drastic change than moving from a city of 8 million people to a tiny island in the Caribbean with a total population of 32,000, give or take the number of cruise ship passengers taking tours on any given day.
The most definitive change for me was in worship itself: I came from a diverse, urban, progressive church with a large music budget, services of contemporary/blended worship led by a professional Praise Team & Worship Band, a Dance Ministry headed by a former Ailey dancer, and a Drama Ministry led by well-known Broadway actors. We also relied upon a ‘Worship Arts Planning Committee’ that met monthly to discuss ways to use the creative and performing arts to deepen the congregations worship experience, and to speak to people’s hearts in a language beyond words. I came to a much more traditional church with a congregation who, for the most part, had never even heard of the term “Worship Arts”, and who were accustomed to hearing/singing primarily traditional hymns, sacred music, and choral anthems, accompanied by an organ (an instrument that terrified me, having worked for the last 20 years solely as a pianist, but that’s a story for another day).
Have I mentioned that St. Thomas is a very small island? While there are many highly skilled and gifted individuals, it is not a place where you’ll find an ever-expanding talent pool of world-class musicians, dancers, singers and artists. Now, here’s the interesting part: I have found that there is great joy in working with people exactly as they are, in coming to know their capabilities and their limitations, in challenging them to reach a higher level of excellence—but in also celebrating the beautifully imperfect gifts that they offer up to the Lord.
Here’s the thing: there is a difference between what is excellent, and what is perfect. I can easily list hundreds of performances and/or recordings I’ve heard that display the highest possible level of excellence; many left me impressed, but not moved. Conversely, one of my all-time favorite recordings is the folk singer Iris DeMent’s version of ‘Leaning On the Everlasting Arms’. Iris’s is not a ‘pretty’ voice—it’s raw and piercing; I usually gravitate toward singers who possess a more traditionally ‘beautiful’ tone. There’s something about this recording, though, that cuts straight through to my heart; hers is the most perfect rendition of this beloved hymn I’ve ever heard. The very rawness, openness and honesty of the sound give the hymn a depth of beauty that transports the listener to a place of holiness.
Here in St. Thomas, mine is not a choir of professionally trained singers, but a choir of people who love the Lord, and worship in spirit and in truth. They sometimes struggle with syncopation and intonation, but they sing with all their hearts. They may struggle with balance and blend, but they love each other, and that’s clearly reflected every time they sing. I have to choose repertoire more carefully, but I’m finding beauty in simplicity. They’re not perfect—but there’s perfection in what they bring to worship. I look back at my approach to music ministry over the past 20+ years, and I wish I’d understood the importance of this more fully. I wish I’d had more patience with volunteers, been willing to put my ego--which demanded weekly displays of technical excellence—aside, and allowed everyone to musically express their love for God, and to touch others’ hearts in doing so-- demonstrating that while the pursuit of excellence is a part of our calling, the commitment to love is our higher calling. I thank God for placing me in a position where I’d be forced to learn the spiritual disciplines of acceptance and patience—never my strong suit. I’ve frequently prayed St. Augustine’s prayer—‘Lord, give me patience—but do not give it yet’! I now find myself living in a place where there’s no choice but to slow down, to breathe mindfully, to take time to appreciate the extraordinary beauty that surrounds me, and to turn to God rather than getting lost in any number of the myriad distractions that come with New York City living. I’m not perfect—I still struggle to find the balance between challenge and acceptance, forcing vs. allowing, and seeing the perfection in every situation. But in learning and adapting to this new pace and way of life, I’m finding more beautiful and loving parts of myself that were forced to stay hidden in order to survive the daily onslaught of stress, smells, crowds, and noise—not to mention the constant undercurrent of tension and barely repressed rage one experiences when walking through Times Square or riding the MTA!
I have been moved to tears by any number of performances my choir has offered in worship. I continue to be amazed by the speed of their learning curve, and by their commitment, open-heartedness, and improvement on a monthly, even weekly, basis. And these qualities are not unique to the choir—one of my first projects upon arriving was the creation of a Worship Arts Planning Team. There was an existing ‘Worship Team’, but their focus had been on purely logistical elements—Sanctuary decorations, flowers, Christmas Pageant costumes, etc. Rather than disbanding the group or starting a separate one with a different focus, I decided to challenge the existing team to shift its focus to the bigger picture—what could we do to add artistic as well as practical elements to worship services? We struggled a bit early on—people need encouragement to think of themselves as ‘creative’, and it takes great courage to brainstorm aloud about artistic possibilities that lie outside of one’s personal skills and talents. But we stuck with it, retaining virtually all of the original members, and adding several new members with a variety of creative and artistic backgrounds. The team began to think further and further outside of the box as they saw their ideas implemented in worship with powerful impact. We recently spent a full day together, brainstorming ideas to use throughout the coming church year. I saw people who’d originally been timid and unsure of themselves become vocal proponents of many wonderful ideas. The Holy Spirit was moving mightily in the room and all who attended left on fire with a passion for reaching hearts and minds in the special ways that only the arts can access.
I moved to New York City believing that it was the only place I could surround myself with the gifted, the accomplished, the passionate and the professional –the only place I could find my own inspiration and constantly learn and grow through collaborating with kindred spirits. While the city certainly offered me constant opportunities to hone my skills and learn from the best of the best, I’m now experiencing a different kind of learning curve. It’s a curve with love and humility at its apex—and it’s exactly what my spirit needed to heal, and to transform exhaustion and bitterness into inspiration and joy. I have no idea if God will call me to stay here for the long haul, but it is an amazing blessing to know that right here, right now, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I was created to do.
Like many of us, I have a quotation attached to my email signature: ‘Go forth, my friend, as a musician of the soul, and tune the hearts of all to the Divine Harmony’—Inayat Khan. May we continue to live into this calling, and may it ever be so.
Chanelle Schaffer is a graduate of Stanford University and the M.F.A. acting program of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. She has extensive performing and teaching experience, and is currently on the music faculty of the University of the Virgin Islands. She spent fifteen years in New York City, where she served as Music Director for historic Judson Memorial Church, M.D. for Marble Collegiate Church’s ‘Wednesday Worship’ services, and as the Director of Music & Worship Arts at Fort Washington Collegiate Church. Chanelle currently serves as Minister of Music & Arts at the St. Thomas Reformed Church.
|Posted on July 28, 2016 at 9:35 AM||comments (0)|
Making Connections: The Center for Congregational Song
By Brian Hehn
Three years ago, The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada began to dream big. We know that the holy act of singing together shapes faith, heals brokenness, transforms lives, and renews peace. So the question we needed to answer was, “What can we do as an organization to promote, encourage, and enliven congregational song in the 21st century?” How do we expand our reach and touch even more lives with this important mission? And so began an endowment campaign to fund The Center for Congregational Song. The endowment campaign has reached its conclusion and we are preparing to launch the Center in October of 2017. There will be more information about the launch event that I can share later this year, but first I want to share with you the three main functions of The Center for Congregational Song. First,
The Center will house all of the new educational and outreach programs of The Hymn Society. This includes The Ambassadors Program, Song/Hymn-writing workshops, encouraging and/or sponsoring more local singing events like hymn festivals, and Pastors Conferences.
• The Ambassadors Program is a free 1-day workshop provided by The Hymn Society for undergraduate music majors where young clinicians teach about the basics of church music and tell students about vital resources they will need to be successful in music ministry. So far we have held Ambassadors Programs at Wingate University, Florida State University, Augustana College, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
• Song/Hymn-Writing Workshops will be hosted that provide new poets and composers the opportunity to hone their craft in intimate settings with established artists who are masters at their craft. The first of these workshops will be offered this Fall in Richmond, Virginia.
• Encouraging local singing events is vital so that the importance of congregational singing can be highlighted in communities. When we sing together, it brings us together in peaceful ways to have healthy conversations about our faith and the love of God and neighbor. The Center will serve as a catalyst for events like these, connecting local church musicians from various traditions who are passionate about the congregation’s voice.
• The Pastors Conferences are designed for pastors of small congregations who mostly work with volunteer musicians and have little or no paid staff. Pastors in these situations often have to take the lead in all aspects of the congregation’s life, including their worship and their song. Seminary training rarely prepares pastors for leading song, so The Center for Congregational Song will be providing 2-day events to help pastors explore resources and build song-leading skills with professional song-enliveners. We have two of these conferences being offered this year, one in Fort Worth, TX and one in conjunction with our summer conference in Redlands, California.
Second, The Center will be an online resource for church musicians that will intentionally connect them to new resources. By learning about your particular context through a series of questions, the website will then suggest a pool of resources that might be useful for you and your ministry in encouraging and enlivening congregational song. The power of this resource will be our ecumenism and broad scope. While many church musicians may only know about their own denomination’s resources and maybe one professional organization like the AGO or ACDA depending on their training, The Center for Congregational Song will constantly be in touch with multiple denominations, professional conferences, church music non-profits, blogs, song-writers, and anything else having to do with congregational song. By curating all of these organization’s resources and ideas, The Center will be able to point individuals/clients to things which may be extremely helpful which were previously unknown, coming from a different denominational organization, a blog, or a new organization that is just establishing itself, like Church Music Forward. Our job will be to know about these things and to be able to point people towards them.
Finally, The Center will serve as a broker for a more complete national conversation about congregational song. There are so many wonderful conversations about congregational singing happening within various communities around the country. Our goal is not to dig into one particular style or tradition, but to continually reach out to new conversation partners to learn about what they are doing and why they are doing it. After broadening the scope of conversation partners, we can then begin connecting faith communities, traditions, and musical styles into a healthy conversation that places the congregation’s voice at the center. By doing this, we can ensure that the church’s song moves into the future intentionally, helping its people to praise to God and love our neighbors through thoughtful and passionate congregational song.
To learn more about The Hymn Society and the launch of The Center for Congregational Song, go to www.thehymnsociety.org/CCS or email Brian at email@example.com
Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song for The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He also serves as the Director of Music Ministries at Arapaho United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and son, Eve and Jakob.
|Posted on April 27, 2016 at 2:10 PM||comments (2)|
|Posted on January 27, 2016 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
Drew Nathaniel Keane
“Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness, and let thy saints sing with joyfulness”
What is the surplice? As the priests, acolytes, and choir of our church don the white, draping garment just prior to services Sunday after Sunday, it seems worth asking, “What it is and why it is worn?”
The surplice is, first of all, the only vestment of our Church that (through no small struggle) survived the zealous iconoclasm of the Reformation, when many other things we now take for granted as “Anglican” were for a long time rejected, forbidden, or forgotten. It is the only ancient vestment never overthrown in England. Until 1965 it was the only one lawfully prescribed for all services. That certainly makes the surplice no small part of our Anglican heritage. It is no exaggeration to say that it has, throughout the last three hundred years, been the most immediately recognized image of the Episcopal priest.
This observation is particularly important, since the lay-ministers in the chancel -- acolytes and choristers -- vest just as the priests do. This means that they all fulfill a similar function, and that function is not to put on a performance for the congregation. The surplice is not a costume worn by an actor nor the tuxedo of a player in the orchestra. There are many different reasons why one would wear a special kind of clothing for a particular occasion; so, answering the question “What is the surplice?” will also help sort out the office of those who wear it, the meaning of their ministry.
In some denominations the clergy and choir wear a gown or robe (the surplice is technically neither, since it does not open down the front) modeled after medieval academic regalia -- the so-called “Geneva gown” -- so that they look not too dissimilar from an academic procession. The ministers -- priests, servers, and choristers -- that officiate our services do not come before the altar dressed in the garb of intellectual achievement. On the contrary, the ministers at our altar wear a symbol of the grace that has covered the sins of God’s people. As God vowed through the prophet Isaiah: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1.18). White cloth has been throughout ages and climbs, a metaphor of cleansing and purity. The surplice, then, is not only a quintessentially Anglican vestment, it is, most importantly, a symbol the holiness of Christ, in which his people are clothed.
We must also note, the surplice is a vestment of the church. In other words, it is not just a symbol, but a holy symbol, as much as the crucifix or even the altar. Holy means “set apart.” Why do we not pull chairs round the altar to eat lunch there? Because it is a holy table; it is set apart from ordinary use. For the same reason the surplice isn’t worn outside of services, neither for rehearsals nor at coffee hour. While in some denominations the ministers wear their own clothing for services, it is significant that ours do not. Our ministers do not come before the altar in their own individual capacities, by their own charisma or talents (though these qualities are all certainly present and used in service); rather, they come as agents of the Church, the body of Christ, the company of all faithful people, both here and in glory interceding. That is why they do not wear their own clothing -- or, rather, why their own clothes are covered beneath vestments -- as a sign of humility, corporate purpose, and the sacred obligation under which they serve.
But what about the cassock? Is that black gown or frock (in the archaic sense), also a holy symbol? No, the cassock is not a sacred garment. It is but the street-dress of the clergy in the age before trousers. The surplice is the vestment prescribed by the Prayer Book for the service, not the cassock (-- we know from Renaissance paintings that the surplice was sometimes worn for services over other, ordinary kinds of street clothes, and this was not considered irregular). Yet, because of its history, the cassock has come to represent ministerial office; therefore, it is the custom for all who serve in the chancel to wear it beneath the surplice. Like all uniforms, it subordinates individual desires and expressions, covering them under mantle of duty. The cassock, unlike the surplice, may be worn outside of services; indeed, some clergy continue to wear it for street clothing. The tradition of Anglican choirs is to wear the cassock (without the surplice) for rehearsals, to signal putting personality aside and devotion to ministry.
Because the cassock is most commonly black (or some other dark color), we easily find a further allegory in it. The darkness of the cassock symbolizes the darkness and shadow of death, the inadequacy and hopelessness of humanity apart from Christ. The dark shade reminds us we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer any sacrifice. Yet Christ, whose raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them (Mark 9.3), is the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. In ancient times, as the newly baptized rose naked from the dark waters of death, they were covered with new, white gowns, enacting St. Paul’s words: “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3.27). The ministers of the Lord’s house have no power to help us; indeed, they cannot save even themselves. And yet, “See!” the Savior cries through the prophet “I have taken your iniquity away...and will clothe you with festal robes” (Zech. 3.4).
Vesting in the surplice, covering the dark cassock in brilliance before entering the sanctuary, enacts a prayer: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51.7). The surpliced ministers processing into the chancel fulfill the words of the Psalm, “Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness, and let thy saints sing with joyfulness” (132.9). Their songs keep the prophecy: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Is. 61.10).
Drew Nathaniel Keane
Lecturer in Writing and Linguistics
Georgia Southern University
|Posted on January 19, 2016 at 10:10 AM||comments (2)|
"Many Blessings with Callie Day"
an interview with John-Westley Hodges
Have you ever heard of Callie Day? If not, I hope by the end of this article you will look her up and support her in her journey in song. Personally, Callie Day has blessed me so much, but when I told her that she responded simply by saying, "Many blessings." She says, “I always say many blessings, I never say thank you because I feel like it is not me, it’s God. I am just a vessel, and he is just using me, and I hope you feel him and love him the way I do." In a world where musicians sometimes focus on the production of music instead of the reason we sing, it was a breath of fresh air to hear her say this bold statement. Although, I know it is very easy to proclaim something, it is in our walk that the truth shows. Meeting Callie Day allowed me to see her walk and to witness that God has anointed her. She is serving as a true vessel and ambassador for Him.
If you have not heard Callie singing "I Know The Lord Will Make A Way" on YouTube, please click this link and witness her gifts for yourself.
In this video Callie is not performing, she is only sitting at the piano having fun. I asked her about what was going through her mind while singing this song and she said she was just having fun and cutting up. When I asked her how she felt when this video went viral, I honestly could not get a solid answer out of her. She was so humble and just happy that people got to hear God's words. There was no pride in her soul when talking about the viral video. She was grateful.
Callie isn't just an amazing gospel vocalist; she is a highly educated musician and educator. Callie's degrees are as follows:
Associate’s Degree in Vocal Performance with a specialization in Voice from Sinclair Community College in Dayton, OH.
Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance with a specialization in Voice from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH.
Master’s of Science in Education and Allied Professions from University of Dayton, Dayton, OH.
Callie is about to finish her DMA and a second Master's in Vocal Performance as soon as she can raise the remaining amount of money to finish paying her tuition bills. She has completed both of these degrees but cannot get the certificates until she finishes paying the tuition fees.
Below are some questions I asked Callie and her responses. Enjoy!
Q: Describe what life was like growing up.
A: Life has never been easy, in fact, life isn't easy. I was raised in a very loving family surrounded by church. Everyone in my family was a minister, deacon, singer, missionary, or something that allowed them to serve God. The only thing I knew growing up was church. We never missed a Sunday, and I sang every chance I received.
Everyone faces battles in life and last year I lost my mother. I am the only child, and I had to plan the music for my mother's funeral and sing in the service.
Q: How did you make it through the service?
A: I didn't, God did.
Q: What was one of your “wow” moments as a performer?
A: I had the chance for Mark Hayes to accompany me on his piece “Give Me Jesus” a few years ago in Cincinnati, OH. I told him I was so afraid to sing the song because I don’t sing it the way he wrote it. He told me just to do what you do. When we completed the song Mark looked at me, and I started to cry because I thought I was in trouble, but Mark said, “That’s the reason I arranged this, just for what you just did.”
One of my favorite parts of this interview with this humble diva was our fan moment about Mark Hayes. Callie and I both hold a special place in our hearts for Mark and love his compositions and arrangements.
Q: What was your most powerful or memorable performance?
A: It was in a Cathedral type church close to the Mediterranean Sea. After the performance, a young girl walked up to me and was crying and said, “Can I hug you?” I was like, yeah! Sure! She told me she was considering suicide; she said she watched me the whole concert and felt like I was looking directly at her. I normally make sure I make eye contact with everyone in the audience and remembered the girl was sitting in the front row. When the girl said thank you, I simply responded with "many blessings." This memory will always stay in my heart as it reminds me that my voice is a direct messenger of God's voice.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: I sure do: bowling, tennis, softball, friends, and playing the piano.
I have to say that I put Callie in a small list of incredible people that I have been blessed to meet in my life. She is kind, sincere, funny, amazing, and just full of love. I hope that I get to meet her in person soon and make music with her! Many blessings, many blessings!
Co-Editor/Co-Founder, Church Music Forward
Director of Music, St. Joseph's Episcopal Church
|Posted on January 14, 2016 at 4:20 PM||comments (0)|
"Sometimes Less is Best"
Scott C. Weidler
It’s a pleasure to wade into the Church Music Forward waters. I’ve been a bit of a Lutheran lurker since the beginning, but now that I’m also serving an Episcopal parish, I’m feeling a little more at ease to ruffle some feathers!
For over 20 years now, I have served at the Churchwide (National) offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as Program Director for Worship and Music. Early in this position, I had to learn to be in partnership with all the music and worship leaders from within my own church, as well as ecumenical partners, with whom I often found myself estranged. I discovered much music and many liturgical practices that, to my well-educated and professional (probably arrogant) sensibilities, seemed so foreign and unsuitable. While there is still plenty to be critical of, my eyes and ears have been opened to many new texts, practices and musical possibilities that have a rightful place in Christian worship.
A few years back, I heard the jazz ensemble from St. Peter’s (Citicorp), NYC, lead the German chorale, Allein Gott in der Höh. That old hymn in jazz clothing was glorious. I’ve learned songs and rhythms from my Latino and African brothers and sisters. Although they still sound fairly Anglo when I’m playing, I’m learning. The process of broadening my own musical palette is exhilarating. I’ve heard old hymns, that were dull and lifeless to me as a kid, come to new life when sung with a Gospel 12/8 rhythm or a wonderful bass line added beneath tight blues harmonies. Very few of these varied ways of singing in worship were part of my education as a church musician, but I’ve embraced them fully.
Sadly, now I see a pendulum swinging the other way. (Here’s where I suddenly feel like a bit of a curmudgeon.) It seems that adding rhythms, harmonies, and instrumentation from “other” styles with so-called traditional hymns (whatever the origin) has become the normative expectation if we want to “bring worship to life” and “reach people.” As supportive as I am of all these cross-cultural explorations and arrangements, I want to also advocate for good old-fashioned playing what’s “on the page” as well.
Unfortunately, much of the hymn playing in our churches is dull and lacking any energy, so adding a backbeat on a drum seems like a great way to liven it up. And it might be. In some contexts. Sometimes. But using the articulation techniques you learned studying Baroque organ repertoire when playing a hymn might also add some much needed energy. Questioning the tempi and registrations that have been in your bones since your student days may help (in some cases, this may mean playing more slowly, but with more articulation; playing faster is not always the answer). True, these suggestions are mostly for organists but, no matter our instrument, we all have techniques and practices that may benefit from being reimagined.
For me, it’s all about balance, context, and the people. How much can your assembly of worshipers handle? Every place is different. Does the way we lead a particular song or hymn make the congregational singing better or does it distract? If we stopped playing completely and left nothing but the human voices, would the song go on? That kind of attention to the voice of God’s people is what is most critical, no matter the style, arrangement, or instrumentation used to lead them to robust and confident singing.
Program Director for Worship & Music
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Interim Director of Music
All Saints Episcopal Church, Chicago
|Posted on September 29, 2015 at 10:45 AM||comments (0)|
Seeing the Divine in Yourself and Everyone Else,
Nurturing the Soul of the Choral Conductor
by Mark Hayes
I’m writing this article in August, a time of year when choral conductors are choosing repertoire for the upcoming season. I’m not sure when this article will be published, but I know as conductors we are always making plans and choices for our choirs, whether we are working in a church setting, conducting a community chorus or working in an academic setting. No matter where we make music, we have an opportunity to affect the lives of our singers, just by our life philosophy. Through this article, I invite you to be intentional about how you live your life and how you show up as choral conductor.
A few years ago I was in Largo, FL for the weekend leading a choral festival at a Methodist church. As you would imagine, there were lots of seniors in the choir I was directing since it was winter-time in Florida. The minister of music told me the average age of his choir members was 70 years. To be honest, I expected a lot of uncontrolled vibrato and sluggish rhythms. Boy, was I surprised. The choir sang with great tone, good precision, and enthusiasm for days!
But more than their good singing, I was impressed with their spirit and the way they responded to my spirit. It reminded me of a life principle that I’ve been learning and practicing for some time now. We attract what we put out. I make it a point to be enthusiastic and affirming whenever I work with volunteer choirs. They are giving of their time and talents and they deserve respect and affirmation. We are all created in God’s image and there is a spark of the Divine in every one of us. It’s amazing to me how easy it is to recognize the Divine in people when I really look for it.
As I conducted this choir, I began to see the light in their eyes as they sang, and I knew it was more than happiness. It was a deep joy. They loved singing and they loved praising God. As I affirmed them when they sang well, they wanted to work even harder for me. I challenged them when they could do better and they responded immediately. We worked hard for three hours, but at the end of that time, no one was really tired, because we were doing something that we loved. The Spirit was among us, stirring up the gifts of joy and laughter and harmony.
Each of one of is unique and has talents and gifts that the Spirit has blessed us with. Mine are different from yours, but no more important than yours to the functioning of the body of Christ.
The next time you are in front of your group, whether it’s a church choir, school choir or community chorus, thank God for each unique musician.
Remember that you are looking into the face of God. When we truly look for the best in others, they respond by showing us their best side and giving their best. It’s a spiritual principle, and I challenge you to test it out.
It’s like electricity or gravity. These laws of science always work for everybody and spiritual principles work for everyone as well.
As humans we often dwell on our failures. What would the world be like if we truly thought the best about everyone, including ourselves? What if we gave up the rush to judgment? We are all children of God. There is a divine “DNA,” if you will, encoded in our very body. It is the image and likeness of God, a spark of divinity. After God finished the creation process, God called it GOOD. Who are we to argue with God?
Our thoughts are creative. When we view ourselves as less than the divine creatures God created us to be, we perpetuate that reality in our life. I can’t stress enough how powerful our thoughts are. How does God see us? With unconditional love. God doesn’t see our imperfection. Within each of us there is a place of perfection, that is untouched by sin, lack, limitation, pain, ignorance. It is that divine spark that we all have. Live out of that center. Look for that in each other. We are self-fulfilling prophesies in the sense that what we mentally and emotionally dwell on we create for ourselves. What kind of life do you want for yourself?
Those of you who are teachers know that when you expect great things from your students, they rise to the occasion more often than not. That is a spiritual principle operating. Your thoughts are creative.
Practice seeing the divine in yourself. I believe through the power of the Holy Spirit we are one with God. We are not God, but we have potential to reveal all of the characteristics of the divine…such as love, wisdom, abundance, patience, kindness, creativity, faithfulness, just to name a few. God has placed all of that within us. We can consciously connect with that. It requires being still and listening to God’s still small voice.
My mission statement is “to create beautiful music for the world.” For the longest time I was conflicted about what was beautiful. I tried to please too many people. Then I realized I get to decide what is beautiful. It’s a very subjective concept.
As musicians, we are always creating. We can create a positive, welcoming atmosphere in our rehearsals or we can create one where expectations of excellence are high and God forbid that you should not meet those expectations or have fun. We have the opportunity to create beauty every time we stand in front of our singers or instrumentalists. If you are in a music leadership position, think about how you want to experience your rehearsals and how you want your singers or instrumentalists to feel.
Each of you has your own definition of beauty when it comes to music. My invitation to you is to be intentional. Whenever I create a new work, I allow the beauty of the creation to feed my soul. I often stop and take a moment to be grateful for being a conduit of something bigger than myself. That feeds my soul. It nurtures me. It makes me want to create more.
Where do you find the beauty in your music-making? The ability to make beautiful music as a conductor, performer or composer is a privilege. It’s a wondrous thing. Are you grateful that you have that ability, that power within you? You have the amazing talent to hear what music should sound like and bring it into reality. That is a gift! I’m so grateful that you do what you do. As a composer, I need all of your gifts to bring my music to life. And God is so pleased with you and what you offer. Many years ago I wrote an anthem called “And the Father Will Dance.” Part of the lyrics say, “Is that a choir I hear, singing the praises of God? No, the Lord God Himself is exulting o’er you in song!” Exulting means to leap for joy. God is so excited that we are His children that He would literally leap for joy or dance over us.
Remember when I said earlier that we are created in God’s image. We have a spark of divinity in us. That is the beauty of God desiring to express itself. My “spark of divinity” will show up different from yours, but your expression of God in the world is needed just as much as mine. We are all equally important and valuable in God’s eyes.
Remember…your thoughts are creative. You can create the kind of musical rehearsal or the kind of life you want by your intentions. See the divine in yourself and others. As you expect the best from the others, you will be amazed at how they will meet…and exceed your expectations.