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When Should the Music Stop? By Westley Hodges

Posted on May 23, 2018 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (1)

When Should the Music Stop?

Westley Hodges

As music directors, we all have faced the issue of someone struggling with an aging voice. I am drawn to Psalm 133:1, "How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!" (New International Version) But, what is unity? Is unity one-sided, is unity conforming to the needs of others—or, is unity more about meeting people where they are? I would say the latter. 

I have been reflecting on this for some time now, and I would like to share a story about a lovely woman named Dorothy. Dorothy sang in one of my choirs a couple of years ago, and she is such a beautiful person! At the time I worked with her, she was in her mid-seventies, and her voice was slowly becoming not as consistent as it was in her younger years. The choir I was working with was a choir that was growing very fast—when I started there were six or seven faithful choir members and when I left there were twenty-five.

Along the way, people started coming to me and saying things like "she's off" or "I can't sit by her..." And, I have to admit that at first, I started coming up with a plan to "retire" her as a chorister. That summer, I was at the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy, and I was talking to some colleagues about the "issue," and I learned that most of my colleagues agreed that it was time for her to step down from the choir and move to the congregation. I went back to the church from the conference ready to have this conversation, but something kept preventing me from following through. Holy Spirit?

At the time, the choir was preparing for a concert to raise money for new vestments, and we were rehearsing on Saturday mornings as well as any other time we could squeeze in a rehearsal. I decided that I would let Dorothy sing in the concert and after the concert I planned to invite her to coffee and let her know it was time for her to hang up her choir robe. Well, Mrs. Holy Spirit had a different plan.

We were at the final dress rehearsal for the concert, and I noticed that three of our members were over seventy and I acknowledged them in front of the rest of the choir. It turned into an impromptu time of thanksgiving for all they have given to the church in all the years that they have served choirs. Well, the next thing that happened changed my life forever and changed the way I view church music entirely. Dorothy stood up and said; I have been singing in a church choir since I was sixteen. I don't know what I would do without my church choir family. It is one of the greatest joys of my life, and I look forward to every rehearsal and each time we sing.

My heart dropped.

We do so well to take care of the people in our choirs, but the second they need the community more than ever, we are quick to try to find a way to remove them because they can't keep up. Well, what I discovered is that I needed to learn to keep up because Dorothy is keeping up just fine. St. Augustine says "those who sing, pray twice." Who am I to tell someone they cannot pray with their community? I truly wish more directors could look at church choir as a community instead of an ensemble, and allow "imperfections" to participate and join in this great work we all do.


Westley Hodges

Director of Music

The Annunciation of Our Lady Episcopal Church

Gurnee, IL

[email protected]

"Church Planning" by The Rev. Elizabeth Molitors

Posted on May 17, 2018 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Church Planning

“Who are we going to get to lead ____?” and “But we’ve always had a [rummage sale, potluck, spaghetti supper]” are two phrases I never hear in my church. We’ve found a way to make sure that every ministry or fellowship event or fundraiser has a willing leader, and that ministries/events which no longer have energy or support behind them can be retired gracefully, without anyone’s feelings getting hurt.

What is this magical process? We call it Parish Planning. Twice a year - we’ve chosen April and November - the whole congregation is invited to an expanded coffee hour after worship (we combine our two services into one for this day), and we take about an hour to discuss and plan our communal calendar for the coming 6 months. Everyone receives paper copies of our church’s website calendar, and then we review, month by month, the major events taking place.

In the two or three weeks prior to Parish Planning, I meet with our Worship Committee, to talk through the liturgical calendar for the coming months. We set the schedule for Sunday worship, weekday worship services, and special services, i.e. Evensong, Lessons & Carols, Holy Week; those dates/times are submitted to the person who manages the website, and the online calendar begins to be populated. As worship is the cornerstone of our life together as a community of faith, it makes sense that worship times get on the calendar first.

Next, I touch base with all the groups (internal and external) and ministries who regularly use our space and regularly schedule events, and ask them to pass on to the webmaster their plans for the upcoming season. Their dates/times get added to the calendar.

Using our monthly newsletter and weekly Parish News (announcements), I invite people who might have new ideas for ministries or events to bring them to my attention or to the wardens, prior to the meeting, so we have a chance to ‘vet’ the idea a little: have they thought through the resources they might need, how does their idea fit in with the mission and character of our community, are they planning to lead it themselves or have they gotten someone else to agree to lead it? What we don’t want to have happen is for people to throw out proposals at the Parish Planning meeting without any accountability; I never want to hear, “Somebody really ought to do X.” If you’re passionate about X, then you need to be willing to take charge of it, or find someone who is. Parish Planning can be a great place to gauge interest, to see if there’s energy to support some new initiative, but it’s not a place to dump off this thing you’re kind of interested in seeing come to life but you don’t want to actually do anything about it.

For events which have been a regular part of our parish life together - i.e. the summer picnic, Mardi Gras celebration, feast day potluck, reception after Easter Vigil, etc. - these are brought up at Parish Planning, and I make a request for leaders (“we need someone to organize the Lenten soup/salad suppers this year.”;) People raise their hands to volunteer, or sometimes negotiations take place (“I can organize 3 of the 5 suppers, if someone else can do the other 2”;). Sometimes people team up to co-lead, or last year’s organizer agrees to mentor a new leader. But, there are times when no one steps forward, and that’s when an event gets retired. By the way, retirement isn’t always permanent. If no one volunteered at the meeting, someone else might approach me a week or two later, willing to take it on. Or, an event which used to be one thing might morph into another. Let me offer an example.

At my second Parish Planning meeting, about a year after I started as rector, we were doing planning for the Lent and Easter seasons. I’d noticed, in newsletters from before my time, that the church had had a Mardi Gras celebration, planned for the evening before Ash Wednesday. I brought up the idea at Parish Planning: “who would like to lead Mardi Gras this year?” Silence. Crickets. No one stepped forward, and there was not even any chatter about it; it appeared to be an event that no longer had widespread support. So, no Mardi Gras that year.

Fast forward one year, and someone asked the question, “why didn’t we do Mardi Gras last year? I missed it.” I explained what happened - no leadership - and there was a little bit of muttering and reminiscing, about how it used to be this great, fun thing. Still, no one stepped forward to lead it. And so, I floated something new, telling them that I had a friend whose church turned their Tuesday Mardi Gras celebration into a Sunday event; they called it Fat Sunday. Suddenly, there was a lot of excitement and energy, and several people volunteered to re-envision Mardi Gras as an after-church brunch. We’ve done Mardi Gras this way now for four years, and it’s still going strong. Without the willingness to let the old event die, though, we may not have found this new way of ushering in Lent. Resurrection is real, even in event planning!

Every time I’m with a group of clergy or other church colleagues, exchanging stories about best practices, I always mention Parish Planning. It’s an effective tool for managing event planning, for identifying new leaders, for communicating what’s going on, and for energizing and engaging the parish. It reinforces the message that this communal life we share belongs to everyone, not just the clergy or other paid staff.

The Rev. Elizabeth Molitors


The Annunication of our Lady Episcopal Church

Gurnee, IL

[email protected]

"Organ Petting Zoo" by Jessica Nelson

Posted on November 22, 2017 at 8:50 AM Comments 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!

Jessica Nelson


St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Jackson, MS

[email protected]

"Did we overdo Holy Week and Easter Day?" -- David Sinden

Posted on May 31, 2017 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Did we overdo Holy Week and Easter Day?
David Sinden

Something has been gnawing at me through Lent, and now that we're finally on the other side of Easter it's time to speak it aloud:

Did we overdo it?

I think 99% of churches are entirely closed the day after Easter. And this is probably as it should be.

We had a full Holy Week with all the proper services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter. And we even did a few extra ones (Tenebrae! Stations of the Cross! Holy Communion with Autoharp, or whatever instrument we happened to think would work best!).

But more than that, many places that do not otherwise have them will implement daily Eucharists in Holy Week.

And this seems really good until the Monday after Easter. The problem, you see, is this: Easter is a Big Deal.

In the Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer offers a collect (prayer) for every weekday of Easter Week, just as it does for Holy Week.

Here's the collect for Easter Monday:

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we who celebrate  with reverence the Paschal feast may be found worthy to  attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord,  who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and for ever. Amen.

Easter is not just one day; it's a season. And the Church, in her wisdom, seems to want it to begin with a great big week of celebration.

So why do parish churches that go out of their way to offer daily Eucharists in Holy Week fail to do so in Easter Week? Am I missing something? (And yes, I know there are places that admirably celebrate Holy Communion every day.)

Where are our big festivals in Easter Week? Concerts? Evensongs? Special services? Puppet shows? Anything?!

We say that we are an "Easter People" and yet Easter Week finally rolls around and what do our churches do? Well, the first day we close, and then for the rest of the week? Not much.

It's pretty quiet around the church the week after Easter Day. Choirs have the week off and typically just show up to sing some less demanding music the following Sunday. The clergy take a holiday if they can, and parishioners generally know better than to ask a lot of a church staff that has given 110% and left it all out on the field.

So, while I applaud our collective obsession with Holy Week, I have to ask again: was it too much? If we truly have nothing left for Easter Week and the Easter season then I have to posit that it was.

The theologian and former Bishop of Durham N. T. Wright believes that Easter should be celebrated fully. In his book Surprised by Hope he writes:

"We should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity… This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out." 

And this is what has been gnawing at me. What are we doing to celebrate Eastertide? I mean really celebrate it? Note that Lent is only 40 days. Easter is longer, and it's longer for a reason.

It is the week of weeks. It is roughly one-seventh of the year. It is the Church's sabbath festival.

A few years ago I attended a conference called "American Sarum" at Christ Church, Bronxville, New York, which looked in detail at the "Sarum Rite," the particular way the Eucharist was celebrated in Salisbury, England. As part of this liturgy, there were a series of prayers said by the clergy and other participants in the sacristy before the service began, and again after it ended. One of the clergy participants related that the Sarum Rite was so intense that he felt that he really needed this period ritual preparation beforehand and decompression afterward.

Is this not like the liturgical year and our observance of Easter? It seems to me we do a pretty good job observing Lent, and we certainly know how long it is. But how well do we observe Easter once it arrives? Do we really know that it's longer than Lent? Do we believe that the full season of Easter is worth celebrating once it arrives?

Wright again:

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration. …Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

So, is it a question of proportion? Did we really overdo it when it comes to Holy Week? to Easter Day? Or does the Church just need to work harder to reclaim an "Eastertide imagination"?

David Sinden
Organist & Director of Music
St. Peter's Episcopal Church, St. Louis, Mo.

Self-care for the Church Musician -- John-Westley Hodges

Posted on May 22, 2017 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Self-care for the Church Musician

John-Westley Hodges

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!

John-Westley Hodges

Director of Music Ministries

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Peoria, IL

Co/Editor, Church Music Forward

[email protected]

"In Search of Perfection" -- Chanelle Schaffer

Posted on November 11, 2016 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (1)

In Search of Perfection

Chanelle Schaffer

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.

Making Connection: The Center for Congregational Song

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 9:35 AM Comments 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 or email Brian at [email protected]

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.

"Music Engraving for the Church Musician" - R. Michael Sanchez

Posted on April 27, 2016 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (2)

"Music Engraving for the Church Musician"

by R. Michael Sanchez

One of the blessings that we as church musicians have is the availability of music notation software. It allows us to quickly produce legible sheet music for our groups with the added bonus of being able to hear it played back to us on the computer to ensure there aren’t any mistakes.

This article is meant to help church musicians produce sheet music that is easier for your musicians to read and to avoid some of the pitfalls that come with using music notation software. The better a piece of sheet music looks, the easier it is to read. Also, the better a piece of music looks, the more seriously musicians tend to take it. These two things help facilitate rehearsals as well as performances.

The act of “typesetting” music is called music engraving. Back before music notation software, music engravers used metal plates to etch—or “engrave”—music in to and then printed the sheet music using a printing press. Today, music engraving is done almost exclusively on computers. While there are no metal plates used in the process anymore, the “engraving” name stuck.

A bit about me to set the stage: I’ve been using Finale since 2002. I started like most people do: I had a friend show me how to input notes and went from there. Even though I had learned the basics of Finale, I still did most of my music notation by hand and grew to be quite good at it over the years. While I was in college, I took a Finale class which opened my eyes even more to the power of music notation software. A few years later, I worked a stint as a contract engraver for OCP and learned even more about the intricacies and the art of music engraving. Since learning to use Finale all those years ago, I’ve developed a very modest client list of folks who use my services on a semi-regular basis. While it’s far from being a full time job, I enjoy doing it on the side for a few extra dollars here and there.

These days, there are a wide variety of music notation software (or MNS) choices, but the “Big Two” are Finale and Sibelius. Most church musicians that I know use one or the other. Since I’m hoping to make this article of use to as many people as possible, I’ll stick to general concepts that can be applied to all MNS. Since most of us work with choirs, there’ll be an emphasis on considerations for engraving choral music. Note: I’ve made the assumption that folks reading this can do the following in their preferred MNS: input notes, rhythms, dynamics, expressions, articulations, and lyrics. Most importantly, I assume that you’ll be familiar with how to use the Help Manual on your software!


Fonts play a large part in giving your music character. The two types of fonts we’ll discuss today are fonts for lyrics and fonts for the music itself.

Lyric fonts are crucial for choral music, and an appropriate font is essential for an easy-to-read product. A font that you use for lyrics should be “lean and mean,” meaning they should be on the narrow side while still being legible. Avoid stylized fonts like Comic Sans, Papyrus, and Rockwell Extra Bold. Also, lyric fonts should be a font with serifs, as serifs aid in reading. Keeping the font size anywhere from 9-12 points is best. When possible, use “curly” quotes and apostrophes: this may take some figuring out, but is well worth the trouble! Two fonts that meet the above requirements are Palatino and Garamond. Finale has a font called Finale Lyrics, which I very much like. Do not use Times New Roman, Georgia, or any similarly wide font, as they are inappropriate for choral music and will cause all sorts of spacing issues.

For music fonts, I’d highly suggest you stick with whatever the default font is on your MNS. It’s likely the most developed font and is therefore best suited for your needs. The Big Two have a type of handwritten music font, but I would advise against using them, as they are mostly used for jazz and Broadway settings. Finale’s default font is Maestro and the Sibelius default font is Opus.

For those who are interested in jumping down the rabbit hole even more, the November 2.0 music font is absolutely gorgeous, and you can purchase it by following this link:

General engraving concepts

What’s nice about MNS is that the software algorithms take care of many things you don’t ever have to worry about. For example, did you know that the customary distance between the left edge of a staff and its clef should be equal to one space (a “space” is the distance between two adjacent staff lines)? Or how about that the time signature of a piece is indented 3 spaces from the leftmost edge of the clef? With MNS, you don’t ever have to worry about little settings like that.

The paragraphs that follow are general guidelines. That is, if you follow them, you’ll most likely get a better product than if you just simply input notes into your MNS and printed out the result. Yes, it takes a bit more time, but I think we can all agree that elegantly engraved music is much more pleasant and easier to read!


Collisions are where elements of your piece overlap each other. With a very few specialized exceptions, this is BAD, BAD, BAD! Satan, get thee behind me! Nothing makes your music seem more amateurish than collisions. See below:

Common collisions are: lyrics with stems and notes, lyrics with dynamics, dynamics with stems, dynamics with staves (although this can look good if done in the correct manner), slurs with lyrics, slurs with expressions, and slurs with articulations.

In the corrected example above, notice the difference that was made by eliminating the collisions. Are both examples legible? Sure. But as I said before, the better the engraving, the better looking your music is, the easier it is to read and perform from and the more likely your musicians will take the music that you’ve put in front of them seriously.

Dynamics should always be placed above the staff in vocal music so as to avoid confusion with lyrics. When dealing with SATB music written on four staves, dynamics need to be placed on the top of each staff, while 2-stave SATB music only needs dynamics placed on the top staff (unless there’s a need for the staves to be at 2 or more different dynamics, then you’d put the dynamics above each staff where appropriate). Also, dynamics should be placed slightly to the left of where you’d like for the dynamic to occur (see previous example).

Try lining elements up whenever possible. Look at the two examples below:

Aligned dynamics and better crescendo positioning:

In the first example above, the placement of the forte and fortissimo is technically correct (no collisions, correct horizontal placement, etc.), but we can make it a little better. In the second example, notice how I moved the forte up so that the bottom of the “f” lines up with the bottom of the “ff”. I also extended the crescendo to the left, so as to make the two measures seem like one coherent phrase or one unit. With music engraving (much like in performing music), it’s always the little things that make a huge difference. Looking at the two examples above, which is easier for the eye to read from?

Keep things from crowding or being too spaced out. You no doubt have countless scores, octavos, and other sheet music that has music that is properly spaced out. Oftentimes with your MNS, it’s just a matter of moving a measure up or down a staff to get the correct spacing. More ambitious users can mess with individual measure sizes (which is a common thing in professional engraving settings).


Whenever possible, it’s best to have each system consist of a full phrase or a logical division of a phrase (the halfway mark, for example). It helps keep your musicians from getting lost. If they do happen to get lost, it’ll be easy for them to hear the musical phrase and then find it on the page. This is especially true with instrumental parts, where they have no lyrics to follow as a reference.

Consider page turns as you lay out your music. Try fitting full measure rests at the end of the page so that the musician has ample time to turn pages. If that’s not possible, try to put measures with long notes at the end of pages. This allows the musician to turn the page early and not have to be reading waves of 32nd notes in the final measure before a page turn. Keep from putting full measures of rest at the first measure of the top of a new page: this can cause your instrumentalists to worry unnecessarily about making a quick page turn, especially if the end of a previous page has notes on it. Finally, try to keep large leaps, wild changes in dynamics, tempo changes, and meter changes from occurring at the page turn. However, sometimes these things are unavoidable.


If you pick up your trusty Schirmer score for Handel’s Messiah, you’ll see that the beaming of anything smaller than a quarter note is done by syllable, irrespective of the rhythm. See the examples below for a comparison of “old style” beaming and the correct way to beam today:

The correct way to beam vocal music today:

Keep in mind: it is still correct (and needed) to use slurs to show syllabification! More on that a bit later.


Proper placement of lyrics is essential. Singers need to be able to easily read notes, rhythms, and syllables at the same time, and anything that deviates from standard practices hinders that ability.

If there is one word/syllable per note:

• Center each syllable squarely under its note.

• Longer words or syllables that have only one note should have the first two or three letters to the left of the notehead. This facilitates reading the rhythm accurately and prevents collision of the text. Most MNS will take care of this, but you may have to make manual adjustments from time to time.

If there is a word/syllable with more than one note:

• The syllable should be left aligned under the first notehead. In other words, the left edge of the first letter should be lined up with the left edge of the note. If you are at the beginning or middle of a word, use evenly-spaced hyphens until you reach the next syllable. Most MNS will take care of adding and spacing out the hyphens automatically. If you are at the final syllable of the word, then simply add a word extender. The word extender should terminate precisely at the right edge of the final note.

Hyphens in long passages:

Don’t use a word extender for a syllable that occupies the length of its written duration. It’ll usually be too short, not to mention awkward looking. The following example shows a correct omission of the word extender on the word You.

Lyric baselines are another important consideration in a nicely engraved piece of music. The “baseline” refers to the imaginary line that the text sits on. Notice in the collision example below how the stems of the tenor part collide with the text and how the crescendo collides with the soprano and bass stems. If I move the bass clef staff down a little bit, I can adjust the lyric baseline so that it appears more evenly spaced between the two staves.

The new, corrected version:

In the corrected example directly above, you see that the text no longer collides with the tenor part, the crescendo markings don’t collide with the stems, and how the fortissimo doesn’t collide with the staff.

While always avoiding collision of the text, it’s best to preserve the rhythmic proportions of a passage as much as possible. You should never have something extreme such as a 16th note taking more horizontal space than a quarter note. Horizontal spacing is a HUGE can of worms, but if you’re thoughtful about how you space your notes, you can make some pretty educated guesses on what will be best.

The before and after examples below will show an acceptable solution to a spacing problem. Keep in mind that if I were preparing this for a professional engraving job, I’d spend some more time on this measure to correct some of the small imperfections that bug me. The corrected version would be a “rough draft” that I would put a bit more work into before it was acceptable for professional publishing.

Before: collisions with the text, improper spacing between the “a” of 1 and beat 2, missing slurs to show syllabification.

With more thoughtful spacing (and no collisions!):


Now we’re ready to print! There are two main types of printing you’ll do: printing for your musicians, and printing something for a service bulletin.

If you’re printing for your musicians, it’s really rather easy. While you have your piece of music open in your MNS, you can print from your computer. If you’re interested in saving a little money (or getting music to your groups between rehearsals), you’ll need to print to a PDF. You won’t want to send your MNS file that you’ve been working on to your group, because if they don’t have the same program, they won’t be able to open it up. If you send it as a PDF, you can quickly E-Mail it to them and they will be able to open it up with no problem and print it from home.

Sometimes we’re called to create an insert for a bulletin. Whether it’s a hymn, psalm refrain, or a chant tune, it’s all possible. In fact, the musical examples that you’ve seen in this article have all been created in Finale: after I created them, I simply selected the excerpts that I wanted to show and saved them as a graphics file. This is where you’ll need to consult your MNS Help Manual to see how to do it on your particular program. When you do it, here are a few things to remember:

• Export your selection as a PNG or TIFF file. These are graphics files that work well with printed music. They will reprint nicely in a bulletin, and they are easily manipulated so that your church secretary can resize it to his/her liking. These are very common file types, so you shouldn’t have a problem saving and opening them. Try saving in both types of graphics files and see which prints out best with your church setup. Remember: music that looks good on your computer screen may not print out very well, that’s why you should always take the time to make a test print.  

• Save the graphics file with a high resolution. This gives your church secretary more leeway in resizing your insert.  

• DO NOT save your insert as a PDF if it is going into a bulletin. These tend to be difficult to work with and can cause formatting issues—most work processing programs that churches use to create bulletins will have an easier time with a PNG or TIFF graphics file.

Closing thoughts

I’ve only scratched the surface of the surface with this article. For most all of the tips that I’ve listed, there are plenty of exceptions and special circumstances. There are also elements that I didn’t even touch upon: line thicknesses, stem lengths, page layout, beaming angles, margins, etc. Most MNS takes care of those things automatically, although you do have the choice of messing with those settings, and I encourage you to do so. As a former boss of mine would say, “Go ahead and play with the settings. You’re not going to break the computer!” Default settings for MNS are easy to restore, so if you find that you’ve gone too far afield, you have an easy out.

As musicians, we’ve all done countless hours of listening to help us find what our own unique sound is. In the same way, music engravers need to study printed music that they find appealing. Do you have a favorite music publisher? Schirmer, Theodore Presser, Alfred, Hal Leonard, Universal Music Publishing, Beckenhorst Press, Kjos, Carl Fischer, Warner Bros., and many others all have professional engravers working for them. They’ve spent years honing their craft and are very proud of the work they put out. I encourage you to take the time to peruse some of your favorite publishers—both old and new—and see what you can learn just by looking. Use this article as a starting point for things to look for, then go deeper. Remember: every element had to be purposefully placed and was placed by a professional for a reason.

More and more, you’ll find that there are local colleges universities that teach Finale and Sibelius classes. I’d highly recommend that you take one of these classes! Also, with a bit of searching, you’ll find that there are various music educator professional organizations that will also sponsor workshops throughout the year.

I hope you’ve found that this article serves as a means of jumpstarting your exploration of the music engraving world. I’ve endeavored to give you concrete, easy-to-implement tips that you can immediately start using the next time you open your MNS. Best of luck, and happy engraving!


There are a couple of books that I’d strongly recommend adding to your library:

Behind Bars by Elaine Gould is the modern resource for any type of engraving question you could have. This book lives on my desk and I’m constantly referring to it. Among professional and amateur engravers, this is the definitive authority if there is ever a question on how to effectively notate something. While many of the “rules” I’ve given to you are standard, you’ll find as you study more that different publishing companies have their own “house styles” that they follow, some of which differ from publisher to publisher. That said, Ms. Gould’s book gives a solid foundation for you to refer to and then decide on your own alterations if the need arises.

• Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice by Gardner Read is a much older resource, but still full of very, very good and useful information. While Ms. Gould’s book is the new standard reference book, if you’ve told an engraver that you’ve used Mr. Read’s book as a resource, they wouldn’t complain at all.

Music Engraving Today (2nd ed.) by Steven Powell deals more with the actual act of using Finale or Sibelius. It still gives great advice, but it’s a considerably smaller book than the aforementioned two and is by no means comprehensive.

Facebook has a few groups dedicated to music engraving. Simply type in the following group names in the Facebook search bar and you’ll be taken to them.  

• The first is “Music Engraving Tips,” and this is my go-to resource whenever I have a question that my engraving books aren’t answering. There are some very fine professional engravers who are quick to offer help, as well as folks like me who’ve simply studied the art of music engraving and are happy to share their knowledge with you. More often than not, folks will ask a question and post a screenshot of the problem they’re facing. I would encourage you to do the same if you join this group. Many times, you’ll receive an answer that shows someone taking a screenshot of their proposed solution, which is an immensely helpful tool.

• The other group that you should join is “Music Notation Forum for Church Musicians.” It’s a much smaller group, but if you have church music engraving questions, this is a fine group to ask it in.

Since most of you work with choirs, Juicio Brennan’s “Lyric Hyphenator” website is wonderful! You simply enter in text and it’ll hyphenate it all for you. I’ve used this site for a few years now, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way, it’s such a time saver. You can find it at:

The folks at Finale’s parent company, MakeMusic, have a blog that they write. While most of it tends to be geared toward Finale users in terms of “how to,” you can still get some really wonderful information about general engraving practices and techniques that you can make work in your own MNS.

For more advanced users, two articles that I’d particularly recommend on the Finale blog are in their “Creating Distinctive Music Notation House Styles” series. One is on fonts and the other is on line widths.

"What is the Surplice?" - Drew Nathaniel Keane

Posted on January 27, 2016 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

"What is the Surplice?"

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



"Many Blessings with Callie Day" an interview with John-Westley Hodges

Posted on January 19, 2016 at 10:10 AM Comments 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!


 John-Westley Hodges

Co-Editor/Co-Founder, Church Music Forward

Director of Music, St. Joseph's Episcopal Church