When music makes me feel old…

Every so often something grinds me to a stop and makes me consider my age. Music isn’t usually one of those things. Oh, there’s always the knowing look when a particular genre turns up on the truck’s radio and I change stations because I find it jarring. Someone is bound to think, “Old fogies are in control of the radio dial again,” but I assure you I would have switched it just as quickly fifty years ago.

No, what has me thinking about my age today is the number of years music has been impacting my life.

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Even if I discount how readily family gatherings during my childhood ended up around a piano, or with a violin or melodeon, to sing favourite songs, and if I focus only on the years of my own active participation, I’m stunned. Why? Because they really add up, and I’ve never considered myself to be particularly musical.

There were the occasions while the grownups visited, when I closed myself into my grandparents’ dining room and struggled to plunk out one-fingered melodies by ear on their piano. There was also one summer during which my hubby served a prairie mission field, when a parishioner undertook to teach me some elementary piano basics on the out-of-tune church piano. And the year the organist in another congregation patiently took me through the first three Royal Conservatory grades. Ha! I was so self-conscious that no matter how much I practised a piece to perfection in solitude, I could only stumble through it during the next lesson.

So how I ended up years later leading a children’s choir can only be attributed to the sad fact that in our small congregation there was no one else capable or willing to volunteer. I wasn’t capable either, but apparently I was willing to try, and I persevered for several years.

Then, in 1994, seven months after arriving in our present congregation, I faced another plea to help — this time it was to direct the senior choir — and despite retiring four different times, I somehow ended up directing for the better part of the next nineteen years.

From my first exposure to church as a teenager when I was conscripted to join the choir, up to last year when my lack of voice and breath control convinced me it was time to stop, I’ve also sung in church choirs.

My ‘active participation’ in music leadership covers almost six decades! I must be really, really old! What’s more amazing to me, however, is that I still have only a rudimentary ability to read music. I’ve blustered my way through it all without being qualified, although I’ve certainly been opinionated.

For instance, as a choir director I have strong feelings about the purpose of a church choir. Perhaps that’s why I reacted to an article our associate pastor pointed out on Facebook recently. It offered “four functions to explain why the church choir exists” and emphasized that there was a specific order to the priorities:

“As the director of a church choir I use four functions to explain why the church choir exists. Those priorities help determine the programmatic choices that our music ministry makes. The functions are in a specific priority order, but I also believe each function is equally important as they must be present to have a vital music ministry. The four functions are to lead and enliven the congregation’s song, to sing music that the congregation cannot, to serve as a small-group within the church for faith formation, and to sing beautiful and challenging music to glorify God and to edify the congregation.”

My top priority is found nestled in the wording of her last one: to worship and glorify God and to help the congregation do the same.

You don’t want to know how many times I’ve lectured my choirs about this. If asked, they could probably repeat my words from memory: “What we do is never a performance. We’re here to assist the congregation in the worship experience.” I’ve always believed a choir’s sole purpose is to support the ministry, providing musical leadership for the corporate expressions of prayer, petition and praise.

While the author and I may differ on the order of priority, we do agree on other aspects. “A church choir’s job is not just to sing beautifully,” the article continues, “but rather it is to minister to the congregation and to each other in a variety of ways.”

I can’t provide statistics, but I’m pretty sure the majority of church choirs are comprised not of professional-quality singers but of volunteer members, many of whom love to sing but don’t know how to read music. I encouraged anyone who wanted to be involved whether or not they had technical skills. I gave out guidance on a need-to-know basis, keeping it simple for the sake of those who really didn’t care about it (or who might already know it).

4b531eb4f09c12f364035ee7ae323793A quarter rest? Ah, that would be the one that looks like a sideways seagull, dipping its wings for a one-beat rest. That’s it. Period. Some remembered the rest’s name; others remembered the seagull illustration. Either way, they understood the symbol meant not to sing for one beat.

Yes, it’s important to give our best when it comes to worshipping God with our voices, but I believe God honours the heart’s intention, not the voice’s perfection. I didn’t have the expertise to teach all the musical complexities and nuances, or to require them of my choristers. In most cases the music was learned by rote memorization and repetition to the best of our amateur ability, and then sung with joy.

That’s what I remember most about all those years participating in church music teams: that each one of us took joy in the shared musical experience of being part of a unique ministry.

Yes, that and how very many years it’s been! Goodness, I’m old! 🙂

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Advent I – Waiting in Hope

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In church Sunday morning the children were asked what they saw that was different in the sanctuary. One youngster immediately pointed to a banner on the chancel wall: “Hope”. Another acknowledged the Advent wreath with its candles. Hope was our focus on the first Sunday of Advent. As the first of the candles was lit, we read the liturgy…

We wait.
We wait in hope.
We wait for God to be revealed.
We wait for God to tear open the heavens and come down.

 

“We wait in hope for God to be revealed … for God to come down.”

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Seasonal reality versus perception

Reality versus perception. That’s what this is about. I know one day on the calendar is little different than the day before it or the day after. The sun rose a minute later today, and will set two minutes earlier, but otherwise not much has changed. But today is the autumnal equinox and suddenly it feels like fall.

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I’ve been noticing hints of its approach — those dratted spiders hanging out everywhere in their webs (why, oh, why do they have to dangle right at face level?), leaves fluttering down among recent raindrops, subtle colour changes in the garden that I’m sure weren’t there last weekend.

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There’s a new freshness to the warmth of today’s sunshine … crisp undertones that bespeak of a hastening away from summer’s heat. It isn’t quite time to pull out the garden annuals, but the spiky Iris and Daylily leaves are droopy, hinting that it’s time to cut them back. I’m sure they don’t look any worse than they did yesterday, but today they’ve edged into my awareness, along with the blousy, browning Hydrangea blooms.

Yesterday was summer, but at some point when I wasn’t paying attention it went into decline; today is autumn.

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“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”

[Henry Beston]

“Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserves unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”

[Jeremiah 5:24]

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

[Jim Bishop]

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Dealing With Change

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One thing I love about living on the BC south coast is having four distinct seasons. I can’t envision living where it’s green and warm all year ’round. Granted, I don’t enjoy being too hot in summer, or too cold in winter (or constantly wet in spring and fall), but I love the variety each year. Just when the status quo begins to get tiresome, everything changes.

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Last week, on one of our showery days, I discovered leaves were beginning to fall. Smatterings of gold and brown scattered over slick grass and shiny pavement.

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My first reaction was surprise, followed by regret. How can the season of sunshine be ending so soon? I’m not ready to say goodbye to shorts and sandals weather, or the lazy, unscheduled days of summer. But what I want doesn’t much matter to Mother Nature. If change is due, change will come, and like it or not, it’s that time of the year.

I’ll adjust. Oh, I’ll probably grumble a little, but before long you’ll notice I’m raving about autumn’s changing colours and the fresh, crisp edge to its shortening days. Thanksgiving will come, and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, which is always a highlight of my year. I love autumn!

Life is full of changes but there is also continuity. I like the saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” If we’re fixated on the closed door, however, we won’t notice the window opening.

In our church, an August day brought the devastating news that our pastor’s wife had suddenly died. Amid the shock and sadness, our Vacation Bible School needed to carry on. Now that September’s here, groups that were dormant through the summer must refocus and begin again. Where needed, other people are stepping in to take up tasks to which they will bring their own unique abilities. Ministry will continue, albeit in different ways within a hurting community. We will be more prayerful this fall, and hopefully more aware, more loving.

Changes happen. After the hurt begins to ease, a season of healing will come. God is always faithful. A new season always comes.

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“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God,
the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love
with those who love him and keep his commandments,
to a thousand generations.”

[Deuteronomy 7:9]

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Writing in Summer Solitude

Last spring author Debra Purdy Kong blogged about her need for solitude. She said, “scientific research has shown that creative people need solitude. An article in Quartz revealed what many of us writers have known for some time. Solitude has nothing to do with being bored or being lonely. In fact, it’s an essential component for any type of creativity.”

DSC09480The creative person’s desire for solitude isn’t limited to summer, but for many of us that’s the time we’re most likely to find some. School’s out. Organizations put their meetings on hiatus. Employees take their vacations. It’s the best time to escape … or, at least, that’s what we seem to think. Maybe we’re brainwashed to believe that, when we should really be looking for periods of solitude throughout the entire year — any time our well of inspiration is in need of replenishment.

A solitary stroll on an crisp fall morning or a snowy weekend evening might be all it takes to let fresh ideas break through what I call a cotton batten brain. A rainy day spent at the museum or art gallery does it for some, while others find refreshment pouring through shelves in a library or bookstore. Personally, I’d never turn down the opportunity to spend an hour in any season, sitting on a log at the beach or by the lake, emptying the mind to ready it for refilling.

My writerly sub-conscience needs that, but so too does my spirit. Solitude and stillness help me open myself to God and let peace and renewal seep in.

I saw this graphic on the (in)courage website recently with the words, “May you have the chance to be still, to hear His voice in the quiet spaces.” I’ve borrowed it to use here as a summertime reminder. I’ll be absent from the internet during portions of August as I focus on experiencing stillness and refreshment, and on redirecting my creative efforts. I hope you’ll make time to do the same.

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