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.

musical-notes-copy

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! 🙂

~  ~  ~

 

‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

DSC07539

As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

IMG_2723

Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

~

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

~

(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

~  ~  ~

How many candles does it take?

He stood on tiptoes, peering at the Advent wreath, counting aloud. Then, “Okay, but if there are four Sundays on the way to Christmas, why are there five candles?”

Advent Candles

His sister had been trying to answer his questions, but with growing impatience she shrugged. “That’s the Jesus candle. Now c’mon … let’s go.” She reached for his shoulder to steer him away, but he ducked from her grasp.

“But Mom told me that one was the Jesus candle,” he said, pointing to the Christ candle which this day sat unused on the communion table pushed to one side of the chancel.

“Yeah, well, that’s the one we use every Sunday to remind people that Jesus is the light of the world. This one, um … this one is his birthday candle.”

“But birthday candles belong on cakes!”

“There’s cake downstairs, remember? If you want a piece we’d better hurry or there won’t be any left.”

“But why is the cake downstairs when the candle is up here?”

“Because Jesus wouldn’t like people to get cake crumbs on the church carpet. For pete’s sake, don’t you know anything?”

As she pushed him ahead of her down the aisle toward the doorway, I smiled at the memory of another little boy in a former church, and the endless questions that had kept a young minister fumbling for answers during a children’s story. There’s nothing more delightful and at the same time more frustrating than a child’s insatiable curiosity.

There’s also nothing more important than satisfying that curiosity, of offering truthful explanations geared to an appropriate level of understanding. In this situation I thought his sister did a remarkably good job. Don’t you? 🙂

~  ~  ~

Come away…

Do you remember those first-day-of-school essays? The ones that asked, “What did you do last summer?” Today I’m sharing a photo essay about what I did last weekend.

DSC04624

DSC04522

DSC04587

DSC04479

DSC04556

DSC04548

DSC04552

DSC04501

DSC04577

DSC04515

DSC04477

DSC04599

DSC04592

DSC04606

DSC04623

DSC04604

DSC04509

~

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place
and rest a while.”

[Mark 6:31]

 ~  ~  ~

On Friday I mentioned that I was gearing up for the annual March Madness writers’ challenge. All the details, and the place to sign up and record your goal for the month, is on Denise Jaden‘s blog. But if you’ve already signed up, plan to take a moment each day to check in with the ‘host of the day’ to receive a message of encouragement and to share your day’s accomplishments (or frustrations, as the case may be). Today’s Monday, so be sure to click on over to Kim Baccellia‘s blog here for #MarchMadness Day #2.

~  ~  ~

 

 

It Begins Again

For weeks now I’ve muttered about the advertisements on television — you know, the ones that start promoting Christmas shopping before Halloween arrives, and the ones that display brightly decorated homes before our friends in the USA get to celebrate their Thanksgiving. But suddenly Christmas is less than a month away!

Nativity

This is the weekend we’ll unpack our nativity scene and direct our thoughts to the new church year that’s just beginning. (Advent is the first season, so this Sunday it will all begin again — Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.)

It’s also the weekend when our family’s Christmas traditions begin to emerge. Besides our Nativity, a miniature ceramic village will be unpacked. It’s a nod to my childlike nostalgia… a fascination with tiny figures in an old-fashioned snowy ‘Currier & Ives’ kind of setting. An evergreen tree will be next, followed during the week by an assortment of decorations accumulated from many different sources.

A friend posted on Facebook this evening that it was snowing at her home on Vancouver Island, and I was instantly envious. I know envy is a sin, but what can I say? Nothing quite beats a bit of drifting snow when it comes to putting me in a let’s-start-getting-ready-for-Christmas mood. A half hour ago I happened to turn on the back deck light (checking for the bear, of course!) and whoa!!! there’s snow here, too — an inch, and it’s coming down steadily!

So I’m all set… ready to begin again this weekend. My NaNoWriMo efforts have run down. (I accumulated 14,000 words… a far cry from the goal of 50,000 but still more than I would have had without the month-long focus.) (UPDATE: Looks like I’m finishing up the month with 19,707 words.) I’ll continue my daily writing, but there will be other priorities during December.

After all, it’s beginning again… “the most wonderful time of the year!”

I’d love it if you would share how your Christmas preparations begin. 🙂

~

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

[John 1:1-5, MSG]

~  ~  ~

 

Easter? So What?

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Some have returned to work today, while others are still enjoying one more day of a long weekend. I wonder how you spent your ‘holiday’. I imagine that depended on your interpretation of  its significance.

Ask Google for a definition of holiday, and you’ll get the following:

hol·i·day  ˈhäliˌdā/
noun

  • a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, also looks at the etymology and says:

  • “The word holiday comes from the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig “holy” + dæg “day”). The word originally referred only to special religious days. In modern use, it means any special day of rest or relaxation….”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides additional information, first citing it as a holy day before moving on to various popular definitions.

About now I expect you’re thinking, “So what? Get to the point!”

IMG_0234I was away for part of the weekend, travelling a little over 800 km round trip to visit with family and friends. One of the highlights was being able to rendezvous with a granddaughter and her husband, to meet my seven-month-old great-granddaughter for the very first time. We drove there on Friday morning and drove home Saturday afternoon so we could be in church for the Easter service. It was that important to us.

One of the messages at Easter is that Jesus died to pay the price for a debt he didn’t owe. He died an unimaginably torturous death, overcoming death to rise again. And he did it all for me (and you). After a Maundy Thursday service, daughter Shari Green wrote a poem that makes it very personal:

“Bread and wine offered,
Remembrance of open arms
And a life given.
This much, O Lord, you love me?
This much, He whispered, and more.”

Shari Green

The “so what?” of Easter — one’s definition of it as a vacation or a holy day — depends on a personal response. Without one  Easter has no purpose… and can you fathom someone willingly submitting to such a death for no reason at all? Oh, how He loves you and me! (Listen: Only God/Praise & Harmony: a cappella worship)

Do I dare ask how you spent your holiday? Better still, will you dare to tell me? (And isn’t that a precious smile to travel 800 km for?)

~  ~  ~