Awake, my heart!

It’s been well over 2 years since I’ve done anything with this blog, and I realized as I browsed our church website that it’s been too long. So, permit me to enter into a short time of reflection and confession.

Since 2012, it is obvious we’ve all been affected by the events of David Young’s departure in a variety of ways. Whatever stance, thoughts, or views are yours. As Mark Montgomery has pointed out during a number of sermons, one of the great tenets in the UCC is the right of private judgement. Our Silver Lake Camp and Conference Center states on their website:

We worship, learn, play, serve and work together, respecting the right of private judgement.

Throughout the past few years, I have allowed myself, for better or for worse, to lapse into a “holding pattern”; waiting for the settled senior pastor to arrive in order to put the past behind us. Your constant dedication and encouragement has enabled me to continue on when, at many points, I felt like giving up. The challenges we endured over the past 24-plus months has pushed many of us to limits we didn’t think we could handle. For me, it was truly the most challenging time I’ve had to face in my nearly 35-year career in church music. But, our weekly rehearsals and Sunday mornings together kept that fire burning in all of us. Through God’s grace and all our faithful work, we have persevered.

We all breathed a collective sigh of relief when Rick Derr announced in June that a candidate had been selected and his Candidating Sermon would be delivered a few weeks later. Even more sighs were shared after the unanimous vote to extend a call to Rev. Richard DenUyl, Jr. that morning. That light at the end of the tunnel was closer than ever before.

Now we find ourselves just past that newly opened door into the future. What does it hold? No one knows. One thing that is certain: we have been given, yes blessed with, so many great opportunities for our future growth, energy, and potential. In Acts 2 it states,

“…God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” 

Everyone will need to see visions, to dream dreams. What will First Congregational Church look like in 5 years, or 25 years? As our 350th anniversary draws closer, we have a myriad of chances to make an impact on this community just as our founding members did in 1665. They stood firm on the promises that continue to be ours to share with the world around us.

I intentionally chose “Awake, my heart” as our anthem this morning because of the limitless opportunities ahead of us. We have that faith, that source of energy, that fountain of life which renews us.

Awake, my heart, and render to God thy sure defender, Thy Maker, thy preserver, a song of love and fervor. Confirm my deeds and guide me: my day, with Thee beside me, beginning, middle ending, will all be upward tending.

Truly, our hearts are re-awakened with a new day before us. Let our deeds be guided by God, and let our songs be filled with love and fervor.

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Beautiful Savior

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Monday Musings (on a Sunday evening!)

Today was one of those special days in the life of a musician that will be cherished for a long time. To help nurture the love of singing in the life of a young person is a honor that belongs to all of us. And when it’s one as special as Charlie Baird, who many of you know much more than I do, it warms the heart. The look on his face after we were done said it all: He looked at me, patted his heart, and mouthed “Wow”.

Beautiful Savior will become, for Charlie, one of those pieces of music that will transform his life as he makes his way through the months and years at St. Olaf. Take a listen to the video above of the St. Olaf choir singing this gorgeous work. It’s just audio and you’ll have to turn the volume up at the beginning to hear it.

Think back to the time when you first sang in a choir and what piece made the most lasting impression on you. How did that piece make you feel as you were singing it? What has it meant to you all these years later?

Never under-estimate what we do as worship leaders, and as singers in general, or take lightly what we do when we raise our voices in song. Someone’s life just might be profoundly changed.

Bravo to ALL of you for making February 5, 2012, a special day for me.

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Monday Musings–November 14, 2011

“We’ll build our house and chop our wood…and make our garden grow.”

These words have not stopped swirling around in my mind since that final chord released and the burst of applause that erupted in the Meetinghouse yesterday morning. We have much to be thankful for during these final days of 2011. For me, I’m thankful that you, the Chancel Choir of First Congregational Church of Greenwich, has come into my life and made it fuller!

Our choir has certainly come a long way since our first rehearsal on September 8. And as we all know, one can never rest on the successes of yesterday; we must continue to build our technique and our sound.

I want to share with you a video of a rehearsal by my mentor, Tom Trenney. Typically one thinks of a mentor who is older, has traveled many miles in their journey and has very wise advice and suggestions to their students. Tom is just 34, not that much younger than me. However, his insight into music is just phenomenal and his artistry extends beyond his age. He brings out the best in every singer in the choir. Back in Detroit, Tom was Director of Music and Organist for First Presbyterian in Birmingham, an affluent suburb of Detroit, not unlike Greenwich. In the short time he was there, he built (with a myriad of volunteers from the church and community) an outstanding musical program, both for worship and as an outreach to the southeastern Michigan community. One of those endeavors was “sounding light”, a 24 voice professional chamber choir, sponsored through the church’s “First Foundation” endowment program. “Lay me low” was one of the pieces that defined sounding light during one of the seasons I sang with the group. Tom has since left that church and gone to Lincoln, Nebraska and First Plymouth Church, a very large UCC church where, coincidently, their pastor and David Young happen to be very good friends!

Watch as Tom leads a rehearsal with the Chancel Choir at First Plymouth. This is a section of the Brahms Requiem, “How lovely is thy dwelling place”. You’ll have to turn your volume up a bit to hear all the details. See what he asks of the choir and listen carefully to how the sound changes as a result of his suggestions.

We are well on our way to achieving choral excellence, but we must continue to listen around our sections and others to hear what they are singing.

Next week: More about defining a “sound” within an ensemble.

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Monday Musings: Homecoming 2011

It’s difficult to believe that one year ago I was packing up my office and getting ready for my final Sunday at First United Methodist in Royal Oak. As you might imagine, many things were swirling around in my head. Was I making the right move? Will the music-making be as rewarding someplace else? Can I make this all work?!?

Cut to Sept 18, 2011. As the introduction started, and I looked at all the faces of those I’m honored to lead, it was the right decision. Was the road easy? Not at all. Was it as hard as I thought it might be? Yes and no. Being apart from Vance was one of the most trying times in my life. But now that life is back in a routine, I know everything is good again. And I have you all to thank for that. Your hard work and positive attitudes are what make this ministry flourish. BRAVO!

So on to more music talk. I’m going to (as best as I can!) do weekly updates on Monday morning to reflect on our Sunday musical presentations. Along the way, I’ll also share some tidbits of greatness that are found on the interwebs :)

One of those tidbits that I found through a friend is from the great soprano, Renee Fleming. This video gets to the core of what we do as singers. Take a listen and see how she talks about consonants and the feeling of “line” in music. Sound familiar??

Take time during the week to watch this video a few times. We will talk about this a bit on Thursday evening at rehearsal and see how we can improve our clothesline of sound!

Have a great week!!

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Monday Musings-May 16….I was glad!

Here’s a link to one of my favorite anthems:

After yesterday’s service, that’s the feeling I had…”I was glad when they said unto me…let us go into the house of the Lord.” You all were amazing. The service flowed with great ease; choirs made it to the steps with no distractions; the energy of the service was vibrant, yet not rushed, lively, but reverent. Bravo to you all!

What happens now, you say? Well, we sing this coming Sunday for Confirmation as 34 Confirmands are received into the membership of First Congregational Church of Greenwich. We rejoice as these young people make bold public proclamations as they continue on their journey of faith.

Summer Choir starts on Memorial Day weekend. The usual schedule holds firm…9:00 a.m. rehearsal with service at 10 a.m. This is a great way to encourage folks, both potential new members and those who may have “fallen away from the fold” to share their gifts and talents for our summer services.

If you know of anyone who may play an instrument, ask them to contact me so they might share that gift of music, too!

Our newest program is coming up in a little over a month. Summer Sings is a chance for singers from around the community to join together to sing some of the great choral literature in an informal setting. We gather at 7:30 each night, rehearse for maybe 45-60 minutes, and then “perform” the work (or portions of a work, in the case of longer works) for ourselves and any other folks who might be listening around the room. No pressure, no fussy dress-up clothes, and a nice, relaxed evening for all involved. Best of all, it’s FREE! There are posters in the choir room and I forgot to mention yesterday for you to take them and pass them around to those that you know who might be interested in joining us. The dates are:

June 22: Mendelssohn Elijah

July 20: Vivaldi Gloria

August 31: Schubert Mass in G

As we begin that time of year where we relax a bit, where there are no mid-week rehearsals, and where you have a chance to relax your vocal cords for a little while, take time to do something, musically speaking, that you wouldn’t normally do. Attend a performance of something you might not otherwise attend. Maybe it’s not your “kind of music”…give it a shot; you just might like it!

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Monday Musings-May 2, 2011-What are they REALLY singing?

Good afternoon, singers! It’s been a busy few weeks and with Easter behind us, we look forward to Music/Friendship Sunday on May 15. Let’s spend a bit of time thinking about what Music Sunday means to each of us. But first, here’s a little bit of humor for your first day of the week:

While this is a humorous video, (and somewhat irreverent; sincerest apologies ahead of time!) it does have a serious side. What does the listener comprehend when we sing? Consider what they hear when words aren’t printed in bulletins. Before you read any further, if you haven’t watched the video, do so now. Then look below for the REAL words to the hymn and listen to it again. (One of the lines in the 2nd verse doesn’t match what I could find online…)

1 Blessed city, heavenly Salem,
vision dear of peace and love,
who of living stones art builded
in the height of heaven above,
and, with angel hosts encircled,
as a bride dost earthward move;

2 from celestial realms descending,
bridal glory round thee shed,
meet for him whose love espoused thee,
to thy Lord shalt thou be led;
all thy streets and all thy bulwarks
of pure gold are fashioned.

As we work in our rehearsals, it’s crucial that to go above and beyond what we think is enunciating enough to convey the stories in our music. And this also goes further into our hymn singing. It’s not for someone else to do; we all share the task of imparting a beautiful story of drama, passion, wonder, and awe each time we open our mouths.

Music Sunday. It’s a long-standing tradition here at FCCOG, as I’m sure it is in many congregations with outstanding music ministries. While at first glance, it’s a grand way to celebrate the ministry we share in music. But what else does it demonstrate? Certainly, it’s a way to add that little “extra” in a month of Sundays that contains a myriad of celebrations; Mother’s Day, Heritage Sunday, Confirmation, and others. It celebrates the dedication of those who work, week in, week out, to lead those gathered to worship on Sunday and to inspire them in ways that the spoken word cannot accomplish. But above all, it reminds us of our duty to share our talents with each other, and with the congregation at large. Do we all have a voice like Pavorotti or Joan Sutherland? No, but each of us has been given a talent…one that can’t be squandered or hid under a bushel.

Over the next few weeks, I encourage you to spend 60 minutes thinking about what music means to you in your life, both personally and how you share that passion within the context of the ministry here. We are all truly blessed to have the opportunity to praise God in a variety of ways. Let’s shout it from the mountaintops and invite our friends and neighbors to come to First Congregational Church on May 15 to sing some of the great hymns, enjoy anthems shared by all of our fine ensembles, and top off the morning with food and fellowship on the front lawn.

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