It might seem like I have wandered… away from this domain.
Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying singing a classic.
It might seem like I have wandered… away from this domain.
Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying singing a classic.
I admit, it has been a while since I posted. Since April in fact, and now it is August. Perhaps I was waiting for the alliteration. Perhaps it has been summer.
In any case, while I have been silent I have still been reading, and some of my perusings I thought were worth sharing. They have a general tilt toward art, philosophy and trying to bone up my fiction reading.
Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being by Zack Eswine
This is probably my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. The title may strike you as odd, but it is justified in the content of Eswine’s writing, the humanness that he expresses and calls us to, and questions such as “How did Jesus see children?” and “How did Jesus see women?” He deals with common misconceptions we have about ourselves, such as being able to fix-it-all or be everywhere-for-all. This book is poetic, personal, theological.
Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge
A small simple book, this was nevertheless very helpful and motivating to me and was filled with reminders of the possibility of creating in all kinds of circumstances from accounting to food to songwriting. A couple things that stood out to me were Altrogge’s point that we are often infatuated with the idea of [fill-in-the-blank artistic endeavor] more than we are willing to actually work at it, and (I’m paraphrasing) that we wait for the muse to arrive rather than catching the muse by the tail. In other words, we have an idea of creativity as something that either certain people just have, or as a fit that just descends on us rather than something active that we engage in and work hard at. Also, I have a new mantra that I think I somehow got from this book: when I am doing repetitive and mundane things such as showering and laundry I remind myself that I am holding back the forces of chaos.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I read this in advance of the movie coming out, but have now not yet seen said movie. Fitzgerald’s writing is really quite lovely, and left me with a sad sense of trying to catch happiness.
Solomon Among the Postmoderns by Peter Leithart
Speaking of catching happiness, one of the strengths of this book is Leithart’s translation of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes as “vapor of vapors” and our activities as trying to “shepherd the wind.” Leithart was also helpful in describing the failures of modernism to which postmodernism has reacted (i.e. an assumption that everything can be brought under our control and managed neatly) and pointing out that rather than relativistic, postmodernists would claim more of a agnostic stance in regards to our ability to know truth. At the same time, he shows how ultimately Solomon saw all the problems that postmodernism does, but arrived at a hopeful place of entrusting ourselves to God.
The Night Trilogy by Elie Wiesel
This broke my heart. I don’t know how else to respond to reality of the terrible things that were done to Wiesel, his family, and all of the Jews in WWII.
Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts by Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin
I really appreciated this book. The authors walked a careful but beautiful line of both affirming art and the artist and not elevating them beyond what they can handle. They started with a survey of the postmodern conception of art, which is somewhat that anything goes, and borrowing a bit from here and there, old and new (don’t you see this in everything on pinterest?) Art can be seen in both secular and Christian circles as alternately one of the highest and most spiritual things a person can engage in and something rather superfluous and cheap. Instead these authors suggest we should engage in art with integrity, doing it with love, and recognizing it’s place among human pursuits. There were a lot of other things I found helpful, “signposts” that I will go back to.
I had the privilege of singing with Nathan Bird and NorrSound Vocal Ensemble this last week in Minnesota and thoroughly enjoyed my time. The following are a few random reflections the concert brought about.
Collaborating is a gift (and a fun time!)
All of the singers for this event were alumni or currents students of Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN, as well as of the College Choir there. College Choir is one of the first places I experienced a sense of real community. Singing together brings you together (as all the “choir couples” can attest to ). The shared work, time, and then resulting music is a process that is hard to describe, but is so valuable. I am sure many groups with shared goals experience some of that same community, but I am always blessed to re-experience collaborating with other musicians and see the results that come from it. Somehow collaboration seems to make the whole more than the parts. It is no surprise that a lot of creative work comes from places where artists are gathered together and fan the flames in each other’s work. It was good to sing together and laugh together and make nervous humming staying-warmed-up vocal noises together.
Sometimes I get frustrated by how much time it takes to merely stay presentable and hygienic- showers, hair brushing, sweeping up the hair off the floor, taking out the garbage. Never mind eating and getting dressed. I have been trying to tell myself that it is part of the larger work of “holding back the forces of chaos”- haha. Well, I realized Thursday I should have trimmed my bangs again when they got stuck in my eyelash in the middle of singing a heartfelt rendition of Shelter with a camera closeup on my face. I decided the graceful exit was keeping my eyes closed in a meditative look.
Aging can be helpful
Nathan graciously commented that my voice sounded better than on the album, which I regard as surprising given my sporadic vocal work over the past 8 mo. since completing the recording. It is rather sad, I know. In any case, if it’s true that my voice has improved, it is most likely due to aging, i.e. maturing. So, just thought I would give a shout out to the much maligned process known as aging- who knew you could do good things?
Home is a complex word
I grew up in Minnesota, and moving away has identified it as my home, the place I come from and know well. Going back for Christmas and then for this concert are chances to be in a familiar place and more importantly see familiar faces. But the fact is I no longer have a home there, though at the same time I have many home-like places. At the airport I told my sister-in-law that we should go home, by which I meant my in-laws’ place. I went to my parents’, a place that was my home for a while, and then said I was going home when I headed to my lodging for the week. And at the end of it all, I was glad to go home to Kentucky and my husband, my dog and apartment, back to a schedule and employment. One of my piano teachers talked about a “home and away” conception of music. To be understandable and effective, music has to have a sense of going somewhere and then returning. If we were always “away” in terms of chords, melodic line and intensity there would be anxiety and stress in the music. If we are always “home” there is no variety and a sense of being stuck and oppressed by sameness. I am glad to have gone somewhere, and now I am glad to be home.
Great is thy faithfulness. I am not sure there is a better theme or anthem to sing.
I have been listening to this song a bit lately, as I am writing choral backup parts for it to be sung at an upcoming concert. The applicability of the text is perennial as the song itself describes: “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest…” This past year in my life has shown me again God’s faithfulness in all seasons. We sold a house, recorded an album, moved a few states away from home, found new jobs and a new church, and Jason started seminary classes, to name a few of the year’s happenings. Pretty much all of those events involved a little anxiety, waiting, praying, false hopes, and seeing again that God is faithful to provide for our needs.
Now nearly spring, this is the time of year in the northern hemisphere we remember that despite coldness and darkness, life will bloom. The earth will warm up, seeds again will sprout.
The sprouts will become a harvest. All that we need God’s hand has provided.
There is a new list each day of what needs to be done, what decisions need to be made. The coming year has a new list of uncertainties. But God doesn’t tire of making the sun rise, or the flowers bloom, as Chesterton points out. God “is strong enough” for this, for faithfulness, for giving life every day. He is strong enough to remain the same and not grow weary. He is strong enough to give us strength.
I was joined on the recording by David McKeen playing harmonica and Dan Lawonn playing cello, and my longtime friend Maria Schmidt singing harmony. The nostalgic harmonica and starry-eyed cello combo might strike some as odd, but perhaps they illustrate the intersection of the human and the divine, the unlikely reality of earth and heaven joined together in God’s relationship with us, each of us a mere grain of sand in the hourglass. Great is His faithfulness to me. To you.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever, forever wilt be
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, mercy and love
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand, ten thousand beside
Text by Thomas Chisholm, Copyright 1923
On the bookshelf/couch/bedside table lately- Te Deum: The Church and Music by Paul Westermeyer. I am really not far enough to give a full review or concluding thoughts. Mostly I appreciate a few things about the beginning of my reading.
1) It is always helpful to have a bit of history. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, if you join a conversation at noon that started at 8 am, you’ll be missing important parts of the conversation. This book is filling in some of the morning conversation for me.
2) Westermeyer brought out a few keys areas of theology that will necessarily be reflected in music choices: Who Christ is (divine, human, both- does our music suggest mystery, earthiness or both in “paradoxical tension”?); What Christ did (provide an example, save from brokenness, conquer sin and death, all of the above- does our music stir us to action, reflect on the brokenness and suffering of the world, or celebrate a victory?); he also reflected on perspectives of the church (ecclesiology) and our relationship to the kingdom of God (eschatology) (pp. 52-55).
3) Westermeyer emphasizes the intrinsic nature of music to humanity and its importance in worship in sections like this: “Joy inevitably breaks into song. Speech alone cannot carry its hilarity. The physical equipment we use to laugh is the physical equipment we use to sing. From laughter to song is a small step. To praise God, the highest form of joy, is to make music… The same can be said for sorrow, the opposite of joy. Sorrow also inevitably breaks into song. Speech alone cannot carry its moan. The physical equipment we use to cry is also the physical equipment we use to sing. From mourning to song is but a small step. To cry out to God in lament, the deepest form of sorrow, is to make music” (p. 28).
What a gift music is.
It’s been warm but quite rainy in Louisville this past week, bringing fog to the river and dampness to the ground. I was reminded of this little poem I wrote a bit ago.
I sat on the hillside by the river,
as drops of earth found their way with drops of rain
to the confluence of all their destinies
Standing still, the trees,
unhurried by the changing ground,
still clung to the hill
Quietly their branches hung
like lanterns in the fog,
inviting guests to enter and to rest
their feet from the changing ground
As I thought about this song, Psalm 92 came to mind: “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”
The text for King of Heaven (Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven in the hymnbooks) is in fact loosely based on Psalm 103 where David pleads with himself, his soul, to praise the LORD and all the reasons why. To me this is one of the main purposes of church music- reminding us of what God has done, who He is, and inviting us to praise Him. I love songs that describe human experience, our questions and struggling. In the middle of things it can be hard to remember the bigger truths, though, that in fact give meaning to our experience.
On the album (Shelter), King of Heaven is the most simply recorded (total honesty, we were running out of time and patience, hah). There are no additional instruments, and I literally played the piano straight through twice and chose the better of the two. I sometimes think of it subsequently as the least special. However, when I let myself listen to the words and music simply, it can be one of the most meaningful.
I hope that if and when you listen to King of Heaven, or even sing it maybe (!) it will be a reminder to you of all the reasons it is good to praise God, all the ways He is unique, and His grace infinitely valuable in the midst of mundane and difficult, as well as happy, circumstances.
__________________________________________________________________Praise my soul, the King of Heaven To his feet your tribute bring, Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Evermore his praises sing: Alleluia, Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King. Praise him for his grace and favor To all people in distress, Praise him still the same forever, Slow to chide and swift to bless. Alleluia, Alleluia! Glorious in his faithfulness. Fatherlike, he tends and spares us, Well our feeble frame he knows; In his hands he gently bears us, Rescues us from all our foes. (Alleluia, Alleluia! Widely as his mercy flows.) Angels in the height, adore him! You behold him face to face! Sun and moon bow down before him, All who dwell in time and space. Alleluia, Alleluia! Praise with us the God of grace! Alleluia, Alleluia! Praise with us the God of grace.
We’ve been very busy the past few months but enjoying the lovely fall here in Kentucky. It was lovely in September, and it is still lovely. One tree turns red and drops its leaves and then another tree turns red and slowly drops its leaves, and so it goes. At one point I thought fall was over and then this happened.
Those trees are now bare, but this lovely tree is still glowing outside our window.
Thanks to a project I started this summer (which my mother-in-law graciously helped me with) and I just finished a couple weeks ago, the colors will continue indoors though too, even once is it is only gray and brown outside.
For all this beauty, I am grateful. I am grateful that God takes pleasure in painting the leaves, I am grateful that he reaches out to us. I am grateful for those around us who have reached out to us as well, and look forward to a Thanksgiving with brothers and sisters from our church, while I will miss our families in MN.
I’ll leave you with one last picture, though it isn’t very good (true confession, I took this while driving, slowly, mind you ). Every time I drive under them these branches remind me of Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam, where God is reaching out to Adam and giving him life.
This is me being a music nerd. Other music nerds feel free suggest additions to the story.
One day in a small ode far away
Some phrases discovered a young beat was gone
They took great measures to uncover the sequence of events
That led to this sad mode
The various movements came together in a great show of unity and harmony
Expressing in sympathetic vibrations what no words could say
Inquiries were made into the dynamics of the fateful day:
They spoke to those wearing staccato heels
And those taking legato steps;
Those with strange accents
And accidental homes;
The staid old tenutos and young sforzandos;
Those with anxious tempos
And those taking a ritardando;
The small fragments wishing they were arias.
But no one knew what played out
The day the beat went missing
And all despaired that the rhythm would ever be regained
Documents were signed with the time and date
And locked up with keys
All the notes huddled in their clefs
And gathered in chords
But soon only a fading melody remained
Of the great music they had sung
Before the young beat went missing
My husband told me I had to write poems about our dog and our herbs tonight- so I submit for your enjoyment my quick jottings.
He has tiger stripes and polka dot socks
We loved him at the first and haven’t stopped
With his slinky cat stretch and kangaroo hop
He eats grass likes cows- but is really a dog
Lemon verbena, rosemary, thyme
Cilantro, oregano, basil- they’re fine! (Sorry, bad rhyme! How ’bout sublime?)
All mostly green, still variation is seen
In texture and fragrance and flavor serene.
With a few simple plants we’ll all eat like queens-
All for the price of a few dozen dimes.