Easter 2024

27 June 2013
Yale Congregations Project - Day 5

I was excited and honored to take part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprised the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I tweeted during the seminar, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP.

The day began with a very different kind of Morning Prayer service. The chairs were cleared away from the hard wood floor of Marquand Chapel at the Yale Divinity School, and in their place we found a large labyrinth, various prayer stations around the room, a smaller "chapel" area for meditation, and 17th century King James Bible (from the rare books library, on loan for our service).

There were various ways to present our prayer concerns in writing as part of the stations, there was a bowl of water, there was an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Shells were available as tokens to carry on one's pilgrimage through the labyrinth. There was colored cloth. There were many candles. This was a very rich service, and there was much to engage with. This non-verbal approach to our daily prayer was a striking change from the other liturgies we celebrated together, and the music was also radically different.

Much of the music was provided by an iPad app that allowed all present to create the music that was heard in the chapel. A clarinetist skillfully wove long improvised lines into the texture of the sounds of the app, and gradually this acoustic improvisation came to the fore. It was a beautiful, seamless transition, one that embodied the kind of experience that the service created: a richness of image, symbol, and prayer finding a calm, collected (and collective) center.

We continued centering ourselves in four plenary sessions -- the most we had understaken in a single day -- that focused on Tyson House, St. Olaf, First UCC of Northfield, and Colbert Presbyterian.

Tyson House wants to -- without being anything but humble about it -- share their tremendous gifts in liturgy and music with their supporting Episcopal and Lutheran congregations and the wider church. This project is incredibly exciting to me given the very clear vision and intentionality of this community.

St. Olaf wants to focus on liminal architectural space outside their Chapel, and together we explored the myriad ways that this could be undertaken. The conversation flowed freely, and many specific suggestions were offered.

To add to the fun, Melanie, Brian, and I took part in a video interview about the Congregations Project during the lunch hour. We're going to be church rockstars, just you wait!

First United Church, Northfield is seeking, in Bach's words, a "well-regulated church music" for their congregation. They're identifying a certain tenor that works well, and they're striving for more of the same. This context is a bit challenging to me because the attention span of the children is, to some degree, used as a barometer of their success, and this kind of high-energy worship production would be exhausting to me after a while.

Colbert Presbyterian is also focused on students, but not as a campus ministry, so their challenges are somewhat different than that of a Tyson House or a St. Olaf. But there was a great desire to reach out and engage these students in their full life of liturgy, and together we explored how to move in this direction.

A potpourri of diverse music at Evening Prayer brought what was a very busy and very wordy day to a close.

A few more quick words, ones heard throughout the day:

I, for one, was glad for a leisurely dinner, a quick trip to the used bookstore, and then a quiet night in to recharge for Day 6, the final day of the seminar.

But I want to offer a word about that quick trip to the used bookstore, because it seems that in New Haven everything conspires to make you think all the time.

One of the plenaries this day, and I hate to admit that I can't remember which one, referenced a line from Thornton Wilder's Our Town, a play I'm crazy about. The line is from the end of the play when Emily Webb is recounting all the things that she loved about her life in Grover's Corners:

"Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?"

Shelling out a few coins for a well-loved copy of this profound drama, and spending a bit of time with it before bed was the icing on the cake.

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25 June 2013
Yale Congregations Project - Day 4

This week I am excited and honored to be taking part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprise the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I'm tweeting, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP.

This morning was particularly intense, as I had previously agreed to play a very unfamiliar organ for our morning chapel service, and we were to give our plenary presentation immediately afterward.

I gave myself a bit of a head start and figured out how to improvise my way through a prelude and lead "Praise, my soul, the God of heaven" and a canticle paraphrase from the organ. Ben Brody of Colbert Presbyterian Church was the other keyboard player for the service, and he had a wicked clever take on "O sing to the Lord" which also goes in my bag of tricks now.

Immediately following this, we had our plenary session. The session was a lively, and thoughtful one: exactly the kind of thing we've come to expect here. Following our plenary was a very revealing role play that introduced the project from Holy Family Catholic Community. Suffice it to say that multi-cultural issues are not easy to navigate!

In the afternoon I helped in the planning for tomorrow's Evening Prayer service and also snuck back into the setup for a contemplative space for tomorrow's Morning Prayer (labyrinth, cushions, candles, etc.), and perused the Divinity School bookstore.

Following this, I was fortunate to have a nice long time to work with John Ferguson on improvisation at the organ. We worked on the Pasi organ (pictured). This was very enriching. I also got in a bit of time on the mean-tone Taylor & Boody before leaving the Institute of Sacred Music this afternoon.

Our evening was spent at the very hospitable Dixwell Avenue Christian Church here in New Haven. The final plenary of the day was followed by a hymn festival featuring hymns and songs in the African-American tradition.

I also want to point you to some other blogs that I've picked up along the way.

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24 June 2013
Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 5,

Sixty years ago on this day Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 premiered at the Proms in London.

It is "Dedicated without permission to Jean Sibelius".

(pictured: Jean Sibelius)

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Yale Congregations Project - Day 3

This week I am excited and honored to be taking part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprise the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I'm tweeting, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP.

I've heard it from more than one person: "my brain hurts". These first few days of the conference have flown by in a series of deep theological conversations. Today I, at least, plunged beneath the flood and was lost for a good while. It's nice to appreciate the keen minds that think so profoundly about the Christian faith. Said another way, it's nice to know what a group of organists talking at length about sub-semi-tones on a mean-tone Taylor & Boody organ really sound like to most people.

I think all of the Project delegates were glad to come up for air -- so to speak -- and to have a respite from official programming this morning. Many of us touched base with our home liturgical traditions. I worshipped at Christ Church, New Haven, in a very dignified (but not fussy) Rite I Eucharist in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. The very fine hymn playing was by Ian Tomesch. The very fine singing was by the congregation. There were candles; there was incense. The full offering plates were covered in green cloth in the Offertory Procession (I assume the cloth changes color with the season).

We gathered back at the Institute of Sacred Music at 4:00 p.m. for a talk from David Bartlett, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in New Testament from Columbia Theological Seminary. Here is a man full of wisdom. There was so much that I took from the talk, that I've posted all my tweets at the end of this article for you to peruse. There's a nice little picture of the chapel at the end as incentive for you to do so.

I wouldn't normally be inclined to mention a meal here, but I do need to mention that several members of the faculty joined me, Brian and Melanie for some very good discussion about our project over supper. Our delegation's plenary is in the morning.

The service this evening was a hymn festival entitled "We Sing the Story" led largely by John Ferguson on the Skinner organ, with help from Martin Jean on the Taylor and Boody, and James Abbington on the piano.

Every element of this Hymn Festival was compelling, even those hymns which were less familiar. It should also be mentioned that the already lively acoustic of this small chapel is further enhanced by a circular seating arrangement at hymn festivals. Every singer lifts up every other singer, and the whole room is filled with sound. For my colleagues who do not attend music conferences where there is such strong hymn singing, I hope that this was a very special experience to have.

There were many hymns that I was drawn to in this festival. Being Lutheran (I checked), John Ferguson seems drawn to a repertory that I don't encounter much of these days, and I was pleased to sing all of it.

The opening hymn was not familiar to me, though perhaps it should have been. "Rise, shine, you people!" words by Ronald A. Klug, and a tune by Dale Wood (WOJTKIEWIECZ). This hymn framed the stories that would follow, especially with the line "To all the world go out and tell the story / of Jesus' glory."

"Let all things now living" (THE ASH GROVE) was introduced with the help of a collective conspiratorial choral whistle. Smiles all around.

"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (LOBE DEN HERREN) was sung nice and high to match the pitch of the Walther chorale prelude that followed on the organ.

We made our way through the Incarnation part of the story with a beautiful story told by Tom Troeger.

One of the hymns that was a highlight for me, and would have been even without John Ferguson's devastatingly effective choral arrangement of the first three stanzas, was "On Emmaus' Journey" with the first line "Who are you who walk in sorrow / Down Emmaus' [sic] barren road". These words, by Herman Stuempfle, Jr. are set to the very familiar American HOLY MANNA. I will certainly be bringing this one back with me.

It's been years since I've studied the Troeger & Carol Doran hymn "Oh, praise the gracious power", and I don't know that I've ever sung it except by myself.

Like the other reflections were included in the festival, and Dorothy Bass's litany of all creation and Bryan Spinks's paean to the Holy Spirit both strengthened the festival immeasurably.

Martin Jean's terrific playing of Bach's "Wir Glauben" on the mean-tone organ (see, there we go again with all those funny words) was a real feat! And Glen Segger's brilliant explication that followed brought that music into sharp relief for everyone.

The festival wound to a quiet close with "Precious Lord," haloed with complementary organ bass on the final stanza, and finally "Lord of all hopefulness".

I began "at the break of day" singing this same hymn at Christ Church, a church of my own tradition where I celebrated the Eucharist. It occurred to me yesterday that our St. Gregory service did seem incomplete without the Eucharist, and it is a sadness that the Project participants and faculty cannot celebrate this sacrament together during this conference.

And yet, we can find a different kind of communion when we sing. This hymn, which I was still humming "at the noon of the day" was there for all of us this evening. I give thanks for this gift of music and song that binds us together in love.

This was a wonderful hymn festival, but -- and I don't say this to diminish anything about it -- it was only one of many occasions for Christians to come together in worship to sing our story. This simple fact of this festival's un-remarkability reminds us that we all sing our story, all through our hours, all through our days, all through our lives.

And in the process of singing our stories, we create new stories about ourselves and about our God.

David Bartlett relayed the marvelous confluence of a younger woman standing in front of two nonagenarian men singing this stanza of a well-known hymn:

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

And now, "at the end of the day" at last, there is peace.

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23 June 2013
Yale Congregations Project - Day 2

This week I am excited and honored to be taking part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprise the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I'm tweeting, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP.

For me, Day 2 of the Congregations got underway as every day should, sitting in a room with a few organists and talking about hymns.

Pasi Tangent: This year represents my first encounters with Pasi instruments. This instrument of his at Yale is the first I've heard, and this summer his Opus 5 will be moved to St. Benedict Parish in Richmond, Virginia, the city where I live and work.

John Ferguson is a hymn expert, and he gave us the gospel truth about many hymns before letting us grill him a little bit. His underlying theme is that the music of hymns -- on top of the texts -- is an exegetical medium, and that as organists we can highlight this. Furthermore, organists must do this in a way that supports amateur singing (which is what hymn singing is), and is sensitive and appropriate to its context both within the life of the congregation and within the specific service.

We also talked a goot bit about "ethnic" or "folk" hymnody, and how they necessitate a different approach from traditional hymnody. Ferguson's working principle is not one of literal "historically informed performance" -- or I suppose you could say "geographically" or "culturally" informed -- but it is congruent with the very nature of these "folksong" repertories that involved in community. He advocates for an adaptable approach that treats the music with integrity and respect, suggesting that this music can be sung very differently from community to community.

In the afternoon, we held two plenary discussions around two of the projects, the first being an Wednesday evening concert series just outside First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. This project has a lot in common with our situation, the church being right downtown, but we cannot boast the high level of pedestrian traffic that they do. One of the themes that emerged was evangelism through beauty: arts as a gravitational pull toward the church.

The second plenary shared this theme in a sense: a discussion about a spiritual arts collective at Robertson-Wesley United Church in Alberta. This is a fascinating project, and the kind of thinking that the team has already done about getting people together in the church to collaborate on some kind of artistic creation is impressive and inspiring.

A few remarks in response to this project made an impression on me.

Finally, a glimpse of the other organ that has caught my attention at the Institute of Sacred Music, the new mean-tone Taylor and Boody organ in Marquand Chapel:

Morning Prayer was a sung service written by John Tirro, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, and a Project participant from Tyson House in Tennessee. I found the Lord's Prayer in particular very singable and rather compelling. It was an "upbeat" setting of these words without being cheesy -- not easy to do! His setting held together well, and it's one of the pieces of music I will want to bring back with me.

Evening Prayer was our attempt at a service in the style of St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco. In hindsight, this service fell flat for me, not because I wasn't eager to take part in the human tableaus or the liturgical dance, but I think because the service did not culminate in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, I found the shapes and movement of this service resonated with me, and I am now more eager than ever to experience this service in San Francisco.

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21 June 2013
Yale Congregations Project - Day 1

This week I am excited and honored to be taking part in the Yale Congregations Project in New Haven, Connecticut 21-26 June along with my colleague Melanie and my friend Brian. We comprise the team from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. I'm tweeting, too, using the hashtag #YaleCP

The morning began by boarding a bus with many people I did not know, and traveling to First Presbyterian Church, New Haven. By the end of the day, I, and everyone else on the bus, had many new acquaintances and insight into the lives of seven other congregations.

We began with prayer, seated at our round tables, singing an Indonesian Psalm refrain "Haleluya! Pujilah tuhan" with hand clapping. The clapping ostinato would continue after the sung refrain ended, and various people spoke verses of Psalm 95.

We received a warm welcome from Martin Jean, the director of the institute.

Then Dorothy Bass, who will also serve as facilitator for our plenary session Monday, introduced the theme for the week: "Hark, the glad sound: welcoming new and returning Christians to worship". She focused on three central threads she saw running through the various projects: Hospitality, Testimony, and Ritual Engagement (St. Paul's, Richmond was mentioned in connection to this last area).

Then followed introductions of all the congregations taking part in the seminar this week:

We had a very fine panel on our theme for the week. Narrative emerged as an important strand in all this. Craig Mueller, an ELCA pastor from Chicago was outstanding.

Our time at the church ended with Evening Prayer, in the church itself, with Martin Jean leading the hymns from the organ.

Two personal connections: my wife and her early music ensemble met the musician at the Chicago Temple when they performed there recently. And the organist from Robertson-Wesley coordinated the McGill Summer Organ Academy the year I attended, about 10 years ago. I sat next to her at this evening's very fine performance of the Rachmaninoff Vespers, after which I made more personal connections, including one with Glenn Miller, the super-profundo organist & choirmaster at Kirk of the Hills, Bloomfield, Michigan.

This conference is filled with remarkable people and stories. It is a real blessing to be here.

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19 June 2013
House - Organ Open

I was really pleased with the turnout and enthusiasm parishioners had for a series of "Organ Open Houses" that I hosted after the principal Sunday service for the last three weeks. This was such good "organ evangelism", in my opinion, that I want to share some thoughts on what I did so that others might take up the cause.

I conceived of a series of three short (20 minute) sessions over three weeks, but you might just do one or two. Really you should adapt everything here to your instrument and your situation. Your mileage may vary.

How to host an "Organ Open House"

Session 1: Organ Pedals

Look, ma, no hands!

The organist plays with his or her feet, which is actually a really big deal. No other musician makes music this way. (Demonstrate with a short piece of music written for pedals alone, and/or a pedal solo excerpt from Bach or Buxtehude).

Let others try their feet (ask them to take their shoes of if you must) at the pedals.

Let folks peer inside the organ, or walk around if they can safely do so one or two at a time.

Session 2: Stops

Meet the pipes: all [however many you have] of them

The many "flavors" or the organ (more than Baskin Robbins!)

Break down by families:

Demonstrate and pass around model pipes if you can find them (check with your local organ builder).

Explain different octaves of organ stops 8' (describe as "piano" pitch), 16', 32', 4', 2'

Finally, mutations and the cornet "recipe". I liken a compound stop to a "pizza seasoning" that contains all the necessary ingredients to make the cornet happen.

Let folks play around with the stops and devise their own "secret sauce" at the organ.

Let folks peer inside the organ, or walk around if they can safely do so one or two at a time.

Session 3: Bells and whistles

The view from the flight deck

Time to nerd out.

Let folks play around with the pistons and other features you've just shown them.

Let folks peer inside the organ, or walk around if they can safely do so one or two at a time.

In conclusion

These are just simple ideas, and everything I did was very easy, but organ evangelism is important! So, get out there and encourage people to get up close to the organ they hear every week. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll be very pleasantly surprised with the success of your first "organ open house".

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13 June 2013
festival - strawberry

On the second Thursday in June for the past 48 years, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Diocese of Indianapolis has held the Christ Church Cathedral Women’s Strawberry Festival.

Today, the newspaper of record in the Circle City had this look back, including some great photos of Pat Harding, who started the festival.

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04 June 2013
Queen Elizabeth II - a service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the coronation of

Service booklet [PDF]

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