The Epiphany Season
Two years ago, I wrote about the "new worlds" sentiment found in two different hymns: new worlds - thousands of.
Frederick William Faber writes of "thousands / Of new worlds as great as this" in a stanza that has been cut from the Hymnal 1982.
And the midst of Robert Bridges's famous hymn gives us: "newborn worlds rise and adore"
But I had not realized how ancient the "many worlds" sentiment was in Christian liturgy.
Stephen Buzard, the director of the 2017 St. Louis Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) course drew our attention to a similar line in the Phos hilaron.
The Phos hilaron is truly ancient – the oldest known Christian hymn outside of the Bible.
While it's often rendered as "O gracious light," Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn loved to translate this literally: "O laughing light" or "O hilarious light".
The Phos hilaron was introduced to the Evening Prayer (Both Rite I and Rite II) with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Here it is in the Rite I version:
O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thou art worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified though all the worlds.
There it is again – right there in the very last line – the "many worlds" idea. The plural is deliberate.
This year is the 20th anniversary of St. Louis RSCM course, and a new setting of the Phos hilaron has been commissioned to honor the course's founders: Phillip Brunswick and Brother Vincent Ignatius, OSB. The composer is Gary Davison.
Yesterday, Mr. Buzard drew our attention to that last phrase of the Phos: "through all the worlds".
There is an exceptional, mystical way in which Gary Davison has set those words.
And so here we have it, the best of the Anglican choral tradition: an ancient Christian text in a brand new, beautiful, thoughtfully-composed setting.
It will be sung for the first time at Evensong on Saturday.
Until last month most people had never heard of Belleville, Ill, the home of the man who aimed a rifle at Republican members of Congress on a baseball field on Wednesday, June 14.
Belleville is a little town east of St. Louis. They have an Episcopal church there, St. George's.
And while I've never been to Belleville, I have been to Toddhall Retreat Center, which is run as a ministry of St. George's.
Toddhall is the location of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) St. Louis Course, which I attended last year.
This is a very tenuous association with political violence. My spouse, on the other hand, had a frightening experience in Washington, DC last year: she was under lockdown in Politics and Prose Bookstore as "pizzagate" came to its ignominious and dangerous end.
Last year, in what seemed to be a particularly violent summer, I wrote a bit about church music in a violent world. And since learning the shooter was from Belleville, my thoughts naturally turned to the music that I will make near there this week, and what liturgy and music generally have to say in this era of continual mass shootings and seemingly incessant police shootings of black people.
I'm on my way toward Belleville again this morning. At the 2017 RSCM St. Louis Course, which begins today, we will be singing Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).
In the midst of the 18-minute cantata, these words of Christopher Smart (1722-1771) are sung by the full choir:
For I am under the same accusation With my Savior, For they said, He is besides himself. For the officers of the peace Are at variance with me, And the watchman smites me With his staff. For the silly fellow, silly fellow, Is against me, And belongeth neither to me Nor to my family.
Being struck by the night watchman was serious. His job was to keep order, and his weapon was a staff.
The blow was often powerful enough to kill, and it is in this way that composer Michael Wise (1648-1687) met his end.
"He is besides himself."
Who in their right mind opens fire at a baseball game, we might ask? Or fires a shot in a pizza parlor?
But then there are the "officers of the peace" who are at variance with the crazies.
NBC News: Darren Wilson Described Michael Brown as ‘Crazy,’ Intent on Killing Him (25 November 2014)
Woe betide anyone who is at variance with the officers of the peace these days. Many of them smite first and ask questions later. They work under a system that has not found them culpable – not once.
Today is the Feast of William White (1748–1836), the Bishop of Pennsylvania who served as the first and fourth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. The Collect of the Day begins "O Lord, in a time of turmoil and confusion..."
How much has changed since the times of Smart, Bishop White, and Britten. And yet we find ourselves in another time of turmoil and confusion.
Thank God for the blessing of words, music, and liturgy like this in a place like this.
And for the opportunity to come together to sing "with the spirit, and with the understanding also."
There are several things that led me to begin an email newsletter.
Every now and then I have a half-baked idea that's not quite ready for this blog.
Or I just don't want it to be that permanent, or that widely read.
I'm fascinated by a kind of "retro" movement on the internet – blogs and email haven't gone anywhere, so what are we doing with these tools?
I'm giving a couple of talks about social media this summer, so I thought I should look into email newsletter services. I chose Tinyletter.
Also, I just thought it might be kind of fun to have an email newsletter.
That's really all there is to it.
You can subscribe here if you want to. It really is it's own thing. (You're not going to get a digest of posts on this blog.)
There. That's all I'm ever going to say about this here.
Frankly, why shouldn’t Christianity look a little odd to a modern viewer? Our tradition insists that a God-Man rose from the dead. Constant ecclesiastical searching for ‘relevance’ can be highly damaging spiritually and institutionally.
"#MitreGate: And the End of Vestments". Pray Tell, 10 July 2017.
I have always loved this prayer by the Rev. Jeremy Davies – at least, I assume he is the author.
The prayer is part of a recording of Evensong from Salisbury Cathedral called King of Glory on the Griffin label from 2003. Davies is the precentor for the service on the recording.
I loved this prayer so much, and I listened to the CD so often that I used to have this prayer memorized. I know that I wrote it down at one point, but I couldn't find it today. So, I pulled out the CD to have a listen.
Thank you God for this beautiful world
and for all the good things around us:
for all we have and all we are,
for health and intelligence,
for food and warmth,
for rain and sunshine,
for the beauty of the earth:
the mystery of the mountains, the immensity of the sea
for food, home and family, and friends;
for parents and teachers,
for skills and hobbies,
and things that make us laugh.
Forgive us that we take these things so much for granted
and grasp them as our own.
Forgive our selfishness and greed,
and help us to remember, with practical generosity,
those who do not have the advantages we enjoy;
for you are the giver of all good things,
and we are made in your likeness,
our God, for ever and ever.
The rest of the disc is certainly worth hearing too. It's a pristinely sung, beautifully recorded service of Evensong in a great cathedral. This is one of those discs where it all just comes together, in no small part due to the Rev. Jeremy Davies.
When talking to a group of organists who had registered for an American Guild of Organists (AGO) regional convention, I borrowed some language from the mission of the AGO itself to explain why we should engage with social media: to share knowledge and inspire passion.
The mission of the American Guild of Organists is to foster a thriving community of musicians who share their knowledge and inspire passion for the organ.
One of the ways in which I think organists owe it to themselves to live out the mission of this organization is to not keep our knowledge a secret.
We all have unique interests and experiences, and one of the joys of getting together at conventions like this is sharing our stories with each other.
But while we might be able to attend a conference only a few days a year, the web affords us an opportunity to have these conversations year round.
Furthermore, we are all passionate about the organ. It does our organization and our profession no good to keep this passion under a bushel. We should unashamedly demonstrate our passion by letting our social media mirror the things we are excited about.
I always consider Halloween to be peak organ evangelism time. It's sort of like, Christmas and the church. Here, let me do one of those SAT analogy thingies:
Halloween : organ :: Christmas : Church
People who would never otherwise think about the organ are Googling words like Bach, organ, Toccata, D minor, and BWV 565. Some of them might even consider going to an organ recital for the first time.
And while interest in the instrument is always at a peak at this time of year, there is a certain level of curiosity about the organ year-round.
Organists would do well to help people find us and the organ online year-round because someone is always looking.
If your early fascination with the organ was anything like mine, you were just as fascinated with the instrument itself as with the music written for it (if not more so!).
So one of the things I think is of great value to share through social media is our instruments themselves. Photos of the console, the pipe chambers, the blowers. Videos of the stop action, the swell shades. Recordings of the individual stops themselves (in fact, one of my so far unrealized projects is an "interactive stop list" where you can click each stop name to hear a short sample of that rank of pipes).
There are so many things that are worth getting out, and so many people live more and more of their lives online.
If you're an organist who is not already on the web and social media, why aren't you? If you are already on social media, do you think you share enough about the organ?
Today we noticed that The College of St. John's has been busy joining other Cambridge college choirs for Evensong recently.
All of these choirs sound fabulous on their own, but the result of cramming the stalls of one of these chapels with the singers of two choirs is a yet more thrilling sound.
Most recently, King's College for a Thursday, July 6 service that can be heard from the King's College webcast page.
About a month ago, the St. John's Choir was at Trinity, Cambridge, for a Thursday, June 8 Evensong
In the current political/informational climate, the radio program On the Media is almost required listening.
Don't miss their wonderful story on Aaron Copland "The Sound of America", which aired this past Independence Day weekend.
My co-presenter Mary Stutz and I created a handout which you can still access at bit.ly/SocMedOrgan. It's a Google Doc so that it can be continuously accessed by you and updated by us.
In my remarks I tried to get at something that concerns me about all this social media stuff: it doesn't last.
This is by design. Now there are even "stories" on several platforms that are only available for 24 hours, and then they disappear.
Social media is meant to be very much "in the moment", but this kind of brief shelf-life isn't entirely worth our valuable time, I would argue.
Besides, organists tend to like stuff that lasts. We play a lot of music from the eighteenth century, and some of us have had the good fortune to play organs that are older than that.
So here is my advice to organists (and others) for a digital life that has some longevity and lasting value.
Your footprint on the web should be permanent, and it should be as accessible as possible. If the goal is, in fact, to be social, you don't want a "login barrier" between you and your potential audience.
Content on Facebook and Twitter are not easily indexed by Google; public web pages are. If you want others to find your content, tomorrow, next week, next year, make sure that you post it to a blog (or another website) first. Then use your social media channels to point to that content.
You can always send out a new Facebook post pointing back to an essay that you wrote a year ago. Jonathan Aigner of the popular Ponder Anew blog is really good at this. His articles repeatedly spike in popularity as they make the rounds and go "viral" time and time again, sometimes years after the initial post.
Tangent: I couldn't help but notice that Aigner's latest post is about how the new anthem from First Baptist Church, Dallas, "Make America Great Again" is now licensed by CCLI, further proof that that organization is concerned with copyright but not Christianity. But I digress.
Don't keep your social media presence a secret! If you use various social media channels, especially as an organization, make them visible on your website.
There's a famous English choir that does this well. King's College Cambridge embeds their Facebook page on their choir website, and their music list Twitter feed on their music list page (see links in the bit.ly/SocMedOrgan handout).
Two personal examples: 1) when I first signed up for Twitter in 2006, I thought that its key value would be embedding it on my website so that there would be something current (and timestamped) right there on my home page. Twitter and I have changed a lot in the interim, but I still keep Twitter embedded on this blog.
2) For the past two years or so I've been using SoundCloud to upload audio recordings from St. Peter's, St. Louis. I want to widen the audience beyond SoundCloud users, so we have embedded a SoundCloud widget on the church's music page along with our Twitter timeline.
How do you do this? Each particular social media service will provide you with a block of code that you can cut and paste into your website. It's that easy. For example, here's the info on how to embed a Twitter timeline.
My favorite social media service is Buffer. If you don't know about it, check it out. It's especially useful for managing multiple accounts.
Buffer allows you to distribute posts over specific times that you schedule. You can place general posts in your "buffer, " and each one can be sent out sequentially, or you can schedule specific posts to be sent at specific times. I think I probably use both features about equally.
If I find an interesting news story or blog post that I want to share on my own Facebook page and/or Twitter account, I'll put it in my buffer, and it will be sent out in the order that it was added.
I suggested that organists could even use the scheduling feature to "narrate" their organ playing during a service or recital on Twitter. In fact, I was tweeting about every five minutes during my presentation Tuesday morning through the magic of Buffer.
Another nifty service (which you just need to check out so I don't have to try to explain it) is IFTTT (If this, then that).
Finally, don't overlook basic integration features offered by various social media channels. If you upload a file to SoundCloud, for example, take advantage of the option to share that new upload automatically on Facebook and Twitter.
I think that automation is probably the tool that a lot of organists need to get into social media a bit more. They might think "I don't have time to Tweet every day." That's fine, but if you work for a congregation, you're probably used to a particular weekly "product", so why not start with one tweet a week? And why not load all of those weekly Tweets into Buffer at one sitting and then forget about it for a while?
This is a great way to get started.
But a word of caution: if you only automate, and then utterly neglect your social media channels it's much more "media" than "social media". Check in occasionally and be friendly. Thank people for engaging with your content. Share other content that you find interesting.
Do you have to check your Twitter account every minute? No.
But is it nice to make new connections online? Yes.
This is the fun part.
Be authentic. Use your own voice.
And don't assume that the social media landscape is fixed.
New innovations to existing services are rolling out all the time. And live video, while not exactly new, has all kinds of potential for musicians.
New services will probably roll out immediately after you finish reading this. Try them! Sign up! Explore! Be creative. You might be the first to discover a really neat application for a new service.
I'd love to hear what you are doing with social media. You can comment on this blog post below (I'm using Blogger, by the way). Or if you got here from Facebook or Twitter, you can find me there too.
What did I miss? What other ways can organists be using social media to be awesome on the web?
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Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.
the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.
interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.