Monthly archives "July 2016"

TAO August 2016–New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Let there be no mistake about it—procrastination is an art, and I am a master. How about you? This year, let’s surprise everyone and get it together BEFORE the new season kicks in. But when summer heat is prevailing, how do you get going for a fall that seems awfully far away? Is it just me, or does everyone get motivated when they have something to look forward to? I wonder if music might hold the key.
Unless you have an organ professor in your congregation, you are the one and only expert in the field of organ literature around. You are more interested in organ music than anyone else. Why not take advantage of your deep knowledge of the field by finding some of your favorite pieces to play? Rekindling your love of music is one of the simplest ways to encourage your inner musician. We spend a great deal of our time responding to the tastes of the people in our congregations and the expectations of the musicians we work with. Make some time for the music that feeds you, yourself.
What about learning some new music to stoke the fire in your fingers? For me, the old adage, “So much music, so little time,” says it all. I love discovering the exciting array of creative new works that our composers bring to us every year. Here are some that you might enjoy.
Just because you work in a less-is-more musical environment doesn’t mean you have to compromise quality. Short works are in! Well-known composer, Mary McDonald, has two volumes of Go Out with Joy! (Lorenz 70/1889L & 70/1969L) with dynamic two-minute postludes covering the entire church year. Majesty and Triumph by George Blake (Lorenz70/1971) offers free works with similar per-minute postludial intensity. Michael Canales’ Inventions for Worship (Lorenz 70/1950L) with optional pedals is a colorful contribution to brevity. Canales’ Spanish heritage shows forth in his writing without falling into the stereotypes that often discourage use in liturgical settings.
Now here is something just for you. Composer Ad Wammes of Miroir fame has just finished a volume of chamber organ works. Commissioned by Carson Cooman, Triptych (Sacred Music Press 70/1983S) is a delight to play and to hear. Eight manuals-only pieces are divided into three groups: “Les Cloches,” “Joy,” and “Contemplations.” Typical of Wammes, there are no harsh harmonies to irritate your congregation. Instead, they offer delightful ostinati and some very catchy rhythms. Short and fun—keeps you young. I’m going to play couple of them now!
New music is evidence that the Spirit of creativity is alive and well, providing works that uplift and encourage God’s people in worship. The joy of creation is the subject of Alfred V. Fedak’s All Nature Sings (Lorenz 70/1957L). These easy pedal pieces cover all your favorite hymns of nature: “Bunessan,” “Hymn to Joy,” “Dix,” “Terra Beata,” Lasst uns Erfruen,” and “St. Elizabeth,” plus two original compositions based on Psalm 8 and 136. Fresh and light, Fedak writes well for the organ, as does Wayne Wold. He has just completed the fourth volume in his Light on Your Feet series (Ausgburg Fortress). These books are rich with newly edited classics by Boellmann, Pachelbel, Kuchar, J.C. Simon, and Vogler, along with two terrific new pieces by Wayne himself. Organists of great accomplishment need not disdain this volume. These are wonderful pieces that will add panache to any service.
Have you noticed how much work postludes with panache take? Let’s make a plan to get ahead on them before the season begins. Here are two volumes of Robert Powell’s Postludes on Gospel Hymns (MorningStar 10-781 & 10-214). These short and easy arrangements cover “Hanson Place,” “Solid Rock,” “Work, for the Night is Coming,” “Christ Arose,” “Message,” and “To God Be the Glory.” You can’t play gospel hymns all the time, I know. How about adding Four Trumpet Tunes by David Lasky (MorningStar 20-699) to your list? David always keeps things rhythmic and triumphant without pushing the beyond intermediate demands. So do the terrific pieces in The King of Heaven: Five Hymns of Praise by Anna Laura Page (MorningStar10-693). Within the same conservative harmonic and rhythmic boundaries, she shows again why classic hymns as “Amsterdam,” “Azmon,” “Hyfrydol,” “Lauda anima,” and “Old 113th” continue to inspire composers.
Are you planning a concert this year? There is nothing more motivating, as far as I am concerned. If you are looking for something new to play, why not consider David Dahl’s A Kingsfold Suite (MorninStar 10-779)? There is nothing too difficult among the six variations, and your audience will love the variety of tone colors and styles he has included. An exciting new “Grand Partita on ‘Ein Feste Burg’” has come to us from the imagination of Karl Osterland in A Wittenberg Collection (Augsburg Fortress). He has chosen to illustrate four fragments of the hymn text as a Fanfare, a Trio, a Totentanz and a Finale—all moderately challenging. What a wonderful audience pleaser! Another work of similar technical demand is the two movement Hymnos by Ronald Perera (E.C.Schirmer 8108). The first movement, “Star,” is a charming, imaginative arrangement of “Star in the East,” stylistically referring to its Southern Harmony roots. The second movement, “All Loves Excelling,” combines “Hyfrydol” with “Michael” along with snatches of several other familiar hymns. Clear registration will help the audience track all of them. They will enjoy the challenge. Sometimes a challenge is what we need to get motivated, so get in there and practice some new music.
Learning and performing music is not the only way to get ready for the coming liturgical season. As a practicing procrastinator, I can only rely on the many organizational systems I have developed over the years. I have already mentioned my month-by-month Monthly Service Music Planner. Have I mentioned my Music Diversity Accountability Planner? When I am planning music, I chart the styles I want to present regularly: classics, jazz, hymn tunes, and contemporary +/or evangelical. Keeping this list in front of me as I make my choices channels my thoughts and challenges me to keep looking for new ideas. I also use a Strategic Practice Planner that helps me list all the music I am considering so I can see which pieces will require little preparation and which will take more time and effort. If you would like to check out this system, just e-mail me at and ask for my Procrastination Prevention Packet. Don’t put it off too long, now…there’s a new season ahead. Let’s get ready!

TAO June 2016–Beach Scene

Beach Scene
I never really grew up. Pictures of my childhood’s endless summers and its carefree days pop into my mind as I turn the calendar to June. They jostle uncomfortably againt the realities of my adult life, where I have to steal time away from my non-stop music ministry. One of the ways I answer the siren’s promise of summer paradise is to choose a something from my endless reading list. Reading was my escape in childhood, and it still is. My wife and I love nothing better that a walk on the beach followed by a leisurely reading session, watching people pass by in the sunset.
I hope you are planning some rest and renewal time this summer. It’s a really important part of the organist’s liturgical life cycle. We need to relax after the busy season that just passed. If you are looking for something nurturing to read, I have a few things for you to consider. First, a book of reflections by Carl Schalk entitled, More First Person Singular (MorningStar 90-51). Reading these short reflections on worship and church music is like having a conversation with a good friend—a sympathetic talk about everyday church things. Schalk’s intriguing chapter titles will draw you into the conversation: “Hymns Jesus Would Not Have Liked,” “The Creeping Kudzu of Applause,” “The Dark Side of Christmas Carols,” “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” and “Regaining our Balance.” This particular good friend shares your desire to hold on to strong worship values while you measure your responses to changing times.
Another of our good friends, Paul Westermeyer, a former national AGO chaplain, has given us his thoughts in Church Musicians: Reflections on Their Call, Craft, History and Challenges (MorningStar 90-60). This short introduction to the theology of worship and the role of the church musician underlines our calling as the center and focus of our own personal spiritual journey. If you have never had a course on sacred music, this little volume will be a quick overview of the subject. Westermeyer reminds us that each of us is called to serve a faith community, surrounding and supporting Word, Table and Font with song. Just like you, he wants the song to be high quality and connected with the church’s historical roots. Just in case you would like to know more about those roots, he devotes a section to denominational contributions to church music.
I especially appreciate Westermeyer’s comments on the countercultural nature of church music. Calling attention to the fragmentation that comes from our daily encounter with culture, Westermeyer reminds us that worship and music heals our people and restores our communities to wholeness. He comments, “…the cantor articulates time and gives shape to the world of God’s grace to which worship exposes us (33).” Our craft, the craft of music, is truly a sacred calling.
While Paul upholds the value of our craft, he also takes the opportunity to highlight several of the challenges we are facing. He is critical of the situation where clergy are shut out of the worship conversation due to seminaries’ devaluing worship courses, even as musicians are shut out of the theological conversations that inform worship. The disconnection can result in a devaluing of music’s role in worship. He calls upon us church musicians to speak the truth prophetically, despite the obstacles we might be facing. While this is not exactly beach reading material, Church Musicians is a fine book to clarify our role and to encourage us in our work. How better to return from vacation?
Summer is a great time to upload some fresh professional perspectives for the coming program year. There is no better book than From Postlude to Prelude: Music Ministry’s Other Six Days, 2nd edition (MorningStar 90-32). C. Randall Bradley has collected years of practical music ministry experience into one handy volume that covers almost everything you can imagine. He wrote it for a college course, but it doesn’t need to be a cover-to-cover read for most of us. I recommend it as a resource to consult for any challenges you might be facing. Check it for advice on staff relationships, for ideas on nurturing and motivating volunteers, for wisdom on time management, for tips on managing finances and facilities, or for communications and program promotion.
Bradley tells us that music ministry is a three-legged stool: pastoral, musical and organizational. His strongest work is in the organizational area. Nonetheless, he offers some solid information about leadership preparation. His advice on vocational self-assessment is well worth the time for anyone looking at making music ministry a full-time vocation. He brings easily overlooked employment issues, such as compatibility with a church’s theology and its philosophy of worship into focus. So does his review of leadership development and leadership style. He also provides some hard-earned advice on self-care—how to maintain emotional, physical and spiritual health over the course of a career, how to balance work and family life, and finally, how to recognize signs of burnout. He even includes advice on making the transition from one job to another. From Postlude to Prelude is a much-needed volume to keep handy for reference. Each of us can learn something important in these pages.
As far as I am concerned, no summer beach scene is complete without a good novel just for fun. I thought you might enjoy reading something with music and musicians in it. How about An Equal Music by Vikram Seth? Two musicians, a violinist and a pianist, who loved and lost each other come together ten years later. Music is at the core of their lives. You will enjoy having the inside track on the many musical issues that add to the novel’s richness. Margaret Ann Philbrick’s novel, A Minor: A Novel of Love, Music & Memory, is an amazing interaction between a young piano prodigy secretly in love with his teacher, who is suffering from early onset dementia. The author includes the use of music therapy in the story line. Best of all is her exploration of the place of faith in challenging times. Here’s another slightly darker work to enjoy: The Music Room. Author Dennis McFarland searches for meaning in the death of a young composer whose difficult family includes a choral conductor and a failed concert pianist. Finally, here is a work by the brilliant writer, Richard Powers. Powers is always is fascinated with the place of art in the life of the mind. The first novel, Orfeo, is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus. Brought into the present time, a retired composer, Peter Els, becomes a do-it-yourself genetic engineer fleeing a Homeland Security investigation. Woven throughout the novel are superb descriptions of the music he listened to during significant life experiences. Powers has a way of writing about music that you will appreciate. If you like Powers, take a look at one of his earlier volumes, The Time of Our Singing. Here, in one African-American family, are two classical musicians and their sister, who becomes a civil rights worker. Woven in and around the events that defined race in America are Powers’ lyrical reflections on the power of music, especially the power of the human voice to uplift and encourage.
Summer is here. Pick up one of these recommendations, download a few good tunes, and head to the beach.
Wherever your beach is—a mountain retreat, a bend in the river, a shady place in the neighborhood park, or the quiet of your own back yard—take some time to enjoy the season ahead. We worked hard this year. Enjoy the rewards. Happy summer, friends!