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!

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