Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Church Choir Triumphant

All Saints Sunday invites us to recall the impact other Christians have had on our lives.  This year, I’m thinking particularly about choir members from various churches that I have served.  Perhaps it’s just a sign of my own advancing age (51 this year!), but it seems like I know more and more people who have joined the church triumphant.

Jim joined the choir at Faith United Methodist because his wife, who sang alto, asked him to.  He was a gifted musician who taught band and orchestra in the Duval County School system.  I was a little intimidated when he joined my choir.  I’m certain I must have said and done things that made him cringe, but he never once rolled his eyes or tried to correct me.  Years later his wife confessed to me that some Wednesday evenings she would suggest they take a “night off” from choir practice, but he always told her they had made a commitment and needed to honor it.  When Jim died, the choir sang Andrew Carter’s “God Be in My Head” as the casket was taken out of the church.  For those who don’t know this beautiful prayer from the historic Sarum prayer book:

God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and in my departing.

Anne sang in the choir at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  She was always faithful in her attendance – and not only in the choir. She was one of those saints that everybody looked to for guidance and her non-anxious presence.  Her house was near mine, and I rarely pass it without thinking of her.

Viki was on the committee that hired me for my current post.  The first day I came into the office, there was a card from her on my desk that started “Welcome back to the Lutheran church. . .” After I was hired, her job wasn’t done.  She was always checking in with me to see how things were going and making sure I had adequate resources.  She gave St. Mark’s so many gifts and they are still around me today.

There have been many other faithful choir members I have been fortunate to work with over the years.  To all of you, living and deceased, thank you for your hard work and support.  I know I haven’t always been easy to work with. Thank you for sticking with me through the easy and the difficult times, through the right notes and the real clunkers, the good direction and missed cues, the anthems that went really well and the ones that nearly fell apart.

This list is my no means exhaustive, but some of those who have joined the church choir triumphant are:
Moose (All Saints Protestant Chapel at NAS Jax)
Shirley (All Saints)
Bev (All Saints)
Mark (All Saints)
Jim (Faith UMC)
Marty (Faith)
Judy (Faith)
Betty (Faith)

Mae (Faith)
Tom (Faith)
Reba (St. Luke’s Episcopal)
Anne (St. Luke’s)
Betty (St. Luke’s)
Viki (St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church)

I don’t know specifically what happens after we die (this post is about gratitude, not theology), but I believe that one day our voices will be joined together again.  This Sunday, as the assembly at St. Mark’s says, “I believe. . .in the resurrection of the dead,” it is many of you who will come to my mind.
Top: The choir at St. Luke's Episcopal Church with Father Ken Roach (ca. 2003)
Middle: The choir of Fort Caroline Presbyterian Church at an anthem festival at Palms Presbyterian Church (ca.1988)
Bottom: The choir of Faith United Methodist Church prepares for "An Old Fashioned Christmas" (ca. 1998)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Meine Seel erhebt den Herren" Bach Vespers 2014

Our cantata this year is “Meine Seel erhebt den Herren,” BWV No. 10. Written for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is a setting of the Magnificat that will be perfect for ushering us into Advent in the following week. The orchestra will be comprised of professional instrumentalists and this work will be sung within the context of the Lutheran Vespers service, also called Evening Prayer.

Bach Vespers has been a part of St. Mark’s worship life since 1990 when the first cantata was sung under the direction of Jim Rindelaub who was St. Mark's Cantor 1985 - 1999.  We are happy to carry on this great tradition of presenting music by one of the Lutheran Church's best-loved composers in a worship service.

Financial support from St. Mark’s members has always been an important piece of this ministry.  Music must be purchased and instrumentalists and soloists must be hired to supplement volunteer singers and members of the Festival Choir.  Your generous contributions are very much appreciated.  Gifts may be given as memorials.

Do you know someone who would like to sing with us?  Please give them a copy of this article so they will have the rehearsal schedule and will know how to contact me.

The rehearsal and service schedule follows:

Saturday Nov.1, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Saturday Nov. 8, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Saturday Nov. 15, 10 :00 AM - 12:00 PM
Saturday Nov. 22, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (This is our dress rehearsal with the orchestra.)
The service is on Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 6:00 PM.
Please send an email message to to receive a registration form.  

The photo is "Visitation," from an altarpiece by Jacques Daret circa 1435. Via Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Across the Channel: Passions Baroque to Romantic Saturday, July 26th at 7:30 PM

Tess Mattingly will be in concert at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Saturday, July 26th, at 7:30 p.m. The concert, “Across the Channel: Musical Passions Baroque to Romantic,” will include works by Handel, Scarlatti, Debussy, Liszt, and Britten.  Miss Mattingly is a Jacksonville native who is equally at home singing opera, art song, and sacred music.  She has performed throughout the United States and in western Europe. Recent honors include the Coeur d’Alene Symphony Orchestra and Voices of Music Young Artist awards, and an invitation to sing at the Froville Baroque Festival in Froville, France.

To hear (and see) a recording of her artistic singing, type the following into your browser:

Dick Kerekes of says that with “. . .great stage presence and a beautiful voice, she will blow you away with her talent.”

Collaborative performers are Edie Hubert (piano) and Peter Florek (trumpet).  

Ms. Hubert currently teaches at Jacksonville University.She is also no stranger to St. Mark’s since she has played with the orchestra for past Bach Vespers services and also appeared with the San Marco Chamber Music Society. 

Paul Florek, trumpet, will also be a part of the concert.  He made his symphonic solo debut at the age of 15 and has gone on to perform with numerous ensembles such as the Elmhurst Symphony, Chesterfield Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Texas Camerata, and the Lincoln Chamber Orchestra.
Besides being an active international performer, Mr. Florek is currently a Doctoral Fellow at the University of North Texas where he maintains a full undergraduate teaching load.

You will not want to miss this elegant evening of music.  There is no admission.  An offering will benefit St. Mark’s Bach Vespers program.

Bach Vespers has a twenty year history at St. Mark's and this cantata is being sung as part of the church's 75th anniversary year celebration.  The first cantata was sung under the direction of Jim Rindelaub who was St. Mark's Cantor 1985 - 1999.  We are happy to carry on this great tradition of presenting music by one of the Lutheran Church's best-loved composers within the context of Lutheran worship.

top photo: Miss Mattingly
middle photo: Miss Hubert
bottom photo: Mr. Florek

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why Do They Wear That?

Each Sunday the choir follows the cross into the nave during the gathering hymn.  Dressed alike and striving to keep an equal distance between each pair of singers, they lead the singing and encourage our full participation in the liturgy.

“Dressed alike. . .” Have you ever wondered why?

There are many reasons that choirs wear robes, but in a church setting, the primary reason for doing so is to show that one has particular duties in the worship setting.  The alb (a white robe that is nearly floor length) is the most basic of the liturgical vestments and is worn by acolytes, lectors, assisting ministers, and clergy.  For our choir, we have added one more garment – the scapular.

Scapulars (from the latin word for “shoulders”) are worn over the shoulders and drop fairly close to the ground.  They are different from stoles which remind us of yokes as in Jesus’ saying, “Take my yoke upon you. . .”  It is believed that the first scapulars were practical garments, aprons really, that protected a monk’s robe while he did the work of gardening, food preparation, or whatever else needed to be done that day.

Our scapulars today are a little fancier with their liturgical colors and embroidered crosses, but they still remind us that we come to the house of God to do the work of musically leading the assembly in worship.  They remind us of the work that we’ve done in rehearsing the liturgy, psalm, hymns, and musical offering.  They remind us that, as choir members, we have a unique “job” in worship.

Any choir member will tell you that he or she serves joyfully, but the next time you see one wearing the scapular, be reminded that it takes work and commitment to serve as a chorister. Then say a prayer of thanksgiving for that person’s service and for all who work in the music ministry of St. Mark’s.

Top photo:  Modern monks wearing their scapulars.
Bottom photo: Scapular-bedecked and with hymnal in hand, members of the Festival Choir prepare to serve.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Our Lutheran Heritage in Hymns" Is a Hymn Festival For May 18, 2014

What makes a hymn a “Lutheran” hymn?

When I think of Lutheran hymns, I think of texts from our tradition that were written by Lutheran pastors or theologians, follow Lutheran theology, and might also come from ethnic groups with largely Lutheran populations – such as Germany and parts of Scandinavia. 

I am not suggesting we should only sing Lutheran hymns, but I am suggesting we should pay special attention to the ones from our heritage.  I am also not suggesting that we should ignore hymns from other traditions, because we sing many of them!  I don’t refer to these hymns as “non-Lutheran” to exclude them, but rather to honor the traditions they came from.  I particularly love to sing English hymns.  They soar with long phrases and wide unexpected intervals where Lutheran hymns (at least the ones that haven’t been modified to an isometric form) tend to dance with accents that occur off the beat.

Not all hymns I would call “Lutheran” hymns are old.  Wonderful texts and tunes are being written by people who are alive today.  Sometime, check the index in Evangelical Lutheran Worship for texts by Susan Palo Cherwien and Jaroslav Vajda.

We have designated May 18th as Lutheran Heritage Sunday.  A big part of that day will be a hymn festival with a service filled exclusively with Lutheran hymns interspersed with readings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran pastor and theologian who dared to speak out against the Nazi regime.

In case you want to start warming up, the festival will include:
We All Are One in Mission (ELW 576)
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word (ELW 517)
Salvation unto Us Has Come (ELW 590)
Oh, That I Had a Thousand Voices (ELW833)
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (ELW 351)
Evening and Morning (ELW 133)
The service hymns for the day will also be Lutheran hymns, including:
Dearest Jesus, At Your Word (ELW 520)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (ELW 504)
Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart (ELW 750)
Now Thank We All Our God (840)

This also marks the beginning for the summer worship schedule at St. Mark’s, so there is one service at 10:00 a.m.

Singing together has always been an important part of Lutheran worship. We sing together as one community, or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it, “It is the voice of the church that is heard in singing together.  It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member of the church, may share its song.”  Amen.

Top: Philipp Melancthon baptizing an infant
Bottom: Hymn singing is for all ages as evidenced by these two young girls singing at a hymn festival at St. Mark's.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

This Is the Night!

Our midweek Lenten series this year was titled “Making Change.” We have covered the change of season, a change of habit, a change of circumstances, a change of heart, and the final session will be “change of plans.”

I would like to invite many of us to make a change in our usual routine for Holy Week. 

In the year 387, St. Augustine was baptized at the Easter Vigil.  It is the true high point of the full Christian year and we celebrate it in style at St. Mark’s.  Each year some of the great stories of the Old Testament are told to show how God has preserved his people since the beginning of creation.  Each year we move from darkness to light.  We respond with songs – both new and old.  Bells are rung, choirs sing, and our Lord’s resurrection is proclaimed.  More effort goes into the planning and workings of this service than any other service of the year - yet each year there are only a handful of people in the pews.
I have never been a “numbers guy” who lamented low attendance because I believe the prayers need to be prayed, the lessons need to be read, and the hymns needs to be sung regardless of how many people come.  That said, in a community that has excellence in worship (and music) as one of its core values, people ought to be present for the most significant worship event of the year.

Some say they don’t come because the service is too long.

It’s not.  Evangelical Lutheran Worship suggests twelve Old Testament readings, but we always cut that down to five or six.  This is not the three hour service you may remember as a child.

Some say they don’t come because they don’t want to sit and listen to readings.

Each year we try to present at least some of the readings in a different light.  We have used dance, drama, choral readings, and music to enhance the various lessons.

On Transfiguration Sunday we symbolically buried the alleluia.  It comes back at the Easter Vigil accompanied by a swelling organ, ringing bells, and happy voices.  Let’s make a change and have a full assembly for the Easter Vigil this year.

Remember to bring a bell – any shape, any size to help announce the gospel reading!

Photos: 1. Lutheran deacon with Easter candle from Wikipedia. 2. Noah's Ark, original artwork by members of St. Mark's. 3. The Valley of Dry Bones, original artwork by Lauren Sohacki, a member of St. Mark's. 4. A fourteenth century bell depicting Christian saints from Wikipedial

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” Bach Vespers on November 24th at 6:00 P.M.

                                                                        The 2013 Bach Vespers Choir rehearses

Prayers can be read from a book and recited from memory.  They can be extemporaneous shouts of thanksgiving or emotional outbursts of intercession when someone we love encounters hardship and despair.

The church has long sung its prayers.  It started with Gregorian chant and has grown to include classic hymns, psalmody, and modern praise choruses.  Sometimes we pray silently with a trained choir as they sing well-rehearsed anthems and canticles on our behalf.

On Sunday, November 24th at 6:00 p.m. we will have an opportunity to worship with a choir that has diligently rehearsed a cantata by the master Lutheran church musician - Johannes Sebastian Bach.  Dawn Riske is the Director of Music Ministries at Christ the King Church in University, Missouri.  She says, “Somehow the exquisitely crafted music of J. S. Bach helps to build connections between our situation and the Holy One.  Bach’s music opens the door to prayer.” This is why we will hear “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” in the context of a worship service rather than in a concert setting.

Bach wrote a cantata for every Sunday of the church year – for five years.  He did not write one for Christ the King Sunday because that day had not yet appeared on the church calendar.  You will find this text, written for the Feast of the Annunciation, to be equally appropriate for a Christ the King observance. If you would like to read the text in advance, you can find it here:

Our cantata will be accompanied by an orchestra of instrumentalists from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and our soloists are Karina Calabro (soprano), Dr. James Hall (tenor), and Carl Moser (bass).  The chorus includes members of the St. Mark’s choirs and singers from the Jacksonville Community.  Pastor Thomas Hanson will lead the liturgy. Frank Starbuck is our German diction coach.

Bach Vespers has a 20 year history at St. Mark’s. The first cantatas being sung under the direction of Cantor Jim Rindelaub.  We are grateful for the tradition that he began!

Please join us for this unique service. All are welcome.