Saturday, February 24, 2018

Dear Tune, That Text Just Isn't That Into You

There are some things that go great together:

chocolate and peanut butter
cotton candy and the circus
macaroni and cheese

ice cream and meatloaf. . .
Those don't go together!

Wait a second! Ice cream and meat loaf? Of course not.

As in this culinary example, sometimes the marriage of a text and tune is equally less than ideal.

Stirring Tune, Inspiring Text, but Together?
One of my favorite hymntunes is Mit Freuden zart.  The first time I heard it was with Johann Jacob Schütz’s text “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above.”  Most Christians have sung this hymn at one time or another.  A pleasing tune to sing that is suitable to the range of most singers, it gives a sense of joy, even triumph.  It’s not hard to imagine it sung as a great procession with a grand organ, large choir, massive assembly, and Samuel Metzger’s bold arrangement - all coming together to make this hymn suitable for any of the church’s festive occasions. See what I mean in the following link: 

Perhaps it’s the sense of joy that has often left me feeling ill at ease when I sing it with Walter Russell Bowie’s hymn text “Lord Christ, When First You Came to Earth.”  Since the text is copyrighted, I can’t fully reproduce it in this blog, but it talks about how Christ was treated on earth.  It tells how “they” bound and mocked Jesus, crowned him with thorns and put a robe on him, a “robe of sorrow.”
Caravaggio "The Crowning With Thorns" via Wikipedia

The text tells how Christ’s power will eventually triumph against the nations, then asks the question if we will treat Christ the same way he was treated in the first stanza, or if we will instead seek the kingdom of his peace.

As the hymn closes, we opt for peace as “we bring our hearts before your cross” and ask Jesus to “come, finish your salvation.”

For me the pairing of Mit Freuden zart (an ice cream hymntune) with Lord Christ, When First You Came (a meatloaf text) has never made for a hearty meal. That said, the text is a perfect one for Year B’s third Sunday in Lent.

So. . .I’m allowing these two to have a musical divorce.

A Better Pairing?
Generally, texts are not written to go with particular tunes anyway.  So, now I have to find a tune with the same meter (87, 87, 887) that is more sobering musically.

I’ve found that quality in Kirken den er et gammelt hus – more commonly sung with the text “Built on a Rock the Church Shall Stand.”

Can't wait to sing Mit Freuden zart!
If you want to stick with the food metaphor, imagine Lord Christ, When First You Came to Earth as meatloaf and Kirken as gravy.

If you really enjoy the tune Mit Freuden zart, don’t worry.  I promise it will show up during the Easter Season with a very suitable text – With High Delight Let Us Unite.

Is there a text and tune whose marriage seems less than desirable to you? Name them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks to my friends Marcy and Lynne for their photos!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Things That Cantors Think About

Things that Cantors Think About - At Least Today

I should probably only speak for myself rather than presuming to be the voice of all Cantors, but I imagine that as we go about practicing the organ for worship, choosing music for our choirs to sing, planning the handbell year, recruiting musicians for musical ensembles, handling publicity for special services, trying to decide how best to spend funds authorized for the coming year, and a host of other tasks – there must be some common threads.
Directing a choir requires focus, but where does the Cantor's mind go the rest of the time?
Here are some of the things on my mind today.

Pastor Daniel’s Installation
What a great way to start 2018! There is so much to do!  Thankfully, Pastor Daniel is doing the bulletin.

The Installation service is at 5:00 and will have the same readings and propers* as the service that morning – so how can I make it not seem like a repeat?

First up, choose what the choir will sing. We’ve not rehearsed the last two weeks, so we’re only going to have one rehearsal to get ready. It would probably be wise to do something we already know. I’ve settled on Edvard Grieg’s “God’s Son Has Made Me Free” which we sang for Reformation Sunday.  Another good one would be Aaron David Miller’s “Breathe on Me.”  We haven’t sung it recently, but the choir knows it and it should come together fairly quickly. The breath of the Holy Spirit is a suitable image for an installation service.

Pastor Daniel Locke will soon be installed as our new Pastor.
What about the liturgy?  We’re singing Holy Communion Setting One for the Sundays after Epiphany, so maybe we should do something else in the evening.  Marty Haugen’s “Now the Feast and Celebration” may be just the thing.  Pastor Daniel likes Haugen’s music and it’s a liturgy the congregation enjoys singing. Yes, I’ll have to work on it.  This liturgy composed for guitars and piano doesn't translate easily to the organ, but there are ways to make it work. I know what I’ll be practicing this week!

I don’t want to sing the same psalm setting, so let’s do a setting from the Ionian Psalter.  It will take some extra work from the choir, but they are also excited about this installation and will be up for the challenge!

Lent and Easter

Ash Wednesday is like in two weeks, right? Yikes! I hope I can get some planning done this week.
Purple is coming!
Perhaps I can at least plan all of the choir’s music. It might seem an easy job to decide what the choir will sing, but it actually requires some pretty deep planning.  Do choir members have planned vacation time? I must be careful to choose music that is not too hard, but it also can’t be too easy. How many new pieces should we sing? How many should be repeated from past years. Just don’t pick anything with “Alleluia” in it – at least not until Easter.

Music for Children
I’ve had preliminary discussions with some of our families with children in the early elementary grades.  We don’t have enough for a full choir, but maybe we can do something equally engaging.  Instead of trying to meet every week, we can break it up into shorter sessions of about six weeks.

What might these “classes” include? Here are my initial thoughts:
Singing (I bet you knew that was coming!)
Orff Instruments
Hand Chimes
Musical Games
More Singing

Making music with kids is great fun!
I have a few kids in mind for this. How do I get the word out to others to let them know that all are welcome?

Bach Vespers
Thanks to a generous grant from the St. Mark’s Foundation and money already set aside, there are enough funds to do Bach Vespers this year! 

Which cantata shall we do and when should we do it?  (You can’t just pull a cantata off the shelf and go for it. It must be one that can be learned in three weeks before a final rehearsal with the orchestra.)

Will Ellen Olson hire the orchestra again this year?
Bach Vespers 2008 - A cantata by J. S. Bach sung in the context of a Lutheran Evening Prayer (Vespers) Service
We always have amazing soloists. Where do I find them this year?  (They must be of professional or near-professional caliber. We’ve had great success using music students from UNF and JU.)

People can hear Bach any day, but in the Jacksonville area only St. Mark’s performs these devotional works in the context of a Lutheran worship service regularly. This tradition is worth preserving.

Next thought: How do I start raising money for the next Bach Vespers?

The coming Sunday is always the most pressing item on the agenda, so I need to allow adequate preparation time for practicing voluntaries and hymns. Fortunately, Jane Daugherty is doing her Field Experience work for Trinity Lutheran Seminary by logging some service-playing experience at St. Mark's,  so this frees me from choosing and practicing a prelude and from worrying about the gathering hymn. Jane has those covered.

How do I handle the rest of the service?

I always try to rely on the wisdom of Barry Rose, the Organist and Choirmaster of Guilford Cathedral in Surrey, England. At a workshop I attended, he advised organists to prioritize according to this scheme:
1. Congregational music (liturgy and hymns)
2. Choir music (anthem accompaniments)
3. Voluntaries (preludes and postludes)

Paying special attention to congregational music seems like a good plan to the Lutheran in me. It’s even the first music we practice in our choir rehearsals.

Saturday Service
Do we have a Saturday service this week? No? Whew!

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA
Seeing my thoughts in writing is a little daunting.  The trick is not to think of all of these things at the same time! I’m grateful for Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Christmas message this year.  When I engage a task, I will remind myself to think “Just this. Just now.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the things you have to do, this message might be exactly what you need – it’s message should not be limited only to the time around Christmas. Following this link might be the two best minutes you spend online today: 

*”Propers” are prayers specific to a day.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Great Things Happened in 2017: A Photo Blog

Interim Pastor Bob Hale installed members of the 2017 council on January 1st.

Who doesn't like to find a happy note in their mailbox at church?

Rehearsal with the choir of All Saints Episcopal Church (Father Donavan Cain, Rector and Michael Mastronicola, Director of Music). Our service of Lenten Devotions included K. Lee Scott's cantata "The Suffering Servant."
Our service of Lenten Devotions included a liturgy titled "For the Healing of the Nations" Worshipers were able to place candles on a map of the world as a sign of prayers for countries in conflict, places experiencing natural disasters, and places where the church is persecuted. The youth of St. Mark's made the map.
The Festival Choir with Interim Pastor Patrick Bell on Easter Sunday.
The Palm Beach Atlantic University Concert Choir (Dr. Geoffrey Holland, Director) performed an excellent concert on May 11th.

The St. Mark's Ringers were invited to perform a concert with the handbell choirs of Riverside Park United Methodist Church on May 21st.
Members of the Jacksonville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists spent two years meeting at St. Mark's to plan for hosting a regional convention of the AGO in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.  St. Mark's was the site of workshops and a reading session led by Donald McCullough, a member of our AGO chapter and Director of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
We had another excellent season of concerts by the San Marco Chamber Music Society! The photo is from their Facebook page.
Two outstanding local organists concertized on our 36-rank Zimmer/R.A. Colby pipe organ in the past year. They were Dr. Peter DeWitt (left) and Dr. Laura Ellis (right).
Interim Pastor Bob Hale serves communion during our annual Blessing of the Animals service.
We called a new Pastor! Pastor Daniel Locke preached his first sermon at St. Mark's on Reformation Sunday! Pastor Locke is a recent graduate of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  He will be installed as our Pastor on January 14, 2018.  All are welcome!
The Festival Choir and our new Pastor on Reformation Sunday.
Orchestra students from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts performed their third concert at St. Mark's this year.  They came for rehearsal, had dinner (above) then performed a concert of diverse musical styles by a variety of composers.
Detail from the cardboard box that one of our youth slept in during the Cardboard City event to benefit Family Promise of Jacksonville.  I'm not sure who painted this, but I thought it was beautiful.
Pastor Daniel Locke and Cantor Tony Cruz after their first Christmas Eve service together.  I hope there are many more to come!

Happy new year!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent Counts Us Down to Christmas

10. . .9. . .8. . .7. . .6. . .5. . .4. . .3. . .2. . .1. . .

Who doesn’t love a good countdown?  Not long ago countdowns were nail-biting,edge-of-your-seat preludes to launching a new rocket into space.  Today, “Alexa” will set an alarm that sound like it came out of a science fiction movie to let you know your dinner is done.  The church’s liturgical year is another counting device we use as we count off the Sundays after Pentecost.

At this time of the year, everyone’s favorite countdown tool is the Advent Wreath which we use to count the Sundays in Advent that lead to Christmas.

Advent used to be regarded as a penitential season, so much so that altar paraments were purple - as they are in Lent.  More recently, Advent has become a time of hope and expectation wherein we anticipate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but also his coming in glory at the End Times.  Now we use the color blue. A practice that is believed to have its roots in Scandinavia, blue represents hope, but also transcendence and mystery.
The Virgin Mary is usually depicted in blue.

There may be ancient practices harkening back to pagan times, but for us this evergreen adorned circle, which first began to take form in 16th century Germany, is filled with Christian significance.  The circle of the wreath represents Christ’s eternal victory over death, the evergreens remind us of eternal life and the importance of being faithful, and the lit candles represent the light of Christ in the world.

Some traditions use elaborate liturgies for the lighting of the candles.  They may have individuals or small groups lead litanies, they may assign special emphases to each candle (hope, prophecy, joy, promise, e.g.), and they may sing hymns.  These traditions can be pleasing and meaningful, but they are local practices, traditions rather than rules.  In fact, the use of an Advent Wreath is completely optional and is not required for Christian worship at all.

This year, at St. Mark’s, we will allow the wreath to speak for itself so that the candles will already be lit when we gather for worship.  One candle will be lit on the first Sunday of Advent, then two candles on the second Sunday, and so on.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, the center candle (also called the Christ candle) will burn brightly at the center of the wreath.  In our modern age of oil-filled candles we will not be able to see their gradual melting, but we can still participate in the “countdown to Christmas.”  Those who would like to meditate on the wreath might use the words from hymn no. 240 – Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah.

10. . .9. . .8. . .7. . .6. . .5. . .4. . .3. . .2. . .1
Christmas Eve Poinsettias

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Some of the information for this article came from the following article:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Daily Prayer at St. Mark's

Sunrise in Wisconsin - photo by Laura Olson

For centuries Christians have gathered on Sunday mornings for worship, but they have also gathered during the week and at various times during the day for daily prayer.  The ages old pattern of praying at certain times of the day continues in monasteries and other religious institutions throughout the world.  Why should St. Mark’s be any different?

Monks Praying Vespers - Wikipedia

St. Mark’s now offers two opportunities for Daily Prayer at the Church: Evening Prayer on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. and Morning Prayer on Fridays at 11:15 a.m.  The services are brief (30 – 45 minutes) and are based on the services of daily prayer in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. They include readings, canticles, hymns, and prayers. There is no sermon or teaching.  The words from scripture and liturgy speak for themselves.

Looking for a quiet place during the week? These services include silence after readings, songs, and prayers.  Prayer can’t be a dialog if we do all the talking!

Readings are taken from the daily lectionary in ELW.  This lectionary is unique in that it is tied to the Sunday lectionary.  The readings for Monday – Wednesday comment and reflect on the readings from the previous Sunday.  Readings for Thursday – Saturday prepare us for the coming Sunday’s readings.  This lectionary is an excellent resource for your own private devotions.

Saint Mark’s Cantor, Tony Cruz, leads the services.  The services are not held in his absence.  If in doubt, check with the church office or contact Tony.

Would you like to be a reader and/or assist in leading the prayers?  Please let Tony know.

Come join us as we pray for the world, our community, ourselves, and the church.

The Moon of Florida - photo by Andre Cruz

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Our Work Is Our Prayer

Rothschild Book of Hours: Commas, Words, and ART!

Some prayers are meticulously crafted - poetic in their delivery of each comma and carefully weighted words.

Other prayers are extemporaneous “help-me-Jesus!” pleas for aid.

Some prayers are works of devotion.

It’s this last category that is best known to church musicians.  Rehearsing is the labor of love that allows us to lead, or contribute to, the church’s song.  When we gather for choir rehearsal, our simple act of coming together is a prayer. 

Warming up is part of our gathering rite.  It’s a signal that we’ve met to set aside our individual voices and sing together our Soli Deo Gloria songs - to unify our voices as a metaphor of Christian unity.  We listen to each other, matching pitches, tone, and breathing.
The lion's share of our congregational song comes from ELW.

Then we tackle the music – liturgy and hymns being first.  As we sing, the words that we sing on Sunday begin to take hold in our hearts.  Choir members have reported waking up in the middle of the night with an intertwined text and melody from choir rehearsal stuck in their heads, becoming their prayer in the night watches.  The music of the assembly is formational and we are blessed to get a double dose of it – the first dose on Wednesday and the second on Sunday.
Sunday morning warm-up with the Festival Choir
Finally, we rehearse the music that we will sing alone on Sunday morning.  This piece of music, sung only by the choir, goes by different names in different churches - choir anthem, special music, and offertory to name a few.  I love that St. Mark’s calls this piece the “musical offering,” a gift of praise to God.  But we don’t just offer ourselves on Sunday morning, we offer ourselves from the moment we begin rehearsing a new piece. 

There’s a lot going on at any choir practice including fun, fellowship, rehearsing, planning, and more - but the entire process is a prayer of love and devotion.
Choir practice is prayer - but it's also fun!

All singers are invited to participate in the Festival Choir at St. Mark’s!  We especially need sopranos and altos, but we’re always willing to take on new tenors and basses.  We rehearse in the music suite on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00, and again on Sunday morning at 9:00.  Talk to any choir member if you are interested!  Tony Cruz, St. Mark’s Cantor, is always happy to answer your questions about singing in the choir and ringing handbells.

Come sing with us.  
Come pray with us.

Acknowledgement for Rotxschild Book of Hours Photo:
By E2v - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo of ELW (from out 2007 dedication) by Bill Daugherty

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

RISE: Remember Well the Future

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

I’ve never liked that expression.  Beyond the fact that I’m pretty sure it has more basis in pop theology than in what the Bible actually says, who wants to crawl through a window where a perfectly good door stood just moments before? 

When a door closed this summer, I was very happy that another door opened. The “closing” door was not attending classes at Trinity Lutheran Seminary this year.  The “opening” door was a chance to attend the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians biennial conference in Minneapolis!  I’ve been a member of several denominational organizations for musicians, but ALCM is my absolute favorite. The worship services, plenary sessions, musical events, and educational workshops are always of great value!

Sunday, July 9th, was my travel day.  It felt good knowing that I was leaving St. Mark’s in the capable hands of Jane D.  Not only do I appreciate her technical ability, but I know that she loves the St. Mark’s community at least as much as I do.

Monday started early with three back-to-back choral reading sessions.  Reading sessions are important for choir directors.  They usually work like this: attendees receive a packet of music and, with the guidance of a leader, everybody sings through the music together.  This is a great way to gauge the difficulty of a new piece and decide if it’s something you want to “take home.”  Music publishers usually provide the review copies free-of-charge.

Worship is one of the best features of ALCM events.  The service started outside with an Affirmation of Baptism utilizing handbells and the chorale “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (christ, unser herr Lutheran Book of Worship 79). When we were all in the church, the Gathering Hymn was the ALCM-commissioned “God Alone Be Praised.” James E. Bobb, Assistant Professor of Music – Organ and Church Music at St. Olaf College, was at the console.  His improvisation on wie schön leuchtet was so energetic that I wanted to stand to sing when we got to the hymn – but it was during communion so I kept my seat.  With 360 singers in attendance, it took some time to prepare and serve the Lord’s Supper.
Opening Eucharist at Augustana Lutheran Church

Chad Fothergill’s plenary sessions on “Re-Membering the Role of the Cantor” was a centerpiece for this four-day gathering.  He examined the historic role of Cantors and helped us take a critical look at our roles in leading the church’s song today.  I’m looking forward to the publication of his presentation so that I can review it more deeply.  Daniel Schwandt was a co-presenter, but was not present because of a family emergency.  Even so, his presence was clearly felt.

A Window at Westminster Presbyterian
Tuesday found us engaged in Morning Prayer at Westminster Presbyterian Church, only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Morning Prayer was followed by valuable workshops.  I attended a post-plenary discussion of the afore-mentioned topic, “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing” - a workshop geared toward reenergizing church publications such as bulletins and newsletters.

Tuesday’s final event was a hymn festival featuring the National Lutheran Choir and organist David Cherwien.  I never miss a chance to hear him play.  Yes, his playing is superb, but he is also one of the most creative church musicians that I know of when it comes to engaging people through hymns.  He takes everything we learned from Paul Manz to a new level.

Wednesday began with a plenary session by the poet-hymn writer Mary Louise Bringle. The topic was “Re-Forming Congregational Song: the Identity-Relevance Dilemma.  It was an interesting look at various denominations and why they sing what they sing.  Not surprisingly, we hold a great many hymns in common.

Following the plenary, there were more workshops. I attended “Liturgical Theology for Church Musicians” and “Getting It Right: Understanding How to Legally Use Music and Technology.”  St. Mark’s uses music from a variety of sources, so it’s important that someone understand how to record and report so that composers, arrangers, and publishers are able to continue to provide the church with new songs to sing.

The final event on Wednesday was a visit to St. John’s Abbey, a Roman Catholic community, school, publishing house, and church in Collegeville, Minnesota.  We received the warmest of welcomes and participated in an ecumenical worship service which I won’t soon forget.  Father Anthony Ruff, OSB wrote eloquently about this experience in a blog post that I hope you will take the time to read: 

I’ll save you the google search! “OSB” is Order of St. Benedict.
St. John's Abbey

St. John's Abbey
St. John's Abbey

We concluded the conference on Thursday morning with a closing Eucharist at one of my favorite churches – Central Lutheran in Minneapolis.  Mark Sedio is the Cantor there and I am always checking Central’s website to see what he is doing. The service featured his choral work “Rich in Promise.”

There was so much more that I could write about.  If you are a Lutheran Church musician and are not a member of ALCM, I can’t commend this organization to you enough.  Even if you never attend a conference, you will appreciate the extraordinary quality of its publications “Cross Accent” and “In Tempo.” Our Facebook group is one of the best resources available.

There were lots of other activities: networking, casually sharing ideas and experiences over great meals, performances, beautiful venues – the list goes on.  I am grateful that St. Mark’s realizes the importance of providing for continuing education opportunities.  Yes, I am personally enriched by these events, but they help me to more fully lead the church’s song at St. Mark’s.

It won’t be too hard to catch up on the work I missed at Trinity this summer.  I’m glad this door opened!