“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!