Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bach Vespers 2016: Calling All Singers!

St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church continues its twenty-six year tradition of presenting cantatas by J. S. Bach in the context of the Lutheran Vespers (Evening Prayer) service with inspiring hymns and reverent liturgy.
J. S. Bach from Wikipedia

Singers from the community are invited to participate in this unique worship service with professional instrumentalists and trained soloists.

Johannes Sebastian Bach is widely acknowledged as one of the geniuses of western music and honored with the title of “the fifth evangelist” by Lutherans.  He wrote a cantata for nearly every Sunday on the church year and is known for dedicating his compositions “soli Deo gloria” – Glory to God alone.  His sacred cantatas present the gospel of Jesus Christ with grace and beauty.

"John in the Wilderness" Caravaggio  c. 1604 from Wikipedia
“Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam” was written to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist.

There is no audition for singers, but the ability to read music, along with experience singing in a choir, is important.


To secure your spot, contact Tony Cruz by email at vespers@comcast.net with your name, contact information, and voice part (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass).

The rehearsal schedule follows: 
Bach Vespers Choir and Orchestra 2015 Photo by Nicki Llinas
October 8, Saturday
10:00 – 12:00
October 15, Saturday
10:00 – 12:00
October 22, Saturday
10:00 – 12:00
October 29, Saturday
(Dress Rehearsal with orchestra)
10:00 – 12:00
October 30, SUNDAY
Service at 7:00 p.m.

The first three rehearsals are in the music suite at St. Mark’s. The dress rehearsal is in the nave.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

One More Story from Columbus: Doing Art for the Church Together

Lecia Beck only recently claimed the title of artist.

She was an “A” student in all of her high school studies – except Art and Music.  She always loved doodling, but the high grade in Art was elusive so she lost interest.  The interest was rekindled a few years ago when a friend introduced her to the art from known as “zentangling.”

The art form has become so popular that it is even trademarked – see www.zentangle.com where it is described as "an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns.


Lecia is also a candidate for the Master of Divinity degree at Trinity Lutheran Seminary where she is receiving the education that will prepare her for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As in her call to being an artist, her call to ordained ministry wasn’t something she discerned from the beginning. Here is the story in her own words:

 I usually point to my time in college, being involved in Christian ministries on campus, but I have actually found journal entries from high school about it!  I started college studying engineering.  I love the classes, but through working in outdoor ministry, I discerned that my call was not to be an engineer.  I took a year off of college to join Captive Free - East Lakes as the sound tech on team.  After that time, I went to Malone College in Canton, OH for a degree in outdoor leadership.  While I had felt called to ordained ministry, I have a lot in common with Jonah.  I tried to bargain with God that I would pursue full-time outdoor ministry instead.  While that did not pan out, I spent the six years before starting seminary working for the YMCA in Columbus.  I worked with many low-income families, providing afterschool childcare and enrichment and becoming an advocate for them.  Through all of that, I still felt the nagging that God was calling me to ordained ministry.  I loved my work at the Y, but it was not complete because I could not share my faith.  Finally, at a retreat weekend, I spent time praying about this call and knew that the time was right.  From the point of leaving the retreat, I began seminary five weeks later.  It has been a wild ride of learning to trust God even more and forget my need to be in control.

Lecia’s two callings recently came together when she and classmate Scott Nellis conceived of a community art project.  They drew the outline of a dove that covered three canvases and specified rainbow colors as the background.  People from the community were invited to tear pieces of magazines and glue them to the canvas – DURING WORSHIP!  During the singing, preaching, or any other time, anybody who wanted to went to the in-church art studio to work with paper and glue to create the project together.  The project was left in the worship space during the week so people could stop in at will to meditate and create.
 
The community art project was finished just before Pentecost and soon after Trinity Lutheran Seminary became a Reconciling in Christ Seminary - hence a descending dove against a rainbow colored background.

Scott’s daughter, Lydia, was seven years old on the day that her younger sister was baptized and Scott was grateful that Lydia could have something to do, especially during the preaching!  Together, Lecia and Lydia included a piece of the bulletin with her sister’s name on the triptych.  Lydia was happy to see it again just a short time later when her father graduated.

Lecia was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The next step in her journey finds her 300 miles away from Pittsburgh in Loveland, Ohio at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church where she will complete her internship under Pastor Jonathan Eilert.  She will graduate from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in May, 2017 before entering the ELCA’s first call assignment process.
Lecia Beck and an unknown friend.


What lessons has she learned from her journey as an artist?


“I struggled to be interested in art because I tend to be a perfectionist.  It has been a great journey for me to try to let go of that and decide what is good enough.  Inspiring community art was also a great exercise in having a vision and letting go of it.  I marveled at some of the "liberal interpretations" of colors!  While many people say that everyone can be an artist, I didn't believe them...and yet, I have learned it is true!”

Links:
Lecia Beck's Blog: http://soumonsa.blogspot.com/
Reconciling in Christ: https://www.reconcilingworks.org/about/
Trinity Lutheran Seminary: http://www.tlsohio.edu/



Monday, June 27, 2016

Another Columbus Adventure: Probably a One-Time Chance

During my second week at seminary, an email began to circulate from Pastor Shelley Nelson-Bridger seeking a musician to play for a “contemporary-ish” service on a Sunday morning.  I had already made plans to attend an Episcopal church with a very fine organist, but it sounded like the regular keyboardist was out of town, and someone who had promised to substitute had backed out.  I was sympathetic (it had just happened to me) and agreed to play – as long as I didn’t have to put in a lot of preparation time. (My work load was already pretty heavy and practice instruments aren’t always easy to come by at Trinity.)

Pastor Shelley promised a ride and lunch (in addition to a stipend), so I offered to help.  As the week went on, I found myself looking forward to it!  This would probably be my only chance to ever visit this church and town.

Sunday morning we left at 7:30 – our destination was 70 miles outside of Columbus.  We were headed for Galilee Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Russells Point, Ohio where Pastor Shelley serves as the Interim Pastor.


The service consisted mostly of standard praise choruses from the 70s and 80s, along with the traditional Lutheran liturgy.  Galilee Lutheran, named because of the proximity of Indian Lake, is a homey little church built in 1975.  A captain’s wheel and painting of a lake behind the altar enhances the identity of this lakeside congregation.

Pastor Shelley Nelson-Bridger
The singing was ably led by Pastor Shelley and Michael while the assembly happily joined along. After the service, I found the congregation to be friendly and welcoming.  If you are ever in the area, I encourage you to visit this congregation.  “Contemporary-ish” worship is offered on the first and third Sundays of the month and traditional worship is offered on the second, fourth, and fifth Sunday of the month. Their website is http://galileeatindianlake.com/.

After church, we drove around Indian lake.  Years ago, there were several small lakes and streams in the area. In the late 1800s, a project was undertaken which included the building of a dam and connecting the small lakes to form a single lake that fills more than 6,000 acres.  There are inlets and islands at every turn.  For a few moments, I thought I was in a seashore town like Brunswick, Georgia.  (I would love to know how many millions of dollars in annual boat sales are made in the small Ohio town.  It must be quite a business.)
The worshiping community at Galilee Lutheran Church


Lunch was at the Tilton Hilton, a charming lakeside (dockside service provided!) restaurant which, over the years, has developed floors that slant so much the tables actually have legs on one side that are longer than the other side.  It felt like a fish camp on the way to Amelia Island, very casual, with a menu of great sandwiches and appetizers.  (I enjoyed my grilled chicken wrap and we shared an order of fried onion petals.)
The Tilton Hilton - from their Facebook Page
















This was probably a one-time chance to meet Lutherans in this part of the country and I am so glad that I was able to go!  Thank you, Pastor Shelley, for inviting me and for a delicious lunch! It was a pleasant and unexpected break from my studies.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Stepping Outside of the Fold and Feeling Pretty Much At Home

Even when I am out of town on vacation, I like to go to church.  I usually choose a Lutheran (ELCA) or Episcopal Church because I look forward to the Sunday Eucharist.

Today I chose differently.

James Freeman, our organ technician at St. Mark’s suggested I go to First Congregational Church to hear this baby, built by Rudolf von Beckerath from Hamburg, Germany in 1972:


The church actually has two organs.  In the chancel they have an organ built by W.W. Kimball (Chicago) in 1931.  Ample information about the organs is available at http://www.first-church.org/TheOrgans.aspx.

First Congregation, an open and affirming congregation, has one of those grand church structures that inspires awe on the inside and out.  Over the doors in the front of the church are the words “Enter to worship. Depart to serve.”

The church viewed from East Broad Street

The worship service felt very liturgical!  As we gathered and prepared for worship, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A (BWV 536) floated down from the balcony. The language of the liturgy felt very similar to what I am used to hearing. For example, this prayer at the beginning of the service:

Keep, O Holy One, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love; that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness and administer your church with justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

There was no psalm, but the epistle and gospel readings both matched the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary – so we heard the story of the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus, washed them with her tears, and dried them with her hair.

During the sermon, the Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens asked us to hear Jesus’ question, “Do you see this woman?”  He said that most theologians and preachers like to talk about her history as a prostitute, but encouraged us to see her as a disciple whose actions prefigured the crucifixion.  He encouraged the assembly with these words: May Jesus’ words guide your looking and seeing the women in your life.
Inside the narthex


The hymns were “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “As We Walk through Life with Jesus,” (written by Pastor Ahrens and dedicated to his parents for their 65th wedding anniversary), and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”  Additional music at the offering and postlude was from a concerto by Marcello with organ and saxophone.  The saxophone was ably played by Grace Gelpi, a student at Michigan State University.  It suited the solemnity of worship and felt like a special grace for the morning.

The Pastor is Rev. Dr. Timothy C. Ahrens and the Music Director is Kevin Jones, M.M.  I did not get to meet him, but admired his playing of the voluntaries and the hymns.  If you are in the Columbus area, I would recommend visiting this church. First Congregational Church is at 444 East Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio.
A beautiful banner and with a stand that is also a work of art


Did I miss having the Lord’s Supper?  Sure.  But when you are attending a Lutheran seminary where there is worship every day, the Eucharist is never far away.
The altar


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Next Time You Pray. . .

It has been nearly ten years since I came to St. Mark’s.  Periodically, I like to consult my job description to make sure I am doing the basic things that are supposed to help me lead the church’s song in this place.  As I read, I am reminded how fortunate I am to have a job that I truly love and enjoy.

Did you know that the people of St. Mark’s have an important task that is part of my job description?  Under the heading of “Congregation/Staff Support” are the following words:

We will pray continually for God’s gift of strength, courage, and creativity.

Your prayers in these three areas are truly appreciated, but I would like for you to add one more item – resources.

I’m not talking about money - although we need that to order new music and to maintain the organ, piano, harpsichord, and handbells.  I’m talking about people to be active in our music programs.

You may have noticed we don’t currently have a children’s choir program.  My dream is that someday we will have a fully graded choral program with choirs for early elementary, upper elementary, junior high, and senior high ensembles. Music is a perfect means to nurture our children and youth on their spiritual journeys to becoming mature Christians.  One of my dreams is that the junior and senior high choirs would embark on summer tours in alternate years – presenting programs much like The Experience (Christ Lutheran Church in Charlotte, NC) has provided for us in recent years.
St. Mark's children's choir members and their parents at a Chorister's Guild festival.
Children from St. Mark's Ark.  These Orff instrument could be a useful tool in a new children's choir.


We need more singers in the Festival Choir. The total number of singers has remained pretty constant over the years, but work commitments, family needs, and personal situations arise that affect our ability to confidently support the congregation’s singing (job number one!) and to provide musical offerings that are well-prepared, substantial, and artistic.
The Festival Choir warms up on a Sunday morning.

Eric Olson's oboe adds beauty to our worship. Photo: Nicki Llinas
It isn’t just about singers.  For two years we have struggled to maintain an entry-level handbell choir.

What is the purpose of a church music program?  Is it just to add beauty to worship?  Is it merely an opportunity for those who enjoy music to have fun?  Is it something to attract visitors to our faith community?

Church music may indeed accomplish all of these things, but our primary aim is to use God’s gift of music in the liturgy to glorify God and to edify those who gather as God’s people.  We strive to maintain music’s role as the living voice of the gospel, to assist the community in its faith formation, and to celebrate the beauty of holiness. (See the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians Statement on Worship and Music at www.alcm.org.)

The gifts of all musicians are welcome at St. Mark’s.  I invite you to take part.


So, the next time you pray, I encourage you to continue those prayers for strength, courage, creativity, and resources – not just for me, but for all musicians of St. Mark’s as we proclaim the gospel.
Our Bach Vespers Choir proclaims the gospel. Photo: Nicki Llinas
Your comments are welcome!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Five Reasons I Joined A Community Chorus

For many years community choirs have been performing at St. Mark’s and each time the enthusiasm of the singers made me wish I could join the fun.

So, I recently joined the fun and cast my lot with the Orange Park Chorale under the direction of Dr. Timothy Snyder.  There were lots of reasons I joined, but in this article I will just share five.

1. To make music
It happened instantly.  Most people in community choirs read music proficiently and the folks in the OPC have a very high level of musical skills (as do singers in most community choirs).  Within our ranks there are high school choral conductors, piano teachers, music teachers in the elementary grades, church music directors – as well as every other profession you can think of.  From the simplest hymn to high church polyphony, the music gets off the page pretty quickly to become a polished, artistic performance.



2. To get a free masterclass in choral conducting

When Dr. Tim Snyder isn’t conducting the OPC, he moonlights as the Director of Choral Activities at Jacksonville University.  It’s no mistake that I chose OPC because of his excellent reputation and the fact that JU is my alma mater.  He has reminded me of many things I already knew (but that I had allowed to fall out of practice), given me some new ways to express concepts, and reminded me to pay attention to the art of music as much as I do to its mechanics.

3. To meet new people
Why are they called community choirs?  It’s not just because singers come FROM a community, but they gather to form a new community that is dedicated to a very high goal.  I have casually known some of the singers in this group for many years, but it has been a privilege to strengthen musical ties and to meet new singers.

4. To learn new music
The concert we are preparing has music from seven languages, including French.

I think I have sung French twice in my life – once in college (Claude Le Jeune’s “Revecy Venir du Printemps”) and Gabriel Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.  BUT, I was privileged to sit next to an alto with a gorgeous voice when we started working on Morten Lauridsen’s “Dirait-on.”  Without even knowing it, she taught me everything I needed to know.

We are also singing music in Spanish, Hebrew, Church Slavonic, and English. 


5. To know the joy of singing
The irony of my job as a cantor, leading the church’s song, is that I don’t get to sing very often myself.  Choral singing has been an important part of my life since the sixth grade – about forty years.  I enjoy conducting and teaching music and have long used the excuse that I don’t have the time to sing in a community group like the Orange Park Chorale.  Fortunately, I have made the time, at least for a little while, to experience the sense of well-being and pure joy that comes from singing in a choir.

See what this joy looks like in the OPC's two upcoming concerts:
Friday, March 11th at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Orange Park

Sunday, March 13th, at 3:00 p.m. at Riverside Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville

If you’ve thought about making more time for music in your life, there are lots of options for singers in the Jacksonville area.  Each choir has its own culture, audition process, literature focus, and dues structure.  With a little research you can find the group that is right for you.



River City Men’s Chorus
Wayne Bailey, Conductor

North Florida Women’s Chorale
Kerry Fradley, Conductor

Jacksonville Masterworks Chorale
Mark Stallings, Conductor

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Chorus
Donald McCullough, Conductor

The Don Thompson Chorale
Michael Dell, Conductor

Orange Park Chorale
Timothy Snyder, Conductor

Church choirs are always looking for more singers – including mine! Send me an email if you’re interested.

There are many others that you will find with a simple internet google search.  If you’ve been thinking about making room for a little music in your life, stop thinking and start acting.  I’m glad I did.

Photos from top to bottom:
The Jacksonville Masterworks Chorale did a madrigal concert in 2010 - from their website,
Dr. Timothy Snyder
Members of the OPC hard at work - probably trying to negotiate Church Slavonic.
The River City Men's Chorus just before singing at a Jags game in Jacksonville - from Facebook.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Excellence in Worship and Music Continues As a St. Mark's Core Value

It has been 2 ½ years since R. A. Colby Organ Builders came from John City, Tennessee to begin the expansion project on St. Mark’s 1984 Zimmer pipe organ. The number of stops and colors brought the 13 rank organ up to 36 ranks. John Parkyn, our organ consultant, managed the project which several local organists say resulted in one of the finest pipe/digital instruments in the city.


Because of the expansion, the small console had to be replaced with a larger one that could accommodate three manuals (keyboards) and other controlling devices.  Per the original agreement, the Zimmer console became the property of R. A. Colby.  Shortly after the new organ was completed, the old console was loaded into a truck and taken to Johnson City.



The console recently to Jacksonville!

The Rev. Mary Holladay is the Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church in downtown Jacksonville.  A couple of years ago, she decided she wanted to have a pipe organ for practice and pleasure in her own home.  Mary’s new organ was built by James Freeman who also takes care of the organ at St. Mark’s.


To read more about the expansion of St. Mark’s organ, look at my original blog post here: http://www.smljax.blogspot.com/2013/04/an-expanded-organ-for-st-marks.html

Since that time, more work has been done.  The swell shade engine had to be replaced and the “Petite Trompette” was removed, cleaned, regulated, and replaced.  A new sequence recorder was also added.  All of this work was done by James Freeman and his associate, Chaz Dewsbury.


St. Mark’s has identified “excellence in worship and music” as one of our congregation’s core values.  Maintaining a fine organ is an important part of that task.  May this beautiful instrument inspire our worship for many years to come.

Top Photo: John Parkyn overseeing the installation of a new speaker
Bottom Photo: Rev. Mary Conley Holladay seated at her new console