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I have been in the thick of so many rewarding, life-giving, musical experiences that have energized and exhausted my body and soul in a good way. On May 25th there was a gathering of ‘Inshallah’ voices at the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph where we ushered in a rare celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Our choral repertoire (under the direction of Debbie Lou Ludolph) seemed tailor-made for the occasion as we framed an inspirational gathering of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican bishops (togetherin one chancel!) who prayed for peace and unity in the Christian world. Martin Luther was at the heart of the narrative. He was celebrated as a complex individual who challenges all branches of the Christian family, in a good way, to this very day. The evening was a classic example of what can happen when you ‘change the narrative’ and embrace this change out of a genuine desire to follow a path of peace.
This theme was echoed a few weeks later (June 17th) when we found ourselves in the midst of another ‘Re-formed’ event hosted at Renison College, University of Waterloo. The key note speaker was the engaging Michael Coren. Here is a man accustomed to living large and blessed with ability to draw you into his story. His ‘story’ was of an epiphany that caused him to shed long-held suspicions and dogmas that had hardened his heart. In the choral workshop that followed the presentation, our music gifted us once again by, seemingly randomly, calling out to an individual who heard a song in the air that compelled him to drop what he was doing and join our conversation. The events and testimonies I heard on this day left me searching for words. But there was more to follow.
I think of what I heard and participated in, mid-July, at the Hymn Society Conference held at Conrad Grebel College, Univeristy of Waterloo. The evening worship services held during the week consistently drew 600 to 700 people into our local churches. The singing and the hope expressed in congregational song was inspirational and memorable. I tried my hand at exploring where Genevan Psalms would go if released from the constraints of the printed page, First United Church, July 18th and they easily revealed their jig-like origins.
I was in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax with ‘Inshallah’ the last week of July. Fun. Intense. Special. There is potentially a book of thoughts that happened there too.
I am on a journey exploring how all of this learning can find meaning in my context at St. Peter’s. We are being challenged in so many ways but at the centre of it all is a call to serve and build community. We are in the process of taking the abstract concept of ‘community’ and putting flesh on it. And, we have to be open to the idea that we are tackling this work with preconceived notions or definitions of what community is, and what success is. The same logic applies to our music-making. Our music is of noble service: to challenge, to inspire, to draw us deeper into the Gospel message, to allowus to experience what it is to be vulnerable, to make the wounded whole, and through it all unite us in meaningful ways that make us better people.
November 11th, 2016 marked my annual organ recital providing a moment of sanctuary for the community to set aside time for prayer and reflection on this solemn day. The programme notes (see below) provide context for the repertoire that was chosen.
This project is significant for me as I often find myself reflecting on how war has shaped my life even though I was born seven years after the end of World War II. My music teachers were, for the most part, ex-military people and gained their expertise in the army. I marched in the Chesley Citizens’ Band wearing a Sam Brown belt and military hat (where you could ‘conveniently’ find your marching books and next tune as you paraded down the street). I was privileged to play in the last rendition of the 11th Field Regiment Band that provided music for the militia in their weekly marching routines. At age fifteen, I was employed on a weekly basis (this continued well into my university years) playing in Legions across southern Ontario and thereby catching the final chapter of the Swing era that energized the youth of the 30’s and 40’s. I was there to play the final closing dress ball dances as the Armories in both Guelph and Listowel were downsized/closed.
In my time as a public school teacher, I was the one on staff who volunteered to make Remembrance Day services relevant to generations of elementary school students. My best offering was to arrange a school outing to the Guelph Memorial Gardens to partake in the services that still occur every year. Over the past two years I have seen the passing of both my mother- and father-in-law who lived as teenagers in occupied Netherlands. I can’t help but find understanding and connection with them as survivors in a war-torn land and how they prospered in the promised land of Canada. When I explore the organ compositions of people who experienced war, I can only feel honoured in a way peculiar to musicians to have a way to hold hands with those who have gone before and left us with their musical thoughts and a window on their souls.
Programme Notes: “Music for Remembrance Day” 2016
Murrill’s Carillon A carillon is a set of 23 (or more) cast bronze bells. The ‘Soldiers’ Tower’ at the University of Toronto is a memorial to alumni fallen in the World Wars and contains 51 bells. (The Soldiers’ Tower in Toronto bears a striking resemblance to the tower of our St. Peter’s, however our tower has been home to electronic bells, now defunct). The Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, also designated as a War Memorial, has 53 bells. Armistice Day was ushered in with celebratory peals from carillons across the Western World. Herbert Murrill, head of music for the BBC (1936-50) also served in the Intelligence Corp at Betchley Park (1942-46).
C. Hubert Parry composed Elegy for the funeral of a dear friend and publisher of his music (Novello) by the name of Jaeger. Parry was deeply troubled because the advent of war not only put his best friend’s loyalty in question (in the world of public opinion) but also, all the rich musical heritage that Germany gave the world i.e. the very music that Parry championed was tainted by the conflict. Throughout the Great War, Parry presided over an alarmingly diminished number of young male students at the Royal Academy of Music in London absented by the war effort. Parry succumbed to the flu pandemic in 1918. Parry at the end of his life was a casualty of war on many levels.
Daveluy’s Prelude in E-flat shares with Parry’s Elegy, a unique rhythmic motif (dotted eighth-sixteenth figure) often found in the music of Lament. It is included in today’s progamme in honour of his recent passing after a lifetime of musical leadership and inspiration to the Canadian organ music scene. The accompanying Fugue in 6/8 time is relentless and chaotic echoing the sentiment that our well planned lives seem out of control on first glance.
Morel, a contemporary of Daveluy, presents an entirely different soundscape in his Priere. Here, clarity is given over to cluster chords, with each voice operating in different keys. We hear prayers being offered up in different dimensions at the same time.
The Chorale tune “Wenn wir in hoschsten noten sein” can be found in St. Peter’s music library in an English Lutheran hymn book (published in 1918) in a chapter devoted to National hymns. This is a song book for the Lutheran church that was prepared right in the middle of war and one can assume it’s preparation was an offering to North American Lutheran congregations to ‘distance’ themselves from their European heritage. The timely text reads, “Whenever we are in deepest need….this alone is our comfort, that we together can call on You, O true God, for rescue from fear and want” (Paul Eber). Bach’s setting of the Chorale is intimate and devotional in nature and one of the most ornamented pieces of organ music he wrote.
Hugo Distler began his career as an organist in Lubeck and later was a professor of music in Stuttgart and Berlin. He lived in the academic world and his philosophy of life and musical compositions did not line up with the state’s definition of the role of music in society. He wrote many small pieces for small instruments. His music is inward, transparent, elegant and not composed to stimulate or inspire excessive emotion. His compositions are “music for its own sake”. He committed suicide on November 1, 1942.
Langlais wrote Te Deum based on a 4th century hymn. His composition juxtaposes a simple unison line against the full fury of 20th century discordant times. A “Te Deum” (“We praise Thee O God….”) is reserved for extraordinary, thankful events such as the publication of a peace treaty.
How is it that Jesus, by his teachings and example, left us with basic anchors to live by, supreme among them was the command to love one another, but we default to defensive activity that consumes much of our energy and exposes our silent fear of being labelled a failed institution? I have learned through repeated admonitions from my pastors over the last thirty years that this business of being our brothers’ keeper translates into work, getting your hands dirty so to speak, and taking risks that might scratch the furniture. Society calls us out when we have not demonstrated our love of the ‘other’ but I have on occasion heard whispered asides in polite conversation that the church over the years has ‘tried’ and was, at least theoretically, motivated and bound to a path of righteousness, justice, mercy and truth. This work of ‘trying’ calls us to admit our failures, admit our phobias, own up to our temptation to buy into conspiracy theories, swallow our pride, and admit we have often got it wrong. Say ‘sorry’ but more than that, do something about it. For example, our prison system is dysfunctional as it goes about applying strategies to rehabilitate (punish) individuals based on failed notions of behavior modification. The church should be advocating for more nuanced and individualized treatment for incarcerated men and women. Within the walls of this church I truly believe we are getting better at dealing with awkward moments that come with inviting strangers or better said, guests, in. We must accept the fact that many of our neighbours are often damaged goods and simply can’t just quit whatever harm they are doing to themselves and those around them. But it works both ways. The guest can energize us when they share their stories and bear witness to humanity’s will to survive and even prosper against unimaginable odds. The guest can hold up a mirror to our unconscious and potentially harmful attitudes that we don’t even know we harbour. The guest can reaffirm the good work that we have done in the past and encourage us to keep working. In any scenario we must accept that we are in it for the long haul.
I reflect on what my role can be as a church musician in the midst of all of this real work that has to be done. It is a question that society always throws back at musicians, a question of their usefulness. I recall a quotation I read in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota that I visited last summer. General Robert E. Lee said, “I don’t believe we can have an army without music”. It struck me in a troubled way that music shows up everywhere there is human activity. It is powerful enough to be effective in the pursuit of war and violence right alongside the pursuit of peace. In the middle of chaos in whatever form, music somehow has an energy that sustains us, focuses our attention, and keeps us on course. It gives us a way to say things and express emotions when words alone fail us.
I experienced the transformative power of music at work when Inshallah, the seminary choir that I accompany, sang for the Syrian refugees at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo in our “Singing With Our Neighbours” concert on March 5th of this year. The choir also travelled to Kingston Ontario April 2nd and joined forces with a similar-sized large community choir called Open Voices. On both occasions the Syrian people in attendance glowed in appreciation when we sang their song. They felt a genuine welcome that I believe will sustain them in their complex journey in their new home as they balance the future with their past. Music was also at work when the community was brought together by the Good Hearted Women at St. John’s Lutheran in Waterloo on May 10th. Music concentrated our common passion and directed a focused beam of light on the dire situation found in Attawapiskat. We shouted out to the youth, with the help of modern technology, proclaiming that we carry them in our hearts and they are not forgotten. Special guest, Inuit singer Susan Aglukark, called them by name. Through our musical offerings we let them know that we have been listening and they are not alone.
My calendar has been full of activity. In addition to the music making noted above I continue to fine-tune my playing skills by accompanying flutist Gregory Stroh. We set aside rehearsal time each week to play through all the Bach Flute Sonatas. We performed our repertoire in the Wellington County Museum recital series on January 17th. I have played the organ in our Royal Canadian College of Oraganists, (RCCO) members’ recital, premiering a piece dedicated to me by Barrie Cabena. I played for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Mississauga at her event to honour the work of the multicultural press core. I played at a gala event hosted by the Mennonite Central Committee headlined by Stephen Lewis on May 30th. With the help of Gerry Grundy we offered our first service of prayer, music, and devotion in the tradition of Taize here at St. Peter’s on April 24th. My saxophone quartet, Royal City Saxophone Quartet, participated in a fundraising event for the Guelph Symphony and later performed new and challenging repertoire in concert at the Wellington County Museum on July 28th. Inshallah also performed at the Kitchener Public Library on April 28th and provided the music for the opening service of the National Worship Conference July 24th. I am heading into another year as President of the Waterloo-Wellington Centre of the Royal Canadian College of Organists which keeps me in touch with all of my gifted colleagues in the church music scene and I always look forward to the ubiquitous synergy that reveals itself each week as we journey with Pastor Janaki.
I went on a field trip on January 24th, 2016 to take in a Jazz Vespers service at St. James Anglican Church, Dundas, Ontario. Four super-talented musicians made up the combo. I was especially looking forward to hearing Pat LaBarbara. Pat played as well as you would expect from one of Canada’s best saxophonists. The worship service had a “dream” theme, but there was only a timid attempt to tie the improvisation to texts, be that poetry or scripture, so I dreamed of missed opportunities that could have led the congregation into deeper spiritual territory.
For example, the band played ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ which can lead the listener to a variety of places, mine being an adolescent dream of finding the ”love of your life”. Originally a 1937 Disney movie song, it was sung by Snow White who dreamed of escape, and being swept away “to his castle we’ll go”. But on a more metaphorical level, (which you are invited into in the environment of divine worship), there is to be found in this song the common prayer of humanity to find understanding and "help" that will save us from all the empty space in our personal lives and the wider world. A jazz vespers service can invite the listener into quiet, prayerful contemplation and it can also be a place to make new connections with gifts of insight found in scripture. A little internet research pointed me to an incredible story. This song found its first interpretation as a jazz waltz in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp (1943).
The jazz musician faces unique challenges when playing in a church. One of the challenges is working in a space which is usually very reverberant. Another challenge is connecting with the listener who arrives not knowing how to behave in this sacred/secular situation. Pat’s tenor sax did not disappoint. He could showcase a rainbow of nuance in his sound. The acoustic bass (Jim Sandilands) had the same opportunity but chose to keep things steady and safe. The pianist (Brian Dickinson) was flirting on the edge of blurred landscapes as he flew through an interesting vocabulary of altered jazz scales in the “wet” acoustic. As with many other experiences I have had with a jazz vespers, the drummer (John Veretta) had the greatest challenge. Sticks on the snare. You can take a bit of it if you heading somewhere, but all the time just doesn't work for me in a church acoustic. Cymbals, OK. Brushes, Yes. I have found congas and wooden drum boxes (cajon) to work well but then the critics may say you have crossed a line into the non-jazz side.
I come at my jazz space, informed by many years of playing classical music and in settings where people are not multi-tasking but really listening to what you are doing. I also know what it is like to play in settings where the musician is not the centre of listening attention i.e. bars with glasses tinkling and people talking over your music, so the jazz musician learns to force his energy and passion and creativity into the scene. Another coping mechanism is to embrace the idea that musicians are to be seen and not heard. Dynamic nuance is out the window. It’s just the nature of the environment you usually play in, so give the jazz musician some grace. Getting to play in a church where you can explore all that your instrument can give you is much appreciated by any musician worth his/her salt.
Finally, a few thoughts on “applause”. Yes, you can applaud in a worship space, especially if you have been moved and want to encourage the musician. The best applause has that feeling of being a spontaneous, genuine note of engagement, as if you are right there with the player. Sadly “jazz applause” i.e. the polite stuff you do at the end of a solo “because that is what you are supposed to do” in a jazz setting often comes off as an insincere ritual. There is a risk of missing the cue to applaud, because you didn’t really hear the solo coming to an end. If you set up an applause meter, you could calculate which player won the contest in any given piece. In a noisy bar setting, end-of-solo applause works because it reassures the player that someone heard you, but in a worship setting, the musicians know they are being heard. If you want to know if the listener is with you, the players can help make it happen by giving the listener something to do rather than just sit there and respond on cue. Responding in a scripted way has been tried in church for a long time and it’s not flying very well these days.
Music For Remembrance Day 2015
A recital on the Wolff Memorial Organ
St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
In keeping with the solemn nature of the day please refrain from applause until the end of the programme
Eternal Father, Strong to Save (Melita)
Charles Callahan (b. 1951)
Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in e
Gunnar Thyrestam (1900-1984)
God Never Forgets His Oppressed Child (1944)
Oskar Lindberg (1887-1955)
Prelude and Fuge in g (BuxWV 149)
Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (BuxWV 200)
Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Fantasy on two old Scottish themes
Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Arvo Part (b. 1935)
Notes on the music for the 2015 Remembrance Day Organ Recital
The hymn tune Melita (Eternal Father Strong to Save) is one of the most widely known hymns in English, often referred to in Canada as the “Navy hymn”.
Gunnar Thyrestam (Prelude and Fugue in e 1947) was a Swedish organist and author of several original hymn tunes found in Sweden’s 1937 Lutheran hymn book. His prelude begins in a dark place which is then followed by a wake-up call, and we hear that trumpet-like motif again after a flurry of activity. The fugue is introduced in the pedal and works its way up through tenor, alto and soprano voices. The music is all about putting into action direct orders.
Oskar Lindberg was also a Swedish composer and editor of the Swedish hymn book that carried the state church’s congregational song throughout the war. Sweden was one of the few countries in Europe (like Switzerland) that negotiated its way through WWII as a neutral country. Neighbouring Denmark was occupied and mid-way through the war it fell under enormous pressure to “fix” its Jewish problem. Approximately 8000 Jews, 99% of Denmark’s Jewish population found safe harbour in Sweden. “God Never Forgets His Oppressed Child”.
The pieces by Buxtehude date from a much earlier time. I am drawn to this particular Prelude and Fugue in g because of the military images it inspires: determination, commotion, being tossed about, and overall explosion of energy. The more meditative, (yet still triumphant…..listen for the Alleluias!) Chorale Prelude Komm Heiliger Geist (Come Holy Ghost …see melody and text in our hymn book 395) is a Martin Luther hymn that has survived centuries of new hymn books and contains a shared prayer by all Christian combatants in war.
Fantasy on two old Scottish themes
The sound of the bagpipes is ubiquitous in our culture, especially on Remembrance Day and important state functions. I pay homage to The Canadian Scottish Regiment, created in 1914, which at that time drew on four separate regiments,: The Gordon Highlanders (Victoria) 72nd Seaforth Highlanders (Vancouver), 79th Cameron Highlanders (Winnipeg) and the 91st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Hamilton). Over the next 100 years under a great variety of military regimental configurations, we hear the skirl of the pipes and it tugs at our emotions in complex ways.
Pari Intervallo was composed in 1976 on the occasion of the death of a friend. Arvo Part’s musical style has been characterized as “New Simplicity”. Two voices move parallel to each other, so that the interval between them is always the same. The composition could be prefaced with the lines from Romans 14:8 “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” (partially quoted from the words of Martin Haselbock and Thomas Daniel Schlee (found in the prefaceUniversal Organ Edition The New Organ Album Volume II, copyright 1981)
Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to share the life of a church musician with others but it also gives me the space to reaffirm notions that my passion has a purpose. Sometimes I feel that the only way a musician can entertain the idea that he has produced something of a lasting nature is to compose and write it down or (this has happened only in my lifetime) take advantage of the fact that it has become much easier to record your music -making for posterity. Otherwise, you make the sounds that frame the words and all disappears into the ether. That is why it is so important for musicians, be that in a club or a social event like a wedding, to be paid immediately. It is so hard to chase down the person who hired you (even a day later) and attempt to remind them that you did something for them because there is no concrete artifact left behind, only a memory, and parting with money for a memory is problematic. We seem hard-wired that way. Call it human nature.
Many musical highlights have occurred over the last eight months but even I have to look back in my date book to twig a memory of them. Saying goodbye to Pastor Stephen I vaguely recall had some tear- inducing moments that were bathed in musical offerings. Pastor Janaki’s ordination service at Mount Zion was a special day and there were good quality sounds in the air that day. Her installation service on May 31st in the afternoon was accompanied by many songs and singers too. Just three days before the installation service, St. Peter’s hosted a memorable service to coincide with the conclusion of the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission events that took place in Ottawa. Elder Jean Becker shared powerful words, sweet grass wafted in the air, Inshallah (our seminary’s Global Choir) sang their songs of hope for a better world, The Good Hearted Women (Mino Ode Kwewak N’gamowak) drummed (OK I’m looking at the poster now) and we found a way to take the edges off our rectangular sanctuary and make it into something more resembling a circle. Can we imagine a community in mission for others that isn’t a top down application for the ‘betterment’ of others but rather a ground up conversation and response born out of sincere eye contact and non-judgmental attitudes? Obviously that service got me thinking that way because that is what I recall based on my visual and aural memories of the day.
For the record I wish to share another mountain peak experience and that was the great gift given to me to participate in the opening service of the Hymn Society of America’s conference in New Orleans. For one of the few times in my life I had a patron other than my parents. My task was to support Debbie Lou Ludolph and reliably and humbly sharemy accompaniment and leadership skills in such a way as to make what she had to say to that gathering (and I believe it is important) come to life. Aside from that I did a ton of other things too. My memory is just being a little selective right now.
May 10th, Mother’s Day, was set aside for our annual edition of Music Sunday at St. Peter’s. This day gives our in-house community of disciples/musicians a chance to reflect on the past nine months of our Sunday-by-Sunday offerings. We have to be selective and choose from the music we have sung over approximately 32 services since last September. There was never a Sunday or mid-week service that something was not prepared in the form of a psalm, anthem, refrain, choral response, acclamation, new hymn, vocal solo, or music from a liturgical setting. There were instrumental offerings as well from our youth (Alex, Liam, Justin, Josh, and more) and guest musicians (Reid Spencer, Bradley Halls, Venturi Winds, Tim Moher, Gregory Stroh, Teresa Venhuizen/Trillium choir, Brent Rowan/Cambridge Concert Band). The Junior Choir was very involved in many services too, enlivening our worship with a hard-to-resist enthusiasm. The Bell Choir filled the sanctuary at Christmas and Easter. We heard all manner of rhythm instruments: claves, maracas, congas, djembes, finger chimes, spoons, guiro, rain sticks, tympani, and cymbals. The organ celebrated another maintenance-free year with its mechanical action ticking away like a Swiss watch. The Chickering grand piano has continued to be an ever-present symbol of radical hospitality. It is unlocked and waiting to be played by anyone inspired to touch the keys.
It would be wrong to conclude that we set aside one Sunday in the year and try to be musical. “Performing” in its usual definition is not something we have been engaged in throughout the year, so we are not very practiced at it, but in the course of this unique service that we have named “Music Sunday”, we revisited anthems from Ordinary Time, Remembrance Day, Christmas, and Lent. In addition, this year I featured the organ, giving the pipes a long overdue moment of our attention by playing Nicolaus Bruhns’ Praeludium in e and at the same time telling a story based on musical ideas inspired by the composition as the children were gathered around the console. Soli Deo Gloria
I have crafted a series of events at the close of 2014 to draw attention to our anniversary year and titled the series “Celebrating 180”. The music I have shared can hardly be characterized as taking a 180 degree turn in a new direction (it is rooted in melody and rhythm after all!) but it does carry the spirit of a desire to imagine a church going from looking inward to one that is open to exploring and embracing a wide variety of options. When I began my journey as a church musician, congregational leaders made it well known to me that a significant part of my leadership role was to keep the secular world of pop and dance music at bay. There is a lot of good thinking going on when we create a safe place to meditate and step away from the overstimulation and shallowness of the material world. That being said, we have to temper that desire for sanctuary with the reality that the work of the church is seen by others in what we do when we take a stand for issues of justice, when we show compassion and mercy for the poor, and when we go about that work with a humble heart. So I am still onside with my role of creating sanctuary but I also strive for ways to make bridges for people to be able to be in two places at once so to speak. Consider my organ recital entitled “Music for Remembrance Day”. What could be more sharply felt than trying to reconcile what we learn in scripture with our nation’s call to serve which then put us in a situation where we abandon our deeply held feelings for the sanctity of human life. In the quiet and safety of the church the music of Walton and Barber visit themes of war and tap into our emotions in a way that let us experience as only humans can a moment of transcendence and healing. The hope and grace we are offered by the church is such a powerful gift we can freely give to others. Music invites us into the conversation.
The second recital in the series was a time to spend with Bach and Beethoven. The former lived a very church-filled life while the latter was renowned for taking nature walks. The music of both masters had in common what I sense when I too walk the trails and am embraced by spirit-filled wonder and beauty. All about me I see and feel a profound complexity, symmetry and symbiosis as rock and tree and “life” come together in a most wonderful mystery. It would be folly to bring the forest inside the church but consider this: the masters wrote their compositions on woody paper with ink and a bird-feather quill and years later we hear their musical ideas burst forth with life when performed on incredible instruments, all of those musical seeds inspired by the voices of God the Creator as heard in nature. When we listen to music we are both outside and inside at the same time.
On our 180th anniversary weekend, four incredible musicians joined me for an evening of acoustic jazz. (Reid Spencer, Herb McNeill, Ernie Kalwa, Gregory Prior). We proceeded to play up a storm. We made music where we shared ideas on an equal footing and we followed musical rules which made it appear that we were creating music in a state of enviable freedom. It is however not music that “just happens”. Yes, we bring our years of practice to the occasion but the story began much earlier. It first surfaced with a people long ago who found themselves in a time of oppression where the only instrument at their disposal was what you were born with: voice, hands and feet. There arose a song of lament and we imagine hearing something blue in the cry for a release from the pain of life devoid of dignity and purpose. Blues is medicine for endurance. Hope entered the mix when infused with the message of the gospel and this hope found expression in what we know now as the Spiritual. The Spiritual is no longer a solo lament. It needs many voices all joining in the business of praising God. The Spiritual is music that shines a light on the commonly held conviction that we are stronger together. More syncopation surfaced in Ragtime. There was determined off-beat hand clapping in Gospel music and this was quickly followed up with music that really started to swing. So there we have the “180”. We are no longer a church keeping the world at bay but embracing the reality that we live in a world that can offer up large doses of disappointment. We are church that affords people sanctuary but does not hide from its duties as taught throughout the scriptures. We have a church that is learning, with some Advent yearning, to be free to laugh and smile and connect and share and risk. Pretty much like Jazz.
Music For Remembrance Day 2014
A recital on the Wolff Memorial Organ
St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
In keeping with the solemn nature of the day please refrain from applause until the end of the programme
L’Ange A La Trompette Jacques Charpentier (b. 1933)
Surusoitta (Funeral Music) Opus 111b Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Prelude – The ‘Spitfire’ William Walton (1902-1983)
Adagio for Strings Opus 11 SamuelBarber (1910-1981) arr.Wm. Strickland
Sonata XX ‘Aspects of the Sea’ H. B. Cabena (b. 1933)
Notes: Music for Remembrance Day
Jacquies Charpentier (‘L’Ange a la Trompette’) wrote a composition of monumental proportions that invites comparisons to Canada’s stunning memorial at Vimy Ridge in France. This ‘Prelude pour Grand Orgue’ concludes in a solid wall of strength and determination. The iconic battle-field sculpture features human forms expressing deep emotion and desire. In the music there is pain, despair, resignation, and a cosmic conversation between heaven and earth.
‘Surusoitto’ (Funeral Music) is Jean Sibelius’s last instrumental work. It is unique to his compositional style in that it has unprepared, unresolved dissonances and strange chords, painting a barren and empty inner landscape.
William Walton salutes the men and machines of the air in his soul-stirring march, ‘The Spitfire’. The music was composed during some of the darkest days of WW II and provided inspiration, hope and a call to duty for a nation determined to hold fast against great odds.
Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ is a slow lament in a minor key. The tune first climbs step by step then turns around, descends, as if to find where it came from but settles instead on the 5th of the scale. It never really comes home.
Barrie Cabena wrote ‘Aspects of the Sea’ in the form of a three movement Sonata. Each section walks in the emotional landscape of a life on the vast expanse of the ocean where you are far from home and at the mercy of the unknown in all of its guises.
The piece begins in constant motion. There is a long list of provisions to attend to and some heavy work is accomplished with the help of your mates. On occasion you stop to look at the horizon and catch your breath.
The Second movement is a time for personal reflection. There is stillness present here but it is born out of monotony and a festering troublesome melancholy. Finally there is sleep.
The alarm bells sound. You are awakened to heavy seas and the prospect of fight or flight. The coal-fired monsters in the belly of the ship roar for more fuel with an irrational appetite born of survival.
There was a rich musical momentum that energized our worship services throughout Lent, Easter and the season of Pentecost. As a result, Sundays did not feel like they were separated by the working days of the week but rather they felt like they tumbled together one after the other. Every Sunday we re-, visited bonding tunes. For example, to gather us in at the beginning of the service, the choir sang David Evan’s “Be Still For the Presence”, helping us to centre our thoughts. The Junior choir, on a weekly basis, vociferously sang, “Shukuru” (Thanking You) during the offering. We sang the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. We were taught to embrace and experienced Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services as one transcendent journey. We imprinted the music of Setting 6 in our ears by holding fast to the tunes week after week so that the music and the rhythms were as good as memorized. It allowed us to engage our whole body in our sung prayers. When Music Sunday arrived we found ourselves in a very comfortable musical space to sing our repertoire with a flexibility and confidence that comes when you have quality tunes coupled with familiarity. Greg Stroh (flute, Good Friday) playing the music of Jacque Hetu, invited us into profound emotional territory and the quality of his musicianship was neatly paired with the choir’s singing of a rather complex version of the Solemn Reproaches. It is a wonderful thing when your music can explore all the colours of the rainbow, remain accessible to a wide variety of tastes but more importantly be faithful to the real reason we come together as a community, learning from each other how live as true disciples.
27th Annual Symposium on Worship 2014
Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary
Grand Rapids, Michigan USA
Inshallah, directed by Debbie Lou Ludolph, presented two workshops and a vesper service at the ‘Symposium on Worship’ held in Grand Rapids (January 31 and February 1). Seventy of the 100-plus choir took the 36-hour whirlwind tour, returning home energized by the experience of having shared our story in the midst of a gathering of over 1,600 people.
Everything about the symposium was done in grand style. Our transportation, food, and accommodation costs were covered by our hosts. Every participant was given a complimentary copy of the institute's latest hymn book, ‘Lift Up Your Hearts’. The college does not advertise itself as a school of music, nevertheless, it has very impressive gathering spaces and an abundance of instruments on hand for music-making. The main theatre comfortably held all the participants. The stage accommodated the Boesendorfer grand piano, pipe organ, orchestra, and troupe of actors. Elsewhere, a three-manual Dobson was the centre-piece of the chapel, along with the latest in screen and sound-system technology.
I attended a plenary address by Jeremy Begbie entitled ‘The Mystery of Worship’. He was an extraordinary speaker, who made good use of his Scottish brogue to get us smiling, all the while engaging the listener in a deep philosophical and theological journey demonstrating our thirst for learning how to live with paradox, ambiguity, hiddenness, and ungraspability. He argued that these mysteries characterize modern times and hence our worship lives. Along the way he introduced us to poetry, philosophers, and architecture to support his thesis, but most of all, it was about music: Enigma Variations, the bi-tonality of Mahler's 5th, the Kyrie from ‘Missa Creole’, and finally the painful soundscape created by the modern composer James MacMillan in his ‘St. John Passion’. He left the spell-bound crowd in awe at the power, importance, and significance of music to our humanity. In a perfect world, they would have taken up a collection right then and there, and thrown the money at anyone who claimed to be a musician. Alas, he opted to sit down at a grand piano and rattle off a virtuosic modern piece, four minutes long, by a Turkish composer no one had ever heard of, perhaps just to reinforce the idea that there are treasures all over the place if you take the time to listen.
I also attended a workshop by John Ferguson, emeritus professor of organ and church music St. Olaf College. The workshop was billed as ‘Can the Organ Sound Like a Conga?’ He spoke knowingly of how to create the illusion of an accented downbeat by lengthening or shortening notes, and how one sort of plays what is on the page when leading a congregational hymn. He went to great length about how the organist has to breathe as if singing the song with the people. All good stuff. I did not have an opportunity to ask him if he thought he was very successful about putting into action what he preached. What I heard in his playing did not inspire me. His tempo in ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was breathless and there was not enough time given at the end of the verse to dig for air and catch up to him as he launched into subsequent verses. It was disappointing in that he was playing to a room filled with musical people who wanted to sing (especially after the passionate prologue delivered by an African-American speaker from Jacksonville, where the song was born). The hymn was reverently characterized as an anthem but Ferguson played it like a march. On another occasion I was disappointed when in the morning church service, the congregation was given two options: ‘lounge band’ (Ferguson's words) or the beautiful sounding Dobson. Not once did the musicians play a song together. It was either/or (and they were right beside each other behind the pulpit). When the organ sounded forth with ‘Let All Things Now Living’, the congregation never caught up to him. There was only a hint of dance coming from the congregation and they had been feeling the beat with the ‘lounge band’. After all, this was a crowd that was passionate about their religion. I doubt any converts to the organ were made that morning. Can the organ sound like a conga? I was getting an ambiguous message from Ferguson, but he clearly believed he was getting close by making the organ sound like a theater organ. I can only assume he prefers the hockey rink to the piano bar.
Inshallah takes great delight in singing, ‘Draw the Circle Wide’. I believe that sentiment applies to organs, organists, and church music-making.
For a musician, the six weeks leading up to Christmas are packed with requests, making it the busiest time of the year. I have recently played in a remarkable variety of situations including: a packed-house Inshallah choral event in the Rotunda of Kitchener City Hall; an intimate recital of the music of J.S. Bach at Trinity United church in Kitchener; a combined choirs Advent choral service at St. Paul’s in Cambridge; an afternoon jazz quartet gig at Luther Village; a jazz trio for an elegant staff Christmas party at the Holiday Inn for a large corporation; ‘Cantualis’ (medieval chant) sang for a mass at the Westmount Seniors home; I played a Big Band gig for a party in a Guelph Senior’s complex; more Latin chant was sung for a Christmas ‘Messiah’ concert (Prophet’s Foretold) at the Mennonite church in St. Jacob’s; and there was an eventful evening of word and music at St. Peter’s in our presentation of Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. At Conrad Grebel College I performed in a Jazz Vesper service based on Christmas and Advent themes. Back to St. Peter’s, in the midst of an ice storm, the Sunday School presented their annual re-telling of the birth of Christ. None of these assignments just ‘happen’. There are many kilometers of driving involved and the mandatory carting and hauling of equipment, not to mention multiple rehearsals that take place prior to performing.
This Advent and Christmas season I came to appreciate a new balance between word and music in our worship services. For many years, beginning with Christ the King Sunday, musical expectations escalate, perhaps because we are experiencing once again a well-known story that climaxes with a spotlight on the baby in the manger and I have felt obliged to energize that familiar narrative with music that compliments the drama. I suspect that many of us walk through the doors for our weekly services with a wish to find once again a memorable time from the past and a chance, just maybe, to experience another Best-Christmas-Ever! But this year as we listened to the reflections of our Pastor, we were challenged to truthfully think about “why are we showing up at church?” in this particular season. Is our motivation to participate compromised if the decorations and lights don’t meet a standard, or is the absence of a favourite carol enough to spoil the day?
A great deal of thought goes into the repertoire played during this season. I have learned repertoire that I have not played because I know that it would throw counter-cultural light on our cherished concepts of the Christmas story that people are ill-equipped to hear. I understand that the music I have set aside, waiting for the right moment and context, could do more harm than good if it only seemed arbitrary and out of place to the listener. An example would be music that speaks to the chaos and fear that was a background noise throughout the birth of Christ. Great composers have been able to articulate profound emotions and new insights inspired from the chaos of that time in history. But if the words that provide the context for the music are not addressed in the readings appointed for the day, there is in my opinion little hope of the music coming alive or being really heard by the listener. As a way of becoming more engaged in the music you have encountered, let your thoughts explore the question ‘what did you notice?’ about the music. There can be a physical response to the music that you experience on a personal level. There can also be a physical community-response that pulses throughout the larger group, or an intellectual response, or a memory might be stimulated, all of this in addition to emotions that are awakened. However, we are not at the mercy of the emotional power of music. Step inside the door with both heart and mind.
The organ can call upon an incredible range of colour and dynamics in its music-making. I believe it is rivaled only by the natural sounds created by a symphony orchestra or a grand choir. After many privileged years of unfettered access to the Wolff organ, upon engaging the switch that turns on the blower which in turn sends air to the bellows, I listen to the organ take its first breath and marvel at the potential for new sounds and songs that lie hidden in this magical instrument. Soli Deo Gloria!
On November 11th I presented my third annual recital of organ music on Remembrance Day themes. It was an overcast and cold day and the sanctuary offered a contemplative warm space to reflect on the many moods that were expressed in the compositions chosen for the program. I was particularly pleased with being able to share the work of my teacher, Barrie Cabena, in his Sonata XXXIX. This composition was dedicated to Gerald Bales who served in the RCAF in WW II. Barrie's writing is sparse and complex at the same time. His music is logical and predictable in spite of all the harmonic and melodic surprises that come your way. Barrie Cabena was a consultant for the installation of the Wolff Opus 8 organ. Our organ, like many across the country bears a plaque in memory of those who served in the wars of the 20th Century. Remembrance Day is a very appropriate time to breathe along with the greatest of all wind instruments and journey together through the highs and lows of a complex day.
Professor Emeritus of Organ at McGill University, John Grew, visited St. Peter's and played a memorable concert on the organ the following Saturday evening, November 16th. He played an eclectic programme. His Bach and Buxtehude stood in sharp contrast to compositions by Bengt Hambraeus. I had lunch with both John and Barrie at the Bookshelf in Guelph and revelled in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I had to be in the company of my two revered teachers, all of us together under one roof.
This November also marks the death of Hellmuth Wolff, (November 20, 2013) the master organ-builder, whose expertise and artistry has enriched our worship life since the installation of Opus 8 in 1973.
Notes: Music for Remembrance Day 2013
Handel's “Sarabande in d” became well-known in modern times as a result of being heard throughout Stanley Kubrick's movie “Barry Lyndon” (1975). A great deal of favourable anticipation was afforded this movie by the critics but the theme music is what held it together for me. A sarabande is a very old dance form dating to the 16th century and composers have regularly included this genre in their theme and variations compositions especially in the Baroque era. A sarabande is a slow waltz, in a dark minor key, and the performer plays it in such a way as to emphasize the second beat of the bar which makes it feel unsettled and somehow otherworldly.
To close the program and balance the darkness of the Sarabande I again turn to Handel, this time in a triumphant, hopeful mood. Guilmant's “March in F” borrows its opening notes from Messiah's “Lift Up Your Heads”. Throughout history the march has been a powerful tool to motivate and inspire the soul to action. You feel inclined to cover more ground in a day if music is there to focus your purpose and bond you to your mates who are keeping step with you in a common cause.
“Pilgrim's Chorus” (Pilgerchor) is a song from Wagner's opera Tannhauser. Here again we have an example of music accompanying people on the move, but they are not marching. This is a waltz in a slow tempo (like the sarabande), to accommodate the pace of both the old and the very young. The pilgrims are tired and hungry but they push on, trusting that God will give them what they need. I sense the same mix of despair and hope in the eyes of refugees from war who miraculously find the courage to endure.
J.S Bach composed a number of preludes and fugues in e minor and to set this one apart from the others it has been given a sub-title “The Cathedral”. Cathedrals are usually very large buildings and this Prelude has lots of big cadences and repeated chords in it that afford the performer time for the sound to get to all the corners of the building. Listen for the implied echoes Bach wrote into the Prelude. I often play the fugue at funerals because of the plaintive evening trumpet call that introduces the fugal theme.
Thoughts of cathedrals brings to mind a significant Canadian connection to the famous Coventry Cathedral in England that was destroyed by aerial bombing in World War II. The ruins were left untouched as a memorial and a new building was built adjacent to the old. An organ was commission for the new building and it was a Canadian organist from Toronto, Healey Willan who accepted responsibility for spearheading and overseeing the fund-raising for the new organ. In Canada's centennial year, 1964, Barrie Cabena represented Canada by performing on Coventry Cathedral's recently installed organ. To this day, Canadians are held in high regard for their role in the story of Coventry Cathedral. Cabena's Sonata XXXIX was dedicated to organist Gerald Bales, who like so many of that generation, set aside a significant portion of his “regular” life for service to the war effort. (RCAF 1943-45)
Music For Remembrance Day 2013
A recital on the Wolff Memorial Organ
St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
In keeping with the solemn nature of the day please refrain from applause until the end of the programme
Sarabande (Suite in d for harpsichord) G. F. Handel (1689-1759)
Prelude and Fugue in e (The Cathedral) J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sonata XXXIX “ for Gerald Bales” H. B. Cabena (b. 1933)
- Chorale with Interludes
- Gothic Minuet
Pilgerchor (transcribed from Tannhauser) Wagner-Liszt (1811-1886)
March in F on a Theme by Handel A. Guilmant (1837-1911)
Reformation Blog October 2013
Our Reformation service was very celebratory and it was made so with the presence of Pastor Michael Hackbusch in our midst. We learned that to be true to the spirit of Martin Luther we are “always reforming”. We learned where our family of Lutherans fit theologically alongside our neighbours.
Luther set us upon a questioning path that challenges us to find a balance between living a spiritual life framed by law but not consumed by it to the point that we inevitably feel like we are doomed to failure. On the other hand, how are we to live a life knowing that good works make the world a better place yet avoid being motivated in such a way that we feel entitled to reward at the end of the day. Since 1834 we at St. Peter's have been gathering as a community for the good. Those early pioneers knew it was good to praise God and give God thanks and we are still motivated to sing praises and give thanks for the wonders of the world. We have supported each other by making public our promises to each other and we continue to pray for a peace that includes all of our neighbours. That's a lot of good. Now it is our turn to not feel abandoned if we don't get what we think we deserve. Now it is our turn to not feel like we deserve to be punished based on a failure to adhere to our interpretation of the law. Thank you Pastor Hackbusch for challenging us on Reformation Sunday.
The music for the day was typically inclusive. We heard children's voices, a finely-tuned Bell Choir playing at the top of its game, unaccompanied African song called out by the Pastor, four-part choral harmony from the Senior Choir, unaccompanied congregational song, two old-school Luther hymns, a sung Psalm with congregational refrain, postluded by organ compositions by Barrie Cabena and Liszt/Wagner (“Pilgrim's Chorus”) sounding forth from the renowned Wolff tracker-action pipe organ.
September, the ninth month in the calendar year, is a time of new beginnings and also a time when it is not uncommon to harbour doubts about having what it takes to make it to the end of the race. At St. Peter's we wasted no time in getting started and we did this by holding an “all-committees” meeting. It was held on the Tuesday after Labour Day. We came to that meeting knowing that Pastor Heidi had accepted a call and would soon move to Edmonton. The family of St. Peter's is facing a new beginning but has a track record proving that we have talents and qualities capable of enduring. Pastor Heidi has given us many tools to help us on our way. The past seven years has been a litany of “firsts” right down to the concept of an “all-committees” meeting.
Who amongst us doesn't feel that change is coming our way at increasing tempo? Even the way we talk to each other has changed. Thanks to the internet we can instantly “communicate” with family and friends no matter where they are on the globe. However we all know that the internet is just one of many ways that we can communicate with each other. I find it ironic that face to face conversations, what we used to call “communicating” which included body language and eye contact (the window to your soul) are declining with the rise of virtual communicating. I call the way we live, reckless, in the sense that no matter what new thing we try we are hoping that there won't be any nasty side effects further on down the road. The church is a place where you set aside time to communicate with God and God has given us timeless guide posts to direct how we can successfully live with ourselves and each other. So I am of the opinion that we should keep all of our options open. Embrace the internet but know that tried-and-true personal contact gets things done too. One of God's constant messages is that we do well to praise God and give thanks and the church is a fine place to do just that.
The church musician works to create a worship environment that ushers people into a new frame of heart and mind through sound. The church musician helps plan and execute a worship service that gathers people in and then invites them to a deeper place. I personally am not attracted to a church that looks and sounds the same as what I can get at the mall. At the mall I hear manufactured music. I see brightly lit tableaux with the singular purpose of tempting me to buy my way to a new and improved look and I see individuals sitting on the benches at the mall all alone. Lots of stuff is happening all around them but they appear to be rather tired at the length of time they have put in waiting for something entertaining to unfold. We find strength to walk with justice, mercy, and humility when we are encouraged by those around us who have learned great lessons from their own personal journeys. If we come to worship and not join the circle, or not invite the unknown into the circle, I predict Christian communities will not grow.
I am open to imagining all the tools I have at my disposal put to use in new ways but at the same time keeping what has worked well in the past on my to do list. Rather than abandon the pipe organ I am excited to have the organ try new things. It can team up with other instruments. It can share the room with a guitar. It can be quiet sometimes. I have found that an African drum doesn't mind playing with pipes. It is all about drawing the circle wider. The preface to one of my organ books, written 50 years ago, bluntly said that a piano has no place in worship. Too percussive. Times have changed or to put it another way, the context that surrounded decisions made in the past, no longer have relevance. Draw the circle wide.
The WOLFFE organ (1973) Opus 8 (II P 20/25)
St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church
810 King St. E., Cambridge, ON
IV Fifteenth/Mixture (half draw) *
2 2/3 Twelfth/Sesquieltera II *
8 Trumpet Pedal/Great *
8 Chimney Flute
2 2/3 Dessus de Nazard/Cymbal I' III *
2 Spindle Flute
8 Trumpet (from HW) *
I/II Ped/I Ped/II
Apr 20, 2009
Reflections on a Relationship (for Clarabella 2008)
I have been partnered with the Wolff since 1982 and have been inspired again and again, by the way it invites you to want to play. Simply put, it has a lot of character. Not too big... not too small... just right. The sound at the console cradles you from left to right, front and behind. The principal pipes in the façade walk up the chromatic scale alternating from left to right. The Ruckpositiv behind you calls for a gentle touch. The stops pull in an unhurried, zen way that reminds you to take time and enjoy life at a slower pace. This organ also teaches you that often it is best just to set things up and let the music speak for itself.
It often tells me that I can't do it all myself. I need a page turner. I need a stop puller. I need the doctor (Leslie Smith) once every 2 to 4 years (IF I have to!!) I need a great organ builder and inspired leadership (Pastor Herb Hartig) to get things in motion. I need consultants and teachers (Barrie Cabena). (By the way, thank you for the mixture on the pedal). I need inspiration from composers and performers and colleagues. The list goes on.
Down at the stop-pulling level, I am rewarded by the overtones in the Quintadena that beg to be allowed in the spotlight. Plaintive/Comical? A tragi-comedy comes to mind. The tremulant defies to be categorized. Imperceptible with one stop on. Gentle when two stops are pulled. Wagnerian when digging deep for air. The reeds say, "Let's play French Baroque with the saints who have gone before us". Above all, it is a sociable instrument. It really enjoys playing with other instruments and the feeling is mutual judging by the number of musicians who comment on its good manners.
To top it off, it just looks right, elegantly sitting up in the gallery, taking its turn along-side the stained-glass windows, altar, and wooden beams that make you look up. It is a modern instrument in a pioneer congregation (celebrating its 175th year). Come and sign our guest book.