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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Taking a break for more education

It’s been a while since I posted to this blog. I wanted to write this week to tell you about the great experiences I am getting as a person from the pews.

This past Sunday’s service was a very BIG lesson for me. One of the hymns was a new one that I did not know. That rarely happens as I know most of the hymns in the hymn books that are currently in use.  I was reminded of the typical process for learning new hymns, where the organist plays the song through so congregants can become familiar with it and then we all sing it. The typical line is that the new hymn has a lovely message and fits with what we’re exploring today.

Well I got a real jolt as I tried to read the music and sing the words, all four verses. The tempo was quite fast and the melody wasn’t always predictable since it was a contemporary song. Gee whiz I sound like an old fuddy duddy! Oops! :-(

The congregation stumbled along, and even the organist didn’t seem very familiar with the piece. It’s at times like this that I think of John Bell’s suggested approach to learn a new song (check out my previous review). I think it would have really helped us. Maybe I’ll make a gentle suggestion.

Bottom line, I didn’t enjoy the song and I didn’t get the message it was trying to say as I was focusing on singing the right notes and words. I have since looked at it, played it through a number of times and I really like it. But the first time through was in my opinion a flop. Has this happened to you lately?

Music is good for your health

I’m currently taking a sabbatical from playing weekly at a church.  I went to visit an old friend for their service.  The organist turned out to be someone I knew.  He invited me to play the piano along with his organ music for the hymns.  For the children’s hymn, This Little Light of Mine, the minister strummed his guitar for and asked me to chord along;  “Just play G and C. “ he said.  What fun it was for me!  I knew all the hymns and the organist and I have played hymns together many times over the past ten years.

Several people came up after the service to tell me how much they enjoyed the surprise musical sounds of the piano.  It made me realize how a little change can make a difference.  It was one of those spontaneous things where I was glad to share and the congregation was glad of the surprise.

In the midst of winter here in Canada, with snow, snow, more snow, windy winter winds and bitterly cold temperatures when sometimes your car complains when it has to start, music is one thing that can really lift our spirits.  I was reading some research about the health benefits from listening and singing music and songs that you like.  Wow, from reducing stress, lower pain, lessoning anxiety to name a few, music is a real lifter-upper.

Did you know that it’s not only the words, but the musical sounds that are health giving.


Visiting other churches can be an education

I visited a church on Sunday that I have never been to before. A friend recommended the new minister there and since I was free I thought I would go.  The church was one of those big old building that must have been built at least a hundred years ago, with lofty ceilings, big windows and comfortable cushions along all the pews.  I managed to sit myself down without stumbling as I noticed that each pew had specially fitted flooring to provide a level place to put your feet as the main floor underneath sloped downward toward the front of the sanctuary.  This was kind of neat.

The bonus of this big building was that the acoustics were marvelous.  The pianist played on a grand piano – wonderful sound and volume.  You could sing to your heart’s content and I did.    There was a small choir there – I noticed that instead of choir robes, they wore scarves around their necks of a black and white pattern, sort of like a ministerial stole but shorter.  The flow of the service was different although there were some familiar songs.  The choir provided leadership in the new songs that we sang.  I was pleased to learn a couple of new tunes.

It’s good for me to be challenged and experience things done differently.  I know I can get stuck in a rut and think my way is the best and only way to do something.  Do you have a tendency to do this too?  If you don’t have room in your music budget for workshops that planning to visit other churches in the area and looking at what they’re doing is an education in itself.

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all of you from all of us here at Joyful Music.  We wish you a safe and happy Christmas and we’ll be back in January.

Blessings this Christmas season!

Voice from the Pews: A Different Way of Hearing the Choir

(Guest blogger, Heather, shares her thoughts as a congregation member).

My home church is in Calgary, Alberta but we recently traveled to London, UK. While there, we attended a service at Westminster Cathedral. The singing was amazing. The choir was all men and boys with the white ruffled high collars. They entered and departed the sanctuary from the back,  singing the entrance and exit antiphons as they walked. They filed right by where we were sitting, and we could hear individual voices as they slowly passed us. It was really nice. For such a big space, hearing each voice travel past was somehow a personalizing experience.

A Special Men’s chorus for Father’s Day

For Father’s Day we invited all the men in the congregation – young and old -  to sing together in the spot in the service where the choir usually sings.  We had quite a range, the youngest man was twelve and the oldest was eighty-three.  This was similar to the special women’s chorus we had on Mother’s Day.

We had a short practice about 20 minutes before the service.  I chose a well known piece, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, for them to sing, had the pages printed up in large print so each person could easily read them whether they forgot their glasses or not. One of the best sources I’ve found for hymns that are public domain is a site called Timeless Truths. The best thing is that not only are the words and music available, but if you install Scorch on your computer, you can adjust the key of the music, raise or lower it, to suit the singing group.

Since the song had three verses, I asked for a volunteer to sing the middle verse.  One of our choir members stepped forward.  As I looked at the group, I asked if someone would like to sing with him thinking to get another volunteer from someone who doesn’t sing in the choir.  The fellow beside him nodded and agreed to sing so that made it a duet for verse two.  Turns out the fellow standing beside our choir tenor was his son who was visiting and came to church with him.  So on this father’s day, we had a father and son sing together.  That was a marvelous gift and surprise!

Do you give yourself a break?

We’re now in the Easter season and the extra music and preparation you may have put into special music during Lent, Holy week and Easter Sunday is over.  What are you doing to give yourself a reward/recognition for the extra practice/hard work you put into preparing for and playing over this season?

I believe it’s important to thank yourself – from the simplest action of raising your left hand up to the sky and bending it at the elbow to give yourself a pat on the back, to buying yourself a new music book, or even giving yourself a gift of time – 15 or 20 minutes to do whatever you feel like. Thanking yourself is an essential step to keeping yourself healthy and growing as a church musician.

Sometimes I put off small celebrations or thanks to myself – I say I’ll do it tomorrow or next week or when I have time.  I’ve found I forget, or never get around to it and end up giving myself a negative message.  So please learn from me – do it!  Don’t forget that not only are you doing it for yourself, you are modelling to those around, whether spouse, children, grandchildren or friends, you are valuable.

Give yourself a gift to reward yourself every time you put out extra effort.  You are so worth it!

Getting or Staying Calm

This past week, the first church service that I play for was a bit shorter than usual, and ended about 6 or 7 minutes early.  I had a bit of breathing space between finishing, packing up and zooming off.  (I don’t really zoom too fast, as I’ve seen a police car on my route several times!).  I even had a few minutes to talk to people after the service ended.  That was nice.

I felt relaxed when I arrived at the other church for the 11 am service.  I got there a few minutes early, so I had lots of time to  unpack my music, turn on the organ,  open up the piano and set up the music for the prelude, offertory and postlude.  As I write about it now, I still feel the calmness.

It makes me wonder how I could create a feeling of calmness EVERY WEEK regardless of what time I arrive.  I know some serene people who always  act calmly.  They have a steady approach that I admire and they don’t ever seemed rushed, in a flap or in a hurry.   I think I need to work on developing this calmer state of mind.  When I start moving quickly and talking fast, that’s often the first indicators that I’m rushing.  So I’m going to work on catching these early signals and then talk myself back to a calmer place.  I’ll let you know how I do.

What do you do to calm yourself down when you are late or tight for time? Any suggestions for me?

Springing forward ?

Last Sunday was an interesting day – the morning after a time change where we “spring forward.”  People often seem to be a bit slower moving, maybe still a bit sleepy on this Sunday.  And sometimes some folks arrive just as the service is ending.

Everything seemed a bit off kilter for me.  When I stopped in to pick up the paper, the friendly fellow at Mac’s informed me that the Sunday papers hadn’t arrived yet.  So I headed off to the early service paperless, with my tea in hand.  All the traffic lights were green so I just sailed right along, yet when I zoomed up to the church, the priest was already waiting. He assured me he had only just arrived, but I felt like I was moving in slow motion.  I took a breath, relaxed and calmed down.  A good thing, as when I pulled out my music to organize it on the keyboard, I realized I didn’t have the book with the music I intended to play at the end of the service. It was still resting on my piano at home.

Have you ever felt like you were moving in slow motion?  Sometimes I think I just need to take a deep breath and let go.  Stop being stressed or frazzled by such things and go with the flow.  I find this  hard, since I’m always thinking two or three steps ahead, but perhaps it is good to occasionally let go of the comfortable routine, and just experience events as they unfold.


Do you need to set goals to practice regularly?

For the month of February this year, I decided to play a series of spirituals – different pieces each week for the prelude and postlude.  Using the book Spirituals We Love, I chose a number of ones I like and know the melodies to,  as well as two that were unfamiliar to me.  As the end of February nears, I realize I have been practicing more regularly, working on these scheduled pieces.   I’ve also saved myself time each week by pre-planning all the February music at one time.

I’m not usually so disciplined in choosing the service music that I play each week during the rest of the year, except maybe during Advent and Christmas.  I tend to have a couple of pieces that I’m working on, and rely largely on a couple of books that I already know to decide on what be suits the theme and mood of each week’s service.  And then I wonder why I seem to miss or ignore practicing, hmmm.  I can learn from this.

How about you?  Do you map out the music you plan to play in each week in blocks and then practice what’s on your schedules or do you just work away on them as you feel like?