Sunday, September 20, 2009
Week One--First Presbyterian Church
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since I believe that love abides,
How can I keep from singing?
This week, I visited a very accomplished church choir in Ann Arbor and was not disappointed--First Presbyterian Church at 1432 Washtenaw Avenue. I was greeted warmly by this choir, although it doesn't hurt that nearly half of them are people whom I already knew.
At their Thursday evening rehearsal, they cover a lot of music and do it quite well on the first try. Especially impressive is their phrasing, and they also do well at tone and pitch. Shepherding them through all of this is director Susan Boggs and several section leaders, including in my bass section Dorian Hall and Gerry Leckrone. For this Sunday, we prepared "When Peace Like a River," arranged by Dale Grotenhuis, and "How Can I Keep From Singing," arranged by Gweneth Walker. The latter has some tricky rhythms, and was a little rough for me the first time through, but the second time was far better, and by the sixth time, I wondered why it seemed difficult. Still, I anticipate that this might be one of the most challenging pieces that I sing during the Itinerant Chorister project.
At one point during rehearsal, a choir member was asking for another try at a bit of the music, and then asked to practice the transition from the preceding music. Susan, the director, said, "OK, let's go back," and immediately accompanist Carol Muehlig started playing some earlier measures to put them into people's ears, before getting instructions from Susan. She knew Susan's wish before she even said it, and played the correct few measures.
Rehearsal also ranged over several pieces of music for future Sundays, and included a bit of Mendelssohn's Elijah, which will be performed by this choir in May. Rehearsal concluded with announcements, which covered a variety of things that indicated a range of interests among the group. There were some musical events, personal invitations, fundraisers for other organizations, and one that I couldn't hear very well that seemed to be asking for driving directions to somewhere. Then came a key question: Who will sing at the 9:30 service this Sunday? I raised my hand along with many others, although I didn't entirely anticipate the follow-up question, which was, Who will sing at the 11:00 service? Thus, I ended up volunteering to sing at both services.
Sunday morning, September 20, the choir arrived and spread themselves across the chancel on the pew pads decorated with cross-stitched pictures of Biblical scenes and choirs singing. After warming up and processing in, we got to the business of worship on "University Sunday." We prayed out of thankfulness for intellect and learning. We heard the Biblical passage from Acts 10 about Peter evangelizing to Cornelius, making the Christian faith extend to non-Jews. Both the children's sermon by Resident Minister Sarah Wiles and the sermon by Rev. Julie Marks made a metaphorically linked the divide between Jews and Gentiles in the first century with a generation gap. The children were asked to contrast themselves with their parents and a list of facts were read to the congregation regarding the environment in which today's University freshmen grew up. Born in 1991, they have never used a card catalog to find a library book, always lived in a time when Margaret Thatcher was a former Prime Minister, and McDonald's has been in China for their entire lives. Although these things make them alien beings to many of the members of the church, they are people who are subject to the love of God and are neighbors.
First Presbyterian has implemented a policy of not touching each other to pass the peace or when leaving the church sanctuary, instituted this Sunday with the onset of flu season. See the story from NPR's Morning Edition. Today, this elicited a combination of serious concern and nervous chuckling. At one point, I realized that right at my feet where I was sitting were a 2-liter bottle of hand sanitizer (mostly empty) and a fire extinguisher, and I also realized that there was a box of matches in the hymnal rack. I couldn't help but think that if there had also been a vial of live H1N1 virus, everything would have canceled out.
Notes to self for future weeks: BYO pencil to rehearsal. Bring the camera, but don't be too obtrusive with it. Be alert to when you're going to be singing during the service, so that it doesn't happen when you're scribbling notes, causing you to abruptly stand up and loudly drop your pen on the pew (a pen that drops more quietly might be good, too). And know about logistical issues--where to get a service bulletin (I stumbled on them by accident), where to get a hymnal (luckily they had a stash of them in the narthex while I waited to process in), and how to get a robe that no one else is using (despite myself and a few others anticipating this, there were still problems).
Next week: Northside Community Church