Sunday, January 31, 2010

We're Being Watched

This week the Itinerant Chorister went a little farther afield than usual, singing at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church at 108 Brown St. in Tecumseh. There is a certain amount of inevitability to my making a stop there on the Itinerant Chorister tour, which some readers may know--this is my parents' church,

This choir and especially director Kirk Maki showed a high level of awareness that I was there watching and taking notes. At one point during rehearsal, a member's cell phone started ringing from her coat in the pews near where we were sitting. It had a hip-hop style ring tone, Kirk started doing the "big spoon dance" and quickly played a sort of "name that tune" game (I couldn't name the tune), and then said, "Uh-oh. He's writing this in his notebook."

At rehearsal, the choir warmed up by singing some of the hymns that were to be used on Sunday, then dove into the choir anthems for this Sunday and upcoming weeks. For this Sunday, it was "God Be In My Head" by John Rutter. This is a slow and mostly quiet piece that derives some of its difficulty from being chromatic (i.e. it was in the key of E major, which includes a D# in the key signature, but D natural came up quite often in the music). It also had a lot of rubato at the ends of the phrases. That is, some of the beats were stretched out, which led to some people not knowing when to go on to the next line. The choir went over this piece repeatedly, and after shaking off some of the cobwebs that had collected since the previous rehearsal, improved their performance relative to the first run-through of the evening. We also rehearsed "Deep Waters," to be used for an upcoming Sunday.

Kirk stressed some of the basics of singing. He worked on correct and consistent pronunciation of vowel sounds, the sounds on which one sustains a note. He also asked for shaped phrases, with each phrase rising and falling, climaxing at a particularly important word or syllable.

One of the things I've been trained to do when singing is to sit on the front edge of my chair. However, beware of overdoing this when at this church. The chairs have a significant lip on the front that reaches beyond the front legs, and I nearly fell on my face!

An impressive figure was announced at the Sunday service. In a church of only a couple of hundred members, they had collected $3,220 earmarked for relief of the earthquake in Haiti, and they continue to collect for that. Another charitable effort that the church is doing has a clever name--Undie Sunday. In this effort, they are collecting underwear to be given to homeless children who need it.

The scripture lessons for the day included the famous "love chapter," 1 Corinthians 13, often featured in weddings, and a passage from the Book of Luke in which Jesus is nearly thrown over a cliff because people didn't want to hear what he had to say. In the sermon, Pastor Richard Webb pointed out that Jesus did not act like people from the respectable society of his time. He associated with the pariahs--tax collectors, fishermen, prostitutes, lepers, and the sick. He likened Jesus' inclusion of all people to an operation in manipulating a computer spreadsheet--moving the borders of the page in order to encompass more data on one page. Thus we are all encouraged to have contact with the edges of society, push back the boundaries, let our light shine, and make a difference in the world.

When the choir performed their anthem, it was the rubato at the end of one phrase that jumped up and bit us. In going on to the following phrase, part of the train left the station before the rest, but things got back in sync within a measure or two, and things ended up just fine. The meditative tone of this Rutter piece suffered only slightly due to this detour.

Next week: Super Bowl Sing at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Whitmore Lake Road.

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