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.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Playing by ear

"Beloved, God's chosen put on as a garment
Compassion, forgiveness, and goodness of heart."

This was a week in which Plan B was used on several occasions. The overall plan for me was to be rehearsal and Sunday service at First Unitarian Universalist Church on Ann Arbor-Saline Road in Pittsfield Township. However, because I was notified of cancellation of their Thursday evening rehearsal due to weather, and because I consider rehearsal to be an important part of the Itinerant Chorister experience, I decided to postpone my visit to that church and instead sang at the church at which I am a member, Zion Lutheran at 1501 W. Liberty in Ann Arbor.

At Zion also, Plan B held sway. Their usual Thursday evening choir rehearsal was also canceled, and some dominoes fell as a result of that. The choir's scheduled anthem for the offertory time was replaced by a piece for organ, and the organ postlude also had a substitute. However, the choir did lead the opening hymn, which was new to most people--"Beloved, God's Chosen" with lyrics by Michael Burkhardt. It doesn't exist in any of the three hymn books that sit in the racks of the choir loft at Zion, but was sung from sheet music and lyrics printed in the bulletin. This hymn about baptism set the tone for the service about baptism on the Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord.

Choir director Rob Meyer got to trot out one of his favorite sayings about what the choir does on Sunday mornings: "We always process into the church, except when we don't." Since the choir was purposely helping the congregation to learn this opening hymn, we started in the front of the church, and didn't process in.

Pastor Mike Walters followed the theme with a sermon titled "Baptism and Belonging." He reiterated that he is a great believer in belonging, as opposed to joining. I.e. being in a faith is a perpetual state of belonging to and being in a relationship to God and your fellow believers (or to all people), not a single event. He pointed out that God is the main actor in baptism.

With much work leading up to Christmas and some time for a break afterward, then a weather cancellation, the choir had not rehearsed an anthem for today. So the planned "When Jesus Came to Jordan" by Trapp was scratched, and during the offertory, organist Elgin Clingaman played "Es ist ein Rose Entsprungen" by a composer whose name I didn't catch. For the postlude, Elgin substituted "Allegro" by William Boyce for what was listed in the bulletin as "Trumpet Tune" by David Johnson, a different piece than the famous one by Henry Purcell. The prelude also followed the theme of Jesus' baptism--"Christ Unser Herr, zum Jordan Kamm" by J. S. Bach.

The visit to First Unitarian Universalist Church will be scheduled for another time. Tentative plan for next week--Dixboro United Methodist Church.