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Music

Getting Out of the Pew

By | Leadership, Liturgy, Music, Theology, Worship Arts | One Comment

“I am much more comfortable right there in the pew”

Lea Finder sheepishly said this on Sunday night at the Gathering, nearly as soon as she walked on stage. And it was one of those honest moments that hits you so hard you make this weird sort of “grunt of agreement” sound, and then you nod a lot—at least I did anyway. Then I thought…

“Am I much more comfortable here in the pew?”

While observing services at a local church, I noticed that there appears to be a lack of congregational participation through out the service. Other than singing or laughing at the pastor’s jokes about the Seinfeld clips he uses to relate to the sermon, there is an understood notion of “I stay here in my seat with my coffee, and I watch, listen, and sing. Boom.” So there is almost a learned sense of…

“I am much more comfortable here in this chair.”

During the Reformation era of the 16th century, Martin Luther challenged the ways of Catholic Europe. Interestingly, one of Luther’s many reforms had to do with congregational participation during the worship service. He proposed the adaptation of Gregorian chant, secular art music, and even popular tunes into strophic four-part harmony set in the vernacular German text. This encouraged the congregation to participate more by making the music more accessible to the people. These works were called chorales and are an example of balance between being led and singing all together.

Eventually, over time, this idea of creating accessible liturgy for the church by adapting forms of pop culture contributed to all sorts of different congregations reciting creeds, prayers, calls to worship, and other things together. The congregation became an active part of the service by accepting an invitation to join in worship with the body of Christ. Today, however, there is a natural lean towards pursuing individualism rather than togetherness. Perhaps we have forgotten the beauty and power brought on by the Reformation?

So often I go into a service with a terrible attitude. I am focused on trying to avoid that weird mom who talks a lot or that person I forgot to text back about helping out with the youth group. I just walk in, grab coffee, and go to my seat. This is such a limiting, comfortable way to approach worshipping as a body. I don’t even think about my brothers and sisters that surround me. I like my space.

It takes great faith to learn to get up out of the pew, as Lea confessed. It takes great faith to choose to add your voice to the hundreds of voices around you and throughout history and to believe your voice matters.

“Lord, here are my hands. They’re small, they’re small and

Here are my hands, they’re small and trembling.

Here are my dreams, they’re me protected,

Here are my dreams, so please be gentle now…”

~Aaron Niequist (A New Liturgy)

 

Lord, use us today for the good of your Kingdom. Guide our thoughts, words, and actions in every encounter we face, so that we may know you more and consider all other gains as loss. Let us grow tired from sitting comfortable, and give us the strength to stand up and join in with your body.

 

~Hannah

Building Blocks

By | Music, Music Education, Music Theory | No Comments

Sweat was gathering on my brow. I was sitting in musicianship class, trying not to look directly at our professor, who had just given me a pitch from a pitch pipe and was waiting for me to begin. All I had to do was sing this sight-singing exercise, but the heat of the moment made it seem so much more difficult. If only I had practiced more last night!

I decided the only thing to do was to give it my best shot, and that’s what I did. It wasn’t stellar, but it wasn’t terrible either. And it was better than last time, which was the important thing. Something I was doing in practice was paying off, even if only a little. Somewhere in those late night sessions of trying to figure out what was going on in this harmonic dictation, or which prepared sight-singing exercises I was going to neglect preparing, or why we had to go this in-depth with musicianship anyway, I was actually learning something.

That something was musicianship skills, and they have showed up in my study of music ever since. As hard as it would have been for me to believe at the time, everything I was doing mattered. Learning to read simple lines with solfege would give me a leg up on learning tough pieces in choir. Reading multiple cleffs and trying to understand harmonic dictations made me more prepared to play hymns in class piano. And learning to practice even when I didn’t want to has made me a more competent musician in every way.

It wasn’t just musicianship, though. My experience in Music Theory classes has helped me, too. Whether analyzing a piece in Music History, or harmonizing a melody, or writing an aural analysis of a piece performed in a recital, a deeper understanding of the basic workings of music has given me the ability to succeed at every point along the way.

While it wasn’t easy, it was worth it. I’m glad I worked through the tough classes in the first two years of my music major. Not only has it given me valuable music skills, it has given me the motivation to work hard in the rest of the hard classes I have yet to take.

~Steve

Ash Wednesday

By | Music, Theology, Worship Arts | No Comments

Wonderful Cross

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the season of Lent. This period is one of preparation for the celebration of Easter observed through prayer, penitence, and fasting, so that we may die to self and set aside time to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection Christ.

Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live…

“The Wonderful Cross” © Lowell Mason, Jesse Reeves, Chris Tomlin, J. D. Walt, and Isaac Watts

Songs That We Sing

By | Higher Education, Music, Oxford Adventures, Theology | One Comment

“These are the songs that we sing, to make the day better.” – Matt Costa, “Songs We Sing”

Saturday morning I woke up late (like, three hours after I had been planning on getting up) and groggily pulled myself out of bed, still wrapped up by terrible dreams, still worrying about work I hadn’t finished, and conversations that had said too much or not enough the day before. A depressing heap of dirty laundry sat at the foot of my bed, a heap composed of every piece of clothing I’d brought across the Atlantic except for one formal dress, a few scarves, and two sweaters. Those were still marginally “clean.” I needed to buy laundry soap (and to buy groceries for the week while I was out: bread, eggs, milk, bananas…), to respond to that professor’s emailed question, to catch up on emails from friends that I had somehow still not gotten to answering…. I sat blearily on my bed, and some voice in my mind began to sing a little ditty that I had made up a few days before as I biked up the steep Headington Hill, coming home after a long day of studying and lectures. The lyrics go like this:

[Verse 1a]

It is dark

And it is cold

And my fingers

Are trying to hold

Onto

These frozen handlebars

 I rummaged through the laundry pile for something that was clean-ish, mumbling vaguely-coherent morning prayers, and glanced at the stack of books that I had to read, at least one of which is already overdue (I’ve only been here two weeks; how have I already managed to forget to renew a book?). So, like a mature adult, I didn’t do anything and scrolled through Facebook and Instagram. Then I didn’t read my Bible and shuffled downstairs to find something for breakfast, still hearing the now-familiar tune in my head:

[Verse 1b]

It is dark

And it is cold

Oh, why was I so bold

As to think

This was a good idea?

This was clearly not a good idea.

Breakfast is a good thing (scrambled eggs, muesli in yogurt, hot coffee mixed with hot chocolate powder). There are friendly people, conversations, dishes, and laughter, and I somehow manage to partly engage and still partly remain in my own unhappy head, singing my unhappy song:

[Chorus Part A]

But I’m here now, aren’t I?

I’m afraid, and I’m alone.

I’m here now, aren’t I?

Singing about my woes.

Though I could stay and linger with my cup of coffee-cocoa and talk with people, I don’t. I carry my isolated self to my third-floor room and, still lacking the energy to read Scripture or pray properly, I plug headphones in and listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a program titled, “A God of Surprises.” The fifty-minute conversation ranges across Tutu’s spiritual influences, the Truth and Reconciliation Council, forgiveness, apartheid, racism, and overall, a God who is in the business of putting things right. Near the end of the interview, there’s this exchange:

Ms. Tippet: …I think people might look at you and the life you’ve lived and also, you know, the bad things that continue to happen in South Africa and all the rest of the world, and say, “This guy says this is a moral universe?” And there’s this line you’ve just echoed, you’ve written so many times, “God is in charge,” and they might also say, “How can he say that?” I mean, tell me, you’ve been saying God is in charge for a long time, for decades. And so what do you mean when you say that and what that means to you, has that changed? Has that evolved? 

Archbishop Tutu: Well, I mean, you must add that I’ve sometimes said to God, “It would be nice for you to make it slightly more obvious that you’re in charge.” [laughter]

When the program ended, I pull out my headphones, take the stack of books in my arms, and head to the “typing room” (computer lab). As I thud down the stairs, I finally finish the second-half of the chorus, the final two lines that had been resisting my attempts to make them fit the way I wanted them to:

[Chorus Part B]

I’m here now, aren’t I?

So what am I to do?

But keep pedalling

And crying out to you.

Because that’s all I really know to do: to bring myself to God and say, in a very basic way, “I’m unhappy. Please help.” And perhaps the strangest, deepest mystery of faith is that my prayers have been answered. Not in clear-as-sunlight ways. But in, choose-to-have-eyes-of-faith ways. When I suddenly understand the significance of Handel’s switch from opera to oratorio. When a connection is made and an acquaintance feels like a friend. Being invited into an unplanned dance-party in the kitchen after lonely hours studying. A warm radiator to lean against after a cold bike ride. Someone asking, “How are you?” The opportunity to ask another, “How are you?” The strength to get out of bed in the morning. Seeing a friend via Facetime. Hearing a song I know.

Tiny answers to tiny prayers that give me the energy to keep pedalling (and, when the way gets very steep, the humility to step off my bike and push it the rest of the way up.) It’s not much, but it’s enough. The point of today is not to accomplish a lot of things but to echo Tutu and every other biblical prophet and say, “God is in charge.” And then, to prove my belief by doing what I’ve been given to do: essays and groceries and people and emails and paying my overdue fine. And I am comforted in that.

Biking to the Wycliffe Library, about a fifteen minute ride down a hill, over speed bumps, across a field, and on the bike path, I composed and sang Verse 2:

Today the sun is shining bright

Sending sad thoughts

Into flight

Like pigeons,

Startled by my bike.

 

So I’ll raise my head up high

And drink in that blue, gorgeous sky

And praise God

for his tender mercies

For truly, they are

tender mercies

 

[Chorus]

Because I’m here now, aren’t I?

Not afraid and not alone

I’m here now, aren’t I?

And grace is what I’m shown.

 

And I’m here, now asking,

What am I to do?

But keep pedalling

And singing praise to you.

~Jewel

Jewel is Senior, majoring in General Music.  Jewel is spending the semester studying music and literature at the University of Oxford in England.  She is an accomplished cellist and is very involved with the Chamber Orchestra at JBU.

 

Franky Ross

By | Leadership, Music, Theology, Worship Arts | No Comments

I’m thoroughly convinced that everyone should know Franky Ross. One might say that he is a cog, for lack of a better term. Now, I’m not trying to denigrate the name or status of Franky by calling him a cog. In fact, I’m applauding him for it.

What is a cog? Well, Webster defines it as “a subordinate but integral person or part.” In a world and culture swollen with folks determined–nay, resigned–to be the only person noticed in a crowd, the only person at the forefront, or the only person entitled to anything at all, cogs are hard to come by. But without the people backstage opening the curtain, how can the show go on?

So, Franky Ross. What makes this guy cool? Franky is a behind-the-scenes man to the core, in all the best possible ways. Although I’ve never seen him speak publicly, he was the life-blood of the First Baptist Church of Locust Grove. Every Saturday evening he would drive up to the church, set the air conditioning to a comfortable temperature, make sure the sanctuary was cleaned up, and deal with any of the various loose ends that might have needed mending. No one asked him. Not many knew he did it. He was always the first to church on Sunday morning, and always the last to leave in the afternoon. The man was a saint.

Now, someone might wonder why Franky’s acts of service are important. I would have to agree that the acts themselves aren’t very important, nor are they unique to Christianity. The key difference between Mr. Ross and the other cogs of the world is this: while he toiled away at the unglamorous jobs, he was worshipping the Almighty God. As Harold Best explains in his book, Unceasing Worship, it was Franky’s “worship as witness.” Although he wasn’t pastoring a flock or digging a well in Africa, Franky Ross was witnessing and serving the Body of Christ through his worship in the mundane. He was worshipping Christ while setting a thermostat. He was worshipping The Lord while setting up chairs. And he was content.

How then, can we worship God in the mundane? Rather than complain and whine about our homework, practice, and recital attendance (Music Majors, listen up!), should we not choose to praise the name of God in all situations? Should we not radiate joy as we practice and work and perform?

I was fashioned after a God who is excellent in all he does.  And that God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for me that I might, by faith and grace, receive eternal life.  This is reason enough to be thankful, finding contentment and opportunities to worship in all things.

I want to be like Franky Ross.

~Connor

Connor is a sophomore, majoring in Worship Arts.  Connor sings in the Cathedral Choir and plays the bass guitar in a Chapel Band.

Counting the Hours

By | Higher Education, Music, Music Education, Music Theory | No Comments

“So, how many hours are you taking this semester?”

This question is always really hard for me to answer. I know that what the other person really means is, “How busy are you this semester?” For me, those two questions aren’t the same. Being a Music Major comes with some strange and unique difficulties that make small talk like this difficult.

The hardest thing to explain about being a Music Major is that credit hours don’t always equal workload. While most of my friends are taking from five to seven classes, I’m usually enrolled in 10 or 11 class sections every semester. However, only four of them count for the standard three credit hours. The rest are classes like orchestra and choir and voice lessons that count for one hour of credit but require a lot of practice time outside of class. On top of that, there are always plenty of extra performance opportunities like musicals and plays and the small a cappella group that’s getting ready for the talent show, or the string quartet that’s playing for a wedding. As a result, a semester with 18 hours of credit can be lighter than one with 16. It all depends. It’s confusing, I know.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to having a lot to do. Sometimes when I get back to my room after a long day of classes and rehearsals and more rehearsals, I realize that I haven’t even started on my homework or practiced for my voice lesson the next day. I find myself wondering if I should have chosen a degree program that is less time-intensive.

But I stop myself there.

Somebody wise once said, “Nothing that’s easy is worth having.”

Someone else wise once said, “You should do what you love.”

Despite the quirks and challenges of studying music, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I love it. I love learning more about the things I’m passionate about. I love the fact that the JBU Department of Music and Theatre feels like a family. Believe it or not, I even appreciate the hard work that stretches me intellectually. And at the end of the day, I look forward to waking up the next morning and doing it all over again.

So, yes, friends, it is a little bit crazy. But I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.

~Steven

Steven is a Junior, majoring in Music Education. He is one of two student conductors for the JBU Cathedral Choir, the Concertmaster for the JBU Chamber Orchestra, and a talented actor in many JBU stage productions.

Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me…

By | Music | No Comments

It’s after 5:00pm on a Friday.  We made it through the first full week of classes here at JBU.  The Cathedral Choir just left for their annual Spring retreat.  In a few hours, they will be immersed in music, working hard to be ready for their Spring Break tour.  Syllabi shock has set in for most of the students passing through the lobby.  The music office has already dealt with its fair amount of scheduling mishaps and near nervous breakdowns.  Anxiety is crouching around every corner.

But today, we choose peace.  Join us in singing this hymn as a prayer for our semester.  Chart and compass come from Thee.  Amen.

Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.