Complimenting the Choir

I have sung at the chanter’s stand and choir for about 5 years non-stop. In high school and college, my church and campus ministry had a rotation for people in the worship band or praise team, so there was no need for me to make a weekly commitment. Save August 2009, December 2011, and a few random Sundays of illness, I spend services as a choir member…or at some services, I AM the choir.

Yesterday, I got two lovely compliments that encouraged me more than any others combined. It was the Feast of the Dormition of The Mother of God, which is  the last major feast of the church year. Beautiful hymns encourage Christians to prayer. While in line to receive a blessing at the end, a woman approached me. “Your voice is so beautiful. It helped me to pray today. Thank you.

After the pitch-in breakfast, a man approached me as I got up to leave. “Thank you for singing today. It lifted us all up [to heaven].”

I had enjoyed Vigil the night before and Liturgy yesterday morning – the people I was singing with were on pitch and we could trade harmonizing ad lib. As a musician, those are the service moments you love. When you aren’t just singing but making music and able to have a few moments of prayer yourself.

Many a dissertation is written on Orthodox services, and I have a very simple understanding of them. I can say, however, that the reason Orthodox Christians gather is to pray. Liturgy is a prayer. Vespers, Vigil, and all other daily services are for prayer. Everything in an Orthodox church is a call to prayer and to see as best we can with earthly eyes and hearts the Glory of God.

Yet, when you sing in the choir, you give up that freedom to pray. I have experienced so many, Orthodox or not, who view the choir or worship leaders as “untouchables” or that the work of a musician is so much more honorable than they in the crowd. My voice being audible during the service in NO WAY makes me amazing and you liturgical dust.

Complimenting your choir member or director with a “woe is me” or “Gosh, you’re important” tone is flawed. Please stop doing that.

The choir members have given up their freedom to pray because we have to think about other things – like staying in tune. This also goes for the opposite – to “mentally check-out” during a service is disastrous. And because Orthodoxy involves the body, we also give up the freedom to prostrate, bow, or even bless ourselves without whacking our hand or forehead on a music stand.

God has given us a gift. We are to use it, and most of us do with glad hearts! But it does not come without sacrifice. Knowing that you were able to pray makes my sacrifice worth it.

I have had people compliment my voice after it has sung both the sacred and secular. Very few have gone to say how it has moved them to better prayer. That sufficiently humbled me to know they were praying as I was singing yet thinking about whether or not I chose the most comfortable shoes for a 3-hour service.

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What I Miss from My Protestant Days

So, it’s the week before Easter! (I love saying that to make people’s heads turn!) Yes, it’s one of those years that “Greek” Easter is WAY late. Oh well.

As I was experiencing Palm Sunday on April 28, I realized something for the first time since converting: There is only one thing I miss from my Protestant experience. Being a pesky convert to Orthodox Christianity, I have 25+ years of low-church Protestantism to frame my religious education and lay theological training. When I was still in my inquiry and catechism into Orthodoxy, I was answering a lot of questions from concerned Protestants, such as:

  • Now that he’s dumped you, will you still go to the Orthodox church?
  • Do you feel God is less approachable in prayer?
  • Where is ____ in the Bible?
  • Are the Orthodox Calvinists?

I attempted to answer these and many others with as much sense and grace as possible. I don’t miss the debates over Predestination/Calvinism vs. Free Will/Armenian. I don’t miss how some churches try to spice up their church service with new stage lights, decorations, a sermon series or bible study on the most recently published book, etc. I don’t miss the sanctuary being renamed to “Big Church” or “The Auditorium” or “God’s House” etc. I don’t miss the debates over “seeker sensitive” vs. “feeding the sheep.”

I definitely do not miss “P&W time” that is filled with repetitive words and bland music. (This will be its own post in the future).

I miss having a cup of coffee and breakfast before going to church.

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Especially this last Sunday, I was seriously wanting pancakes and coffee with real cream. Between all the times I sang, “Lord, have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord” and the longer hymns – I kept trying to focus on Christ triumphantly entering Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the Highest” … Coffee. Pancakes with eggs over easy.

For those of you unaware as to why this is a craving: If an Orthodox Christian is to partake of communion, he/she is to fast from bedtime/midnight until partaking of communion during Liturgy. There are other fasting guidelines during Lent, however, it still stays that if you are going to take communion, you should fast the night before and morning of. Some mornings, I feel fine. I make it through everything no complaint. Other mornings, there is a twinge, but I power through. The mornings like this past Sunday – I got to experience the grace of God and know that in my weakness he is strong. Mind you, I wasn’t all happy about this.

I was hungry. My back and knees hurt. (Lord, have mercy) I was sore. (Lord, have mercy) I was tired.  (Oh, thank God! We’re at the Creed.) I wanted nothing more than to cry and whine (When will I ever get to be parishioner that can sit whenever I want). My throat is drying out. (My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.)

Yet, even on these “bad days” where I long for my simple cup of coffee with a crossword before church, I’m reminded that my inner struggle is exactly why I need The Orthodox Church. One of the prayers for the Eucharist (Communion) asks that it be given to each according to his need. As I partake, I’m reminded again that the Eucharist is given “for the remission of sins and everlasting life.”

Some days, my prayer is that Christ continue to refine me. Show me where I need to forgive and love more. Other days, my prayer is that I be reminded that I need Christ more than coffee and comfortable Sunday mornings.

The Merry-Go-Round of my Professional Life

I officially left full-time music education on December 31, 2007. I officially stopped my path to vocal performance in October 2009. Regardless of those dates, I never left music. In fact, I’ve become ever increasingly grateful that my roommate had a piano begging to be used in her house when I moved in this past August.

I told my parents multiple times in the past 5 years, “Thank you for the investment in my music lessons because it’s helping my income tremendously now.”

As I’m typing this, I’m on break in a recording studio surrounded by other full and part-time professional musicians. We’re recording demo tracks so choral directors across the nation can pick up a packet of single copies of music with a CD and hear all or bits of the songs before buying for their choir.

Even though I “never left music” in that, I still taught private lessons, sang in my church choir, started learning Byzantine chant and notation, I definitely tried to minimize my exposure to the professional-diva-types of musicians. Thankfully, those types are few and far between. Jumping back into this world, I got some new views from the sales side of the music industry:

A) Having listened to my fair share of these demo tracks in my teaching days, I thought the tracks were rather dry because they were recorded that way. Rather, they are dry because we are sight-reading and patching sections together. We’re not going for artistic excellence, form, and musicality; we’re going for correct notes, rhythms, and some diction.

B) I don’t miss some of the personalities in the music business. The Talkie Tammys who have to comment at every cut-off or pause. Or the singers who are really into recording and can’t control any impulse to dance around. Stereotypes exist for a reason.

C) Patterns. When you aren’t rehearsing the patterns on a daily basis (teaching, personal practice, performance, etc.) you forget that most composers follow similar patterns in their writing. The days I was in the studio, I felt I was “working harder” than others who were still actively singing, practicing, and sight-reading these styles of music.

I’m thankful for my musical side. It has been a gateway for me to meet fascinating people and enriched my life. I just find it funny that as I’m entering a new career and seeking out opportunities to improve in that field (student nursing job, yay!), my former career is still applicable and keeping the lights on. Who knows, later on nursing might be the way I can fund some awesome music project in the future.

Curiosity

TRS is not above self-deprecation. Yesterday, I wrote Part 2 of the DIY Vanilla Extract experiment.

Today, I post a link to what I did after adding a few more beans to the bottle: http://youtu.be/duySEM_HI2g

The background music is “Adiemus” from Songs of Sanctuary. I believe my comments at the end are sufficient.

Get in Line, You’re Family

My final Sunday at All Saints as a regular attender was not filled with much that was out of the ordinary. As typical, I was later than I wanted to be, thus not only missing the Matins Gospel, but barely sneaking in before the Great Doxology. I guess you would have to know me to understand why I have a twinge of guilt about this.

I sang in the choir, as usual. Sat among the first row or so during the homily. My feet longed for a rest and my voice longed to sing a different melody during the Anaphora prayers. But there was something about communion that was completely different than before. More

My Random Life

It’s funny how the things you need pop up in front of your face. Life has been a little weird and off kilter here for TRS, but in true form there is a burst of activity followed by me going, “What the….????”

Um, Yeah…

Kiddie Concerts

Let’s face it, elementary-age school and community programs are more fun for the young performers than the audience of parents and siblings that watch painfully underdeveloped theater skills blossom on stage.

Having a rather full music studio, I was invited to two consecutive weekends of shows in which several of my students were performing. My ultimate goal as a teacher is to educate my students in their art and give them a basis to be a wise consumer of music in the future (i.e. Support the Starving Artists!!), not turn them into the next Renee Fleming or Arthur Rubinstein. I doubt I could get any person to those levels. Anyway, to support local arts, I attended a production of Aladdin Kids and Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jr. The first production told the Disney version of Scheherezade’s tale but emphasized a friendship between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine rather than the whole “Disney romance happens in 1.5 hours” trick. The next weekend, students in grades 5-8 pulled off a staged version of Millie, where the female leads towered over their male romance counterparts by a good 6 inches……before heels.

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Saint Who?

If you are unfamiliar with Sara Groves’ song, take a quick listen. I cry practically any time I hear it. Really.

December 2007: I walked into an Orthodox church for the very first time.

December 2009: I was Chrismated on a very cold and icy evening after a week of pre-Chrismation catastrophes.

December 2011: May I  introduce you to someone I have been getting to know the past few years – St. Kassiani

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From Teaching to Nursing

Facebook: 05 May 2011

If I hear one more person say, “Oh, nursing, yeah! You’ll always have a job there,” I think I will scream. If I wanted job security, I already had a decent run with my first bachelor’s degree. Yes, music and arts gets whacked first in school budgets, however, if you are a born and natural teacher, there will always be something to teach. Anyway, here is the latest chapter in the chronicle of how my life has changed dramatically in the past four years

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Reflections on a birthday, youth and “being old.”

I first wrote this in July 2009, one year after a high school friend of mine was killed through an act of domestic violence. 3 years and counting after her death, I’m still processing my shock. I never thought I would know someone who was killed because of the will of another. The only thing I could think in the days following her death was, “I’m a girl from Kansas! This doesn’t happen to people from small town America!” But it does. So here are my thoughts regarding her life, death, and what I’m to change.

Why I try to not say that I’m old.

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