Friday, April 19, 2013

Bored in Church?

We had barely gotten back from San Francisco (the hard way) when I discovered some correspondence sitting in my email inbox. Our pastor is preaching a sermon series on "The Witness of the Prairie Poets" which refers to poems by some of Illinois' most revered poets. And interesting idea, and this week turns out to be quite an event.

One of the poems, "General William Booth Goes to Heaven" is supposed to be accompanied by a bass drum, flute, tambourine and banjos. No one seriously thought we'd get a bass drum in our sanctuary on short notice--I like the idea of it, though. Probably Charles Ives would have liked the idea, too. He set the poem to music, as a solo song for male voice and piano. A member of our choir made some attempts to get a well respected voice professor at our university to sing it, but he's out of town for the next couple of Sundays.

Instead, two gentlemen are reciting the poem, and the choir is helping out with some portions by singing the refrain to "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" I decided to track down Ives' piece and interpolate bits of it during the recitation, which will occur during the sermon. I'm also playing the "Dead March" from "Saul" by Handel, which was played at the actual funeral of William Booth, who, if you are wondering, founded the Salvation Army.

Besides that poem, we have another, "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight," also by Vachel Lindsay, our poet for the week, and it has given rise to the anthem, a stirring rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was borrowed by another of our choir members on short notice from our community choir. We are also singing "God of the Ages" and "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood"--two more unusual selections for this congregation. Not that we don't cover a lot of ground anyway: there is a good bit of variety in our repertoire, and one Sunday might very well not be much like another at our church. This one will be particularly festive, and particularly 19th century American.

In addition to all that, a woman from our congregation, now in her nineties, who has been playing the piano for our church since she joined it practically at the church's inception over fifty years ago, is joining me for three piano/organ duets. Fortunately, we chose a fanfarish rendition of a hymn to open the service, even before we knew the contents of the rest. Things worked out fairly well in that regard.

I predict I will be very tired when all this is over (twice).

There is an alternative to that, which is not to work any harder than necessary; not to track down (difficult) pieces at the university library at the last minute, or to protest fatigue from travel harrangues, and just keep things as simple as possible. But that would be dull.

We are the choices we make. One choice I tend to make over and over is not to take the simplest way out. Frankly, one reason for that is I hate being bored, and, whatever you can say about giving all your energy to something is that it is seldom boring. There is something about Sunday mornings at Faith that usually isn't. Sometimes it is in overcoming an emergency where someone got sick and we've got to cover, or the amount of last minute coordination that is virtually always necessary for a multitude of reasons. Or trying to employ multiple and opposite skills: sightreading, improvising, and playing concert quality music on the organ are just three of them. One involves meticulous planning; the other two involve no planning at all, but can be further subdivided into one requiring the eye and the other the ear. Or it may be that each week is somehow different than all other weeks. THIS is the day the Lord has made. Sure, he made yesterday, too, but that isn't the point now, is it?

Anyhow, this week is decidedly a group effort, even more than most weeks. We have a lot of folks who have stepped up to employ their talents, tossing around emails all week to plan the best way to do that. If I'd been doing all the planning I probably wouldn't have thought of half of it.

It's certainly going to fun.

Hold my tongue--fun? in church?

Forget I said that.

Make it, piously joyful instead. That'll make it past the censors!

Anyway, it adds up to the same thing.

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