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Dr. Dave’s Blog

Friday, July 6th

The day started at 6am with blogging and e mails. The morning workshop was on rehearsal techniques for choirs.  It was to be in two parts.  When I got there, it turned out that we were being asked to watch the clinician conduct and rehearse a choir, without any explanations or interaction with the people who had signed up for it.  It was a huge disappointment. I decided to leave after the first half and head to the exhibition hall where I could peruse choral music and perhaps find some good, useful pieces for our choir.

I brought my lunch. (there’s a fridge in my room) and I ran into Wilma and the rest of the music staff from Eau Claire.  We had lunch together.  Afterwards, we said goodbye and I boarded the bus to the afternoon events, two concerts, one in a Presbyterian Church, the other in a Methodist Church.  They both had impressive organs.

It finally poured rain on the way home from the concerts, but it was still hot.  I grabbed some dinner at the sports bar in the hotel and had time for a little nap before the evening concert with the Nashville Symphony.  We were back at the new Schermerhorn Hall for that one, with the lovely Schoenstein organ (which was made in San Francisco).  The program featured two organ concertos, one newly commissioned by the convention.  It was a fitting end to a wonderful convention.

Thursday, July 5th

The day began at 5:30 am with some blogging, e mails and breakfast.  The first workshop was called managing music and it basically used a business plan model and applied it to a church music program.  It was an excellent presentation and got me thinking about why we have music in church at all. Then, on to the Morningstar and Oxford choral readings.  There was some good stuff in both of these that I may want to use at some point.  There was just a moment to grab a sandwich before boarding the buses to Belmont University to hear a new work by Alabama composer Rosephayne Powell. The Cry of Jeremiah used biblical texts of the prophet spoken by a narrator and then sung in chorus by a choir. The work was fresh and new, but using elements of gospel and baroque oratorio all mixed together. It was resoundingly successful.

In the evening I went to hear the Trinity College Choir from Cambridge University.  I made sure to get there early and scored a seat in the back of the balcony at the First Baptist Church, where the sound is good.  I sat next to an unassuming petit woman with coiffed snow white hair, but who was surely still in her fifties. Wilma’s ears perked up when she heard that I was from St. Francis in San Francisco. She was from Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  She told me with some emotion and conviction how their Pastor had assailed the recent ELCA decision concerning LGBT concerns from the pulpit calling it a great evil and how she walked out of the church that day.  There was a vote about whether to accept the ELCA’s new policy and it lost by a very narrow margin. (53-47 percent according to Wilma)  The Pastor and the 53 percent took over the church and sent a letter to the 47 percent informing them that they were now associate members only (meaning they could no longer vote).  The 47 percent were given permission by the Bishop to meet in the other Lutheran Church in town.  The music director, Wilma (the organist) and the two choir directors all resigned and went with the 47 percent.   You can imagine what an emotional thing it is for some of these people whose families have been members of that church for generations to be told they can no longer vote and to be ostracized from their own community. 

Two women from the 47 percent who happen to be lawyers claimed that the church constitution was not followed and have entered into a civil lawsuit with the 53 percent.  If you want to know more about this, it’s all over the internet. Just google ‘Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire’ and it will all come up. The Pastor and the 53 percent have refused to speak with the Bishop and have voted (without the 47 percent) to leave the ELCA and join the LCMC, an ultra-conservative branch. The lawsuit is still ongoing. In the end there is tremendous suffering which Wilma conveyed to me in a heartfelt conversation. She has asked for our prayers.

Wednesday, July 4th

Wednesday morning was consumed with Regional and Annual meetings of the Guild.  Our meeting began at 9am and took up most of the morning.  Our chair was upbeat and made it all kind of fun. (kind of).  Our Regional Convention next year will be in beautiful Bakersfield, California.  While I found it hard to get too excited about spending time in Bakersfield, I did see how the Regional convention is smaller, and a great way to meet local people.  There is a logo of a cartoon dog playing the organ.  I think I need a tee-shirt.

In the afternoon there were concerts by the winners of the Young Artist Competition.  The two soloists played the new organ at the Episcopal Cathedral .(pic) It is built in the romantic French tradition and it is a beautiful installation.  The playing was excellent with good improvisations on a given theme at the end.

We were left on our own to view fireworks in the evening.  As it turns out, Nashville has the most awesome fireworks display. My hotel is just a block away from the center of it all.  I stood on a bridge while the fireworks were shot from the river below.  It was still nearly one hundred degrees at ten o’clock at night, but everyone was in a good mood.  I was dripping with sweat, waiting for things to start, but once the show began I forgot all about my discomfort.  The lady at the hospitality desk had boasted about Nashville having the third largest fireworks display in the nation.  I didn’t really believe her when she said it, but I think she may have been right. There was every sort of flare and bombe, and it was all timed to the sounds of the Nashville Symphony. The fireworks burst forth right over our heads. The finale was almost too much, filling the sky, the booming explosive sounds going right through my body.  Afterwards, it was a short walk back to my room and air conditioning, far from the madding crowd.

Tuesday, July 3rd

The day started with blogging and e mails in my room at 5am.  After a trip to the fitness center I was ready to face the day.  The first workshop was an awesome lecture discussion on the registers of the voice, common problems amateur singers experience and what to do about it. If nothing else, this workshop was worth the registration fee at the convention.  It gave me some new ideas and reawakened old knowledge that lay dormant in the back of my mind.

The next event was another choral reading session (see Monday’s blog for a description of the first one), this one sponsored by GIA publications (Gregorian Institute of America).  The level of musical quality was higher than the Augsburg Fortress session and there were some beautiful new motets, some which I could actually use.

Then off to lunch in the 100 degree heat.  When I returned to the Convention Center, I soon realized that I had mixed up the times and had missed my bus to the afternoon concert event.  I was disappointed, but also exhausted from the heat and that 5am wake up call.  I tucked my tail between my legs and headed back to the hotel for a nap.

The evening session was the banquet and show.  There was a cocktail hour before the dinner. I ordered my coke and ran into my old professor of improvisation. He was already in his cups and it was hard to witness such a brilliantly talented person destroying himself with alcohol, something I have watched him do during the years.  I chatted with a man from Vancouver who works at a large Anglican congregation there and then went in to find a seat.  Not having seen any of the San Francisco or New York posse, I spotted an empty chair next to the guy I sat with last night at the Symphony Hall concert.  There I met a gregarious fellow, Stephen from Birmingham Alabama, and two women from Los Angeles, all Episcopalians.  I’m pretty sure Sue and Connie are partners, but they never said so.  Sue and I hit it off and had a lovely conversation.  Connie was a quiet one, but would chime in from time to time.

The show was an a cappella group named ‘Straight, No Chaser’.  It was held across the street from the convention center in historic Ryman Hall, the original site of the Grand Old Opry.  The performers referred to it as “the Mother Church of Country Music” and indeed it was a bit like church, having wooden pews instead of theater seats.  Sue and Connie and I sat together.  It was a fun show. After we hugged each other good night, I headed back to the hotel.  Once upstairs, I heard a bang. I drew the shades open and discovered, not only a full moon, but a fireworks display fully visible from the fifth floor.  Happy Fourth y’all.

Monday, July 2nd

The day started with workshops at 8am.  Augsburg Fortress led a choral reading session.  This is where the publisher passes out twenty or so pieces of music and the whole group sings them, so we can get a sense of each piece.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the repertory presented is out of sync with our music at St. Francis.  There were some nicely written works, but most of it was second rate and I was sadly reminded that church music is a business.  This is what they can sell, so it’s what they publish.  Language is always a problem too, with male nouns and pronouns everywhere.  There wasn’t even one piece I’d want to sing at St. Francis.  I am always getting CD’s in the mail and catalogues from various sources, wanting to sell me stuff.  Most of it isn’t useful. It’s just easy.

Perhaps one day soon there could be a collective website where music directors and composers could post things they’ve written in a non-commercial venue. I know many, many great pieces get rejected for publication because they are not easy and so viewed as unsellable.

The second workshop was about giving concerts at your church. Why give concerts? Community outreach and church publicity and notoriety were the main reasons. The rest of the presentation covered things I already knew from years of hands-on experience: how to raise funds and how to publicize and staff needed for the concert itself.

Fatigue was setting in as I trudged back to the hotel for the lunch break. I had gotten up at 5am to work out and go swimming before eating breakfast and doing some blog writing.  I have a little frig in my room and ate leftovers for lunch while writing a letter of thanks to Dr. Florence who gave last night’s sermon at the opening Service.  I even had time for a nap before the afternoon sessions.

The afternoon was taken up with two concerts of organ music and an Evening Prayer Service.  Both the concerts were jaw dropping and received standing ovations.  The second performer in particular, Tom Trenney, was impressive.  He’s just a kid from the Cleveland area, but already a consummate performer.  I stood in awe of what God hath wrought, as it were, in the person of Tom Trenney.  The music just effortlessly flowed through him. Music I myself had labored on long and hard as an adult, he played as if it were chopsticks. It was not just automaton precision either.  He heard and understood every line, and the whole was wonderfully musical.

The Evening Service was beautiful and thankfully much more progressive than the opening Service had been. There was even a reading of texts from Thich Nhat Hanh. It was packed with new choral music.  Unlike the selections at the morning choral reading, all of this repertory was excellent.  They had copyright credits and all in the program so we all know where to order it, should we care to. The service was at the West End Methodist Church, a beautiful English gothic styled building.  Their wonderful choir sang for the service also. (photo attached)

I got off the bus and ran to get some dinner in the short time remaining before the evening session.  It was a concert by famed British organist Thomas Trotter at the new Schermerhorn Concert Hall, where the Nashville Symphony plays.  It features a new organ by San Francisco organbuilders Schoenstein and Co. The hall is an acoustic wonder and the organ was far and away the best instrument of the convention so far, just stunningly beautiful sounds.  Trotter is a precise, clean player, but not in a pedantic way.  The music flowed.  I particularly liked the new work by British composer Michael Nyman, a minimalist. 

Sunday, July 1st

The Lutheran Church I planned to go to was far out in the suburbs and would have cost me over fifty dollars in cab fares to get to, so I decided to take the morning off and catch up on sleep, knowing that once things were really underway there would be precious little of it. The afternoon was spent dodging the heat in my air conditioned room. (it was only 106 on Sunday)

Finally the time for opening service came signaling the official start of the convention.  We packed into the First Baptist Church, a newer building with high ceilings and a large organ placed up front in an impressive casework. It was the Episcopal Clergy and the combined Episcopal and Methodist choirs that conducted the liturgy.  They even had a processional cross and incense! …in the First Baptist Church!!  There was what seemed like an interminable prelude of mediocre gebrauchsmusik  by Craig Phillips for organ and brass, and then the moment I’d been waiting for, when a thousand organists lift their voices in singing a hymn together.  I can never make it through that first hymn at the convention without tears welling up. The sheer sound and the sense of unity is overpowering. The tune was Lauda Anima, “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”. Yes, we sang ‘King’ and ‘Lord’ all over the place. It felt awkward and I truly missed St. Francis.

There were some readings and an inflated second-rate Anglican Cathedral anthem which seemed more about the grandeur of the Empire than the scriptural text. (One wonders why we hold onto these things.)  The sermon followed.  It was given by Dr. Anna Carter Florence, Professor of Preaching at the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.  Dr. Florence was a hip, fifty-something troublemaker of a woman, and a breath of fresh air after all the plated musical pomp that had gone before.  She chose to speak on the Old Testament reading  (2 Samuel 6) which she said was ‘a real corker’ and I’d have to agree.  It’s all about David bringing the ark of God to his city and stripping to his underwear and dancing in front of it.  “Is not art this very same sacred dance?” Dr. Florence queried. “And does not the doing of it expose one?” She asked.  She went on to say that artists and musicians uncover, expose some ineffable truth that words cannot fully convey, that playing the organ in church is a dance before the ark of God.

The service proceeded with one of my favorite motets, ‘Let All the World in Every Corner Sing’ by Kenneth Leighton.  It moves and dances and is quite dissonant and striking, but always intelligible.  This was followed by a quiet and mysterious newer work by Bob Chillcott, ‘Come Unto Me’.  The service ended with another hymn, Laudate Dominum, “O Praise Ye the Lord’

Postscript: Next time you see me dancing before God in my underwear, please be gentle.


Saturday, June 30th

I arrived in Nashville at 2pm. 112 degrees and humid. I checked in and got settled at the hotel and picked up my registration at the Convention Center across the street. In the evening, it cooled to 102 degrees, but our buses were air conditioned.  They took us to the Central United Methodist Church for a pre-convention concert of twentieth century French organ and choral music.  I rode with some Presbyterians from Florida, who were curious about St. Francis and its recent history.  I guess the Presbyterians are discussing the LGBT issues much as the Lutherans did a few years ago.  I think the concert was wonderful, and the soloist Wilma Jensen, received a standing ovation, but I was too tired from travel and heat to give it special notice.