I created my first blog for 12 years ago today. It’s long since abandoned–The Blue Room is blog #3 for me–but I still remember the first post: a taxonomy of Christmas music to blow off steam during the height of Clergy Superbowl stress. I think about three people read it, all with the last name McKibben.
So much has changed in me… and in the Internet. Blogs aren’t what they used to be, although I’m grateful people stop by here to read what I have to say.
In honor of that silly first post about Christmas music, I share this graphic that came across Facebook last week, created (I think) by John Shouse and shared by my friend Cathy Boyd. Brilliant!
a taxonomy of christmas music
And Happy New Year!
…It’ll be even happier if you sign up to receive Gate of the Year, a free workbook/playbook to help you do a review of 2015 and set intentions and visions for 2016. Learn more here. Sign up here.
I met Marthame Sanders a couple of years ago at an event at Columbia Seminary. Since then we’ve followed one another on Facebook and shared a mutual interest in improv and the spiritual life. Marthame was lucky enough to receive a sabbatical grant last summer which allowed him to study improv at Second City. Right now I’m working on a grant application for a similar purpose myself, but in the meantime, it’s great fun to see what Marthame and others are doing to encourage an improvisational “posture” in worship and think about how to expand those skills into the larger church. (Church of the Pilgrims in DC is also doing great work in this–see Ashley Goff’s blog for more.)
Marthame wrote recently on his blog about an anthem the congregation composed in the middle of worship. So rad. I especially love the acknowledgement that while there are many more polished, technically “perfect” pieces of worship music out there, there’s something powerful about creating something right in the moment. And it sounds like he provided just enough structure for this creative work to happen.
Thanks for sharing this inspiration, Marthame!!
An Improvised Anthem–guest blog by Marthame Sanders
Pulling the weekly bulletin together is always an act of improvisation.
It rarely looks like it; after all, it is the planned order of worship that the congregation receives a few days later. And yet, there is always something that we hadn’t anticipated: a hymn we chose that’s unfamiliar; a special litany that needs to be included; a Scripture that doesn’t speak to the moment…There are always last minute adjustments. This past Sunday, however, stood apart.
Tim, our Music Director, was returning from a month-long sojourn in Europe. Our worship planning had gotten us through his absence, but we had not planned for his return. Tim and I agreed that the two of us would “do something”, and that was as concrete as it got.
Then it hit me: why not improvise? After all, I have been spending the better part of a year learning about the habits of improvisation; why not put some of that into practice? Using my own children as my willing improv guinea pigs in the days before (with different results each time), I hatched a process.*
Last Sunday, our Scripture was Psalm 146 from the Narrative Lectionary. During our time with children, I told them how the psalms were meant to be sung, and that Tim and I had nothing planned. And so we needed their help figuring out what it was we were going to sing.
I read the Psalm, asking them to say something like “I like that” when I read something that grabbed their attention. Then I told them we needed to figure out our key: I needed a letter between A and G and two numbers between 2 and 6. After one child asked if it needed to be a whole number, we got our suggestions: A, 3, and 5. That became the chord progression.
Tim and I began playing our three chords on piano and guitar; eventually, a melody emerged, which became a simple chorus:
I will sing my praise to God;
I will sing my praise to God;
I will sing my praise to God all my life.
The congregation soon joined in; I used the “liked” phrases to build verses. It took a while. The melody wandered on- and off-key, but we always returned to the chorus with full energy.
I have heard prettier and more interesting melodies. I have encountered more poetic lyrics. This was no Coltrane or Davis. And yet, there was something about this particular piece of music that “worked”. Along with everything else, the whole process invested the congregation in the anthem in a unique way. It wasn’t just Tim’s music or the choir’s music or my music; it was our music, our praise. Our shared creation had them “rooting” for the music in a new way.
We will definitely do this again.
One final note: our worship recording failed Sunday; so here’s my rough re-creation with guitar and voice:
Got to talking on Facebook the other day about Advent albums—in theory, this should be its own thing, as a season separate from Christmas, but it’s often folded into the behemoth category of Christmas music.
I only knew of one album of Advent music, but of course, many friends schooled me on the other great ones out there. So I’ve been building a bit of a playlist, which people have asked for.
Here you go—sorry there are no links, but I’m doing this quickly since we’re celebrating a certain seven year old’s birthday today. A quick Google or iTunes search will get you there.
Advent: Piano Solos, Jim Morgan. Especially these tracks: Rejoice, Divinum Mysterium, Hyfrydance (my favorite)
Advent at Ephesus, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. I dumped the whole album onto the playlist because it’s such lovely choral music.
Midwinter, Peter Mayer. This singer-songwriter hits just the right Adventish tone on this album of original music, though a few tracks are explicitly Christmasy. So you should avoid Stables, Christmas Morning, Heavenly Child, and Make My Christmas Day until later. But don’t forget to add them to your Christmas playlist because they’re beautiful. I dream of using Where Is the Light with a church choir someday. It’s rousing!
Advent, Vol. 1 and Advent, Vol. 2, The Brilliance. These were recommendations, haven’t downloaded them yet. Same with Advent by Tangled Blue.
Thanksgiving, George Winston, December.
Each Winter As the Year Grows Colder, Marty Haugen. Haven’t found a version of this that I love, but the words are wonderful, very Adventish.
God, Beyond All Names, Bernadette Farrell. I like the Trinity Episcopal Church version. I could listen to these lyrics all day. And it has a fun alto line.
Veni Emmanuel and Of the Father’s Love Begotten, both from Winter’s Solstice III by Wyndham Hill
Beneath the Trees, William Ackerman, Winter Solstice
There is No Rose, Chanticleer, A Chanticleer Christmas
Lo How a Rose E’er-Blooming, Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, The Hymns of Christmas
O Come O Come Emmanuel, Pentatonix, PTXmas
Gabriel’s Message, Sting. He has a couple versions of this (most recently on his Winter’s Night album) but I like the original 1980s version from A Very Special Christmas.
It’s a heavy time in the world.
Israel and Palestine… please let the cease fire hold.
Ukraine—still unstable, and I have a personal stake in this.
There are no Christians left in Mosul, Iraq for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
The children keep coming from central America, fleeing a level of violence and lawlessness (or even just poverty) we can scarcely imagine.
And those little Nigerian girls are still missing.
The globalization of the news means it all appears right in my blue room. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As David Wilcox sings, “there’s no ‘far away.'”
So like many of you, I do what I can, and I take my signs of hope and joy where I can get them. It is a privileged thing to be able to do that, to turn one’s attention elsewhere for a while. But I must. We must. Otherwise it’s too overwhelming.
So in that spirit, here are three things that brought some awesomeness to my life this week—Internet edition:
Serving communion to one of our members who’s in a nursing home. She wanted the five of us gathered to sing “On Eagle’s Wings”. We didn’t know the words, but no problem: Safari on the iPhone to the rescue. Best communion I’ve attended in a long time.
The discovery of Moms RUN This Town, a running club whose local chapter has a Facebook page. After 3 years of running solo and only occasionally with friends because of my crazy schedule, I now have access to groups of people in the neighborhood running early and late and fast and slow and everything in between.
This guy. Just this guy. You’re going to want to fast forward, but don’t. Just let it emerge.
My sweet mother and I at Wolf Trap last Saturday night.
My mom and I went to see Sarah McLachlan at Wolf Trap on Saturday night. It was a great night to be on the lawn, and a lovely show. (By the way, just how much Wolf Trap picnic food is provided by Trader Joe’s? A LOT.)
I’ve got technology on the brain these days as I work on my book, so I was interested in how people were experiencing the concert with and through their smartphones. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Wolf Trap, but I’ve seen the norms change dramatically even during that time. Whipping out one’s phone to send a text or check Facebook used to be rare and (I sensed) frowned upon. By now it’s the norm, at least on the lawn.
One of the great things about live music is the way it knits together audience and performer as a community, albeit for a limited time and in a particular place. Does the use of social media expand that community, or does it dilute the overall experience? Or are both possible? (I think you know I’m a Both kinda gal.)
Before I go further, let me say this: the vast majority of cell phone usage I saw was from people who were way older than I am. So those of you clearing your throats for your “kids today” lecture, save it. This is a seriously intergenerational phenomenon now.
Here are some ways I witnessed people using their phones during the concert… or did so myself.
Looking up Sarah’s Wikipedia page to see how old she is, because she looks amazing. (She’s 46)
Taking notes on her setlist, presumably to download tunes later, or create a playlist.
Googling the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, a free program for underserved kids in the Vancouver area that provides high-quality music programs and lessons at no charge, which Sarah mentioned during the show.
Random checking of social media during the slow moments.
Texting friends to say, “I’m here watching Sarah McLachlan and remembering so happily our Lilith Fair days.” (That was me. Shoutout to K and G)
Receiving a photo of one’s children proudly displaying the awards they received at the swim team picnic that evening. (Also me.)
Lifting up glowing screens during the slow songs, with or without the benefit of the Candle app.
Recording snippets of songs to share with friends.
My guess is that some of those activities seem legit to you, and others make you bristle. Which ones and why?
It should be said, I could’ve done without the gals in front of me taking repeated selfies after it got dark… with the flash.
I also could’ve done without the people next to me talking loudly during much of the first act. Oh yeah, that has nothing to do with smartphone use. But wait! I thought technology was the downfall of polite civilization! You mean people can be boorish and rude without benefit of their cell phones? Get outta here! 😉