Thursday, June 19, 2014

Feast of the Enunciation

A liturgy that sprang to mind whilst listening to new choral music in the car yesterday. 

Feast of the Enunciation

A service for the start of a new choir season

            Gather ye singers, with all your might,
            And let us sing with joy this night;
            And joy give ye to all that hear,
            Without an over-labored ear.

Chorus:  Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear, when Washington’s washerwoman went west?

            The Maker gave us all we need
            To make a sound that others heed,
            To sing with clarity and verve
            And not get on our list’ner’s nerves.

Chorus: The lips, the tongue, the tip of the teeth.

            Though there be grace for every ill,
            And words be printed, even still
            I shall insist on clarity
            And that your words please even me.

Chorus: Poppy, petunia, poppy, petunia, gladiola.

            When singing with the instruments
            We will be taxed, but never spent;
            The vowels will make our sound so dear,
            But consonants make meaning clear.

Chorus: A tooter who tooted a flute, tried to tutor two tooters to toot. Said the two of the tutor, “Is it harder to toot, or to tutor two tooters to toot?”

            “The people know these words,” we say;
            But still, let’s not get in the way.
            The less they have to work at it,
            The more our message they will get.

Chorus: The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

            I’ll say this many times, you know,
            And you’ll grow weary, even though
            To shut me up all you need do
            Is take to heart, and follow through.

Chorus: Minimal animal, minimal animal, minimal animal, minimal animal.

             Before we get to work we should
            Catch up, relax, for schmoozing’s good;
            We’ve lots of music yet to make,
            But first let’s take a social break.

Chorus: A cup of proper coffee in a copper coffee cup.

[Here at the Director’s discretion, s/he may announce the length of a break, along with other notices of immediate and local importance.]

[Let there be ample coffee, according to choral practice at all times and in all places. As circumstances allow, let there also be an assortment of edible goods.]

[After the break, the Feast of the Enunciation continues with the music appropriate to the Proper of the Season.]

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Agree to Disagree about the Ways we Agree

It’s my take on the old saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (a description of Voltaire’s principle, often wrongly ascribed to Voltaire himself)

With a book I’m working through now, my attitude is: “I approve of what you say, but I regret like death the way you say it.”

This particular biography and appreciation of Isaac Watts is a strangely articulated celebration of the father of English hymnody. The author asserts – and I agree with him – that the church of the 21st century would be richer for knowing the hymns of Isaac Watts, and for writing new songs along the same principles. Amen! But I’m afraid the tone of critique, expressed in short tangents and off-hand comments, must surely put off the audience this author would most like to reach? Of what value is my appreciation for Isaac Watts if the way I present my case puts you on the defensive? For whom is the book actually written?

Far better, it seems to me, would be to present the case simply and forthrightly:
·         Watts’s hymns are colorful, expressive, clear, and simple
·         He wrote lyrics to be sung to tunes congregations could easily and heartily sing together
·         He wrote directly out of his engagement with Holy Scripture, and the hymns are rich in biblical and theological references, allusions, and themes
·         300 years after his death, we are still singing many of his psalm settings and hymns; and we still have to reckon with Isaac Watts.
Therefore, we might go on to suggest, modern writers and composers of congregational songs would do well to study Watts—his work, his principles—and make them our own in appropriate and disciplined ways.

And may I learn, from this helpful but flawed book, how not to press my own concerns—in private and in public.