Monday, February 25, 2008


The American Choral Directors Association is my musical lifeline. As I did not take a typical route to music ministry, ACDA has been an important part of my professional development. I have just come back from the Central Division convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and again find myself thankful for this organization and its impact on my professional development.

Aside from a few conducting courses, my education in this arena is best described as OJT … on the job. I had some good coaching as an assistant to Don Doig at the Village Church in Western Springs. (Yes, and some experiences that make me laugh, now.) And lots of patient singers while I sorted things out in the early years at Berean Baptist Church. But it was through the state and division levels (Minnesota and North Central) that I began to really understand and apply conducting technique, seek out and long for choral excellence, and put myself in sometimes embarrassing situations (workshops, master classes) that pushed and stretched me to improve … if not actually excel. Over the past dozen years I have also taken in the biannual national conventions as well. Which, wow.

Involvement in ACDA kept the standard in front of me, to which I still aspire and so seldom reach. Hearing auditioned choirs exposes me to new repertoire, to old standards that I am too uneducated to know are old standards, and to beautiful performances of pieces I thought I knew and conducted well … Not to mention the workshops, the special events/concerts, and the many conversations that take place during a convention. So today I find myself back at work, again pumped up and motivated, and yet feeling even less confident that I will ever approach the standard in my own work.

I have had the privilege of doing “association work” for ACDA, in both the state and division levels serving as Repertoire and Standards chair for the Music in Worship interest area. This allows me to participate in an organization that I depend upon, which at the same time I will probably never bring an auditioned choir to.

I can’t say enough about how ACDA re-fuels me for the musical part of my work. No “church music” convention or event has ever come close, for me. I long ago gave up on the kind of repertoire introduced at the “big box” church music events; and most of the denominational events haven’t done it for me at other levels. While ACDA is primarily academic, I find that it feeds me musically, and provides some spiritual nurture as well – through friendships, Music in Worship events, and the new music sessions for “church music.” (OK, so we do have to keep some measure of PC about the whole enterprise.)

This past weekend I was especially jazzed by the following:

* Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir – wow. An epiphany.
* Greenville College Choir – always a delight to hear Jeff Wilson’s group
* The Westminster Choir, from Westminster Choir College – along with St. Olaf Choir, one of our country’s bellwether ensembles, now under the exciting leadership of Joe Miller
* llinois’s Chet Alwes on the Bach Magnificat. Could I really conduct this work?
* Otterbein College Concert Choir – previously unknown to me, and very satisfying.
* A worship event featuring the Valparaiso College Choir, Christopher Cock, conducting – music of the psalms, planned by John Witvliet. This was worth the price of the convention, for me.

Well, I have lots to apply. I’d better get back to work!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hymns, hymnists and hymn-singing

Apropos my last post …

Yesterday (Sunday), as is my custom, I went to my office after the choir left the loft during our 3rd morning service. My office is a block away from the choir room – quite literally, a block away – and on a Sunday morning it is a nice quiet place to spend a few minutes until that last service lets out. Then it’s back to the sanctuary, with people to greet, etc.

So, anyway, my hands full of music and books from the choir room, I found something in my “outside mail box.” You know: the lobby mailbox where I leave things for others to pick up when the office is closed, and vice versa.

Anyway: Apropos my last post, “The music minister’s bookshelf” …

The book was unwrapped, and had no note or inscription indicating the giver, purpose or occasion for the gift. Yet there it was, and now I have another book to add to my stack – or at least to the “to be read” shelf.

It is a 2007 volume in the Eerdmans Library of Religious Biography. These handsome paperbacks are under the general editorship of Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch and Allen Guelzo. I admire an earlier work in the series, Edith Blumhofer’s Now I Can See: the Life and Hymns of Fanny Crosby.

The book at hand is by John R. Tyson, and I can hardly wait to tear into it. Assist Me to Proclaim: the Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley comes at the conclusion of the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth. Wesley holds a pretty firm place as “favorite English hymnist” for many, including myself. This promises to be an outstanding introduction to the facts of his life, and to many of his hymns familiar and not so familiar.

But where and how and when could I hope to add this gift to my reading queue? Happily I will be taking a short vacation soon, involving air travel, and now know what I will take along with me.

And it reminds me that I really short-changed my stack “in progress” – failing to mention the anthology of essays about Jonathan Edwards, A God-Entranced Vision of All Things. And something from Thomas Nelson’s project for the emerging church, “The Voice.” And, and, and, and …

Still reading on.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The music minister’s bookshelf

Kent Hughes, senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, is probably the best reader of any preacher I am likely to have the privilege to work with. The man reads – his bookshelf, his list of books to yet to be read, and his reference to books in his sermons, is impressive, exemplary, and daunting.

He fostered here a culture of reading pastors. But I think none of us have come even close to his breadth, discipline and love of reading.

Here’s a quick peek at what is currently going in my reading stack. And when I say stack, you may take that very literally. Like many, I always have many books in progress simultaneously. Here goes:

Musicophilia (Oliver Sacks) – on music and the brain
The Whistling Season (Ivan Doig) – a beautifully written novel, set in turn of the century Montana
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Eugene Peterson) – aside from the pastors I work with directly, I always look to Peterson for guidance in pastoral development. This Conversation in Spiritual Theology is already moving me as did Working the Angles, and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
Preach the Word – the festschrift volume in celebration of R. Kent Hughes
Around the World on a Bicycle (Thomas Stevens) – undoubtedly the first person to cycle around the world, this first-person account is the great-grandfather of cycling literature.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer (J. I. Packer) – while College Church is focused on prayer, and our evening services explore this model prayer by singing, preaching, and praying.

And did I mention stacks? As I attempt (yet again, and perpetually) to reorganize my office, I have made a full shelf available for “Books to be Read.” These are things I’ve bought that are in the queue to be next – whatever that may mean. But I think the one shelf is not going to hold them all.

Read on …