Monday, October 18, 2010


This is one of those anniversary convergence years. I'm not sure why 5-year increments seem so important in our culture. Why is it that 25 years is more significant than, say, 21? (21 would be 7 years - a perfect number- times 3, accumulating perfection!) Why do we feel that a 49-year marriage is somehow disappointing, should one spouse not survive to the 50th? Curious.

Still, given how we do consider anniversaries, this is a big year for me. In decreasing order of importance:
  • 35 years of marriage (celebrated in June)
  • 25 years of full-time music ministry (quietly noted in July)
  • 55th birthday (around the corner)
Given the life-long commitment Karen and I made, as kids in 1975, it seems appropriate that this date is also the first anniversary I observe each year. It is also the one I have the most to say about year to year. I may not control my employment/vocation longevity, and I sure don't know when I will die. But so far as it depends on me, this marriage bond and covenant, this most coveted relationship and aspect of my life, is something I will do everything I can to hang onto.

The biggest surprise of my life was being called into vocational ministry. I didn't look for it, and I didn't prepare for it - not, at least, in the usual ways. But I welcomed it, and continue to celebrate the privilege and joy of it. Most of the time. There is only one relationship or commitment or covenant that trumps this calling: and I celebrate that each year, one month earlier.

Now, as to my age. Of course there is nothing I can do about that. I can't take credit for it, and I can't predict how many birthdays I'll have. I may be able to do some things, little things, wise things, to live well while I can. But I can't control my age. "My time is in [God's] hands." "So teach us to number our days aright." And that's really the best I can do.

But it does set me to wondering, as I approach that august age, 55. Official AARP eligibility. At College Church, I could move from "guest pastor" to official member of the Keenagers group. It all makes me wonder - what will the next 10-15 years of my vocational ministry be like, anyway? Will I continue to serve in all the ways I have done? Will I retain the privilege of overseeing and leading duly constituted services of worship? Will I train younger musicians to step into these roles? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above?

These questions are not pensive, but exciting. I enjoy my work, the musicians and pastors I get to work with, and the satisfaction of entering my 15th year at College Church. I am enrolled in a graduate theology course, and applying for admission to that degree program. I think there has never been a more exciting time to be in church music - never more opportunity to serve creatively. I am convinced that regardless of how it looks, my calling will keep me engaged with planning and leadership of gathered worship.

If I don't know what it will all look like, next year, or a decade from now - well, then that is just like a bike ride in a city I haven't been in before. I know how to navigate, how to ride safely, and the right things to look for ... everything else is adventure.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I have recently tried to wrestle some order into certain parts of my life. In particular, carving out time to keep up my professional reading. It was embarrassing to see a pile of journals dating back more than a year. The Hymn and the Choral Journal would lie in a pile, or add weight to my brief case, and I would get more depressed with the arrival of each new issue, knowing it too would go unread.

But I did catch up this summer, and have chiseled my calendar to include time to do this kind of reading each week. And to take a longer time (a sort of mini-retreat) quarterly, to undertake reading that will help me but that may not appear to be "essential" to my daily work.

Of course, the thing about that is, that naturally when I do not keep up with my professional reading, my daily work suffers. Perhaps (at first) only in ways that I notice or care about. But ultimately in ways that others will notice, even if they don't know what it is that they are noticing. It's like the old saw about practicing: "If I go a day without practicing, I know it; if I go two days without practicing, other musicians know it; if I go three days without practicing, everyone knows it."

So, it was with some smug self-satisfaction that last week I picked up the Choral Journal and came across the full description of the ACDA national convention, just a day or two after online registration opened. For the first time, I was an "early adapter" - I registered long before the fees go up, and even secured the hotel room I want for the event!

The downside is ... I can hardly wait. The ACDA holds national conventions biannually, in odd-numbered years. I do not get to all of them. I have twice missed the San Antonio meetings, and apparently I will always regret that. My first national was in San Diego - which, as a midwesterner in the winter, was as close as I suppose I'll ever get to heaven on earth. For the Miami national convention I had leadership duties, but had to cut that one short due to the sudden death of my Karen's younger brother. Miami now has a pall over it, in my memory. (Though I was delighted to hear both Millikin University Choir and Wheaton's Concert Choir there.)

My all-time favorite national convention was New York City in 2003. I had been in a professional funk for a year or so, and survived it by telling myself "I just have to stick with this long enough to get to NY!" I survived the funk, and the blizzard that kept me in that fantastic city two days longer than I had planned. Excellent! The convention was a highlight of my ACDA experiences, including an extraordinary address to worship musicians, by Dr. Bruce Leafblad. Not to mention a great rate at a non-convention hotel, which was nevertheless conveniently located to everything the convention had to offer.

But ACDA 2011 will again be back in my home town, Chicago. This is the 3rd convention (2nd national) here since 1996 when I moved back to the area. I love to be downtown even in the winter (and yes, the 2nd week of March is still winter here). And I love to protect that convention time. Most people know that conferences, meetings, conventions, and retreats are always better "away." There is too much gravity pulling you back to your desk, your office, your calendar, your life, if you sleep in your own bed while trying to be somewhere else during the day. So, when ACDA is in town, I take a room in the city and make it an "away" event.

I easily bypassed the convention hotel for another on the list. I was offered a room with a city view or a lake view, by my personal favorite, the Swissotel. Both were steeply discounted for ACDA registrants, and even the costlier lake view is less expensive than the convention hotel. But for my money (literally) I'm with the city view. A - I won't be in the room during the day; B - it's March, for crying out loud; that means a basically gray lakeview with possibly no distinction between lake, sky, and shoreline; C - who can pass up this amazing skyline, lit up at night. Hey, I'll stay away from cocktail parties for that view!

(Note to church members reading this blog: what do I know about cocktail parties?)

So, that's the kid in me - a trip to the city, staying in a nice hotel, and 4 days downtown. The professional in me is every bit as eager for the convention proper. Throughout each day, concert sessions feature 3 or 4 auditioned choirs - choirs of all types - each presenting a 25-minute program. We will hear children's choirs, students of all ages, and community choirs. Special performances punctuate the event, including choirs from around the world, professional groups (Chanticleer, anyone?), and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with Elijah conducted by Helmuth Rilling. One has to have a high tolerance for outstanding choral music to survive this convention. No, I wouldn't miss it.

Not to mention workshops, interest sessions, reading new music. All this in the context of friendships renewed and begun. The ACDA national convention is the most tiring four days I ever look forward to. And I always come home (even just from downtown) ready and eager for the rest of the choral season.

I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


OK, so I've been busy, all right? And some of that busy-ness has prompted reflection that I'd rather not air in a public forum. It's been hard to write, and all 3 of my blogs have been somewhat dormant.

I've been on hiatus, but not one of my choosing.

My email filter caught a message this week from a regular email correspondent. I'm not sure why this particular note was held as junk mail. The subject line was simply "Hiatus," which made me wonder, did my spam guard not know the meaning of that word? I had to stop myself from spinning that out - how could Mr. Filter make something nefarious out of "hiatus?" Best left unexplored, I think. Hiatus.

Lacuna. I've always loved that word - lacuna. I probably would not know it but for studies in musicology. A blank space or missing part. I've been on hiatus from my blogs, and that has left a lacuna, for me if for no one else. Another word that might be misunderstood, I suppose. It does make me feel like taking a vacation, perhaps in a cabana beside a quiet ... you know, laguna. "Lacuna matata," the catchy slogan for a blog gone quiet.

Laconic. My daughter replied to an email earlier this week, "I'm always being ironic." To which I shot back, "while I'm always being laconic." Patently false, in terms of my actual blog posts, by the way. But I think pretty close to the mark in conversation. Just ask my Karen. And my colleagues. Perhaps my choir wish it were more so in rehearsals.

Now here it is, October, 6 or 7 weeks into a new choir season, leaves turning brilliantly, Christmas music prep underway, a sort of mini-disaster at my house (still in disarray), a grad course in theology threatening yet one more aspect of my self-esteem, and yet oddly it feels like I am just settling into "normal."

Let the hiatus draw to a close, the lacunae fill in, and the blog posts be laconic.