(photo credit Stephan Stücklin; click image to enlarge)

Eleonora Margaret Stücklin
Born Sunday, June 21, 2015, 11:01 a.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 1 ounce
Length: 20 inches

There are five syllables in her first name; think Italian.  Our you could do what her family does, and call her Ellie.  Janet has posted Ellie's birth story on her own blog, and you can find more details there.  I'll add here a few from my point of view.

This was the first time we'd only planned a four-week stay for my visit; previously we'd allowed two weeks before and four weeks after the due date.  So I was getting rather nervous as my final week approached.  But I think it all worked out well, and don't regret having had three weeks before the birth, as I believe it helped Janet get some much-needed preparatory rest; she was exhausted when I arrived, and doing much better when the day finally came.  It was also great to have the time to be part of the family and focus on the older kids, who will remember my visit a lot more than Ellie will.

I hardly know how to classify Janet's labor for Ellie.  Was it long?  I don't even know when it started, as she went through a few days of "this may be it, no, yes, no, maybe."  Was it short?  All I know is that the end came very quickly.

My duties were easy, as the kids—my primary responsibility—were sound asleep by the time the midwife arrived.  In the interest of keeping the crowd down, however, I mostly stayed out of the bedroom, but kept my ears on the alert, and occasionally peeked in through the doorway.  Suddenly I heard the kind of moaning that means labor is getting serious, followed only minutes later by the sound of pushing!  I was through the door in a trice, in time to see the bursting of the amniotic sac and a firehose gush of fluid flying straight at the midwife.  Then Ellie's head appeared, followed swiftly by the rest of her.  A beautiful baby!  A baby girl!  And then came the most amazing placenta I've ever seen.  (I've been present for the birth of 12.  This was a two-pound hunk of meat with not a hint of the calcifications that indicate the placenta is aging.  Despite coming a week after her purported due date, Ellie was not late.)

Even more amazing was the reaction of Ellie's brothers and sister the next day.  From the beginning, the three of them—who have themselves an incredible, "best friend" sibling relationship—have doted on their new sister, competing for the privilege of holding her, covering her with kisses and hugs, professing their love, showing their concern.  Long may their joy remain!

Welcome, Eleonora!

What a great Father's Day present for both Daddy and Dad-o!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 6, 2015 at 9:21 pm | Edit
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I was out of the country for 30 days, and so much changed while I was gone that I sometimes wonder what country I returned to.  I'm grateful for days like today, for small towns like Geneva, Florida, and for people like the members of the Greater Geneval Grande Award Marching Band (GGGAMB), which assembles once a year for the town's Independence Day parade.  I am so sick of (and sickened by) the strident, angry voices that exacerbate and exaggerate our differences, and refuse to see the humanity of anyone who disagrees.  But this is the America I know and love:  where diversity enriches rather than divides, and our widely differing political and social views in no way hinder our friendship, our celebration, or our working together in common cause.

On a different note, I'm grateful to our friend Greg D., who taught me that neither the band nor the celebration should be the focus of our performance, but the audience:  the people—the individual men, women, and children—who have come to hear us.  From him I learned to interact with the crowd as we march along:  to break ranks, claiming exhaustion, and invite children in the crowd to help me out by crashing my cymbals together.

(Note:  I prefer to be an equal-opportunity entertainer, but wise discrimination is important:  I don't want to scare anyone, but to invite them to have fun, and I have become pretty good at choosing my targets accordingly.  Sadly, there is a clear gender divide:  boys tend to be thrilled, and girls reluctant.)

Perhaps it's that focus on pleasing the audience that won me my totally-unsought honor this year.  After our post-parade concert, I was recognized by the master of ceremonies as the "most animated" performer.  It's true that my cymbal technique would never be allowed in a real band!  Porter said I did all right in my interview, but I now have a greater degree of sympathy for politicians who must speak "off the cuff" and answer questions for which they are not prepared.  It's so very easy to think of the answer you should have given, five seconds after the answer you did give has left your lips.  When asked, "How long have you been playing the cymbals?" I hesitated and replied, "It's a secret"—because I had no idea.  That was okay, because it made people laugh, but what I wish I had said was, "I've been playing with some of these wonderful folks for twenty-two years!"  I knew that number because Heather was thirteen when she got us involved with the World's Worst Marching Band, from which the GGGAMB eventually evolved.  (I looked it up after I got home: I first joined, or rather became, the cymbal section only a year after our family joined the band.  Twenty-one years?  Really?)

At that point, Tony, our faithful and intrepid—wild and crazy—director for all those years, grabbed the microphone and announced that I was also the grandmother of ten, evoking a final round of cheers.

We came together with old friends and new; we had fun; we performed a service for an entire town; and we made people smile and cheer.  We didn't save the world, but it was a good day.  Thank you, GGGAMB, and Geneva, Florida, for reminding me that the America I love is still alive and active.

UPDATE:  As Richard, our awesome without-whom-this-would-not-happen organizer, put it when he posted the following on Facebook, "For those with a high pain threshold, here's a video of our entire concert, courtesy of the Community Church of God."  It's 15 minutes long.  WARNING:  it's all quite safe for grandchildren, but children are at great risk of being embarrased by their mother's, um, award-winning performance and acceptance speech.  It's great to grow old and leave inhibitions behind!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 4, 2015 at 6:41 pm | Edit
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For a month my diet consisted largely of as much as I wanted of the following:  bread, cheese, butter, jam, pasta, potatoes, pastries, and chocolate.  If you've ever eaten Swiss bread, you know why that tops the list.  And maybe it wasn't quite as much as I wanted in the pastry department, but that was largely a matter of timing, i.e. getting to the store before the best choices ran out.  Sure, we ate a few other things, but bread and cheese really is a Swiss staple, and when I'm in town I never waste the opportunity.

While I was there, my exercise regimen was reduced from three times per week to three times per month.

I came home five pounds lighter than when I left.

I am so over the anti-carbohydrate hype.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 3, 2015 at 11:57 am | Edit
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Joseph wanted to go to the grocery store, and made his own shopping list.  (Click to enlarge.)


He did not have enough money to make the purchases, especially in the quantities he wanted, but I told him I'd gladly pay for one package of butter, so we went off eagerly to the store.  Grandmotherly hearts—and appealing grandchild eyes—being what they are, the plan escalated a bit.

While Janet and the others did their own shopping, Joseph and I started filling his little cart.  He found at least one of everything on his list (milk, pizza, oranges, bread, butter, orange juice, apple juice, peanut butter, and water), and I added several other items of interest to me (e.g. Swiss chocolate half off).

At checkout, he put his items on the belt, and got out his purse.  He handed the lady his widow's mite—all he had.  I slipped her a 50-franc bill; she smiled, and handed the change to Joseph.  His eyes opened wide, as the change was a bit over six francs, about twice the sum he had started with, and monumental compared with his weekly allowance.

One hundred percent return on investment, and a cart full of food, too.  Even I might learn to like shopping under those circumstances.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 11:29 am | Edit
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Grandparents sometimes have luxuries unavailable to parents, the greatest of which may be time.  Not that I've ever felt free from the pressure of too much I want to do and not enough time in which to do it, but both time and the lack thereof are relative.

Vivienne wanted to go for a walk with Grandma, and she particularly likes it when I let her take the lead.  We started out along familiar paths, stopping for a while at a favorite playground.  But there was a somewhat aggressive boy there, so exploration soon became more attractive again.

We hiked past a mall and the local equivalent of Wal-Mart.  (I hope I don't offend anyone with that comparison, but it's a large store that carries a great variety of items at comparatively reasonable prices.)  As we passed, she expressed her regret that the stores were all closed.  Here most businesses are closed on Sundays, a practice widespread when I was young but now limited at home primarily to Chick-fil-A restaurants.  While I admit to doing my share of business on Sundays, part of me misses those times and the natural respite from day-to-day consumerism and busy-ness.

End of digression.  Vivienne was content enough to window-shop in the garden center, which was visible from the sidewalk.  Moving on, we crossed the street to an intriguing path that spiraled down towards a tunnel.  Where would it lead?  It was dark and lonely, seemingly abandoned:  the underground part of a parking garage, empty because the stores were closed.  A little scary, too, so we happily returned to the sun-lit lands, up a set of stairs and on our way.

On our way where?  We found ourselves in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, complete with tempting playgrounds.  Tempting, but in the end resistible—the intrepid walker pressed on.  At last we came to the only intersection where Vivienne asked me to decide if we should go left or right.  Less adventuresome, knowing that going out requires an eventual return, and cognizant of approaching suppertime, I chose to "close the loop."

a rough sketch of our approximately 1.75-mile journey

Vivienne had other ideas, however, immediately executing a hairpin turn and heading off towards the ... train station!  Through the tunnel, under the tracks, and up to the platform.  We looked around for a while, but no trains came.  Go back as we had come?  Certainly not!  We had to find another way across the tracks.  Which we did, going still further on before we could turn around.

After that the return was fairly straightforward, with just one foray into a business center that I would have avoided had I been the leader.  That was the point at which I first blessed having no need to hurry: at worst we would have to call home to say we'd be late for supper.  For it was then that Vivienne decided she had had enough walking and wanted to be carried.  I wasn't surprised—we'd been walking quite a while, and she is not that much past her third birthday.  Nevertheless, I reminded her that we'd discussed a couple of times the importance of not going so far that we'd run out of energy for the return trip.  So I waited, and Vivienne sat on the ground until she had recovered enough energy to walk, which she did when she was ready, without fuss or complaint.

We were almost within eyeshot of home when she sat down again, and took off both her socks and shoes.  She did not ask to be carried, but apparently her feet needed some air.  I completely understand.  After about 15 minutes—and a few smiles and nods from passersby—she calmly put her socks and shoes back on, stood up, and we continued on our way.

Not, alas, as quickly as I—tired myself and still mindful of supper time—would have wished.  It took a long time to cross the bridge.  It's only over a road, but that was fascinating enough to Vivienne, and she careened as many times as possible between the side of the walkway with the precipitous drop and the side right next to the bus lane.  The guard rails are sturdy and sufficient, but I was notably happier when we finally reached the end of the bridge.  The rest of the trip was uneventful, though by no means speedy, as we stopped to smell at least 50 roses in the home stretch.

We had had a great adventure together, and still made it home for supper.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 9:06 am | Edit
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My airplane dinner was very good, as airplane dinners go, so I don't mean to complain.  But I couldn't help noticing that the first ingredient on a wedge of cheese labeled "Swiss cheese" was cheddar.  Swiss cheese was there, too, several items later—after water.  What's particularly odd is that of all the amazing cheeses readily available here in Switzerland, chedder is not one of them.

And then there was this bottle of Alpine Spring water, "bottled at the source"...


... in Tennessee.


As I sit here, typing away at the edge of the Alps themselves, I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are nowhere near Tennessee.

If our laws concerning product labelling allow this, why should I trust any label at all?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 15, 2015 at 3:27 pm | Edit
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It's summer, and I'm living at a latitude approximately that of the northern tip of Maine.  Which is why it's easy to lose track of time completely:  how can it be quarter to ten at night and still light enough outside to read easily?  For the same reason, I guess, that the birds greet the day with song when the little hand is still pointing to the four.  Strange experiences for a Florida girl.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 12, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Edit
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So, it's "quiet time" here with the Swiss contingent.  Vivienne and Daniel have worn themselves out and are now asleep.  Joseph spent the first half hour reading out loud from the Bible:  New International Version, starting in Ruth, ending in Revelation, and skipping all around in between.  Now he has a spray bottle and a cloth and is cleaning up streaks on the glass doors to the balcony.  Janet has followed the lead of the younger ones, but I'm enjoying the sun, the cool breeze, and a moment of quiet (maugre the barking dog, the nearby airfield, and the heavy contruction noise).

Side notes:

  • The time stamp should now be right for my posts.  I hadn't bothered to change the time zone in LifeType, but finally decided it seemed too silly to write about the afternoon with an early morning timestamp.
  • I can't decide whether to be pleased or annoyed that Google thinks it's smarter than I am.  It looks at my IP address and decides to deal with me in German....
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 12, 2015 at 7:21 am | Edit
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Over the years I have been astonished at the technical prowess of our grandchildren.  Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised:  advancing technology has made it clear that it's physical coordination more than mental ability that has in the past held children back.

In 2006: Jonathan, who just turned three, met me on the stairs with a blue cable in his hand. As I passed, I remarked, "That looks like a Cat 5 cable." "No it's not," he responded, "It's a USB cord." (He was right.)

And in 2010:  One day Heather discovered two-year-old Faith sitting at the computer, typing away in their Open Office word processing program.  She assumed Jon had set it up for her, but that was not the case.  No one knows how Faith did it.  This is no consumer-friendly iPhone, nor even Windows, but a Linux-based system only a geek could love.

There were many more examples I did not record, but I thought of these the other day, when it happened again.

Joseph, just shy of his fifth birthday, had been using his mother's GMail program to compose and send me a letter.  He then told me he wanted to make a copy.  I wasn't sure what he meant, so I showed him how to click on the Sent folder to see the e-mail again.  That wasn't what he wanted, but his sister required some immediate assistance, so I said I'd help him when I returned.

Just a couple of minutes later I came back, and he was in the process of removing a page from the printer.  He then shut the printer down and put the tray back into its folded position.  When he handed the printout to me, I asked him how he knew what to do.  "I clicked on the print button," he replied.

I don't use GMail to compose or read my mail, but I logged on to see see if the process was really that simple.  It's not.  First of all, the print icon is small (though I'll admit his eyes are quite a bit younger than mine, so maybe that doesn't matter much), and once you click on it you have at least one more step before the print actually happens.

Technology is not strange, nor frightening, to those who grow up with it as ubiquitous as air.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Edit
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One of our grocery stores is inside a small mall with a play place.  The rest rooms are not far away, but on a different floor, so a visit involves an elevator ride, and Vivienne was reluctant to go alone.  No problem; Janet went with her and I stayed with the others.  What makes this  something worth reporting is what happened a little later.

Daniel was still happy in the play place, but Joseph and Vivienne decided they wanted to explore.  They had a particular plan in mind, worked out the details with Mom, and off they went:  up the elevator to the fifth floor, check out a particular store ("from the outside only, not going in"), come back down again and check in with Mom before going back into the play place.  They did exactly that, returning in just a few minutes with big grins.

Only a few minutes later Vivienne left the play place again, and asked permission to take another exploratory trip.  This was a slightly larger stretch for Mom and Grandma, since this time she would be on her own, without her older brother.  But she did just great, and immediately announced that she had to use the bathroom again, and would do it all by herself.

She did just that.  The look of triumph on her face was priceless.  Well worth the maternal and grandmaternal nervousness we experienced upon watching the elevator doors close on our little adventurer.

I say this is growth and learning at its best.

  • Her initial fears and dependence were accommodated without shaming.
  • She stretched her comfort limits as part of her older brother's project.
  • She repeated the same experience without her brother, making all the decisions (and pushing all the buttons) on her own.
  • Finally, she repeated the bathroom trip completely independently.

This triumph was accomplished within a span of perhaps half an hour, with no pressure, no tears, at her own pace, when she was ready.

Joy all around.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 5, 2015 at 11:47 am | Edit
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The Episcopal Church doesn't give secular holidays prominence in the liturgy, hence we are never in danger of becoming, in the words of a friend lamenting practices in her own church, a place where "Mother's Day is a bigger deal than Easter."  Not that the day was entirely ignored:  women received flowers, and mothers, would-be mothers, and substitute mothers were all acknowledged during the announcements.  With sympathy for those for whom the holiday brings sorrow, I think we go too far in saying nothing of substance to anyone lest we should by any means offend some.  But I digress.  I think the most appropriate thing we did in church in honor of Mother's Day was to sing this anthem. :)



Ave Maria (Giulio Caccini/Patrick Liebergen, Alfred, 20142)



As usual, this isn't us, but we did have the lovely flute accompaniment.

On the other hand, there was no discernable connection between Mother's Day and the fact that we sang a hymn that I probably shouldn't mock—an Internet search reveals that some people really like it—but, really.  Yes, it was that hymn.  The "loud boiling test tubes hymn."  Otherwise known as "Earth and All Stars."

Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets,
sing to the Lord a new song!
O victory, loud shouting army,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

Hail, wind, and rain, loud blowing snowstorms,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Flowers and trees, loud rustling leaves,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

Trumpet and pipes, loud clashing cymbals,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Harp, lute, and lyre, loud humming cellos,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

Engines and steel, loud pounding hammers,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Limestone and beams, loud building workers,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band, loud cheering people,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

Knowledge and truth, loud sounding wisdom,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Daughter and son, loud praying members,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

Children of God, dying and rising,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Heaven and earth, hosts everlasting,
sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things.
I, too, will praise him with a new song!

The Episcopal Hymnal (1982) omits the last verse, perhaps thinking that enough is enough, but I could have cried, "Enough!" a lot sooner.

What do I know?  But to me, the music isn't particularly musical and the poetry is even less poetical.  Most frustrating is the nonsense in the words.  "Loud rushing planets"?  What does that mean in the silent vacuum of space?  If you grant poetic license there, in a "music of the spheres" sense, what do I make of "loud boiling test tubes"?  Or "loud humming cellos"?  (Maybe for the latter the author was anticipating the 2CELLOS folks, but while they may be loud, I don't hear them humming.)  Is volume a reasonable attribute of wisdom?  Really?

I'll give the author credit for one thing, however:  the "athlete and band" line.  Has any other song ever put the band on equal footing with the sports team?

So for that, I'll happily publicize the hymn.  That, and in thanksgiving that we sing it very rarely.  I like that about our church:  we sing the greatest variety of music of any church we've yet been a part of.  That doesn't stop me, however, from wishing we had been out of town for this one instead of missing "Hail Thee, Festival Day." :(

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 15, 2015 at 6:30 am | Edit
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She was a faithful reader of this blog, and even made several comments.  She wasn't always a part of my life, but one of my earliest memories is of her family moving into the house across the street from us in Scotia, New York.  She and my mother became good neighbors and even better friends.  Her daughter and I walked to school together, and played together every day until we moved apart—but we kept in touch and are close friends to this day.  Ruth welcomed me into their house at all times, even when her children had the mumps and I was trying to catch the disease myself.  (It didn't work.)

Although I kept up my friendship with her daughter, Ruth and I lost contact—that's what often happened with different generations in the pre-Internet days.  But thanks to e-mail, my blog, and Facebook, we reconnected in recent years, and what a blessing that was.  She even came to visit us at the Maggie P. one year!  Because my own mother died when I was in my early 20's, by the time I wanted to hear stories of my childhood, I couldn't ask her.  Ruth filled some of that gap for me, and I'll always be grateful for what she shared before the years took their toll and made communication difficult.  She's free now, and I certainly don't begrudge her the new life, but I miss her, and wish we'd reconnected sooner!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 9:21 am | Edit
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I rooted for two horses in this Kentucky Derby:  American Pharoah because that's the way I always misspell "pharaoh," and Frosted, because of his unusual color.  Of course I put no money on either of them, but it sure was fun watching them come in 1st and 4th!

Generally I'm a very good speller, but "pharaoh" is my downfall.  Not this time!  (As I understand it, the horse was named via some contest; the contest winner clearly has the same hangup with the word.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm | Edit
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I appreciate that I can place books on hold at our library, knowing that they will be set aside for me as soon as they become available.  But I do wonder about the timing sometimes.  A while back, I had placed holds on Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before, and on Pioneer Girl, the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Several people were ahead of me on the waiting list for each of them, so I was not expecting to read them anytime soon, though with one I was much closer to the top than the other.  Wouldn't you know, both books suddenly became available at the same time—right before we left for several days out of town.  I had to check them out, or lose my place in line, even though neither was suitable for taking with me on the trip.

We returned a week before the books were due.  The normal lending period is three weeks, but for popular books it is reduced to two—with no possibility of renewal.  Thanks to some other tasks taking top priority after our return, it wasn't until the weekend that I got very far into Better than Before.  And Pioneer Girl?  It has 400 pages.  Wilder's actual text is in larger print, but the bulk of the book is Pamela Smith Hill's copious, detailed—yea, exhaustive—small-print footnotes.  I read it in under 24 hours.

That's not how to read a book.  It's like trying to quench your thirst while standing under a waterfall:  you get exhausted trying to keep your balance, and end up more drowned than hydrated.

Nonetheless, I did get quite a bit from both books, enough for each to merit its own, upcoming, review.  At first I was just going to include very brief comments on them in this post, but "very brief" and I don't keep company much.  There's a reason my Tweets are mostly hyperlinks back here.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 10:24 am | Edit
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For us, Easter started last night with an Easter Vigil service that was over two hours long, but wonderful.  Lighting of the New Fire, procession, candles, singing, and a large number of baptisms (adult and child), confirmations, and first communions.  The latter is why it was so long, but who would want fewer?  I love that our church has a means of doing infant baptism by immersion (parents' choice).  I also love that moment when the lights come on and we shout the first Alleluia of Easter—alleluias are banished from the service during Lent—with the whole congregation sounding bells and other happy noisemakers.  (There were a few unhappy noisemakers as well, as it was a long and late night for the above-mentioned children.)  I brought my tambourine, and Porter the ship's bell that Dad had given us so long ago.  The latter makes quite an impressive sound.

And this morning we got to celebrate again!  One of these years I expect we'll attend each and every service from Palm Sunday through Easter, one for each day of the week and two on Sunday, but not this time:  once again we skipped the sunrise service, as getting to church by 8:00 for the Easter brunch seemed early enough after our late night.  The youth choir sang at the sunrise service and had to be there at 6:15 to help with setup; the service is held down by the lake.  I know, it seems backwards:  we keep the little kids up late, and wake the teenagers early.  But it's a very special time, and sacrifice is part of the process.  The brunch was followed by an egg hunt for the children, but we skipped that, because (1) our grandchildren weren't here to enjoy it, and (2) the choir rehearsed during that time for the final service of the day at 10:00.

Of all the services, that one is the most traditional as modern-day Easter services go.  (The Easter Vigil is actually the oldest, dating back to the very early days of Christianity.)



Prelude and Introit:  A Mighty Fortress (Martin Luther, setting by Joel Raney, Hope Publishing)  Judging by YouTube, the handbell version is more popular, but if you click on the link (not the image) you'll hear something more like what we had, with our brass, flute, organ, piano, and choir.  My only complaint is that because it is primarily an instrumental work, the choir sings only one verse of the hymn, and the first verse of Luther's great hymn is not a good place to stop.  But that was okay, because I doubt the congregation actually discerned the words over the glory of the brass and organ.

Next up, the processional hymn Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, then (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Edit
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