— Glad I learned how to sing harmony. Thanks, Mom, for all those choruses of "Found a Peanut" in three parts when I was a kid!
— We had fun singing in the car, didn't we, sweetie? "Found a Peanut," "Make New Friends," "Thou Poor Bird" .... happy memories.
— Lots more than these, too ... dozens and dozens ... you would sing the harmony and I would sing the melody ... it trained my mind for hearing the parts and eventually we could switch.
This exchange between a professional backup singer friend and her choir director mother inspired me to write about a question that has been troubling me: Where do today's young children learn to sing in harmony? They are surrounded by music (of a sort, anyway) in a way my generation never was, whether by choice on their phones or by chance in the shopping mall. But it's passive; where do they learn to sing?
Many of my elementary school classrooms had pianos. (And bless the teachers, we occasionally were allowed to fiddle on them before and after school.) Sometimes the music teacher came in and sang with us, and sometimes the teacher herself led us in singing. Later, but still in elementary school, we could choose to participate in a chorus, where we learned two- and three-part harmony. By the time we were in eighth grade, there were enough boys whose voices had changed to make that four-part.
Does that sound like a swanky private school to you? It was actually four different public schools in a very small town in upstate New York. (Even back then districts were fond of moving students around.)
My own children had an absolutely fantastic music teacher in elementary school, and she gave them many experiences I never dreamed of. But when it comes to harmony, I had the better deal. They also had a far more amazing high school chorus experience than I did, but I'm talking about younger children: few high school students chose chorus as an option, fewer still if they had not had a great musical experience earlier on.
Our children also gained an incomparable musical education in church, thanks to a choir director who was both a great musician and a great teacher. But for congregational singing, I was much better off than children in most churches since then.
The church we attended when I was young was not, generally, an enlightening experience, and I was glad when we stopped going and I had my Sunday mornings free. But it, too, deserves a lot of credit in my musical education. We sang from the wonderful red Hymnbook published by a group of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, a hymnbook complete with time and key signatures and four-part harmony for every hymn. Congregational singing was not as peaked in those days as it often is today, and that experience was foundational for my musical life.
Granted, I'm shy enough that I didn't feel at all secure in my singing until after many years of choir experience, and learning to improvise harmony came almost too late. I wish I'd learned more as a child. But I'm beginning to be convinced that, between school and church, I gained a better musical foundation in my tiny New York town than most children receive today.
What has been your musical experience? Convince me that I'm wrong!
"She's a professional tambourine player," the choir director explained as he handed me that instrument to accompany our Palm Sunday music.
He was joking, of course, but I was serious in my response, "Actually, I'm a professional cymbal player."
If, that is, you call professional someone who gets paid for his work, and consider a free hamburger and can of soda to be qualifying compensation.
In church, we are known as mild-mannered, respectible singers: Porter is the tenor who leads the Psalm on most Sundays and is the choir's go-to guy for handyman jobs. I'm the alto with the over-ready tongue who tries to make sure that when the choir's not singing, we're laughing.
But there's another side to our musical lives, and it came to my attention recently that many of our fellow choir members have no idea what we morph into every July 4th. As requested, I'm now Revealing All.
It began back in 1993, when our then 13-year-old, trumpet-playing daughter read a column by Bob Morris in the Orlando Sentinel about an organization known as the World's Worst Marching Band, the official band of the (in)famous Queen Kumquat Sashay. When she proclaimed, "I want to join THAT," Porter immediately arranged to take her to one of their rehearsals to check it out. We were homeschoolers at the time, and eveyone knows that homeschoolers are weird and unsocialized and never go out.
Not really, but this truly was some of the weirdest and most wonderful socialization ever. The whole family became involved—and that IS typical of homeschoolers—despite the fact that our first impression of Maestro Tony "Stinky" Peugh was of him conducting the band with a cigarette protruding from each ear. You can read more about the band in this Sentinel article from 1993. Despite the name, most of the members were excellent, professional musicians—but they didn't discriminate against the rest of us.
It was so much fun. Not only did we march in the Sashay and many other local parades, but we also took road trips for Independence Day parades in Atlanta and Philadelphia. We played concerts for the newly-formed Fringe Festival, the Maitland Art Festival, at the Citrus Bowl, at several Disney events, even (in an absolute deluge) for the Santa Salutes the Soaps Parade—venues so eclectic I can't count or even remember them all now.
But as with so many good things, the World's Worst Marching Band eventually ran its course. Later, the intrepid Chaz Waldrip resurrected it, in the form of the ACME All-American Alumni Marching Band, which attempted to be a little more serious. It was still fun, but didn't last long. Finally, Richard Simonton, a band member from Geneva (Florida, not Switzerland), found a scheme that worked to keep us going. Richard is quiet, self-effacing, and brilliant. He's done a lot of good, real work in his time—don't look him up in Wikipedia, though; you'll get his much more famous father—but as far as we're concerned, the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band is his magnum opus.
The GGGAMB operates on a much more modest scale than the WWMB: We have ONE gig per year. On the morning of July the 4th, we meet for a short rehearsal, after which we march in Geneva's short Independence Day parade and then perform for their wonderful, small-town celebration. In 2015 I wrote a post about some of the joys of that once-a-year performance.
For those who would prefer a shorter version, I've edited a video taken of that year's concert by Rick Hughes of the Community Church of God. In it you can see the band in action, with my award-winning cymbal performance. Award-winning? Hang in there till the end and you'll see what I mean.
The video also shows Porter in his even more important role as Gunga Dad, the man who keeps the band well hydrated. This is more of an act than a necessity in these days of ubiquitous water bottles, but in 1993, with the July sun melting the asphalt on Atlanta's Peachtree Street parade route, his tireless work gave us the distinction of being the only band in the parade not to have someone faint.
So there you have it. Our Secret Lives Revealed. Auditions are now open for this year's Independence Parade. That's "auditions" as in "let me know you're interested, and I'll slip your name to the right people.
Last night I listened to Afghanis singing "Here I Am to Worship" in their Dari language. It was surreal, but I'd had similar experiences before. I have met the universal language, and it is American praise and worship songs.
I have sung them in church in Japan: American praise songs with Japanese words.
I have sung them in church in Switzerland: American praise songs with German words.
I have sung them in church in The Gambia: American praise songs with English words. (That makes more sense when you realize that English is the written language in the Gambia.)
I have no doubt that, as with McDonald's, I could encounter the same songs in China, India, New Zealand, Brazil, Kenya, Russia, and almost anywhere else in the world.
It does not make me especially happy to realize that the Church Universal is singing fast-food music. Just writing the above evokes images of Green Eggs and Ham: I will not sing them in a box, I will not sing them with a fox.
But I do, and I'll admit it is lovely to be able to worship fully with the local congregations. I'd rather be eating a more nourishing meal (singing hymns and/or local music), but I'll take fast food if that's what's served.
Everyone knows Makudonarudo.
Somebody (Grant Woolard) knows how to have fun! And I'm sure it was a ton of work, too. (Thanks, Dawn.)
The people of the nearby Congregation Beth Am invited our choir to join them for their Celebration of Liturgy a couple of Sundays ago. It was quite a fun afternoon. In additon to the Beth Am choir and our own from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, participants were the Casa de Restauracion Misionera, a charismatic Hispanic church, and Fellowship Church, a non-denominational Christian Zionist congregation.
In other words, in ordinary life the chance that any one of us would step into a worship service of one of the other groups borders on infinitesimal.
I'd love to do it again. In fact, I'd like to see it expand to include more groups, because I've found that the three best ways of learning how much we have in common with people who differ from us are working together, eating together, and singing together—and this event covered two of them.
Interestingly, although at the most basic theological level we had more in common with the Christian groups, it was the Jewish choir I felt most comfortable with. I tend to be generally pro-Israel, but the strong, almost strident Zionist emphasis of Fellowship Church seemed to be more central to their nature than their Christian beliefs—though probably they were just seeking to honor our hosts. The Hispanic music of Restauracion was enthusiastic and heartfelt, and would not have been hard to participate in had the volume been 30-50 decibels lower, but as it was all my concentration had to be on saving my hearing. I had left my purse, with the earplugs I take nearly wherever I go, in the car. :(
But that's all okay. This gathering wasn't about being with people who are most like ourselves!
Perhaps most fun was the end, when we all sang a song together. I'd post it, but it's only available on Facebook, not YouTube. Not that there was anything special in the music, only that we were all singing it together.
Theological and musical differences aside, apparently everyone agrees on good food. We should eat together more often.
Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a diocesan youth choir festival at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando. I've been to children's choir festivals before, but not this one. One major difference was that some adult singers from participating churches were also included, so it was truly a multi-generational affair. My mistake was in thinking, "It's a children's choir festival, how hard can the music be?" Guess what? There's a big difference between a children's choir festival and a youth choir festival: this included not only young elementary school students but also those in high school—you know, the All-State-Chorus, make-superiors-at-Solo-and-Ensemble kind of high school student. There were some amazing voices there, and the music put my sight-reading confidence to the test for sure.
We had one long rehearsal on Saturday, then sang for the regular church service on Sunday. One of our younger choir members exclaimed, when he walked into the cathedral, "This is the biggest church in the world!" It's not, by a long shot, but it's still impressive. Another proclaimed the whole experience to be "epic."
And it was. I love our church and its service, but even in the Episcopal Church a service at the Cathedral is a cut above. I almost broke down during the processional, with the cross and candles and banners and incense and glorious music and so many people, young and old, in the procession. Glory, majesty, and awe are so often missing from church services, but this took my breath away.
Our own church is considered "high" because we sing much of the service, but at the Cathedral even more was sung instead of merely said. So much beautiful music, in a church with beautiful acoustics. Good acoustics encourage the congregation to sing, because you don't feel as if you are singing a solo, but are lifting your voice in song with everyone.
The service "belonged" to everyone, children and adults alike. Perhaps best of all, although the Festival choristers were welcomed and acknowledged, we didn't "perform" but were just a part of the regular worship service (albeit a bit fancier than usual). It was a glorious experience. Like our own church, but taken up a level.
Here's part of what we sang. As usual, the videos are not us, but something found on YouTube to bring the song list to life.
Praise (Dyson) We didn't join the choirs on this one. It's unison, for young, high voices.
(My thanks to whichever Daley photographer took this video. Mine's still on the camera....)
I know a lot of hymns. We've sung in many denominations, and even in the Episcopal Church the congregation's favorites can vary significantly from church to church. But at our current church we feature not only the more common hymns, but also the ones in the Episcopal hymnal that are almost never sung. True, there's often a good reason why a particular hymn is unpopular, but most end up better than our choir expects when our director first introduces them.
And sometimes we discover hidden gold.
Last Sunday we sang Hymn 307 (Hymnal 1982), Lord Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor.
This is the best version I could find on YouTube, because the hymn tune, BRYN CALFARIA (not "California," which is how I first read it) is at least as important as the words, especially with the stirring harmony, which alas is hard to hear in the video. You can see both the text and the music, including the harmony with the alto line that was so much fun to sing, by clicking here. (When you get there, don't forget to click on the link to the next page, also. It's a two-page hymn.)
Along with much of the rest of the world, I mourn the unexpected loss of a wonderful musician.
About the musician born Prince Rogers Nelson I feel nothing more than normal sorrow due at the death of any human being. His heyday was after my time (I was too busy raising babies to care about the music scene) and I don't like his style of music anyway.
But nine days earlier the world lost another amazing musician: my own cousin Mike. He was two years younger than me, but the shock and sorrow of his death is far more than just a sharp reminder of my own mortality.
We were not particularly close as children, growing up as we did half a continent (and for two years, half a world) apart, in a day when communication and travel were far more difficult than they are now. But I was deeply moved when in later years he attended Janet's Eastman School recital, and—thanks to Facebook—we had recently begun to become reacquainted.
Mike was one of my favorite sorts of Facebook friends: an example of how people who differ markedly in political leanings, social attitudes, and lifestyle can still express their views freely while listening to one another and respecting each other's humanity. Much as I love having friends who agree with me, disagreeing with respect is such an important (and famously lacking) skill that in some ways I appreciate that even more. Except for the use of the term enemy (opponent would perhaps have served my purpose better), I'm reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: "Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?"
But Mike and I did not have nearly enough time to enjoy and explore that relationship. We had barely begun. I had no time to appreciate properly his musicianship, much less his heart of compassion for the lonely, the weary, the down-and-out.
Truthfully, much of Mike's music is a bit too dark for me, and it's not the style I generally prefer to listen to—though far, far closer to my own taste than the music of Prince!—but that doesn't stop me from recognizing and appreciating his considerable talent and skill.
Here's one of his songs, the best of the recordings I could find on YouTube:
You can learn a lot more about Mike's music at http://www.mcubedmusic.com/ and http://michaelmclaughlinmusic.com/. At the first link you can hear songs from his album, Part of the Plan. The second features his newest album, just recently released: Spare Me Some Humanity. The latter makes me grieve all the more that his career was cut short, because I love the increasing influence of world music on his compositions. At this site you can hear more from Spare Me Some Humanity, but alas only brief excerpts of each piece.
Of course my cousin was much more than his music ... but his music is easier to write about.
Rest in peace, Mike.
Although our choir director might think me heretical, I'm not much of a fan of Broadway shows. It's not that I don't like musicals; I loved playing in the orchestra pit of the Rosemont Rollicks community theater back in the 70's, and have even enjoyed watching the occasional live performance or movie version. But I don't go out of my way to see them, and I can't imagine why people would pay outrageous prices to attend a show in New York City.
Maybe that's because whenever I've been in town, I've spent as much time as possible at the New York Public Library. It's the same with Boston, where I'd skip most of the other sights to have more time at the New England Historic Genealogical Society's library on Newbury Street. Crazy, I know.
Be that as it may, an Occasional CEO post about entrepreneurship has against all odds made me excited about a new Broadway show. I'll be happy to wait for a production that is less expensive and closer to home, or on video. But I want to see "Hamilton." Check out the opening number (NSFG - language).
Easter is in less than three weeks so it's time to bring back my favorite new Easter song from last year. I know it's still Lent, but the only way to learn a new song in time for Easter is to start practicing earlier. Enjoy!
Lullaby by Steph Shaw
Here's a shoutout to our very talented cousin-in-law. (If there's a word for "son-in-law's cousin" I don't know it.) Steph Shaw is a singer-songwriter and the mother of three adorable girls. "Lullaby" was written with the first, recorded with the second, and released with the third.
Naptime. It's what you make of it.
Enjoy! And don't forget to check out Steph's Facebook page.
I've neglected to keep track of our choir anthems lately, but here are some for the most recent weeks:
A Prayer for Peace (Henry Baker/Karissa Dennis, Shawnee Press, 35030316) With cello.
Kum Ba Yah (John Rutter, Hinshaw Music, HMC2435) (No YouTube; the link takes you to the anthem on J.W. Pepper).
This is simple but not just your father's campfire song (or yours); this is Rutter. According to the notes in our bulletin,
When composer John Rutter heard the news that his close friend Nelson Mandela had died, he couldn't speak and walked to the piano and created the arrangement of Kum Ba Yah.
Rather cool, even if we do all have our mouths open. (Click to enlarge, or follow this link.)
I try to avoid clickbait—you know, the Internet equivalent of the TV news teaser, "World ends tonight, details at 11"—but this one on Facebook mentioned both "Basel, Switzerland" and "drum corps" in the subtitle, so I succumbed. I was glad I did. (Thanks, BJ.)
The Top Secret Drum Corps founded the now-famous Basel Tattoo in 2006. I enjoyed watching the parade in 2010, though we didn't attend the Tattoo itself, being fully entertained by newborn Joseph.
A short (three-minute) video, just for fun. Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale. Enjoy.