". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back from St. Louis

What a grand and glorious day. I think I may have already mentioned ☺ how thrilled I was yesterday to be able to attend the Service of Installation for the new President of the Lutheran Church, Missouri-Synod, Rev. Matt Harrison. I didn't take many pictures. There was just too much going on. But here are a few for my readers who are interested.

Here I am sandwiched between two of the coolest, smartest Lutheran ladies I know. That's Mollie Ziegler Hemingway on the left and Elephant's Child on the right.

I couldn't decide which of these to post. We just looked so great in both of them, don't you think?

Phillip and I managed to grab President Harrison for a quick shot after his already immortalized banjo solo. The photographer, our friend Pastor Fritz Baue (who sat in with the band on fiddle), didn't quite wait for the "ready" sign, but I'm not complaining. I'll take it!

Sitting in with the bluegrass band: Pastor Baue is second in the line-up and Pastor Harrison is fourth. They just needed an accordion player!

Here are a few pictures from rehearsal the night before the installation. My husband, who was also installed yesterday on the Board for International Mission (and elected as Secretary to that Board), was asked to play for one of the musical offerings during the installation service. He provided piano accompaniment for Mrs. Monique Nunes, wife of Rev. John Nunes, who along with a small choir of friends and family, sang Richard Smallwood's "Total Praise," a musical setting of Psalm 121. The song was performed full-out in a no-holds-barred Gospel style, and there were no doubt those who didn't care for it. Phillip anticipated that there would be criticism, and it has already come, from our own dear pastor. But when the President of Synod comes knocking on your door, you don't turn him down. And in this case why would one want to? It was an absolute joy to meet Monique and the choir and watch the interplay between them and my husband as they put the song together, and I personally think their contribution to the service was magnificent. I would encourage those who found the piece to be out of their stylistic comfort zone to consider that it was a Biblical, liturgical, authentic expression of the piety of many within our synod. And there was no screen, no impassioned songleaders imploring the assembly to join in on a song they didn't know, no drumset, and no complicated production elements. There was just a song and some great singers and a piano and a guy playing it. I personally thought it was appropriate, given the catholic and international character of yesterday's service, to have one piece that wasn't led from on high by organ and 4-part white-robed choir (as much as I love both of those things).

To Mrs. Nunes and the choir, it was a pleasure to meet you and watch you prepare this piece with my husband. I'm glad Pastor Harrison invited you to sing for his installation, and I appreciate your willingness to serve. I hope our paths cross again someday. It was fun to see my husband having this much fun!


IggyAntiochus said...

First of all, Mrs. Nunes can SING! :)

Second of all, the Cantor can PLAY! :)

Third, the song can easily turn into a large production number and apparently it didn't.

Fourth, it's a psalm paraphrase of Psalm 121.

"Lord, I will lift my eyes to the hills
Knowing my help is coming from You.
Your peace You give me in time of the storm."

Fifth, I wasn't able to watch on-line, but my understanding is that the service will be available on-line later this week, and I am looking forward to the ENTIRE service, including TOTAL PRAISE with its totally awesome "Amen" section.

Can I get a witness?


Untamed Shrew said...

How do you know the Baues? Jean and I have sung together on countless occasions.

WV: "prothea" Eesh. how about "pro-theo"?

Cheryl said...

Untamed, I don't know Jean well, although I have met her. But Pastor Baue and I have been working together for a few years on the Steadfast Quarterly.

I'm sorry, but I have no clue what your second comment is about! Help!

Also, Pastor Rossow and I talked at church this morning and I do have a few more thoughts to add on the question of the song "Total Praise" that I think will be helpful. But first, lunch.

Untamed Shrew said...

Ha! WV= Word Verification. I just thought "prothea" sounded funny, like I was supposed to worship a she-god.

I hope I didn't leave you with the impression that I hated "Total Praise." I do think the applause was inappropriate for the circumstances (do we clap after each Scripture reading?), but at the same time it was expected and inevitable given the genre of music. As I said on BJS, God's Word isn't something to be improvised. Now you make it sound intelligible and eloquent, because all my brains are going to the fetus. :-P

Cheryl said...

No, Untamed, I didn't get that impression. I agree that the applause was unfortunate. But it happens--I have seen it do so with all sorts of music and all sorts of musicians--and I don't want to get too distracted by that. Better to consider the piece and its presentation on the merits. So, to that end, a few more thoughts (now directed not to Untamed but to anyone who is still reading . . . .)

After talking to Pastor this morning I have a better understanding of his concern about the piece. It wasn't the style itself--hey, you should have heard the Gospel piano rendition my husband did of "Amazing Grace" this morning--but rather, the improvisational aspect of it. And this I do understand. It is one of the reasons we in the LCMS do not care to have a group prayer led by anyone but a pastor (or someone, such as a Sunday School teacher, that is being overseen by the pastor). We want to know that the words that are being spoken or sung are doctrinally sound, and we trust our pastors to attend to that. In this case the improvisatory aspect of the piece--what my husband refers to as "riffing"--is something that is an element of the cultural context out of which it comes. But when a singer goes off-text and starts to improvise words, he puts himself in the position of speaking to God in the stead of those assembled. And I understand and share the discomfort with that. It is why I don't like to go to churches that write their own creeds or that have ex corde prayers from the worshipers. Even my own pastors in worship don't make up the prayers on the spot but rather write them out ahead of time. The words are so very important that we don't want to get them wrong, especially in the context of formal worship.

It occurs to me that yesterday I had a level of comfort with the singers that was gained through getting to know them at rehearsal the night before. Others in the assembly who had previously heard Mrs. Nunes or knew her personally (such as Pastor Harrison) probably had a similar trust level. But I can understand how the singer's going off the printed text (which was just for one chorus, I think) would be disconcerting to others, especially since it was hard to understand all the words.

When I talked to my husband about this today he said it would have probably been best to agree upon the "riffing" text in advance. As often happens with musical performances, things didn't go Saturday exactly as they went Friday night. That is one of the great things about live music--it truly is alive! But that means that sometimes things happen in the moment that you didn't plan. And I think perhaps that the musicians in this case were so moved by the occasion that some things came out of them musically in performance that didn't in rehearsal.

Having said all that, my sincere hope would be that all who were in attendance, whether bodily or online, would take these many things into account and trust that those in charge of the service did not take lightly their call to maintain liturgical and doctrinal integrity. And I would also hope that there would be an effort to embrace the broad catholicity of this particular worship service and realize that it was a meeting of people not just from Missouri or Illinois but from all over the world. In fact, Pastor and I agreed this morning that it might have been better for the service to have a bit broader musical flavor so as to reflect the international representation of worshipers. If it had, perhaps the lone piece to stray from the cathedral sound would not have been quite so conspicuous.

Cheryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl said...

I'll say it again. I'm glad Mrs. Nunes and her fellow singers were there. My worship was enriched by their contribution. As a listener, my horizons were broadened a bit, but as a worshiper I wasn't asked to do anything that was outside traditional Lutheran practice, and I have attended many Lutheran services over the years where that wasn't the case. So in my opinion this service maintained Lutheran integrity. For those who had some discomfort with "Total Praise" I would encourage forbearance, tolerance, and trust in those who planned the service and invited the musicians that were there, plus an awareness of the diversity of the gathering and an acceptance that such diversity and high numbers of people worshiping away from home might result in a service that is slightly different from what you normally experience in your home congregation.

Untamed Shrew said...

Well said. I could seriously go for some conga drums and "Listen, God is Calling" right about now.

IggyAntiochus said...

I didn't get to view the service, so I will comment on the improvised words once I hear them.

However, I did crank out Total Praise on the keyboard today! :) I was not the primary musician today, but I got there early and and tickled the ivories while the altar guild was setting up.

Next Sunday I can work it in as a prelude. I definitely need to brush up on it in the mean time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cheryl - Now that I see your photo I realize I saw you and Jenny in the Quad right where you took the photo, but didn't stop to meet you as I wasn't sure it was you, and we were on our way to get cupcakes in the bookstore - hard to redirect 4 children who are on a quest for sugar! It was a great day and I'm glad my kids could see it, even though most of them won't remember it :).
Blessings, Kathy Seeger, wife of the Rev Carl Seeger and fellow Looper (and no need to post this comment - it was easier than finding your e-mail :) )

Hannah said...

Something to inform the Cantor, on sightings: Jan Wendorf, a person I am getting to know pretty well because of my location, was in the elevator with Cantor at one point, recognized him, but didn't think fast enough to tell him she knew me.

Cheryl said...

Kathy, sorry we missed each other! Next time!

And Hannah, I'm starting to think that in the LCMS there's hardly ever more than one degree of separation between any two people.

Elephantschild said...

You're very kind to compliment me, dear Cheryl!

Thanks for posting pictures!

IggyAntiochus said...

Well, that's a lot of improv. I can see where some would be uncomfortable.

This kind of improv is not unheard of in the urban church (including LCMS churches). There have been times when I was uncomfortable, too.

Yet my choir has had the privilege of singing with her, so my level of comfort here is probably higher than most.

Trust me on this, if anyone is going to do this with integrity and still be true to Scripture in the process, Ms. Nunez will be the one to pull it off!