". . . 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)

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Some years ago, at our previous parish, a chorister in my husband's children's choir came to him with a dream she had recently had. The young lady's name was Natalie. She described her dream as one in which the choir was singing and Phillip was conducting a piece that ended with multiple parts/layers singing "alleluia" over and over. She said to Phillip, "It was glorious!" and he responded with a smile, "Well, maybe I will just have to write a piece like that for us to sing!" He ended up doing just that, and the piece was premiered that year at Easter.

Over fifteen years later, children are still singing this piece. Here is a video of our fourth and fifth grade choir singing it in church today. The song is called "Awake!" and it is a setting of the Paul Gerhardt hymn "Awake, My Heart, with Gladness." The music is original, composed by my husband, although you may hear some hints of the tune AUF, AUF MEIN HERZ, with which the text is paired in our hymnal, Lutheran Service Book. Isn't it cool that a 20th-century cantor can collaborate with a 17th-century hymn writer to create a new song for God's people to sing today? I hope you enjoy this beautiful expression of the Lord's song by some of the children of our parish.

"Awake!" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cross Post

Please consider clicking over to my other round unvarnished blog today. There's a new post (believe it or not)!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Can't Argue With That

For the last few months in family devotion we have been studying the Apostles' Creed. Right now Evan is memorizing the Third Article and its meaning. Today we focused on the first part of that meaning (from Luther's Small Catechism):

"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him . . . . "

As we discussed the sentence above, this dialogue occurred:

Phillip - "Evan, do you believe in Jesus?"

Evan - "Yes."

Phillip - "But how can you do that? We just confessed that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Him. What makes you believe?"

Evan - "The Holy Spirit."

Phillip - "Very good, Evan! And how does the Holy Spirit do that?"

Evan - "In baptism."

Phillip - "Yes, that's right! And what gift did the Holy Spirit give you in baptism?"

Evan - "Believance."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Be Not Afraid

When my oldest child (now 19) was about 7 or 8, he went through a period of time where he was fearful at night. We did various things to try to assuage his fears. First, of course, we prayed with him, asking for the Father's protection and comfort. Second, we bought this tapestry to hang on the wall opposite his bed as a visual reminder of the One who was there watching over him and protecting him not only all through the night but every moment of every day.

Third, we read psalms. Lots and lots of psalms. There was one in particular that we found ourselves returning to again and again. Each night it would be the last one we would read before going to sleep. It happens to have been the Psalm of the Day in church today, the Third Sunday of Easter. Our choir sang a beautiful setting of it from Liturgy Solutions.

Psalm 4

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?

But know the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, "Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!"

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

At various times in my life I have struggled with insomnia. It comes and goes, but at the moment I seem to be in a pretty severe phase. My usual response after trying to sleep for an hour or so is to give up and go surf the net or watch television (old sitcoms seem to have a tranquilizing effect). But maybe instead I should try the approach we used all those years ago with Trevor: look at a picture of Jesus (the one above is still hanging on the wall in his room), read some psalms, and pray. Even if sleep doesn't come,  it would be time well spent. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I think many people can relate to having been teased or made fun of as children. In my opinion that is not the same thing as being bullied. Bullying is a prolonged form of torment, either physical or mental, that can lead to serious and lasting repercussions in the one who is bullied. I spent about three years of my adolescence (ages 11-13) being regularly bullied by not just one but many people in the junior high I attended, and I have long realized as an adult that in many ways I am still suffering the consequences. That kind of treatment skews a person's perceptions, perverting how he sees himself, others, and the world.

But what I have only recently come to realize is that bullying is not just something that happens to children. It is also unfortunately all too common among adults. Two of the most common environments for adult bullying are cyberspace and workplaces. Yet even though the settings are different, the tactics are the same. Consider these passages on bullying from Wikipedia:

Of bullies and bully accomplices
Research indicates that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian, combined with a strong need to control or dominate. . . .

It is often suggested that bullying behavior has its origin in childhood. As a child who is inclined to act as a bully ages, his or her related behavior patterns will often also become more sophisticated. Schoolyard pranks and 'rough-housing' may develop into more subtle, yet equally effective adult-level activities such as administrative end-runs, well-planned and orchestrated attempts at character assassination, or other less obvious, yet equally forceful forms of coercion.

Of typical bystanders
Often bullying takes place in the presence of a large group of relatively uninvolved bystanders. In many cases, it is the bully's ability to create the illusion that he or she has the support of the majority present that instills the fear of 'speaking out' in protestation of the bullying activities being observed by the group. Unless the 'bully mentality' is effectively challenged in any given group in its earlier stages, it often becomes an accepted norm within the group.

In such groups where the 'bully mentality' has been allowed to become a dominant factor in the group environment, a steady stream of injustices and abuses often becomes a regular and predictable group experience. Such a toxic environment often remains as the status-quo of the group for an extended period of time, until somehow the bullying-cycle should eventually come to an end. Bystanders to bullying activities are often unable to recognize the true cost that silence regarding the bullying activities has to both the individual and to the group. A certain inability to fully empathize is also usually present in the typical bystander, but to a lesser degree than in the bully. The reversal of a 'bully mentality' within a group is usually an effort which requires much time, energy, careful planning, coordination with others, and usually the undertaking of a certain 'risk'.

It is the general unwillingness of bystanders to expend these types of energies and to undertake these types of risks that bullies often rely upon in order to maintain their monopolies of power. Until or unless at least one individual who has at least some abilities to work with others, opts to expend whatever energies may be needed to reverse the 'bully mentality' of the group, the 'bully mentality' is often perpetuated within a group for months, years, or even decades.

As I read this I can't help but think about behaviors I have seen--and I'm talking from adults, not children--in online places like Facebook, blogs and email lists as well as in real life locations such as workplaces and churches. I know that opposition to bullying seems to have become the latest politically correct cause and I have seen the backlash against that in the argument that we all need to not take it so seriously because, after all, it's just bullying and those who get bullied should simply learn to buck up and deal with it. I disagree with that. I think bullying is a serious problem in our culture. It happens to people of all ages. It is not limited to those whom society has identified as marginalized by their ethnicity, socio-economic background or sexual preference. Sometimes it happens to people you would never expect, in places you would never imagine. And as long as the majority stand by silent, it will continue.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gifts for God

I am not sure what prompted this line of thinking, but lately Evan has been coming up with gift ideas for God. So far he has three:

1) A lamb with a gold crown and a string of pearls around its neck.

2) Seven mounds of diamonds.

3) A picture of our church.

I just think this is so cool.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Music's Music" - Or is it?

Recently my friend Susan wrote a blog post called "Real Music" in which she highlighted one of the things that sets live music apart from recorded music: with live music you can hear the sounds of the music being made--things like the singer's breaths or the depressing of the organ or piano pedals or the guitarist's fingers sliding up and down the strings. She wrote of these things not as distractions but as things she is happy to hear because they are representative of real music being made by real people.

As someone who is increasingly distressed at the ways recorded music is replacing live music in our world I greatly appreciated her post. Many people don't see a difference between a recording and a living, breathing performance. A few days ago I saw a pastor friend on Facebook touting a product called "The Virtual Organist." His post began, "No organist? No problem." As someone who thinks it is quite possible to have reverent, beautiful worship without any organ or even without a musician, part of me responds positively to that sentence. At the same time, I bristle at the claim that a human musician can be replaced by a digital one with nothing lost. I think in fact that much is lost. And I think it is a huge problem that it is getting harder and harder to find musicians of a certain skill level. It reflects a troubling trend in our society, one that more and more views music as something not that people do but as something that they merely receive.

This morning I saw this comic strip in my blog reader:

(Original link here.)

The issue is different, but I think it demonstrates a similar lack of appreciation of many for what goes into--and comes out of--live music. Music is music, right? So there is no difference between a real, live organist and a recorded one. Hey, that recording will probably be more accurate and rhythmically clean than an imperfect, human musician. Yet I would far and away rather attend a service accompanied by my friend of limited ability who is working hard to fill in the gap created at her church by an organist's failing health than to attend a service accompanied by "The Virtual Organist." The latter might be clean and neat, but the former is authentic. Real. Honest. Alive.

I am currently playing in a pit orchestra for a local junior high's production of Bye, Bye, Birdie. I have immense respect for this school and its music and administrative staff for appreciating the difference between a live pit orchestra and a recording and for being willing to pay for the former. We will not be as clean as the recording will be. But each performance will be unique, something that is a reflection of a particular combination of musicians, performers, and listeners at a specific point in time. The pit will be able to adjust to the performance in a way that a track cannot. And the young people in the production will get something that more accurately reflects the give and take that happens in a real musical/theatrical event. It is something that can't be bottled, with a worth that can't be measured.

I also have great respect for schools in my area that annually hire live accompanists (like me) for music contests. A friend and colleague of mine recently shared the experience of adjudicating a school contest in another district. All of the students were accompanied by "Smart Music" tracks. My friend was told to go easy on his judging of the students because, after all, they had never had the benefit of playing with a live accompanist. As with virtual organ programs, I can appreciate some of the practical applications of recorded music. But I grieve what is being lost when people begin to look to it as a replacement for live music. "No accompanist? No problem." I'm sorry, but it is a problem. The students are missing out on the enormous benefits of working with an experienced accompanist, getting additional musical coaching, and collaborating to achieve a harmonious and unified ensemble. That cannot be replaced by an accompaniment track.

But again, most people don't seem to get this. Except for the American idols who command millions of fans and dollars, musicians seem to be getting less and less respect. I recently heard a pastor argue for compensating organists hourly along the lines of secretaries. So if one plays for a service, and the service is an hour long, one should get paid about the same as a secretary would get paid for an hour of his or her time. I don't mean to disrespect secretaries, but the time and study that goes into developing the musical skills necessary to accompany a worship service, not to mention the time that goes into practicing for that specific service, is beyond that required to learn to be a secretary. One can decide as an adult to be a secretary and can realistically set about acquiring the skills in a reasonable period of time. It is much harder in adulthood to take up music if you have never, ever studied it before. But I can see how someone who thinks "music's music" might not get that.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh, All Right

If you listened to the video of "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" in my previous post, here's a little story to go with it. The first note of the hymn introduction--that big, low trombone that leads into a marching motif--used to be even bigger and lower. Yesterday after church I remarked to my husband that as powerful as it is, it doesn't quite sound like it did the first few years he did it. He proceeded to remind me that when we first came to our current congregation the organ had several 32-foot pipes. Such massive pipes are really too large for even our sanctuary, and so they were squeezed into a space that is too small for them. Ultimately they became a hazard--loose, rattling, and in danger of collapsing on the rest of the organ--and the decision was made to have them removed. They were replaced a few years ago by several new 16-foot pipes. Phillip told me that to get that old sound back we would have to go out and find some aging, bent 32-foot pipes and improperly mount them in our organ loft, resulting in a nice, rattling effect when they were played.

I told him I could learn to live with the 16-foot.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday Music

A couple of today's musical highlights. First, a sequence including the Verse and Hymn of the Day. The verse is John 12:23: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." This leads into the hymn: "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" (LSB 444). For me this is the moment when Holy Week seems to begin. The soldiers march not to celebrate the Lord with a festive parade but to capture and lead him to his torture, crucifixion, and death. Listen to the organ as it communicates the ominousness of what is coming and reflects the words of the hymn, particularly as Pilate's voice in stanza three is replaced by that of the ransomed host in stanza four.

Palm Sunday Verse/Hymn of the Day from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The second video is our resident lyric soprano--we are blessed by so much talent in our midst!--accompanied by my husband on a Palm Sunday favorite.

"Les Rameaux" (The Palms) - Jean-Baptiste Faure from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Stay tuned. I will try to post several more selections as the week progresses.