". . . 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)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Book

Back in August our beagle died. Ever since then I have been meaning to write a remembrance post about the nine years she was with us. It never got done, but this month, with Christmas approaching, I decided one of the best gifts I could give my son was a repository of photographic memories of his dog. I am not a scrapbooker (I am SO not a scrapbooker) so instead settled on a photo book. Below is the result. What do you know? After all these years, I am finally a book author.

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Christmas Update

The last few days have had their ups and downs. First, the ups. Christmas Eve was divine. We started, as is our tradition, by listening to Lessons and Carols from King's College in Cambridge. Then Phillip took Evan out for some last minute Christmas shopping and I ran out for a last minute grocery item: collard greens, which I had forgotten to pick up on any of my excursions several days prior. Can you believe Jewel was out of collard greens? What's up with that? I didn't think stores in Illinois ever ran out of collard greens! Luckily, Meijer had one bag left. One. Again, I ask, when did collard greens become so popular in the Chicago burbs?

Our church has three services on Christmas Eve but for the first time in more years than I can remember my husband did not have to be at all of them. We left the house as a family at 5:15 (the first service started at 5:00) and drove together to Christmas Eve worship (can't remember the last time that happened either). We attended the 7:00 service (the one which included the three preceding musical selections) and then between services enjoyed a Christmas picnic in the church kitchen.

The last service of the night started at 10:00. As much as I like being at church at midnight on Christmas Eve, I appreciated being able to get home by just a little after midnight. Between 9-year-old and puppy and Santa I still didn't get to sleep until almost 2:00 a.m. The next morning Evan and I stayed home and I cooked and he played while Phillip and the big kids went to Christmas morning worship (10:00 a.m.). When they arrived home I had fresh bread, cheese, "Little Smokies" (miniature sausages in BBQ sauce) and wassail (with rum) ready to snack on. We opened presents, took naps, and began watching the DVD of Trevor's University choir concert from a few weeks ago (on which he also did a lot of organ playing). The plan was to follow up with supper (ham, cole slaw with pineapple, black-eyed peas, and yes, collard greens!) and then watch the Bulls-Rockets basketball game.

But then life took a turn. As we were watching the choir concert we heard my mom calling, distressed, from the bathroom. When we ran to investigate we discovered her on the floor. After making sure she was breathing and not bleeding (she was alert and communicative) we got her up off the floor. She was not able, however, to stand up. We called 911, an ambulance came, and long story short, Mom has a broken hip. :-( We are not sure what happened except that she must have fainted. She doesn't remember the fall, only waking up. As I write this I am sitting in her hospital room. Tonight she will have surgery to repair her hip and then we face another cycle of recovery and rehabilitation (she had her other hip replaced 7 or 8 years ago). Tonight's surgery will not be a full hip replacement but (as I understand it) the placing of screws to reconnect the hip. This fracture seems to be not as severe as the last one and the lesser surgery will also minimize risks: smaller incision, less blood loss, less time under general anesthesia, etc. Mom's heart checked out fine today and the prognosis for recovery is excellent. Your prayers are appreciated.

Last night as we sat in the ER I began reading one of my Christmas presents, a book from my husband by Andree Seu, one of my favorite columnists for World magazine. The book is the first of several published collections of Seu's columns. I am not sure what denomination Seu is but she sure sounds Lutheran a lot of the time. The first chapter of the book is the first column she wrote upon returning to writing after the death of her first husband some years ago. She writes of the struggles one would expect at such a time--how to continue without one's long-time help-meet? How to do what needs to be done? She recalls her pastor's counsel:

"Rev. Min says when I feel myself sinking I must start from the beginning: What is true? What is real? God is alive. I am His daughter. You His true Son."

It was exactly what I needed to read last night and I hope maybe it is exactly what someone out there needs to read right now. Merry Christmas!

"Gesu Bambino"

"Gesu Bambino" (Yon, Pietro) from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

This is our friend, the former teacher of the young man in the previous video. She has also taught voice lessons to my husband and children. Apart from her voice, what I find amazing here is her ability to sing with such simultaneous strength and softness, reflecting the hushed mystery of the first Christmas and yet still filling the sanctuary without the use of a microphone. This setting of the third stanza of the hymn was composed by my husband with this singer in mind.

"Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

"Oh, Holy Night"

Prelude for the 7:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service last night. The singer is 18 years old, the student of a dear Lutheran lady friend of ours (herself a Ph.D. in voice and a professional singer). Josh is in his freshman year on vocal scholarship at Oberlin Conservatory and just won the lead role in the spring opera (almost unheard of for a freshman). If you follow classical voice music at all, keep an eye out for his name in the years to come.

"Oh, Holy Night" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ev'ry voice in concert ring

This is from August of 2010. Yes, August. That wild and crazy Doxology team had Christmas in the summer! This is my all-time favorite Christmas hymn sung in my all-time favorite way. Enjoy.

Annual Lessons and Carols Reminder

Listen here.

More info here. . . .

. . . and here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best We've Got

My dear friend Rebekah is worried. As she explains here, her congregation's beloved organist died several months ago and she, as pastor's wife and best available musician, is being called upon to fill the void (even in her continuing grief). What Rebekah doesn't share in her post is how hard she is working to do so. I know this because she and I have talked about it. I know how much she cares and how much she wants to serve and I have feebly tried to support her with generally useless, long-distance advice.

I commented on Rebekah's blog post this morning and then several more thoughts came that I have decided to post here. First, it is one of those cosmic ironies that often the people who for various reasons (ability, time, resources, support) are most able to improve their skills are the ones who don't bother, while those who face much greater challenges to their progress are the ones who nonetheless make the effort to improve. I am reminded of when Trevor, now 20, played basketball at the age of 8. He was the weakest player on the team, both physically and in skills and experience. And yet the coaches loved him, and so did the rest of the team. Why? Because he had what Coach Collins called "heart." He gave himself to the game unreservedly. He tried his best every single second he was on the court, and it showed. He loved that team, and they loved him. And in loving him the way they did, I believe his teammates left that season stronger players and better people. A couple of years ago I was stopped in Walmart by a woman who said, "You're Trevor's mom, aren't you?" At first I didn't recognize her. But then she introduced herself and I realized that she was the wife of Trevor's assistant coach from 10 years before. Trevor played on that team for about three months, and after the season was over both the coach and the assistant coach and their families came to our church on a Sunday afternoon to hear Trevor's piano recital. They wanted to see and affirm him in his element. And ten years later that wonderful woman recognized me. It didn't matter to her that Trevor didn't get a basket the whole season. She remembered his heart.

My second thought is that God calls whom He will. About 25 years ago my husband and I were newly married and attending a Lutheran church in Texas (the one in which I was catechized) and singing in the choir. Within a year the pastor came to Phillip and told him the choir director/organist was leaving and he wanted Phillip to take the position. At the time my husband was working as a freelance musician, playing piano bar and teaching community college. He said, "But I'm not a church musician." Pastor said, "You're the best we've got. Now get up there [in the choir loft] and get busy." My husband did not know how to play organ at the time. He was a pianist. He also had no training as a choir director. But he was the best that church had, so he learned to do both. If you can believe it, I even played organ sometimes and directed the children's choir! Now, because I have so many years of watching world class organists and choir directors at work, I am afraid to do either. You're not the only one who feels inadequate, my dearest Rebekah! But God calls whom He will, and I believe at this time He is calling you to this role. Thanks be to Him that in faith you are answering that call!

My final thought is that while we tend to think that the best way we can serve others is to be excellent and successful and in charge, sometimes God has other plans. Sometimes the best way we can serve is by being weak, imperfect, needy and human. Sometimes it is in our weakness that God provides an opportunity for others to be loving, kind, magnanimous, tolerant, and indulgent. And perhaps in our weakness those whom we are supposed to be serving and leading will find that they are able to call upon parts of themselves they didn't know were there.

I am so thankful, Rebekah, that you have a congregation full of people who love you amidst the mess. Let them keep on doing that. When you're not able to sing or play, they will carry on. They will sing to one another and to you and be blessed in doing so because that is what being a family in Christ is all about. "Through the Church the song goes on."

Lunch Conversation

"I wasn't touching them; I was smelling them."

"Stop being a dork."

"You should not only wash your hands; you should wash your forearms."

"It's easy to avoid being a dork."

"Did you know that the bottoms of most women's purses are riddled with germs?"

"It's not easy to avoid being a dork when you don't know that you're being a dork."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Silent Night"

According to lore, "Silent Night" was composed to be played by guitar because the organ was broken. I don't know if that story is true. But I do know that as much as I love the organ, I personally prefer to sing this hymn accompanied by a more intimate instrumentation: guitar, piano, flute, accordion.

Accordion, you ask? Yes, accordion. It's not just for polkas! This video is from our recent Lessons & Carols service (our new church holds this service before school is dismissed for the holiday). I think the flute, guitar and accordion make a gentle and fitting canvas for this beautiful lullaby to the Christ child.

"Silent Night" with Accordion, Flute & Guitar from Cheryl on Vimeo.


One of my favorite things my husband has composed. You can't see it, but I was smiling as I played from beginning to end. This is Phillip's new junior high choir, with whom he has only been working a few months. They have come a long way since August!
"Magnificat" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Christmas is coming!

Descant Rehearsal from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Contemporary" Worship

I was recently talking to someone and the topic of "Contemporary Worship" came up. I capitalize and put the term in quotation marks because I don't think "contemporary" is a bad word. Worship that happens in the here and now is by nature contemporary. But the type of worship that has come to be known as "Contemporary" is something else, and I think the words of the person I was talking to are particularly revealing. She said that she hoped her adult son, who is visiting for Christmas, would get a chance to go to her church's Contemporary Worship service because he had never "seen" it. She didn't say he had never "participated" in it or "attended" it or "worshiped" at that service. She said he had never "seen" it. And that is a huge tell.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It says something . . .

. . . about the times we live in that someone feels the need to say, during dinner, "Please don't put that on Facebook." Guess you'll just have to take my word for how funny it was. ;-)

The Thrill Is Gone

Or maybe it isn't.

Yesterday was the culmination of 3-1/2 months of preparation as the children's choral organization I work for presented its holiday concerts. The day before yesterday was "dress" rehearsal--the children don't have to wear their performance uniforms but all the groups and musicians come together for a full run-through of each concert (there are three).

At the end of the rehearsal for the big, combined number (where all the choirs sing together), I noticed Evan had stopped singing and had his face in his hands, crying. When he came from the stage his dad and I asked him what was wrong.

"[Pony Tail Girl] doesn't like me anymore!" Remember Pony Tail Girl? Here she is (minus the pony tail) with Evan, waiting for their choir's turn to rehearse (Pony Tail Girl wore her concert uniform to dress rehearsal by mistake). Obviously, this picture was taken before the big breakup.

Yesterday as they waited to perform in the actual show I thought I was going to have to separate them. The loathing was acute and mutual. "I hate you!" "I hate you!" But by the time we left our seats to line up backstage the tide had once again turned: "Mom, [Pony Tail Girl] likes me again!" At last check that assessment was still holding, but they will doubtless be mortal enemies again by the next rehearsal.

How many years until he's married? 

Tell It

My daughter's choir, performing last night:

"Go Tell It On the Mountain" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

This was the last piece of their set. I was seated at the far back of the auditorium so as not to disturb anyone with my taping.

Aren't they good?

Kudos also to special guests the Napervillle Brass.

Worthy of C. S. Lewis

Words from my daughter (quoted as best I can remember):

"When we get to Heaven this life will probably seem like one of those dreams that made sense at the time."

Something Is Wrong With This Picture

I was trying to write a blog post (not this one) and Willard (the puppy) would not leave me alone (even though I have given him plenty of attention this morning). So I left the easy chair in the bedroom and switched to the bed, which is high enough that at this point in his development he is unable to scale it. I expected him to follow me to the bed and continue his entreaties. Because what he wants most of all is me, right?

My puppy is now sitting contentedly, alone in the easy chair.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Aren't you glad . . .

. . . you have my blog with its low resolution photos and messy house and dearth of posts about all the designer decorating I'm doing and the wonderful Christmas crafts and delicacies I'm making to balance out all those other perfectly gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens blogs that make you feel completely inadequate?

You're welcome.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

O Christmas Tree

Last week some friends invited us to their property to chop down a Christmas tree. We had planned to go the day after Thanksgiving (while Trevor was still in town) but it was too windy. (Okay, that's only part of the story. The rest of the story is that we were all too full and sleepy from the previous day's feasting. And besides, the Huskers were on television!)

We finally did get to go this past Saturday. This is early for us to get a tree. Usually we wait until closer to Christmas. But we are wising up. The next few weeks are going to be stacked with rehearsals, concerts, and worship services, in addition to all the usual Christmas preparations. Doing this now means we won't be cramming it into the one several-hour period between now and Christmas that we are all available and healthy and the weather is cooperating. And since the tree is freshly cut, it ought to last through Christmas and Epiphany.

Here's the tree selection team heading out. Can you believe our friends' property is in the heart of the south Chicago burbs?

It's the great Christmas tree patch, Charlie Brown!

Found one!

Manly man at work. 

So much depends upon a green wagon . . . . 

Is this what they mean by catching someone red-handed?

Tree-tying team at work. 

Decorating in progress. (Vince Guaraldi playing in the background.)


Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Öfne Dich, mein ganze Herze"

"Öffne Dich, mein ganze Herze" - J.S. Bach from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Aria from Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, saviour of the gentiles), Cantata BWV 61 by J. S. Bach


Open, my whole heart,
Jesus is coming and entering in.
Though I am but dust and dirt,
He is not willing to despise me,
He wants to see His joy in me,
So that I become His dwelling,
Oh how blessed I will be!