Rejoice And Sing Now


As in previous years, I’ll be helping to sing the Exultet, an ancient Christian chant that is sung (in our Anglo-Catholic tradition anyway) just once a year: at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter, in the darkened church, on what’s called “Holy Saturday.”

Unlike previous years, this is the first year at the combined St Nicholas with the Holy Innocents mission parish, and some things will be different. The new combined choir and our new-ish choir mistress have been working very hard for the last 6 weeks on all the special music, and what with the timing of the arrival of the new organ and some new singers who recently came to us, all the rehearsals have been very intensive the last couple of weeks. AndI was off on vacation bobbing around the Caribbean, so I missed a lot and had to catch up.

But tonight, instead of singing the Exultet as a duet with Katie by candlelight, I’ll be one of 3 solo singers of just a couple of short portions of the piece, and I’ll have a nifty little clip-on booklight for my copy of the music, which is all set up and ready to go in my binder. And based on last night’s rehearsal, it may be a little rough, but my voice will just have to be whatever it is when I get there. I’m still battling the damn cough, but have regained enough singing voice to give a creditable solo-chantperformance.

I hope.

I had one solo Thursday for the service otherwise known as “the foot-washing and stripping one,” which is not as exotic and exciting as it sounds. This was one verse, in Latin, of the ancient hymn Pange Lingua (Let My Tongue Tell The Story). And during the pre-service rehearsal, kids, it were not pretty when I opened my mouth and a sort of whistly croaking noise came out, because I had unwisely gulped down some tea with a big slug o’ honey in it at work and had a big glob of something stuck in my craw.However, with the aid of a friend’s Altoids and some sips of hot, unsweetened ginger tea, the glob became unstuck just in time for the beginning of the service, and I was more or less ready for my big number when it came up.

I was singing third, after a choral “tutti” singing verse 1, and my friend Katie singing verse 2, which was a bit rocky because she’s been having voice problems, too. Choir leader Mary was ready to play the third verse and “cover” if I couldn’t sing, but I got going all right, and then something musical and faithful to the spirit of the words and melody actually came out of my big mouth. What a relief.

I was careful not to lay on anything too thickly and tried to give an impression of echoing cloisters, without personality or too much color, but with a touch of resonance, and luckily had enough voice for that. Went all right, and the Latin came out with just a bit of rolled-R prrroper enunciation to make our musical dominatrix happy.

Whew. It was nice to be congratulated for the solo after the service (very quietly, in the nursery that’s the de facto choir room for the moment, as all services this week end in silence except for tonight’s Vigil).

I guess… I’m not sure, but I think that’s the only time I can remember doing an actual solo. And tonight’s is to be a capella, too. So wish me luck, I’m off to crash the service (I hope not).

Last night’s service was the Good Friday one. I missed the way things were done at Holy Innocents the previous night (what? No pretty Altar of Repose dressed in candles and white draperies?) and last night I missed the way that at Holy Innocents everyone, including the choir, had a chance to participate in the adoration of the cross. It’s no big deal, but we were singing at the time and none of us participated. The funny thing is, in the bulletin it said that it was traditional to remove the shoes before approachingthe wooden “traveling” cross that was laid on the altar. So, I had taken my shoes and socks off and was ready in case Mary gave us the nod to go forward while she noodled some coverage music on the organ.

She didn’t, and I sort of forgot to put my shoes on, owing to singing and whatnot, until it was time to go forward to take Eucharist (which was stale bread from the previous night’s service, and the wine was all in a big vessel like a flower vase). So there I went, barefoot and all, to get Communion looking all penitential and folk-massy. Nobody said anything, but nobody else was barefoot, either. I expect I’ll hear about it tonight, after the service when we’re all relieved it’s over.

One of the ringer-singers that Mary has brought over from her previous choir is a fellow with a beautiful trained voice; for the very end of the service he did a solo on the Gospel-tinged hymn “Were you there?,” and he totally blew the room away, as they say. Started out all husky and strained and emotional for the first verse, and then raised the roof for the second verse before reining in and being more personal again for the third. It was really amazing, and of course I was suckered by the emotionalism.He did a great job.

Tonight, for the better torturing of the choir and organist, we have a TON of stuff to sing, most of which is mandated by the requirements of the Holy Saturday Vigil. Also, lots and lots of readings, interspersed with choral psalmody. At least there, we simplified the antiphons (it’s all the same refrain for each psalm, and the tunes for the psalms are all one note: the interesting music is in the accompaniment, which is all tone clusters). But still, we have to go throughGenesis and making the world and the critters and the people, and then the Flood and all the begattery until we get to Jesus and tell the whole story again, and then finally, FINALLY, it’s “Alleluia” for the first time since Lent began.

And then the rest of the service begins, with extra music and panoply and Anglican whickety-whack, and a special choral Gloria that’s all sprightly and fast, and a bunch of extra anthems and singing while the church is magically re-decorated before our eyes (apparently, all the flowers are hidden away at the beginning, and brought out and arranged while we sing a covering piece that goes on for a bit), and eventually we get to the end, hurray! Hurray! Bring me the head of a chocolate bunny! I feelfaint!

That’s just tonight, mind you. Tomorrow, there’s a whole Easter Sunday service for the hoi-polloi that turn up but twice a year, but the real deal is tonight. Tomorrow, there will also be an Easter egg hunt after the service, from what we hear.

At Holy Innocents, we used to just skip Easter Sunday service entirely, because there were so few of us and we were exhausted from being up til all hours the night before. This was probably the main reason we didn’t grow the last few years, because new people often come for the first time on Easter Sunday, with their kids. And they were no doubt non-plussed to find that the church wasn’t even open on that day. Meanwhile, we’d all be at home, sleeping in and then eating brunch.

Not so tomorrow. Drat. But afterwards, maybe some form of brunch will be found and eaten. Along with the rest of the headless chocolate bunny.

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Happy Easter! I’m Off To Sing The Hallelujah Chorus

It’s that time of year again – I’m singing at the Easter Vigil tonight at St Nicholas, and we’re doing the Hallelujah Chorus tonight and tomorrow. Much like in 2007, in fact, but we’re much more experienced now, and the freshening we’ve felt with Father Manny beginning his tenure has been a LOT of fun!

I’m also the web and social media boffin for St Nick’s so I do the website, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else that’s internet-y. So I’m always interested to know how people find St Nick’s. I’m also on the Welcome Committee, just  so that all makes a kind of sense.

Work is good too – not that busy, but expected to get busier after the “spring break lull.” One exciting thing: we’re all going to be working from home, the entire office. It’ll be a big undertaking but I’ve asked to be put on the list for the first wave. One of my teammates is already working from home and loves it, and I have a spare bedroom that’s small enough to be kind of ideal for a home office. All the tech gear and connection will be handled by the office, so we’ll be very interested to see how they deal with the wiring.

I’m looking for computer parts these days anyway; my desktop computer lost the graphics card I upgraded it with (WAAAAH!) so I’m limping along on the default one. So far it looks like we’ll swap for a bigger case and power supply, and then there’ll be room for a good quality graphics card. Hoping to spend less than $500 on it, maybe a lot less as prices are about to come down.

Anyway, Easter. My music is all collated, in spite of the best efforts of my choir mistress to keep throwing new pieces of music and hymns in that she planned for but never gave out because it was “in our Anglican DNA” and thus something we ought to know. Ah, well, it’ll be a good service and I’ll be very, very happy when we get through the “big stuff” like the Hallelujah Chorus.I also get to chant in the dark, which is always… fraught, but fun when it sounds good.

More later. Happy Easter, can’t wait to see who Bunny Stig turns out to be at church tomorrow.

The Choral Obstacle Course: Survived!

Unlike stalwart AKMA, who couldn't find his music after rehearsing several times, and had to "wing it" at his service, our trio (plus Paul the associate priest) performed the Exultet without too many noticeable bobbles. In rehearsal, I really struggled and I know Mary was thinking of pulling me out, but the last run through was clean and my voice (and throat) had opened up a bit. By the time we actually started, I was as ready as I was going to be and Katie and I stood together so that she could hold a candle for me.

We had all decided that singing by the cold, LED-generated light of the booklights was technically better, but aesthetically unpleasing, so all three choir members that were taking sections of the Exultet had a candle-holding buddy next to them. After that, instead of holding the candles for 45 minutes during the "dark" portion of the service, we put the candles down in sand trays set at the head of the four aisles.

The altar, as Steve had indicated, was moved to the center of the sanctuary and the seats were re-arranged in concentric rings around it with four aisles, thus from above it forms a kind of Celtic cross.  Colorful banners were looped and twisted and hung from rings in the ceiling and arranged along all the walls, along with other embroidered banners and lots and lots of candelabras and dividers full of candles that are made out of wrought iron. The worship space was transformed from the stark and severe look it had borne all through Lent into a joyous and welcoming place. 

After the rehearsal, we walked through where we would be standing for the Exultet and then how we'd travel from there to our places in the choir. With the chairs re-set and some extra decorative pieces and banners along the back wall, it was tricky negotiating a path. Also, we had to avoid stomping through the sand trays, because flaming choristers was not the spectacle we had in mind for our big night. And then we found that if we were willing to stand in the cold, we could go outside for the kindling of the New Fire and the lighting of this year's Paschal Candle, which must have been listed in the Almay catalogue as "Friggin' HUGE," as it's at least 5 feet tall. In its stand, after Paul walked it through the dark church, it's got to be a good eight feet tall. I feel bad for the guy that has to light it every week, even with the brass candle-lighting wands. 

It was interesting being outside for the new fire and candle lighting; everywhere else I've been to church, it takes place back behind a crowd of people or just outside, with everyone else inside. At St Nick's, they were in the habit of having as many people as were willing to brave the cold be outside with them, or just inside the door, and then process behind the candle into the main church. We had already worked out that we choir members doing the solos had to follow behind Paul to get to our places at the heads of the aisles; thus we formed a cross as we chanted our parts.

I have to say, it was very nice and meaningful. 

And then when that was over, we made it over to our seats, where we would be for the NEXT 2 1/2 HOURS (at least).

The first hour or more was taken up with the readings I mentioned before with all the creating and flooding and begetting and covenanting and what not. All in the dark, all with our ghastly pale booklights shining more or less on the music. The psalm-singing went all right, and then suddenly the lights came up and the fun began. The decorating of the church was a lot of fun to watch as we sang our happy covering music – lots of people jumped up to start bringing in all the plants and flowers, they had a bunch of those butane fire-lighter things to hand out to people who were helping to light all the extra candles that were all over the place (dozens and dozens of tea lights, the candleabras, and all the votive stands we brought over from Holy Innocents in the merger). Also, there were little golden bells to ring the whole time if they didn't feel like running around redecorating and lighting. Steve brought over flowers to set on the organ and piano, too.

Steve's sermon after all that panoply and "Anglican whickety-whack" was really thought-provoking. I'm paraphrasing here, but it was "in all the light and color and music and liturgy, don't lose sight of the real message and mission of what we're called to do, and by whom."

Good stuff, Maynard. Good reminder.

We had a good crowd – probably at least 90 or more. After it was all over, we enjoyed cake and visited and hung around chatting with everyone, but eventually we had to drag ourselves away to go home and sleep. When I got in my car, it was about 1130pm. 

And then this morning we got up and went back and did it again – not all the special music, but some of the same anthems and hymns and some new ones. Once again, we had a good crowd – this time, 81 souls. A lot of them were the same people as the night before, but a large number of them (mostly young families and some others) were either entirely new people, or folks that hadn't been seen in quite a while.

It was really, really nice, actually. 

One of the younger kids, Matthew, is really into priest stuff, and he often stands right at Steve's elbow at the altar during the part where the bread and wine are blessed. Now, as a curmudgeonly childfree grinch, I've grumbled about this before, but Matthew has won me over because he's a cute kid who obviously loves "doing church." Today, though, instead of sitting down with his mom after the blessing (or he often stands with Steve and holds something for him) he marched right along with the priests over by the baptismal Jacuzzi where they distribute the bread and wine during the Easter season. And then when Steve started to hand people the bread from the glass platter he uses, Matthew pretty much took over the task by picking the bread pieces himself and handing it to them. As I approached in line, I saw Steve hesitate, chuckle to himself, and assume a pose of "Okay, I'm just the guy standing here holding the bread plate for my main man, Matthew." It was quietly done, but amusing.

At the end of the service, Steve called Matthew forward to be thanked for his help during the service, and he came running out of the nursery where the kids had obviously been working on some Easter crafts project.  Wearing big floppy fuzzy pink bunny ears, he hopped and ran forward. 

Like I say – he's won me over. Funny kid, that Matthew.  

What’s a Vicar? What’s a Priest-in-Charge?

Via AKMA, I ran across the following rant on the “emerging church” movement.

Stop using things like the Book of Common Prayer and candles and incense because you think they’re cool. At least go to an Episcopal service, or an Orthodox service, or a Roman Catholic service and actually learn a little bit about their liturgy before you start saying things like, “and now for an old Anglican prayer. ” It’s not just an old prayer! It’s the liturgy practiced by thousands of people all over the world – right now! The candles and incense? They mean something. It’s not just an aesthetic.

Ohhhhh… thank you. Thank you! I couldn’t agree more. It’s not a style choice. Incense is the physical and sensory representation of prayer, rising up to God. It’s not just Church Glade.

However, I bow to AKMA’s far greater scholarship and moderating influence, where I originally saw the link to the rant. I guess there can be ways to put new wine in old skins, or vice versa, without the result tasting like a spiritually uplifting salad dressing. In the meantime, no point in being too critical of doing things another way.

I’m wondering if some of these terms (emerging church and so on) will get tossed around when the new vicar arrives at Holy Moly. Also, he’ll be priest-in-charge – meaning that since he’s rector of the other parish and vicar of ours (we’re a mission), he’s responsible for running both.

He’s Father Ted Durst, as I can now announce (and need to get up on the church website), formerly of Trinity, Houghton MI. His first Sunday with us is the 15th of August, and dang it, I’ll be out of town. I hope to meet him sometime before then, but it looks doubtful.

Everyone that’s met him really likes him, and his views on traditional forms of worship seem pretty much in line with ours – but also, his views on other things seem pretty much in the more tolerant, moderate, even progressive line. So: yay.

I don’t know if he’ll come in and make sweeping changes and throw around a lot of the current “buzz” words, but he should know that our attempt at running a more modern, “twentysomething” evening worship service failed before… more from a lack of committment on all sides than anything else. It could have been really neat, and a good way to get younger people interested in a new way to “do church.” In any case, we’ll see if he’s willing to spend some time building things back up; from what I’ve been told, he will. It”ll be a relief to have a captain of our little boats again. I’m putting an ad in the Daily Harold’s Saturday religion page for the next couple of weeks, in the hopes that some new folks will be curious enough to come check us out.

And that’s a good thing. I love Holy Moly, even though I got horribly stuck on a project I was asked to help with and didn’t do a damn thing on it. Yet still I was forgiven – even welcomed back with open arms after playing hooky out of guilt for several weeks. End result: a fire has been lit under my ass for the next couple of projects, such as promoting the second Synergy Brass Quintet concert in October (whee!!! They were so cool last year!).

Last Sunday (the Day of Forgiveness, that is) was pretty wacky. Wacky church does not mean liturgical clowns doing spiritual nosebeeps: it means missed musical cues and the altar team muddling through a portion of the service with the wrong kind of music being played, and skipping a hymn, and people singing the next verse that the organist has decided to omit without telling us.


We had a guest organist who seemed very nice, but no one bothered to brief her beforehand as to the slightly altered order of worship we follow. However, she’s been briefed for next week, and another choir member and I will sit back with her and give her immoral support during the service. Our previous organist decided to give notice a few weeks ago for reasons of health, so we’ll be starting afresh. A permanent choice will be made by Fr Durst after he gets a chance to find his feet; until then, we’ve got several guest organists lined up. As I’ve said before, we rejoice in a funky kit-constructed pipe organ, so local organists seem to like booking practice time on it. Finding a quick replacement shouldn’t be difficult. Certainly not as long as finding Fr Durst; Marion and Barbara left us last year on August 10th, so it’s been almost exactly a year.