From the Organist/Choirmaster
Dear Calvary Parishioners,
I am a strong introvert. Virtually all of my Calvary responsibilities (music planning, score study, organ/piano practice, etc.) and work as a composer are done in seclusion, which well-matches my wiring. So, for the first few weeks of the Coronavirus lock-down, things didn’t really feel
much different. Over time, though, the gravity of mandated isolation began to sink in…for all of us. Perhaps ironically, although my career requires self-seclusion, the full flowering of work as a composer (largely of choral music) and organist/choirmaster is manifested in human voices singing
is to express one of our most intimate human gifts. And in the context of our worshipping community, the value of congregational song cannot be overstated. It gives us opportunity to communicate with God, express unity, verbally articulate our faith, and spiritually grow. The sung word is a powerful, inspiring, and defining component of the Christian tradition.
One of the things many of us are missing is the profound expression of
when we sing together. The Calvary Choir, although currently unable to make music together, has enjoyed connecting regularly through Zoom. The luxury of video socialization offers virtual connection, but, as we are each
in tiny personal boxes, also reinforces the reality of individual isolation. Plus, as we quickly discovered, ensemble singing is impossible. During these last many weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hymn,
How can I keep from singing?
Its authorship remains uncertain, but here’s the first stanza:
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
The hymn was first published in 1869, just a couple of years after Calvary’s building was completed, and they deeply resonate in 2020 amid our own tumult, strife, and a global pandemic.
In this unprecedented time when, according to research, singing is synonymous with increased peril, perhaps from the hymn title we should remove the word “from” and slightly change the question to
can I keep singing?”
The Apostle Paul instructs us to pray without ceasing, recasting prayer to the point that our active lives are transformed by and into its very essence. The activity of singing, in the physiological definition, remains possible (for most) either by ourselves or in our immediate circles. But how might we expand our definition of singing toward a life flowing in “endless song,” as the unknown hymn-writer so vividly suggests? My father, who never claimed to be a singer, nonetheless
profoundly with paint, pencils, color, canvas, and camera. By circumstance, some individuals are literally voiceless, but hopefully have found ways to sing by
, perhaps within creative writing, artistic expression, or imaginative thinking.
Of course, as our isolated songs rise, we long for that glorious day when we actually again,
, will safely be able to sing scripture and poetry of our faith heritage, and participate in something far greater than any one of us could accomplish on our own.