Cosmos in Chaos

In a recent conversation about art, creativity, beauty, excellence, and ministry, I wished for a week’s time to discuss the themes. I have no statements to make, only ideas to explore. Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water is a good read about these matters. This is one of my favourite quotes from there:

Leonard Bernstein says that for him, music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos. At least all Christian art is cosmos in chaos. There’s some modern art, in all disciplines, which is not; some artists look at the world around them and see chaos, and instead of discovering cosmos, they reproduce chaos, on canvas, in music, in words. As far as I can see, the production of chaos is neither art, nor is it Christian.

Several deductions:
~Making cosmos (order) out of chaos is part of embracing the glory and wonder of being made in God’s image.
~Creating cosmos communicates, and it is more than talking to myself, though that has its place.
~Christian art might be characterized best by its outward focus, its valuing God and others over self. Does that mean that art/ creativity is service/ministry? This reminds me of how Michael Card, in his Scribbling in the Sand, quotes Vincent van Gogh: The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
~Jesus was an artist when He washed His disciples’ feet, and later when He served them breakfast.
~I get to eat brunch with several artists in just a couple minutes!

Bon Voyage, Hope Singers 2010

Following a path that looks more like chance than design but really is Divine Planning, I’m ready to pack up for my 3rd Hope Singers tour. And I don’t have words to say how excited I am.

Life is so simple on a choir tour. All you have to do is make sure you have your music folder and water bottle in hand at the right time. Everything else–bus time, conversations, exploring old towns, weather, picnics–is peripheral. But the peripheral things, the ones you don’t concentrate so much on, are what shapes the tour, and gives it meaning and delight.

My favourite story about Lloyd Kauffman, the conductor, happened after the first full program in Krakow in ’08. My part, 2nd alto, had a low note, I think it was a D, and I didn’t hit it. It was my favourite note in the song, and I felt bad for messing it up.

During the meal afterward, I was sitting across the corner from Lloyd. I told him I’m sorry I didn’t hit that note. He hears every note of every singer, so of course he knew which one I was talking about. He smiled big and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re forgiven–be cleansed and free!”

His gentleness and grace inspired me to not fail the music and from there on, I could hit the note fine, and when it was especially fine, he’d give me this huge wink that made me feel light as air.

Lloyd is a master with music, and with people. He arranges the songs we sing, and knows how he wants them sung, but is gentle and gracious when we fail his plans. Hope ’08 had many significant moments, but that one exchange with Lloyd probably changed my life.

Because Christ’s love and redemption is the most powerful force in the world.To hand out grace in the face of failure is being as Christ. If that’s the only thing that happens during a choir tour, receiving God’s grace and extending it to others, it is enough.

A Space in the Music

Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is think of a truth and embody it rather than say it.

Not being a theologian, or not always being able to explain what/how I believe what I do, I am always looking for practical, tangible ways to live my beliefs. I believe that on this side of Eden, we cannot avoid pain. I believe that because of Christ, the Healer and Restorer, pain can be redeemed, even on this side of heaven. I believe that Christians’ highest aim should be to be as Christ to their world.

Hence, This article from “Christianity Today” rang clear for me in several ways.

It broaches the theological minefield of the subject of pain without offering platitudes. It uses the metaphor of rests in music as a way to be as Christ to our world. The sentence about embodying a truth without saying it is one I hope I can always remember.

Choral Recommendations

Pretty much the only music I listen to is choral singing. It feeds my soul and spirit with its layers of depth. It’s what I love to sing.And maybe I’m biased and narrow, but I think it’s most like what we’ll sing in heaven.

These are my recent indulgences, and the best choices I’ve made in a long time:

Voce, by Trinity College in Cambridge, England.

The gems on this one is Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas” and Schubert’s “Sanctus.”

Lighten our Darkness is an exquisite collection of evening songs. I love, love the arrangement of “O Gladsome Light.” And the powerful Russian dynamics of Rachmininov’s “Borogorditsye Dyevo.” When I ordered this CD, some glitch happened with their database and John Rutter’s assistant wrote to sort it out. Bravo on their customer service!

I count it a bonus that both CD’s have the song that’s so beautiful, I’d like it sung at my funeral. (Relax– I’m not depressed or tending toward self-destruction.) This is the English translation for the Latin words sung to a most restful, soothing melody:

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God,
And the pain of death shall not touch them:
in the eyes of the foolish they seem to die,
but they are in peace.

…in pace…

Messiah at the Cathedral

A long time ago, last Saturday night to be exact, a bunch of us went to the old cathedral in town. We got in early, sat close to the front and watched the technician tune the harpsichord. At 8, the announcer told us to check that our mobiles were switched off, and reminded us of how special it is to hear Messiah in a church that was built around the same time Handel composed the music.

I don’t know which part was my favourite because there were so many. Phrases and choruses keep running through my head. A man of sorrows…And His glory will be seen upon thee…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…All we like sheep…blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him, be unto Him…

They were the Irish Baroque Orchestra and Resurgam Chamber Choir, conducted by John Butt. It was a stellar choir and a gifted conductor, skillfully portraying Handel’s dynamics and eloquent pauses. The transcendent moment for me came when they started the crystal-clear, powerful chords of “Worthy is the Lamb.” It was like angels’ singing.

The music is powerful and moving in itself, but wedded with the words of prophecy, suffering, rejoicing, and triumph, Messiah is meaningful to me in ways that little else is. Driving out of the car park afterwards with a group of friends, I had nothing to say, but wanted to be quiet and savor the echoes in my mind. Sometimes the only fitting response to music is not praise, but silence.

Just…One Star

No easily-accessible internet service for the last week has attributed to the silence here. But now I want to share one of my favourite readings of the season. Thanks to aunts and uncles with good music taste, I grew up listening to “Christmas in Velvet.” I still love the swoopy, vibrant arrangments. Every time I hear “What A Merry Christmas Party!” I want to grin like a child. This is the very effective reading they include with “The First Noel.” It takes great poetic license, and I love it.

Back in the throne room of heaven plans were being made to announce the birth of God’s son. Michael the archangel had just finished describing his display of heavenly comets and falling stars. Gabriel went on with his musical plans, a great angelic choir of tens of thousands of voices tuned with heaven’s finest and latest harmonies, ready to serenade the earth.

God interrupted the conversation. “No,” He said, “That’s not really what I had in mind. I planned a small gathering in Bethlehem, actually. We don’t need all the trimmings.”

“But, oh, my stars!” said Michael. “What will I do with them?”

“And my music?” Gabriel added.

Just then, Jesus stepped through the pearly gates and out onto the red carpet of Time. He started down the stairway of stars.

Michael pled, “Father, let us do something! He can’t go unannounced!”

“Well, alright,” God said. “Gabriel: a few angels. Michael: just…one star.”

–source unknown, narrated in “Christmas in Velvet” by Derrik Johnson and The Regeneration

Tonight’s Hymn

I have very decided views and opinions about contemporary Christian music and Gospel songs versus the old hymns that have stood the test of generations. Music is an emotional issue with all of us, and among other things, we are influenced by memories attached to music.
I have a lot of memories of CCM and Gospel music, but nothing feeds me and communicates as deeply with me as the old, rich words of the hymns.
This evening I came to one of my favorites:

The day Thou gavest, Lord, has ended:
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended;
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

(My favourite verse, as I live on an island)
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord: Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
–John Ellerton

The first time I heard this was when the nuns sang it at Vespers once when we visited the convent at Mount Melloray. The flowing tune captivated me and then I found the words equally beautiful. It’s like a hymn and lullaby simultaneously.

My Exciting Days

Last night some of us went to hear Chanticleer at the Wexford Opera House. They gave their “Wondrous Free” program, and while they sang the first song, “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” I marvelled at how their voices blended in the unison of the Appalachian melody. The recorded sound never has the life and depth and breadth of the live performance. I loved “Shenendoah” and “Hard Times.”  It was an amazing, delightful evening. My ideal job would be to sing for a living like they do. Meanwhile, I sing while I work.

Then today another load of us went to Cork to see and tour Logos Hope, the ship that goes around the world with books and workers to partner with local churches. We spent a long time in the book room, finding treasures.

This is what I came home with:Radical Womanhood, McCauley; Longing for More, Barton; Cross-Cultural Connections, Elmer; The Soul Tells a Story, Wright; The NLT One Year Bible, and a world map from Logos because every house needs a world map.

We toured the big ship and asked questions and were awed with the huge operation. Nearly 400 staff live on the ship, some for years, and some short term, and they come from 40 countries. A family left today, going back to England after having lived on the ship for 10 years. No wonder they cried.

The staff need to raise their own support and can’t jet home whenever a cousin or sister gets married back home. Some haven’t seen their family for several years. It was exciting to see God’s people willing to pay to be in ministry like this, being useful wherever they’re needed.

I’m rich to have experienced these exciting events in 2 days!

New Release!

The Hope Singers

“Alone I Will Not Wander”

Lloyd Kauffman, director

Now you can purchase a high-quality recording of The Hope Singers. Although these are recordings of a choir which sang and recorded in Poland, most of the songs on these a cappella recordings are sung in English.

AVAILABLE NOW:

1. The new release “Alone I Will Not Wander” (from the 2008 Poland tour)  It was recorded in September of 2008 in Poland by The Hope Singers, a 29-member choir with members from the U.S., Canada, Poland, Romania, and Ireland.

Lloyd Kauffman directed the choir, as well as arranged many of the songs. This recording is an expression of worship, faith, and life in Christ. It includes these 19 songs:

1. Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

2. Se Zhenih griadet (Behold, the Bridegroom Comes—Gretchaninoff) 3. Praise Thou The Lord

4. Sing, Ye Righteous

5. Alleluia

6. Kiedy ranne wstają zorze (With the Morn in Radiance Breaking)

7. Flee As A Bird

8. The Lord’s My Shepherd

9. Boże mój (My God)

10. Take Thou My Hand, O Father

11. The World Needs A Song

12. For God So Loved Us—medley

13. Amazing Grace

14. Cudna nowina zwiastował (Wonderful News)

15. Heart with Loving Heart United

16. O Happy Day

17. Keep Your Lamps!

18. Lord, I Want To Be A Christian

19. Grace Be Unto You

Prices: “Alone I Will Not Wander” (2008) CD $14 + shipping

“Jesus” (2006) CD: $11 + shipping

“Hold Out Your Light” (2004) CD: $11 + shipping / cassette: $5 + shipping

To order recordings, contact: The Family Bookshop 4041 St. Rt. 26E MONTEZUMA GA 31063 Phone: 478-472-5166

E-mail: elmest@juno.com

Hear Ye!

Please indulge me and go to the Oasis Chorale link. Browse around the site, listen to the sound clips (which are a terrible tease) and if you fancy some wonderful, delightful, talented chorale music, order the new CD.  Knowing most of the choir members and counting them as dear friends adds to my enjoyment of the CD. But even if they were strangers, I would love the music. The repertoire is wonderful, and the singers and conductor are all very gifted people.  May the wonder and beauty of choral music go on!