Choral Society, Program Notes, and Grandpa Schmitzer

We take for granted that Jim’s program notes will be informative, pertinent, entertaining, and–yes–even a bit touching. We take for granted that Lynne will sit tall and play the piano flawlessly, with or without her glasses. We take for granted that Floyd will select music that is both infuriating and breathtaking, and will make a decent choir out of an un-auditioned community group. We take for granted that the program will be formatted correctly. We take for granted that the posters will be both beautiful and inviting. We take for granted how sharp the choir will look in black attire with red corsages. We take for granted how wonderful we know it will feel when we are there on the stage and finally hear the fullness of our program, start to finish.

There are so many pieces to a semester of choir. There is so much we take for granted in the scheme of it all. The highlights of this semester of Choral Society were, for me, the moments I refused to take for granted. I’ll share one of them with you.

Jim, who has written the program notes for almost forever, was honored this year with the Choral Leadership Award. How incredible it was to learn more about him and his service to the Choral Society (and the community!), and to hear his remarks of humble appreciation! But after our dress rehearsal Friday night, I sat home on my sofa, numb from my eyes to my neck from Cepacol overdose, and I read Jim’s program notes. Over. And over. And over. Friends, I’m not too proud to tell you that it brought tears to my eyes. I’m not even sure I can identify the emotion, but I can tell you it was an enormous one. I read his words and it hit me like the deep thunder—you know, the kind that shakes the birds right out of the trees, sends the cats ripping through the house to find safety, leaves your heart trembling, and steals the warmth right out of the air before unleashing its torrent—I wasn’t just reading history. I wasn’t just reading the history of German or Lutheran music. I wasn’t just reading the history of brilliant composers. I was reading my history.

My heart still quivers just to think it, just to type the words.

What a moment! What a realization! What an awesome and humbling thing, to read my own history on paper in the words of perhaps the most articulate man I’ve ever known—to learn, from one of my heroes, the stories of some of my Grandfather’s heroes. For a moment, I felt like I’d been given a chance to know my Grandpa, the man I have longed to love, the man I have longed to know, the man who gave me his love of music, who died seven years before my birth. What an enormous, emotional, unexpected, thunderous blessing.

I refuse to take for granted the moments that move me, that challenge me, that change me, that reveal myself to me. This is really what singing in the choir is about for me: Identity. There is something incredibly profound about the movement of harmony, the struggle and peace of dissonance and resolution. There is something to be said for the paradox of so many voices—individual voices—coming together to sound one corporate voice. There is something quite theological about it, folks. Too often have we taken it for granted.

If I died today or if I had a tragic accident or diagnosis that left me unable to sing (or far more likely than either of these: if I were banned from the choir for excessive laughing during ridiculous songs like Adam Lay Ybounden), I would still raise my voice in thanksgiving. Singing with the Marquette Choral Society hasn’t simply changed me; it is recreating me. It is refinding* me, a soul that’s been lost for a very long time.

Just like my faith.

What a blessing to see it as it unfolds.

*I don’t think refinding is a word. It should be. I use it here intentionally.

The Quotable Floyd, part II

There are a lot of “best parts” about concert weekend, and later this week I will do as I promised and share my thoughts about the Marquette Choral Society program. Tonight, in my complete and blissful exhaustion, I offer you the part that makes the most sense: The Floyd Quotes. If you missed the Winter 2012 Quotes, you can read them here.

If you use a tritone in a piece, it invites the devil into the Church.

The Choir in my head never misses a beat!

We’re going to take several detours into error.

Please sing your rest.

You want an “ah?” I’ll give you an “ah!”

Everybody sing everything. Bar 10.

I don’t want you to lose the two-ness of this music.

It’s called a phrase.

Suddenly, rhythm breaks out after all that smoothness.

Jim: Don’t look at me like that.
Floyd: I was just imagining you dancing.

Might or all: Sounds like an Alto line to me!

We really need more “ah.”

We need a “G,” and we need an “L.” We also need a pitch.

I can’t possibly preach without consonants.

I don’t think Schutz liked Tenors very much.

It’s not Boston; It’s Schutz.

You. Be very metrical.

The key is making sure God is not held too long.

Bars 9 and 10: Don’t get caught by the devil.

This rest is for you.

Page 264. The funky German hymn.

Try to release all your dots.

Too fast? Too bad.

Just take a breath and sing.

I kind of helped you there in a wrong way, Altos.

Seven Robins

I had a great idea this morning. I awoke and thought, “How ever many robins I see today, that is the number of things I will share on my blog.” Of course, I realized early this afternoon that I had no chance of seeing any robins if I stayed home all day. I could have justified staying in (strep and bronchitis and green phlegm, you know), but I took a gander and went for a drive and a short walk, which presented me with seven robins. So here we go. Seven Robins for you on this beautiful April day.

Robin One
I awoke to the sound of honking geese this morning. You cannot know (unless you live in the Upper Peninsula, where winter–which is always long and fierce–felt particularly long and fierce this year) how the sound comforted me. Mother Nature, nice try; but the geese have voted for spring. It reminds me of what Pastor Drake used to say: “Faith is believing, in the middle of winter, that spring will come.” How I’ve clung to those words this winter. How thankful I am for geese, and the underlying promise of at least a few months of warmth and sunlight.

Robin Two
We are in the final countdown–the last week before the Marquette Choral Society concert. If you’re in the area and you need details, please don’t hesitate to ask. I would love to see you there. This concert is going to be amazing. I am praying today that my voice returns so I can perform with the choir. I, however, am surrendered to the knowledge that God knows what He’s doing. I don’t want to miss what God has for me, even if it’s not what I think I want.

Robin Three
My goal was to write letters today. I’ve written one. It seems about par for the course, and I refuse to feel bad about it, considering my current state of phlegm. I have received several in the last few days that deserve my attention, however–and the promise of one to hopefully arrive this week. I love receiving letters. I need to love writing them again.

Robin Four
I am reading The Lord of the Rings again. It never gets old. I am always slow to start. I find that it takes me awhile to suffer through the first part of The Fellowship (Book One). I want to pull my hair out and scream, “Just get out of the Shire!” It takes so long, but I suppose that is my movie-centric instant-gratification nature. And, I’m sure, it’s also that The Two Towers is my favorite, and I’m eager to get there. Still, it never gets old. It’s like visiting old friends.

Robin Five
I’m considering a trip to Israel next year with my sister. There is someone in my life (not really “in” my life so much as…”randomly appearing once in a blue lagoon”) that I spoke with a few years back and shared (for the first time in my life, really) my desire to visit Israel. I never thought–not even in my craziest dreams (and Lord knows I’ve had some doozy dreams)–that I would actually be telling you that I’m possibly going to go there. It’s not written in stone; it’s not even written in ink or charcoal. It’s pretty much just feathers in the wind right now, but…feathers can give you flight, I suppose.

Robin Six
I’m also considering…very prayerfully…a Compassion Sponsor Tour. It has long been a desire of mine to travel to a third world country; and it has lately been wedded with my desire to meet and hug and take a photo of myself with Joseph and Moise–my two boys. It’s a long way off, and it would require funds that I can’t even fathom having to my name…but…there’s something stirring in me about Burkina Faso. I want and need to be there. I think. I’m not sure. I need to pray about it more and think about it less. Compassion has a tour going next year, so I have time to pray on it. I invite you to pray with me. Registration opens late next month, so I hope to have made a decision by then.

Robin Seven
And finally, Robin Seven: If you’ve seen the Dove video floating around the web, don’t believe it. Beauty is about so much more than physical appearance, and even those of us who greatly lack in that department…are beautiful. Your worth, your identity, your character–these are not determined by whether your face and body appeal to others. Go out and be who you are, and be fully that. Change the world. Find your purpose. Chase your passions. Forget beauty. Those who love you don’t need it; and those who need it don’t love you.

Pax Christi,

Watch Floyd

Watch Floyd.

Or…Look Up.

Or…Fix Your Eyes.

Or…”Then Let All the Living.”

I can’t decide on an appropriate title for this blog. There are so many good choices.

In just under two weeks time, the Marquette Choral Society will be performing our spring concert. I can’t wait to tell you about it. I think I love this music even more than I loved the music last spring. I feel connected to this program for a few different reasons, but I won’t bore you with those details tonight. In two weeks, I promise to share my thoughts about the concert, the material, and (best of all) my Floyd quotes from the semester. It hardly seems like we can be so close to performance…

Anyway, I had something of a revelation last night during rehearsal. We are singing several incredible (and difficult) pieces of music (those Germans know how to write a hymn, yo). We were working on a piece from one of my newest favorites, Heinrich Schutz, entitled, “Dank sagen wir alle Gott”–or, We Offer Our Thanks. It’s a beautiful hymn in a sort of flowing 6/4 time.

At least, the first page is. I confess that I’ve been struggling with measure 11. It’s right there on the page, easy as can be–a half note (two beats), then a quarter rest and half rest (three beats of silence), and a quarter note (one beat). It doesn’t sound hard, does it? The two notes are even the same pitch, so there is absolutely nothing about this measure that should be difficult. All semester as we’ve worked on this, I’ve chided myself: “If you were able to sing the 7/8 song last semester, and Zadok with the organ the semester before that, there’s no way you aren’t going to master this simple measure.”

Yet…I struggle. Why?

Well, I could tell you it’s because of the page turn. That could be part of it. I’m not turning soon enough. I could also tell you it’s because this nice flowing piece of music, beginning with that last quarter note of the measure, suddenly moves. And I could tell you that I’m not being diligent about counting my rests, so I’m not hitting the quarter note with anything that could be mistaken for confidence. It could be that I’m still feeling “new” to the piece, and the movement of the next page still catches me off guard. I could tell you that I’m not breathing when I should. All of these things, I suppose, are true; but none of them (individually or together) are the reason I struggle with this measure.

And I realized that quite clearly last night when I did everything right–the counting, the breathing, the page turn, the expectation of the next page. I had it, folks. I was there, I was ready, and still–I missed it. How did I miss it?

I know I wasn’t the only one because Floyd stopped us and made us do it again. And as I sat there, wondering how in the world I was going to conquer this measure–this stupid little measure that was half silence–I had a brilliant idea. “Stop trying to figure it out,” I said to myself, “and just watch Floyd.”

The amazing part about it is that even as I forced myself to not look at the music, to turn the page a measure earlier than normal and fix my eyes on Floyd, I have to confess to you that there was an enormous part of me that didn’t expect anything to happen. I’m embarrassed to tell you that it surprised me when Floyd gave me my breath, and my cue, and by gosh, if he wasn’t movin’ to the rhythm of the page turn in expectation of what we were barrelling into!

It shocked me.

It shouldn’t have.

Poor Floyd, who tells us week after week, “Watch me.” Poor, poor Floyd. Hahaha.

I just had to laugh at myself. Of course the answer is to watch my director. What’s really amazing is that I knew it all along. I pride myself in watching Floyd, in paying attention when he’s talking, in following his lead. But me, in my pride, in my folly…do I trust him when I am faced with something I am struggling with that I shouldn’t be struggling with? Nope; I decide I’m going to conquer it alone, rather than trust the man at the front of the room who really knows where we’re going.

It reminded me of the verse in Hebrews that tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. How often do we try to conquer situations and emotions on our own? Even when we have all the particulars analyzed and figured out, even after we’ve counted every beat of silence, we blunder; we step without confidence; we don’t anticipate the page turn. Christ knows exactly where He’s leading each one of us, and if we could but turn our face toward Him and trust Him to lead us, we would excel through the most difficult situations.

“Then let all the living, then let all the living join with the angels’ shouts of thanksgiving, thanksgiving.”

God bless you this week as you learn to fix your eyes on Christ.

Pax Christi.

I Make No Promises

I apologize. I would be lying if I said that time “got away from me.” I knew very well that I needed to blog. For weeks, I’ve been thinking about it, but I’ve been unable to commit to it. For allowing a month to pass since our last encounter, I apologize.

As I begin this blog, I am waiting on the arrival of my brother’s family for the Easter weekend. I also seem to be having trouble with my “s” and “g” keys. So…I make no promises about the spelling of words containing those two letters, or about the length of this post.

I haven’t much to report, anyway.

Choir is still wonderful.

Work is still a great fit for me.

Writing is still important.

Piano is still therapeutic.

I’m doing alright, yanno? I can’t complain. God has blessed me so richly. I’m considering a lot of big topics right now, and I can’t even begin to address them, so I’ll just list a few of them: Adoption, Theology of Music, Letter Writing, Affirmation, New Dog.

Believe me, these are ginormous topics. I covet your prayers as I tackle them one by one.

And…that, folks, is it. Just a brief update.

Easter blessings to all of you!


It’s all about perspective.

These four words have become one of the Great Lessons of my life. It seems simple. It seems hokey. It seems almost flippant. Unfortunately, I have come to believe in the truth of this statement quite desperately. It comes, I suppose, from years of observing the Great Lakes Freighters on Lake Superior. It can be difficult to tell where a Freighter is in relation to, say, the dock, or the breakwater, or another Freighter. You may drive along the highway and see her as long as a Summer Day, but turn down Lakeshore Boulevard and be staring at her face-on. It’s about perspective.

I’ve tried to apply this to my life and to situations that stump me, but honestly–that’s when the words seem flippant. When you’re struggling through loss or hurt or frustration, hearing, “It’s all about perspective” is seldom comforting. It’s usually annoying, if you want the truth.

Annoying, but no less true.

Sometimes it takes years to see a situation from a different perspective. Sometimes it takes an enormous amount of willpower to see things differently. As true as I find it, it is none too simple. I struggle with this daily, seeking not just a new perspective but a God-perspective on life and the world around me. I am not too proud to tell you that I fail more often than not.

But last night, in a mustard-seed attempt at changing my perspective on a ridiculous situation I’ve been feeling suffocated with recently, I threw my head into my hands and whispered, “God, what are You doing with me here?”

I woke this morning to this song we used to sing at the Tab, Micah 6:8. Though I love this passage and think of it regularly, I haven’t thought of the song in years. It’s been on my heart all day. It’s a simple song, a simple verse, a simple (and excellent) answer:

What does the Lord require of thee?
But to do justly,
And to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with thy God.

So here I am, in the midst of circumstances that I cannot change, and the answer is (as always) to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God. That’s the answer. That’s always the answer.

We mistake the world around us, I think. We assume that everything that happens in our lives is about us, is about our happiness, is about our desires being fulfilled, is about our contentment, is about our success. Guess what? It’s not about us. Not like that, anyway. If it’s about you and me in any regard, it is simply this: That we are the Body of Christ, His hands and feet to a broken and confused generation that desperately needs Him; that we are being made into His likeness. Rich Mullins (I think) once rote about love–how we mistake love as something that we do to changes others (i.e.: If I love my enemy, it will convert him); in reality, love is our obedience to Christ, and when we act in love, it is WE who are changed.

Maybe that’s the perspective. God is changing me. I think. I hope. I pray.

May He Micah 6:8 you, too.

Pax Christi,

Proud to be an American?

I don’t often feel like words fail me. Words have always been an abundant resource for me, a manner of communicating my concerns and convictions.

A few years ago, one of my best friends from high school was visiting and we were out to dinner. She has had something of a difficult life, and has always struggled (I think) to find her identity. When she joined the National Guard, she gained a confidence and self-respect I’d never seen in her before. I can’t tell you how proud of her I was and am. I digress. She was visiting and we were eating dinner. An older woman approached our table and put a twenty-dollar-bill on the table. She told us that whenever she and her husband see a serviceman or woman out in a restaurant, they pay for her meal. They had been doing this for many years (I think she said forty years, but I don’t remember). The truth is, I don’t remember much of the woman’s words. What I remember–what I’ll never forget–is the look on my friend’s face. She looked humbled–not humiliated, but humbled–and honored.

I remember thinking about it all night. She didn’t enlist so that strangers would pay for her meals. Without exception, I have never met someone serving in the armed forces who acts like or says others need to show them special treatment. They do what they do for a reason–and it’s not for attention.

Why am I telling you this?

Yesterday morning, I was refilling my coffee in the break room, and I caught just a glimpse of something on the television. Lee Greenwood sang that old song that used to bring tears to our eyes and then a group of individuals placed their hands on their hearts and–following one young man–recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They were becoming naturalized citizens of the United States. One gentleman said it was like he had been “born again.”

Those who’ve been a part of the Christian community know how powerful those two words are. We don’t know the name of the emotion, but we know it sweeps over us every time we hear those words. To think–everything past is past, everything is new, we are born again. That’s an incredibly powerful feeling, and it struck me that a newly-oathed citizen of the United States would describe the experience in those words.

And then it embarrassed me. Just a little bit. It has become so easy to distance ourselves from the patriotism of our fathers and grandfathers. Many of us were born into freedom. We have always known the security of belonging to this great nation. We don’t remember the threats our ancestors faced. 9/11 is the only moment in recent history when we’ve questioned our security, our future. It brought us together in a surge of American pride–rightly so.

I thought about this all day yesterday. And somewhere in the midst of it all, I remembered the face of my dear friend, humbly accepting a free meal of gratitude from a complete stranger.

How blessed we are–still–to live in a nation of freedom.

How blessed we are–still–to be individuals and pursue our passions.

How blessed we are–still–to be governed by laws and not by kings.

How blessed we are–still–to be healthy and happy and productive.

How blessed we are–still–to freely worship in the manner in which we find our conviction.

How blessed we are–still–to be the United States, not the Wanting-to-Peacefully-Secede States.

How blessed we are–still–that men and women sacrifice their time, their energy, their relationships, their careers, their health, and their very life’s blood to defend our freedom.

How blessed we are–still–to be a nation that strives to promote freedom to the oppressed around the world.

All this, and more, I can still see in my mind in the face of my friend that night at the restaurant. I am so blessed. I am so proud. I am so thankful. Of all the places in the world I could have been born, I am so thankful I was born in these United States of America.

As I spent the day thinking about all of this and remembering my friend’s face, I thought about what a difference that woman made. I wondered if my friend remembered her (I bet she does). I wondered if anyone has ever paid for my sister to have a meal. I wondered if anyone else out there pays for our servicemen and women. I wondered if anyone would dare to join me in this conviction.

I can’t pay for every military person I encounter. And I may not be able to pay for them every time I see them. But it’s my new commitment–to myself, to my God–to show my gratitude for my freedom by paying for a meal for a soldier whenever I see them out. I realize that not everyone is in a place financially to do this, but if those of us who could made it a habit–just like that woman and her husband–think of how honored our military would feel. Think of how appreciated and loved they would feel.

What do you say, folks? Anyone else game?

And…for anyone interested…or for anyone who’s forgotten how emotional it is to be an American, here is part of the ceremony I saw yesterday.