The Harmony of Heaven and Earth

The Harmony of Heaven and Earth

One week.

We are one week away.

Next week, Saturday evening, the Marquette Choral Society will be performing the World Premiere of The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, featuring British composer Paul Ayres. This three-movement piece was commissioned on the occasion of Floyd’s retirement. (Shameless mention: NMU’s Vandement Arena, Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm, Reception to follow the concert. Tickets are $10. We would love to see you there.)

My heart and mind are a jumbled mess. Floyd tells us that he asked Paul for a score of “medium difficulty.” I secretly suspect that Floyd said, “Write us something ridiculously impossible, and then add a Bell Choir so the Choral Society will REALLY have to watch me!” You’d think, by the way, that difficult music would inspire a choir to watch their conductor more, not less. Oh, the irony.

It’s such a beautiful title, though, isn’t it? The Harmony of Heaven and Earth. It makes us think of cherubs strumming on their harps, perched on fluffy white clouds, as flowers sway gently under a rainbowed sky.

But it isn’t easy and innocent.

It’s messy. It’s tense. It’s difficult. It’s unexpecting.

What happens when the supernatural comes into complement with the natural? Do our brains comprehend it? Do our hearts embrace it? Can our bodies move to a rhythm we can’t quite tap with our feet? Students of the Bible understand the idea of the natural man being at odds with the spiritual man. It’s the Apostle Paul’s infamous exclamation: “What I want to do, I don’t do; and what I don’t want to do–that’s what I do!” It’s the searching we hear in those old Rich Mullins’ lyrics, “do You who live in Eternity hear the prayers of those of us who live in Time?” The created world seems somehow separate and offensive to the spiritual realm.

Oh, but if we could see! If we could step outside of both time and eternity, both natural and supernatural…

But maybe that’s it.

Maybe we think they must be logically opposed to one another because we can only make sense of the one. Our created minds long to reject the paradox. Our created minds long to reject almost every paradox (justice and mercy; love and tolerance; foreknowledge and free-will; hope and fear; gravity and levity; joy and sorrow). The awe of any true paradox is that when we isolate the ideas which seem so contrary, we undermine the idea that is leftover. We rob joy of its meaning if it exists in a vacuum without sorrow. Maybe it is this way with Heaven and Earth. We view them as juxtaposed to one another, when perhaps there is a logical harmony that exists between the two. As much as our brains fight it, maybe the two really do “fit” together. Not only fit, but…complete.

All semester we’ve worked on this insanely difficult music. The meter is difficult. The harmonies are difficult. The page turns were conveniently planned by the evil page-turn elves who want to see us fail when the time-measure or key changes every time we turn a page. The piano is difficult (and difficult to follow) The words don’t entirely make sense to us (I’m still trying to figure out what “cloy” means). And in the stress of all this hard work, we found ourselves finally rehearsing with the Bell Choir last Monday.

My heart said, “Bells!”

My brain said, “Great! One more difficult aspect of this music to throw me off!”

Floyd said, “I have three parts to conduct and only two hands. I’ll have to roll my eyes or something.”

Everything within me was prepared for disaster.

Interestingly enough, what happened was the very opposite. Suddenly, this difficult piece of music existed within a structure to give it form. Suddenly, the seemingly illogical vocal score found confidence to be herself in the safe context of both the piano and bell arrangement.

Tell me again, folks…

Tell me there is nothing theological about music.

I have nothing more for you this fine Saturday, except to encourage you to come out and support Paul Ayres, Floyd Slotterback, and the Marquette Choral Society. Bring your friends and family

EVENTS:

Paul Ayres Organ Recital at Reynolds Recital Hall, Sunday, April 19th, 3:00pm, Free Admission, small reception to follow

Marquette Choral Society Concert: World Premiere of The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, featuring Paul Ayres, Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm, Admission $10, reception to follow; Floyd’s Final Concert with us

Pax Christi,

Sarah

P.S. And are you wondering about Floyd’s Quotes? Oh…heavens…we’ll have Quotes! Stay tuned!!

Psalm 4

Psalm 4

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
3 Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

4 Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.

6 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.

8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Focus.
Only four psalms into this project and already I am realizing that this is more difficult than I expected. Here, again, we see a shifting focus.

Verse one is focused on God’s actions. It is the understood “you.” [You] Answer me; [you] give me relief; [you] be merciful; [you] hear. David is speaking directly to God, and the focus is on how David desires for God to behave toward him. David is petitioning God, but his trust is in God to respond according to His holy attributes.

In verse two, suddenly, we are talking to men; but verse 3 immediately returns focus to God’s actions. David tells us how God behaves toward those He has set apart–specifically, that He hears when they call to Him.

Verses four and five are interesting. David is speaking again to men, telling them how to behave toward God. I’ll just note that herein are two of the most fascinating phrases in Scripture to me:

In your anger, do not sin;

Search your hearts and be silent.

The last three verses are clearly focused on God.

Music.
In the Psalm 3 writing, I said that if there is something theological about music, then there must be something worth noting about silence, also. Although, I’m reconsidering my thoughts about this. Think about the moment of Creation (regardless of how you believe it happened): I have always said that it was God’s voice that broke the silence and darkness. And that’s true, I think. (I think!) Except that silence and nothingness in the realm of mankind does not necessarily denote silence and nothingness in eternity. Before man, before Earth, before our universe, were the living creatures of Revelation 4 still crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty; who was and is and is to come”? If so, then even though there is silence in the world of created man, there is sound in eternity. That is a really mind-blowing idea, and I challenge you all to think about its implications.

I am fascinated by verse four: Search your hearts and be silent. I have no idea what this may imply. It suggests to me more of a contemplative or reflective meditation, rather than a cognizant prayer. In fact, it may be why we see that beautiful word “Selah” at the close of the statement. We often think that for God to hear our prayers, we must offer something coherent or articulate. I know I do! For me, it has a lot to do with the way I write, the way I process: I am often more verbal than I need to be, simply as an exercise of discovery. The more I say (or write), the more I understand what I’m really thinking or feeling, what the “right words” are, etc. Fortunately for myself, this has lead to a very abundant prayer world; unfortunately, it has meant that I struggle with silence.

Piano has helped. It isn’t silence, but it definitely allows me to focus and search without allowing my intellect to take over. It may be worth considering that in a noisy world, we could all use some silence–even in our prayers.

And here’s an added bonus.

Psalm 3

Psalm 3

1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.” Selah.

3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah.

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.

7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people. Selah.

Focus.
As I suspect will be the case in many of the psalms, it is not immediately clear where the focus of this prayer is. This is a psalm of David, when he was fleeing from Absalom, his son, and it begins with something of a desperate cry.

Almost immediately, the focus shifts from the many that surround David to the character of God. Verse 2 is pivotal. It speaks the question of whether God is willing to intervene and deliver David. Interestingly, it ends with that mysterious word we all love: Selah. Perhaps the best explanation I’ve read (though it is an idea, not a certainty) is that “selah” meant to pause. It allowed time for reflection before moving on.

Inserted here, we sense a tension. It is like a moment in fiction where our hero is considering whether to give up in despair or to press on in determination. It is a moment of decision. The question here is this: What does David believe? Does he listen to the doubters and scoffers? Are they right? Has God abandoned David to his foe?

And here is the pivot: “But you.” Suddenly, we hear the conviction in David’s tone. He is defying his doubt with statements of how God behaves. Relationally, the focus seems to be on David–how God behaves toward him. However, the focus is really God’s actions, not the recipient of His actions.

Music.
There are two things I’d like to point out here.

First, we have the first use of the word “Selah.” in the Psalms. What does the word mean? We may never know for certain, though I am partial to the idea of pause. If there is something theological about music, there must also be something at least worth noting about silence.

Second, the wording of verse 4. Notice that David doesn’t merely cry or pray or hope; he calls “out.” In the KJV, it is rendered, “I cried unto the Lord with my voice.” In the old NIV (the Bible I use), it reads, “To the Lord I cry aloud.” There is a definite sound attached to David’s plea. Is this intentional? I cannot say; only that sometimes in our greatest need, our greatest darkness, it helps to speak aloud, to let our voices break the silence.

It was God’s voice that broke the silence in Genesis, bringing all things into existence. Could He have created man with only His will, without His voice? Of course. He is God! But it should tell us something about God (and ourselves) that Creation comes from His voice.

As does David’s prayer.

Psalm 2

Psalm 2

1 Why do the nations conspire[a]
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Focus.
This second psalm follows the manner of the first: It reads something more like a proverb or a piece of prophetic literature (i.e.: Isaiah) than what we typically think of as psalms. It is almost poetic narrative rather than prayer or worship.

The subject here is clearly man, if we take it at face value. The psalmist is speaking to people. I have no qualms about grouping this one in the “man” column.

Except that it is one of the Messianic psalms: It is prophetic. Any honest theologian must confess that he begrudgingly names the focus here as man and not the Savior of which it foretells. Still, for the simple purpose of this exercise, the subject is very pointedly man.

Music.
I am captured here by a phrase which may or may not partake in this study. ‘Rejoice with trembling.” In my more charismatic days, I confess that this was understood rather literally, as a moving of God’s Spirit. Even a more conservative view–for instance, that we are to worship with reverence and humility–may be lacking.

Before we can answer the question of what it means to rejoice with trembling, I think, we must ask what (if any) relationship exists between rejoicing and trembling. Our first inclination should be that they oppose one another (and in a faith full of paradox, this should not surprise us). You rejoice when you are happy; you tremble when you are afraid. I do admit, however, that this is not a steadfast rule. A child full of anticipation and excitement for Christmas morning may tremble, and it signifies joy, not fear or sorrow. Still, when we dig into this verse, we find that the Hebrew word does not denote joyful jitter; rather, it clearly depicts a fearfulness.

Maybe the psalmist is simply telling us to fear Him who can destroy us. It would not stretch the context of this psalm one bit. It is worth noting at this point that our God is clearly both our Wrath and our Refuge (another great paradox of God’s character).

Maybe only when we realize our own insignificance, maybe only when we fathom how frail we truly are, maybe then, in that outrageous and terrifying humility, can we begin to see what God truly accomplishes.

Maybe true rejoice must stem from such a dark and terrible place.

Maybe such a realization should shake us to our very core.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Focus.
This is one of the few psalms that–to me–read more like a proverb than a “psalm” as we’ve come to think of them. It lends itself to a bit of wisdom.

The structure of this psalm is beautiful. Here, I wish I knew how to discuss Hebrew Parallelism on my blog, because it is excellently represented in this psalm. Verses 1 through 3 depict a man who is blessed; verses 4 and 5 show us a man who is wicked. And verse 6 wraps it all up for us. I think there is something to be gleaned here.

At first glance, it may seem that the focus of this psalm is man. Blessed is the man. More specifically, this psalm is a contrast between a righteous man and a wicked man. The blessed man is productive and rooted down to a healthy habitat, while the wicked man is blown around without foundation. While this is true, it is incomplete; it misses the essential point.

What if we change the emphasis? Blessed is the man. It helps us to see this more as a psalm about the blessings of righteousness. It is a not a focus of what a righteous man looks like so much as it is a focus of the blessings the Almighty bestows on those who seek hard after Him. He establishes the blessed man near life-giving water and causes him to grow; He brings fruition to the blessed man’s life and deeds (i.e.: Romans 8:28).

The man is blessed. But is the subject the man and how he is blessed? Yes; however, it also immediately demands answer: Blessed by whom? The answer, of course, is given at the close: The LORD watches over him.

Music.
There is nothing overtly musical about this psalm, but the more I consider it, the more I find myself convinced of rhythm. Look at the blessed man: There is a ritual, a returning and repeating of his blessings.

He is a like a tree that yields its fruit in season. It is not a constant yielding of fruit. It is a preparing, a rest, a growth, and a produce. Every year, the same, being prepared, resting, growing, producing, yielding fruit in season.

Day and night, the blessed man meditates on God’s law. This is not an occasional feast with a King; it is the daily habit of partaking in Christ’s words. This, again, is very rhythmic. It pulses, day after day, night after night, like the heartbeat of the man himself.

Compare this idea of rhythm and repetition to the wicked man: There is no return. He is simply described as chaff, blown by the wind. Does the wind blow a steady course? Is there any stability to it? Any design? Any path toward growth?

Music is structure. It is stability and framework from which we can be artistic and creative. Music is rhythmic, like the day in and day out meditation of the blessed man, and it yields its own fruit (resolution) after much rest (rest), much preparation (harmony, dynamics), much growth (tension, dissonance). It is not a whimsy flowing wherever the musicians take it. Even the most whimsical piece is wrapped up in the structure of scales and dynamics and the intent of the composer.

What does this say about theology?

Something to chew on…
I did not note this in my journal, but today as I’m reading the passage again, I am aware that the blessed man is described as “delighting” and “meditating.” There is no contrast with this in verses 4 and 5.

Thirds: Choir, Parallelism, & 5K

Hello Folks!

The Summer is settling into something far more comfortable, something far less busy, something inspiringly familiar–Autumn. Here’s what’s happening in my Autumn-loving heart.

Choir
Our first rehearsal for the Fall 2013 semester is two days away! I cannot believe it. In 48 hours, folks, I will be overwhelmed with the joys of a first rehearsal. There’s something magical about it, about opening a book of arrangements you’ve never heard before (much less, sung) and attempting to sing through as many pieces as Floyd sees fit with a group incredibly unique to the semester. It can be scary, if you want to know the truth; but more, it is ineffably fun.

I am serving on the Executive Board this year as the Interim Secretary. I’ve been involved in this manner since the end of last semester, so there have been a few meetings during my already crazybusy Summer. I’m very honored to be serving the Choral Society in this manner, and the temporary nature of the position allows me to become more involved in the behind-scenes stuff without falling in “way over my head.” I have to confess, I am loving it. I am having such a great time with the Board, and I am looking forward to an excellent Concert Season.

Parallelism
As an official end to my Summer, and as an ushering in of Autumn, I have resumed my Three-Part Study of the Psalms. I know–this is news to all of you. Some time ago, a conversation with Steve here on my blog challenged me to pick through the Psalms with a fresh perspective. First, I am dissecting each Psalm (in English, not Hebrew) to better understand Hebrew Parallelism. Second, I am considering the focus of each Psalm–whether it is man or God (or both). Third, I am looking for correlations between music/sound and theology.

This is a project I began some time ago and set no goal for finishing. I wanted to give myself ample time to ponder and dig and pray as I studied. Some of my remarks have been quite unimpressive, but there may be nuggets worth discussion somewhere in the midst of it. And because two young ladies that I love and admire have asked me to share my insights as I go along, I have decided to make it a weekly post on my blog. I need to be blogging more anyway, and this will give me cause to do so. I think I will make it my Friday project each week–though, I’m not sure yet whether it’s feasible to share the Parallelism part here; I may skip that for the purpose of the blog. Anyway, be watching for the big Psalm Project!

5K
Well, folks, here it is. The news of the hour. I’ve kept it to myself for the past several weeks, except for a few people from whom I’ve tried to glean an ounce or two of courage! A few weeks ago, I began the Couch to 5K Running program.

You have to understand–I am not a runner. At all. Attempting this program is scary for me. But I realized something today: I just finished week 3. That’s means I’m one third of the way done! Keep me in your prayers, and encourage me as you see fit!

Pax Christi, folks!
Sarah

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.