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.

A World of False Dilemmas

I owe you a blog, friends. And what is on my mind?

I’ve been thinking about false dilemmas. The all-knowing Wikipedia defines a false dilemma as,

a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The options may be a position that is between two extremes (such as when there are shades of grey) or may be completely different alternatives

In my own words, a false dilemma is when two positions are set up as polar opposites, and we are led to believe (whether intentionally or not) that these are the only two options. So…why is this on my mind? I’m not sure. It seems that I am seeing false dichotomies more and more, and in more and more areas of life.

The first time I recognized (that I can recall) a false dichotomy was about ten years ago when I was first becoming enraptured in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It struck me as odd that these two extremes were set against each other, as if God couldn’t somehow both foreoredain our lives and allow us to make free choices. I had always sort of believed both, and so I set myself firmly in a “fencepost position” and have been there ever since. In the meantime, of course, I learned of Molinism–the great fencepost I could sit upon. In that case, there was a false dilemma: Calvinism or Arminianism, with absolutely, positively, undoubtedly no other option. And there was. There is. There are several, in fact.

I have seen false dilemmas more and more over the years, and not only in theological circles (although definitely there, also–it amazes me how we set God’s justice against His mercy, as if the two are mutually exclusive and there is no third option whereby He can be just and merciful [and He is; He must be; if He isn't, He isn't God; mercy loses all meaning without justice; and justice loses all meaning without mercy]).

I am reading a book by Jeremy Begbie that I’ve drooled over and coveted for some time. I am, quite disappointingly, near the end. I have two chapters remaining, which I’m loathe to read because I don’t want to be finished. I have enjoyed this book so much (it reminds me what I am passionate about: not merely music, not merely theology; but how the two relate), but I have noticed that even in the perspective of music and theology, there has been something of a false dichotomy: Either music is something uber-cosmos-related–and thus, very theological–or it is merely artistic–and thus, merely expressive.

I don’t mean to imply that Begbie sets up this dichotomy–he certainly doesn’t. But as I’ve read the stories of composers and theologians that Begbie offers, I’ve become aware of this idea that music is often seen as one or the other.

Tell me it isn’t so in your own church: music is either very theological (ie: traditional hymns, doctrinal) or very expressive (ie: this is how much you love me, Jesus, and this is how much I love you back, choruses). Whether a church engages both types of worship music, there is an underlying assumption that the two are set in oposition to one another.

I have many thoughts to share about Begbie’s book, but this one is heavy on my mind. It seems to me, as with most of the things I accept as true, that there must be a paradox. There must be a coming together of two opposing ideas to offer a third solution. In terms of sacred music, I truly believe there is another option. I truly believe there is something both theological and expressive in music. I’m not sure what to call it.

But recognize it. I do. I recognize it as certainly as I recognize Jenn in a crowd. We go to choir rehearsal every Monday, and we sing these songs rich with the theology of the Lutheran church (oh…did I mention we’re singing Lutheran songs this semester? How happy is this girl? OH yeah!), and I recognize both the eternal and the emotion. They are grafted together in beautiful music.

What do you think? Do you view music (particularly music that pertains to Christianity) as important doctrinally, or emotionally, or both? Or neither? Or…something entirely different? What do you think?

More thoughts on Begbie’s book next week. I hope. Maybe even something of a review. I promise, it will read something like, It was so great! Begbie is so wonderful! I need more books like this! I drooled all over it! Overtones make my heart skip! Who knew Bonhoeffer was a musician? I’m so in love with this topic!!!! Just to give you a preview. ;)

Pax Christi.

Sar

 

The Three Loves of Herman Schmitzer

January 19, 1973.

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. Though he died several years before I was born, he is a man who continues to shape my life, as well as (I know) the lives of all my cousins. In a world where being remembered requires that we be the very best at something, score the most points in a game, make the most money in our field, come up with the newest and bestest fad diet, write the seven-book series that the world is waiting on with held breath (GRRM, this was for you…get writing), having the most “friends” on the f@cebook, etc., ad nauseum, there seems to be less and less legacy; more and more fame.

Legacy is something greater. Legacy changes the way people think, changes the way people behave. Even thirty years after his passing, Herman Schmitzer changes us.

When asked about his teaching career, he was quoted as saying, “The three loves of my life–and in this order–are my religion, my wife, Margaret, and music.”

Herman Schmitzer

I thought of this quote last Monday at our first rehearsal of Choral Society for the semester. We are singing a compilation of Lutheran choral works, which means that two of my own loves are melding into one: my Lutheran faith and music. If you don’t know already, I believe there is a strong connection between theology and music, so to have these two things coming together in a semester of song is really overwhelming for me–overwhelming in a good way.

I wish, more than anything, that he could be in the audience this April as we perform these pieces. He would, I imagine, take such delight in it. I know I will.

What’s on my heart

What’s on my heart?

What’s on my heart.

What’s on my heart. Hrm.

So many things. Since it’s after midnight, I’ll try to keep it brief.

  • Theology of Music. I really want to read this book by Jeremy Begbie. Really. How can I justify paying $21 for a book when my list of “to-reads” now exceeds the number of unmatched socks in my dresser? And how can I justify adding another book to the list when I have Wesley and Spurgeon still waiting on me? I need better habits about reading in general; I especially need better habits about reading books pertaining to Theology and Music (and even more, books about how those two things are related).
  • My job is going well. I’m facing new–but certainly not unwelcome–challenges. I think I’m growing.
  • My niece calls birds “butts.” I know that’s totally unimportant, but…it’s hilarious. Tweet! Tweet! Oh–it’s a butt!
  • My sister-in-law (she who shall remain both nameless and H-less) completed her degree in Criminal Justice this past weekend. It was such an honor to be at her graduation and see her receive that degree. She has worked so hard, and I am immensely proud of her. You know, there are those people who don’t seem to realize how big their obstacles are–they just run and jump. They give it all they have. That’s her. I so admire that tenacity in her.
  • My sister invited my mom and me to a Hymns Conference this summer. Uhm…a million times YES. I don’t know yet if I can get the time off of work or if I can even afford to go. It’s not super expensive–actually, it’s not expensive at all. It’s just a matter of figuring out whether I have the extra money. I need to have the extra money. Listen, folks, if I don’t invest in my obsession with hymns and theology…who will?
  • I need to get cracking on my Christmas project. ARG. Can you say “you’re in WAY over your head, Sar”??? Yeah. I am.
  • Grappling with the big issues facing our culture (don’t even want to acknowledge them for fear my blog will self-implode from everyone coming and telling me what to think). It just seems to me…we have to find better solutions. We have to dig deeper. We have to commit to honesty.
  • Finally resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to marry or have children. Is it a hard truth? Sure. But…perhaps it’s better to accept a hard truth, than to allow yourself the fantasy of denial. I don’t know. The sooner I accept it, the sooner I can get on with doing whatever it is God wants me to do. I’m tired of wasting time. I’m tired of feeling defined by this one area (or lack thereof) of my life.
  • Still stuck on Chapter 5. Still struggling to write Kharana. She is tricky. I don’t like her. I don’t want her to behave the way I’m going to let her behave. I’m just not sure I can write it. Seriously considered axing her from page 1 and trying to write a story with no Kharana. Would it work? Absolutely not. We must have a Queen.
  • I miss Jenn. I need to talk with Jenn.

There you have it. There’s what’s on my heart. Now…I’m going to pry my contacts from my dry, weary eyes, curl up under my rainbow quilt (thank you, Sissstor), and read one chapter (one…only one) of Tozer before I go to sleep.

Pax!

Sarah

What Are You Doing?

The short answer is: I don’t really know. I’m sort of making it up as I go along.

But there are a few things I’m working on lately:

  • The Legend of Ae: I’m slowly (S-L-O-W-L-Y) working through Legend, rewriting, revising, cutting, cutting, cutting, replotting, renaming, cutting, cutting. What tiresome, wonderful work. I love writing, even when it induces migraines.
  • The Prophecies of Wicket Lake: I am sifting through this piece that I began last year for NaNo, trying to work out the actual storyline before I invest too much more time into it. The nice part is that much of the world-building is already done (as it takes place in the same world as Legend). I am seeking perspective on this, as I’m not sure how to accomplish what I want to accomplish with this story.
  • Hebrew Parallelism: I am going through the Psalms (again, yes) and dissecting them to really wrap my mind around the different forms of Hebrew Parallelism. I’m really learning a lot through this exercise, and I just want to remind you that “studying” Scripture does not undermine the ability of God to speak to you through Scripture. If anything, it bolsters my ability to rightly perceive God’s voice. I am really, really enjoying this process in addition to my regular daily reading.
  • Theology of Music: There are those words again. I’m not even sure I know what to say about those words, except that I am digging. My hands are filthy with this topic. I have no idea why God keeps bringing me back to this.
  • Let Mercy Lead: After cleaning and restringing two of the guitars, I spent an evening working out the chords for this song by Rich Mullins. I confess, I have really enjoyed playing it.
  • Operation CLEAN DESK: Seriously. My desk is perpetually a mess, even when I’ve just cleaned it. It helps me, every couple of weeks, to put everything back in its place, to touch every project I’ve worked on, to remember where I put a pen or the three-hole punch, to re-file, to shred what needs shredding, to figure out which journal I’m supposed to be writing in at any given moment, etc. Seriously. I love my desk. Thank you, Carolyn, Desk Gifter.
  • Letters: I have been in gross avoidance of letter-writing. It’s just a funk I go through. Sometimes I write several letters at a time, and sometimes I struggle to write one. But one of my Writing Goals for 2010 was to write a particular letter to a former classmate, Anita. I need to do it. I’m doing it. This week. Someone ask me on Friday if I’ve written to Anita.

So that’s what I’m doing. Writing, writing, studying, digging, playing guitar, cleaning my desk, and writing.

How about you? What are you doing?