Tuesday, July 12, 2005

An answer for Anna

I'm very aware that I've indulged myself hugely in rejoicings over the wonder of my Ordination/First Eucharist weekend, and was not planning to trouble readers with any more. However Anna, in an attempt to humour me, was rash enough to ask what music I had for my first Eucharist,- and thus prompted musings on the huge role music has had in my journey. In my teens and twenties it took me into God's house at times when I would otherwise have stayed away, made me hear His word in the perfect diction of Kings College Choir as they worked through the psalter during a term's worth of Evensongs, gave me unexpected promises where I'd never looked for them.
After university I spent much of my time singing my way round various London churches, (you don't earn much as a bookseller) and was a kind of liturgical groupie who would go anywhere for a good High Mass, preferably with added orchestra!
God did bring me up short, though, when he introduced me to the church of St John the Divine in Kennington, where aspirations to musical excellence were balanced by incredible volumes of hard work from congregation and clergy alike, as they strove to transform their inner-city community. Suddenly the connection between life and worship began to make sense for me, and my theology of Eucharist (as of so much else) was formed by what I experienced there.
I was still adamant, though, that only the glories of Palestrina, Byrd or Mozart were in any way an adequate offering in worship,- interesting, that, when I'd grasped the wonder of being invited to bring our messy selves as well.

It was only when my children arrived and I realised the impossibility of worshipping like that while attempting to restrain their wriggling, restless curiosity, that I began to consider the possibility that other styles of worship might be remotely helpful. This coincided with a move to the Cotswolds, where Palestrina Masses were thin on the ground....but suddenly I didn't miss them. As my children grew, I learned more and more from them, and my tastes broadened hugely. One memorable St David's day in the village church, the visiting preacher had invited the children to forage for crosses all round the builing, reminding them that each cross was an expression of how much God loved them. When one child returned bearing a kneeler on which a Celtic cross was embroidered, Revd. E asked if anyone had any idea why the circle was there.
After the briefest silence a child's voice began singing "God's love is like a circle..." and we all sat there, transfixed. For that moment, hers was the voice of heaven and I was awe-struck when I realised the singer was my 4 year old daughter...
So...lots more growth in all directions, so many new experiences , especially as the process of training on a regional course inevitably involves a huge range of cross-traditional worship.
I awoke to music that I would once have dismissed unheard, realised that I can pray as readily via U2 as Stanford in G,- but when the time came to choose the music for my first Eucharist, it felt right to return to my roots.
St Mary's, after all, is a very traditional church! And I know at first hand the part a lively church choir can have in shaping teenage faith, so I was anxious for the choristers to feel really involved, without the service becoming a holy concert. So, in final answer to Anna's question,
we sang the same setting of the Eucharist that we use week by week (the shock of a woman celebrating was likely to be sufficient in itself, without too many additional new experiences for the congregation)...the hymns were chosen for their words, and for their connection to people and places that have shaped my vocation
"All my hope on God is founded"
"Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round"
"O thou who camest from above"
"I the Lord of Sea and Sky"
"And Can it Be?"
As for the anthem, - Bruckner "Locus Iste"...one of the first things I remember singing with a four part choir, my daughter's favourite of all her A level set works....and the words aren't bad either. "This place was made by God, a priceless Sacrament". The runner-up anthem would have been Wesley's "Lead me, Lord"...and, wonder of wonders, that was included in the ordination service in the Cathedral the day before :-)
The organ voluntary was the rousing Karg Elert's Nun Danket alle Gott

Having learned so much along the way, this may look a bit pedestrian; I know many of my friends would have hated every minute of it, but it worked for me, and for the congregation in that place. Of course, if Maggi hadn't been otherwise engaged overseeing graduations left right and centre, she might have been willing to sing for me...and then the whole thing would have looked rather different :-) Another time, maybe...she really ought to do some more singing soon.


Songbird said...

What a beautiful testimony! I especially love the story about your daughter's voice.
I loved choosing the music for my ordination; oddly, or perhaps not, it's probably the same music I would hope to have sung at my funeral, the way I would want to be remembered and the hope I would wish to leave with my children.

Friday Mom said...

The story of your daughter singing gave me chills.

If I may be bold here, I think it may only be the need to guard the preacher's ego that keeps us from truly embracing the importance of music in the church. Most of the theology I learned as a child was through music, not from the pastor's sermons on Sunday. It appeals to more than just our cognition. Your testimony is a beautiful reminder of that.

I love the music you chose!

Anna said...

Oh yay, a whole post about music! Love the story about your daughter, and your point about praying with U2 and Stanford both.

I am ashamed to confess I don't know the Bruckner but I'm off to give it a listen. I've had my choral playlist going all day and keep having to stop working and just listen, especially during the Allegri "Miserere", Howells "Like as the Hart" and Verdi "Laudi Alla Vergine Maria", three of my faves.

I absolutely agree, Friday Mom, the songs we sing stick with us far longer than the sermons we hear.

Serena said...

I guess I was lucky to grow up in a church where we had an active choir (which I sang in from age 7) but also did a lot of good old Graham Kendrick :) and just as I hit teen-age we got very busy on the worship band scene! Not much of that might be considered good training for a choral scholar, but for a living breathing Christian I'd say it was a pretty good way to go about things :D

PS: I know it's unfashionable, but I adore Kendrick - wish I could write songs like that!! x