Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Worship Conference: An Epiphany for the Musician

So I said I wasn't going to do any posting this week, but I was wrong.

Currently I am attending the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts.

(Yes, it does sound like the best thing ever, but I digress.)

I have experienced many emotions and feelings over the past couple of days, and in the future I would like to expound on them more in thought-out, in-depth posts. But for now, I'm just going to get some things written down, so I remember to come back to them in the future. If I don't, feel free to get on my case.

Logo courtesy of Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

1. Worship is incredible, when done right.

Today we as participants experienced two worship services. The first one was a service based out of our hymnal - Christian Worship - full of liturgy we've been singing for over 20 years, hymns that have been famous for hundreds of years, and choral pieces that fit perfectly into our theme of the service. We got to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion together, and heard some incredible organ pieces, as well as full brass.

In the evening, our service was structured the same: hymns, liturgy, and readings. However, the way those ideas were presented was starkly different. There were several bands on the floor behind the altar, with instruments that included acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard, piano, drumsets, a djembe, sets of congos, tinwhistle, fiddlers, accordion, and more. The songs were sung in styles of the cultures around the world - African, Hispanic, gospel, medieval, and Celtic. And all of the pieces fit perfectly into the theme of our service.

I honestly can't say that I liked one over the other. They were both perfect.

I am a musician, which means I love music. When music is done right, it's beautiful in my book. I always hesitated to carry that feeling over to a worship service. I once was a traditional girl, but was then convinced that when contemporary worship is done right, it is just as edifying. Now I am a fan of everything. Know your congregation, and use worship and music that will speak to them. Stretch their boundaries, but give them an experience that will help them remember why they are at the service.

I had goosebumps in the morning as we all sang "The People that in Darkness Sat" and tears in my eyes when we sang "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" in the evening. The choral piece in the morning was chocolate for the ears, and the rousing gospel numbers in the evening actually had me involuntarily clapping along. I couldn't believe the organist in the morning played a difficult Bach piece with no music, and was equally in shock listening to the singers in the evening stretch their voices in praise. Everything was beautiful, and did the job.

2. Easy music isn't for beginners.

I had a conversation with someone today who couldn't believe I was looking at easy organ books. I do have the ability to do more difficult music, but am I going to do only difficult music for the rest of my life? Of course not! I live under the motto of "Make Easy Sound Hard." This doesn't mean I am horrible at the piece. Instead, I give it my full focus instead of simply playing it straight through with no thought to it.

Can I add anything to the piece? What registrations can I change when I repeat it? Can I speed up or slow down at parts to add emphasis? I learned from my aunt to play "Amazing Grace" with trumpet registration and an open chord drone at the bottom to sound like bagpipes. I pulled that out for a funeral last December, and it happened to be for a veteran, and people were crying because it touched them. Was it hard? No. Did it sound hard? Well, everyone was asking me where I got the bagpipes, so I must have pulled it off.

I also do this for choral pieces. Often I take a choir piece and bring the vocals down to unison so that my kids can sing it in church. That results in a piece that the kids enjoy and can still sing, while still giving it a catchy accompaniment - something that can't be said for all children's pieces, which can be too cutesy at times.

3. Rehearsals are tough. Get over it.

I had a tough time the first couple of days here because I was in the Festival Choir and we were rehearsing 3 or 4 times a day for hours. I was tired and frustrated because the directors (who were amazing, I need to say) were so picky on the pieces.

Then the concert happened last night. It was incredible singing those pieces. Better yet, those picky points the directors expounded on were points I made sure to do in the concert because they had been so adamant about getting them right in rehearsals.

As a director, I don't get to be in choirs very often. I was glad I got to experience that feeling again, and look forward to sneaking into more choirs later this week.

Photo courtesy of Selves Photography

4. I know a lot of people!

There are people here I have known since I was a baby. One of my grade school teachers is here. I have high school classmates and college classmates here (many of whom have gone on to be choral bigwigs in the WELS). There are people from all of my previous teaching experiences: China, Wisconsin, and Colorado. There are even people here from my first Worship Conference experience, which happened to be here in Kenosha 12 years ago. So many walks of life are flashing before my eyes right now. It's very cool.

5. I've got the bug again.

A few months ago I composed a piece for my little brother's wedding. Now that I'm seeing fellow musicians getting published, I am craving the chance to compose something else.

I'm also excited to get back to my choirs and test out some new ideas. I also am considering starting a Master's program in choral conducting. This path is a tricky one, and it would mean that I would have to allow other people (universities and colleges) to look at my conducting and leadership of a choir and determine from their wealth of experience if this is what I should pursue.

Both those ideas are truly terrifying. But it's conferences like these that really put the spur to the horse, and every three years that's exactly the kick I need.

6. I am in my element.

I hear people around me talk about how the worship services are too long, or the choir/piano/organ pieces are too hard/weird/ugly. I have none of those feelings (especially after my epiphany in #1). I never look at my watch during services, unless I am making sure I can get to the next sectional or choir rehearsal. I attend as many recitals as I can. I even sneak into other choirs so I can sing more - something that I did tonight and am sooo glad I did. This is what I love to do. This is what I was meant to do. And after so many years of not being sure what I was meant to do in life, I'm thrilled that I finally have it narrowed down.

This conference is spectacular. I hope the next two days are equally edifying.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Claire.

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    1. Oops sorry, I tried to edit my comment and it vanished! Anyways, just wanted to say that this post is making me excited for Worship Conference 2017! :D

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