Monday, June 15, 2015

Construction of an Anniversary Church Service

I don't often do blog posts about my job. To be honest, I like to separate my job and my hobbies as much as possible. But today I think it's fair to discuss one of my big projects of the year.

This year is my church's 50th anniversary, and I was in charge of putting the anniversary service together. I've done lots of Christmas and Easter services over the years, but an anniversary service was a new journey for me.

The first thing I did was get the choir pieces together. I knew I needed an adult choir and a choir of kids from the school and Sunday School. I found these pieces last summer in my music planning: everyone would sing "Built on the Rock," the choir would sing a favorite called "Still, My Soul, Be Still," and the kids would sing a mission song that was pretty long, but they would pick up on it during school.

Oh - did I mention that our anniversary was scheduled for January 25? I knew it would be difficult for the adult choir to learn new stuff immediately after Christmas, but I picked familiar stuff so they would get the hang of it quickly.

The first wrench thrown into my plan was that the date of the service was changed. In November of last year I was told that the new date was in June, so that weather wouldn't play a factor in people attending. I was okay with that, but I immediately expressed my concern: the schoolchildren would be out of school for three weeks, and it would be hard to get them together to sing a song.

Knowing this, I changed the song they sang to one they'd just learned for the big Reformation service called "Song of Hope." This would require little review, and the kids really enjoyed the song.

That was planned out months ahead of time. About two months before June 14, I attended another church's 50th anniversary service. I took notes on how the service was set up, what hymns were sung, and who did what. I was surprised that this church - with a school attached - didn't have any children sing for the anniversary. I was determined to get my children ready to sing.

That following Tuesday I sat down with my computer and three resources: the bulletin from that church's service, another bulletin from a different church's 40th anniversary service (which had been that fall), and the WELS online resources for church anniversaries. I was going to pound this thing out with the help of these items. I knew I didn't want to copy any service verbatim, but I was willing to "steal" some ideas.

Since this was my first anniversary service planning, I just sat there for a long time with nothing on the page. I had no idea where to start! I was pigeonholing myself from the very start. Eventually, I went with something I preferred: we would start the service with one of my favorite hymns: "Thy Strong Word."

From there, things started rolling. The WELS website had some good suggestions for opening a service, but the dialogue was very long and rambled. I refined what they said and cut out some parts. I used three lessons from Scripture - 2 Kings 23: 1-3, Revelation 3: 7-13, John 17: 1, 13-26 - that I felt reflected a church's anniversary properly, and instead of the pastor reading them, I would ask three laypeople from the congregation: a church elder, a graduate of our school (who just so happens to be attending Martin Luther College in the pastor track), and the president of the congregation.

I knew I wanted a lot of singing (since church anniversaries attract a lot of church people) so in between every bit of reading I inserted a hymn or choral song. I knew that I, as the organist for the service, would have to plan out what I'd do based on the hymns I was choosing at that very moment. Some ideas were already forming in my head. For example, when the congregation sang "In Christ Alone," I wanted to use the version I sang in MLC's College Choir - the arrangement by David Angerman because I loved the accompaniment so much.

I also wanted to use "Father, God of Grace" somewhere, and looking at the words of the hymn, decided it would be perfect in place of the Creed (we would only use the first three stanzas). I also had some extra stanzas that fit with the tune of "God's Word is Our Great Heritage," and as an MLS alumna I knew that would have to close out the service. Turns out, those extra stanzas (in my research I can't find the original author) fit perfectly with our guest pastor's sermon! The arrangement for the hymn was the same arrangement I used for my graduation service from MLS in 2003...and it's the only arrangement I ever use when I play that hymn.

I sent the first draft of the service to my pastor, and he approved it after a few questions about logistics and who would be asked to do the Scripture lessons. The church administrator put it all in bulletin form, and the three of us spent quite a long time proofreading and editing it to perfection.

I started teaching the school and Sunday School kids the two songs once May rolled around and also scheduled four "children's choir" rehearsals that would carry the kids over from the end of school to the date of the anniversary. They would overlap with the adult choir rehearsals so that everyone could practice "Built on the Rock" together. At this point, I was more concerned about the amount of adults I would have than the amount of children! But even if the kids missed the rehearsals, I knew they would all know the songs and be able to come on that Sunday ready to sing.

Little did I realize that anniversary services are more meant for the older generations than for young families. I had four children show up to sing for the service, but bless their little hearts, they did a very fine job with the singing.

Meanwhile, my adult choir was adding members throughout our rehearsals. I had a few former members come back, as well as the guest pastor and his wife. He had also directed the choir way back when he was at the church! The choir director before me also came in and sang with us. With that help, the adult choir really shone in both their pieces. I got a lot of positive feedback about "Still, My Soul, Be Still."

The final piece of the puzzle was mine alone. I had to put together the organ and piano music for the service. I started this the last week of school and spent hours putting it together. Most of my preservice music ended up being in a minor key since I had a lot of music on "Thy Strong Word" and "Built on the Rock," so I inserted versions of "In Christ Alone" in between. One of those versions was mostly in the key of E Major, which you musicians know has one too many sharps. (That one took me a while, and on the day I made a number of mistakes. I may never play it again.)

The piece I chose for right before the service is from an organ book that I bought without realizing that every piece in it is EXTREMELY HARD. I don't think I've used it in my years out of MLC. However, I decided to do the crazy version of "Built on the Rock" as a challenge to myself.

Because of the challenge, my first piece after the service was a great version of "Father, God of Grace" from the 5 Preludes of Praise series. It also wasn't hard. What was hard was knowing how much postservice to plan. At the other church's anniversary service, the organist must have had to play for an extra half an hour because the dismissal took so long! So I planned for 20 minutes of planned postlude, and then would break out one of my go-to wedding books, the First Organ Book. In there I have a lot of easy-but-loud music that I usually use for weddings, but figured it would work here, too.

The piece that took the longest to learn in the postlude was a version of "O God Our Help in Ages Past" that I didn't think would be that hard - but it was!

My final selection was my offertory, which was a surprise pick. I asked my friend (an amazing organist) if she had any pieces based on hymns I'd chosen. She had a nice piano book with lots of Getty/Townend pieces, and it just so happened to be composed by the same guy that did my adult choir piece. Sure enough, when I looked closer I found "Still, My Soul, Be Still" as one of the pieces in the book! It was a beast to learn, but worth it.

All in all, the service went very well. It came together nicely, and I think the people understood the message of Christ being with us yesterday, today, and into the future.

You can view the service here

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Running: The Runkeeper App

As the running progresses into week 3, I can say it's going pretty well. On Saturday I was able to run/walk four miles in the 50 minute timed run that was scheduled for me.

I say it was "scheduled" because I am following a training program on an app called Runkeeper. For the most part, it tracks your running on your phone and gives you insight as to how you're doing. 

I like it because it's free and adjusts nicely to my schedule. But I can't end the post on that, can I? So here are a few things you could expect from Runkeeper. 

First of all, you can register yourself and then keep track of your progress both online and on the phone app. There are a few things you are able to do online that you can't do on the app, like adjust your training dates, but it's not much. 

They make it so you can share your progress with friends and post things on social media, but I'm not big into that. You can also comment on your workout and save routes that you can look at later. 

Runkeeper also isn't just for runs! I have logged in two eliptical/strength training sessions and one rather long walk, which I have done on my rest days. (They say it's good to be well rounded in training.)

I have signed up for an easy program: the Beginner to 5K program, which runs for eight weeks. Every other day they schedule you for a run of some sort, saving longer runs for the weekends (like that 50 minute run I did last weekend). My first few "runs" were 1.5 miles long, even though I stretched them out to over 2 miles based on my route. 

They also have interval training - where you will go at a faster rate for 1-2 minutes and then do a slower pace for 1-2 minues. How do you know when to speed up or slow down? Since I have my phone in my belt and my earbuds in, the audio will come on and tell me. It dims my music or podcast and tells me to start the next interval. I have to admit that I really enjoy interval training. Once I get into half marathon training in the fall, I'm thinking about going with Jeff Galloway, who is a proponent of the run/walk interval method.

I have the audio programmed to give me updates every 5 minutes. The voice will come on and tell me how long it's been since I started, how long I've run, and my pace. You can also have it track other things, but I like to keep it simple. 

My iTunes music playlist (which I'll tell you more about in a later post) is synced with Runkeeper, so as soon as I start my workout, my playlist (titled "Run, Barry. Run!" after my favorite TV show The Flash) will kick in. It will always start at the beginning, and I wish it would remember where I stopped and start there on my next run, but it doesn't do that. So I just go into iTunes and move the songs around to make sure I'm always listening to something new.

Something else I wish Runkeeper would do was sync to Siri. When I start a run I have to go into my belt and touch buttons to get it to start, and sometimes (especially on sunny days) it's hard to see. If I could just use the button on the wire to get the run to start and stop, that would save me so much hassle!

The thing I enjoy the most is the ability to track my progress via GPS. It automatically tells me how far I've been and can show on a map my location. I don't share these with other people, so it's soley for me to see how much I've done. I used to use Map My Run way back before apps were a thing, but this does it even better. 

All in all, Runkeeper is a good app for what it's meant to do. They always are trying to get me to "upgrade" to the monthly paid plan, but I don't think that's really worth the price. The free stuff does the job: it gets me to go out and run!

Runkeeper is available for iPhone and Android devices.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Mix Tapes: The Second Editions

Last month I started a new blog series about the mix CDs that I made - you can find the first post here. In this post we will take a look at my later college years and my first years of being a real adult.

Da Senior Mixin' (winter 2007)

What was going on: I have no idea why I picked the title that I did, but I had enjoyed student teaching and was being a student again.

Top 3 Songs:
"Eye of the Tiger" - Journey
"Coming Undone" - Korn
"Here We Go Again" - OK Go

From the retro to the alternative to the goofy, this CD had it all. The OK Go song was the one with the video of them on treadmills. To be honest, I don't think I've ever seen that video in its entirety!

Current Favorite: "Open Your Eyes" - Snow Patrol

This song is one of those great "build-up" songs that I enjoy the most. And it's probably a song you haven't heard before. So take a listen, please!

Eclectic Summer '08 (summer 2008)

What was going on: I just graduated from college, so I was flying high! It was my final bit of freedom before my jump into bills and insurance and the like, so I made the most of my summer. It was full of picnics, baseball games, and moving my big brother into his new home. All of this led up to my training and move to China for a few months of teaching.

Top 3 Songs:
"I'll Remember" - Madonna
"Down to Earth" - Peter Gabriel
"The World I Know" - Collective Soul

To be honest, I did not like WALL-E when it first came out, but I did love the song that wrapped the movie, which was "Down to Earth."

My Current Favorite:
"Once in a Lifetime" - Talking Heads

This song is just weird. But I love it. Whenever I hear it, I can't help but start dancing!

The Olympics (summer 2008)

What was going on: The Beijing Olympics had just wrapped up in August and I watched as much as I could. This was my opportunity to buy all those wonderful songs I'd heard during the broadcasts, as well as some of the other songs that they had on the soundtrack for those games. I also heard a few songs during this time that I thought were great and wanted to put them on this CD too, even though they had no association with the Olympics.

Top 3 Songs:
"Bugler's Dream and Olympic Fanfare Medley" - John Williams
"Summon the Heroes" - John Williams
"Take Me As I Am" - Tonic

My Current Favorite: "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" - Daft Punk

I heard this in an NBC Nightly News broadcast about the strange food you can eat in Chinese markets, and I loved it. It also made waves when people did some YouTube videos, like the one above.

Year One (fall 2009)

What was going on: With my time in China complete and a brief stint working in an early childhood center, I started my first full-time position as a teacher - thus the term "Year One." It went as well as any first year teaching would, but these songs were my inspiration.

Top 3 Songs
"Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" - Matt & Kim
"Wake Up" - Arcade Fire
"On Your Own" - Green River Ordinance

This was the first year for Community, and "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" was on the pilot, and I really latched on to it. "Wake Up" was actually on a video someone made of Curtis Granderson of the Detroit Tigers robbing a member of the Cleveland Indians from a game-winning home run. These songs really had memories attached to them.

My Current Favorite:
"30-ars Jiggen" - Vasen

This is not the arrangement on my CD, but this was discovered as I started really investigating the music of Walt Disney World (which I write about now on!). It is my favorite of all the WDW music you can hear.


What was going on: I was becoming established in my new town, discovering new interests and making new friends. I didn't have a whole lot of time to make up titles, apparently.

Top 3 Songs:
"Time to Pretend" - MGMT
"Poker Face" - Lady Gaga
"California Love" - Tupac

I also started running, and the two top songs were great for running.

My Current Favorite:
"Fireflies" - Owl City

This song was introduced to me by a friend who really loves Owl City. I've never gotten into techno-pop music, but this is the right way to do it.


What was going on: There were a couple of great alternative radio stations in my area - one in Milwaukee (102.1FM) and one in Chicago (101.1FM) and I picked up on a few great songs as I listened on my drives.

Top 3 Songs:
"Little Lion Man" - Mumford and Sons
"1901" - Phoenix
"Moth's Wings" - Passion Pit

I also picked up quite a few songs from television shows like Grey's Anatomy, Chuck, and So You Think You Can Dance. I was Shazaming music before Shazam existed. Shazam would have made my life so much easier if it had just come into existence ten years earlier.

My Current Favorite:
"Magic Show" - Electric Owls

This song isn't one I would put at the top of a playlist, but it's one that would cheer me up if it came on. It's not formed like most songs - I really enjoy those kinds of songs.

And that's it for part two! We'll hit up another section next month!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Wonders of Snapchat

Once upon a time, I got my first Smartphone. It was amazing! I could download apps and go on the Internet and find my way around with GoogleMaps navigation. I could customize my family and friends' ringtones so I would know exactly who is calling me without even looking at my phone.

The phone didn't come without its problems, though. Something I wasn't aware of at the time was that there are two different kinds of messages you can send. One is a text message (SMS) and the other is a MultiMedia message (MMS). On my phone, all group conversations and picture messages were MMS and required me to "download" before I could see it.

Eventually, as my phone got older, the MMS downloading sometimes wouldn't work or would take forever to download! Because of that I would miss out on some great pictures or get the pictures a lot later. It was incredibly frustrating. I ended up using a different texting service for the last few months of my old phone because it got me picture messages a lot easier than before.

During this time of frustration, I spent Christmas at home. My little sister was spending Christmas with her in-laws, and she and my little brother were constantly sending pictures and short videos to each other through Snapchat. The family at home even got together for a selfie in front of the Christmas tree and sent it to my little sister.

As my older brother and I saw them interacting with each other, we both got curious about Snapchat. My little sister, when we visited her, explained that it's an app that allows you to send pictures and videos to each other (with optional text on top of the picture or video). These are only visible for a few seconds after you open it, and then they disappear from your phone. It allows people to send picture after picture without overloading the storage on the phone.

This sounded pretty appealing, and was a much better alternative to the crap I was dealing with when it came to my phone MMS, so my older brother and I downloaded it in January.

For the next four months, my siblings and I would send pictures and videos to each other very frequently. I know that the four of us have a few other friends on our Snapchat contact lists, but it seemed like those guys are the recipients of most of my snaps. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are also in our sibling loop.

It has been even more important since the birth of my niece. Now we can get daily updates about her growth and progress and goofiness and cute outfits and sneezes. My little brother and his wife just moved, and I got snaps from their progress and their cats' adjustment to a new home. And for my older brother and I, we can share the ridiculous things that we hear or encounter in our respective adventures.

We were doing so much of it that when my whole family was together in April, my parents asked us to set them up with Snapchat! Now all of my family (except my niece) are on Snapchat, and it is another way that we can all communicate with each other. Because of our jobs, we can't be that extended family that lives in one area and sees each other every week. We all live in different states now, and we are blessed to have this method of communication to keep us together.

It started out as a way to avoid crappy MMS problems on my phone, but it has turned into a wonderful way to stay in touch with family and friends!