Changing Times

Riding the subway the other morning, a woman plopped herself down next to me and proceeded to take out her make-up bag.  She then applied every conceivable potion that Revlon sells from dark circle concealer, to foundation & blush.

When the eye brow teasers were removed from her bag of magic tricks I really became squeamish.   The subway was packed with no vacant seats.  Besides, it was a 45 minute commute.  It took great will power for me not to blurt out that grooming is a personal matter but I had my self censor button firmly pressed. I proceeded to get more steamed as my station neared.  The men didn’t seem to notice or pretended not to.  She was getting a few raised eyebrows from the women who weren’t botoxed & could still grimace, but no one said a thing.  NOT ONE WORD.  Is it because the bar has fallen so low on socially accepted behaviour that no one cares anymore?  Or is it because of my age and the rules & norms that I grew up with are not applicable to a younger demographic?

This brings me to church behaviour because I spend almost as much time in churches as I do on city transit. 

I  always wore a dress to church even on the most bitter Canadian winter days except for one particularly cold morning about 25 years ago.  The wind was howling and it felt like minus 1000 when waiting for the bus to take me to my church gig.  I put on trousers thinking it was the sensible thing to do.  I figured I’d be robed & at the organ bench so who would know?  That Sunday,  the organ broke down (see previous posts on my bad luck with church organs) & I had to make my way to the piano.  I was self-conscious standing in front of everyone in my pants thinking that the congregation would assume I had a first class ticket to hell.

Fast forward a number of years.

One Sunday morning when I wasn’t playing the organ I found myself in a pew supporting a clergy friend of mine.  I was sitting in front of an elderly retired priest who always attended church in full black clericals .  During communion people were  making their way up the aisle to receive the elements.  My head was lowered and I heard an audible gasp &  the words,  “My Lord, saints preserve us!”  I looked up and there were 2 people of ample proportions dressed in lime green exercise tights that were about 3 sizes too small, left nothing to the imagination, and red sweat shirts that hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine in quite some time.  I had to stifle a laugh.  Not because of how these people were dressed because frankly, I didn’t care.  The days of wearing dresses and gloves had long passed, but I was amused at the priest’s reaction.  For him, it clearly wasn’t what he had been accustomed to seeing when he had spent his days in the pulpit.

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Then there was the choir member whose Sunday morning ritual involved clipping his nails during the sermon.  His wife was the choir director.  Why she didn’t say anything to him, I’ll never know.   But I do know for a fact it drove the clergy crazy.

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Now it is all about Social Media.  I listened to a radio documentary fairly recently where ministers of hip churches, especially in Calgary, discussed the benefits of using Twitter in the actual church service.  Their enthusiasm for immediate connection to their congregation could only have been surpassed if they were announcing the Second Coming.     What was interesting to me, was that a few weeks before I heard this radio doc,  I witnessed an elderly woman tearing a strip of a young person for using their IPhone  during the service.    I started to think, do we need to get with the programme and expect our seniors to do the same or have we somehow lost a sense of being still and taking time to be holy?

Check out a few of these articles for various thoughts on this topic.  Please let me know what you think the role Social Media should play in an actual service.

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0065.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/phones-in-church_n_3781132.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57593128-71/one-in-five-americans-use-phones-in-church/

The Many Faces of Mary – A Choral Journey

For those of you that are interested in great choral music be sure to check out the Arvo Part work.
It is worth the click!

Themes & Variations by Musician & Producer Kelly Galbraith

Eve and Mary by Sr. Grace Remington, O.C.S.O

Having grown up a Baptist I was not one of one of those little girls that went to bed with prayer cards of the Virgin Mary on my night table and a rosary around my lampshade. My first paying gigs were as organist at United and Anglican churches so there were no icons of the BVM anywhere. When I was a first year music student at Mount Allison University,  I had an opportunity to conduct Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater‘ (which is featured later in this post). That was the beginning of my love affair with choral music and a fascination with the symbolism and beautiful music written in Mary’s honour.

Studio del Magnificat in canto gregoriano, Schola gregoriana Mediolanensis   

tumblr_mf93vmXE1V1qa2fuyo1_500 Most little girls who have been involved in Sunday School Pagents long to be the child that plays Mary by putting on the blue terry cloth robe and clutching a baby Jesus doll.  I…

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St. Jude or Kenny Rogers?

imagesWhat to do?  I think we all ask that question at various times in our lives, whether it be about our relationships or jobs. I know I have wrestled with that conundrum.   Is this job or friendship worth the grief?  Do I keep plugging away even though the energy required to keep it working seems lopsided?  Can this situation be turned around?  Do I keep hoping and invoking St. Jude (The Patron Saint of Loss Causes) to some how make it work?

Just Google quotes on hope and you’ll find words, lots of words from saints & presidents and leaders of major corporations, to those that are anonymous armchair philosophers.   Depending on your mood and point of view on any given day, these quotes will strike you as words of wisdom or simply platitudes that have no heft.  Where there is hope there is a chance to things to turn around.  If you don’t have a dream, you have no hope or vision.  Sow hope in despair.  With faith all things are possible.Kenny+Rogers++The+First+Edition+keeny+rogers

Then there are the words of Kenny Rogers.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em.
Know when to walk away.  Know when to run.”

I am not a card-carrying member of  the Kenny Rogers fan club.  Truth be told I have umpteen recordings of Bach and none of Kenny.  But the lyrics to ‘The Gambler’ actually did give me inspiration to leave a lucrative music gig.  I was struggling with a decision of whether or not to give up a church job that looked great on paper. Seriously, it had everything on my wish list but for reasons that will probably appear on another blog post I was unhappy and needed to fold, walk away and run.   Which I did.

This brings me to bishops, clergy and congregations asking the same question.  What to do?  They are dealing with the hard realities of diminishing congregations .   628x471I played the organ for one church’s deconsecration service and have attended others.  It doesn’t matter the denomination, Baptist, United or Anglican.  In one month I played for congregations of 8, 40 and 200.     It has been a very long time since I have seen a packed church, other than for a choir concert or funeral.  Many people simply don’t go any more. There are other things to do on a Sunday morning from going for walks in the park to updating Facebook statuses.  For some people, the doctrine that one grew up with seems outdated like Mr. Roger’s sweater. 

 

I admire clergy that continue to preach to their congregations with enthusiasm, regardless of the size.  I admire the parishioners that attend Sunday worship and feel that church is important and has a place in their spiritual journey.   For many that attend it is because they want to be part of  a loving, supportive community.   I believe that Christianity still has relevance in this contemporary world.  The question is – How do we re-imagine our churches so that they can be relevant in people’s lives?  Churches may never pack them in like they did 50 years ago, or like you see in episodes of The Simpsons.  But I think that the church is people, not buildings.   That for St. Jude, people are not a lost cause.  Buildings sometimes are and that’s when Kenny Rogers comes in.

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The Impossible Dream – By Not The Church Lady AKA Kelly Galbraith

Most musicians practise hours every day from the time they are children.  Their desire is to make beautiful music and if possible, pay their bills.  All musicians (except one) own their instrument.  They make reeds for it and know what embouchure it needs to make lovely sounds.  Pianists know how much weight they need to use on the keys to produce beauty and string players just how much pressure to apply when tuning.  Alas!  The one musician that doesn’t own their instrument (unless of course they win the lottery and buy their own church), is the organist!  This is what I carry in my purse, a set of keys.  And armed with a list of church entry codes, I can gain access to the kingdom, in this case, a sanctuary to practise.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, my organ shoes do travel!  Being a musician for hire and a substitute organist for most of my life, I NEVER know what awaits me when I enter the building.  The first obstacle is to figure out how to turn the instrument on.  Believe me when I say, this is not usually obvious.  Sometimes breaker switches need to be reset. Other times, it is a combination of switches and mystical chants that bring it to life.

I played my very first church service when I was probably about 12 or 13 years old.  It was my debut and I was excited and eager to have an opportunity to play music that I had spend hours practising.  This pipe organ was old and in need of repair but it chose THIS very service, packed to the rafters to offer up its swan song.

I started the intro of the opening hymn and a rumble grew to a piercing wail  that could only have had its origins from the depths of Hades and choir of banshees echoed through the church.  Then all of the 8 foot and 4 foot pipes stopped working and only the 16 foot and Mixtures offered their voice.  What does that mean in laypersons’ terms?  It would be the equivalent of Paul Robeson and Tiny Tim singing a duet for 1 hour.

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At 15 years of age, I played my first wedding.  It was held in a little country church with a pump organ.  The pedals kept sticking  and  the soloist had to crouch down in her finery and manually heave and push those pedals during the processional.  Also the bride had insisted on having the Wedding March as the recessional.  How was I to know that this organ didn’t have enough keys to play the tune?

During high school years, I played an organ whose manufacturer’s claim to fame was building farm equipment…enough said on that.   Another instrument I played kept making rude sounds from the bellows like it had eaten something that disagreed with it and all that was missing was the accompanying smell.

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I learned later from my Mt. A professor that when I graduated, they had to repair the University organ. I wore the poor thing out. I loved that chapel organ and kept it company for 9 hours a day learning repertoire from  French Classical, German Baroque, French Romantic and the English school.  I used technique that would serve me well if ever I had the good fortune to play a tracker instrument (considered by many to be the Bentley of organs).

While pursing graduate studies, it was still assumed by teachers and fellow students alike that we would someday play instruments worthy of the masterpieces that we were learning.

Surely you ask, “You have played in well over 100 churches.  There must be some good instruments!”  My friends,  I can count on 1 hand the instruments that made be blush with joy and giggle like a school girl.  Now I view it as a challenge to coax music out of these sick instruments.  Churches don’t have the money or interest to invest thousands, and often hundreds of thousands of dollars into their up keep, especially when in danger of closing.  A good pipe organ can easily set a congregation back one million dollars.

This past Sunday, the organ I was playing died twice in the middle of the service. So much for the hours spent on my Offertory and Postlude I thought as I made my way down to the piano thumbing through the hymn book for tunes to improvise on.

I think the hardest thing for church organists is that they have the ability and desire to make beautiful music but the opportunities just don’t present themselves very often.  A dear friend of mine recently asked me if I thought I would someday make music with an instrument that I loved.  I guess it depends on how long my organ shoes still want to travel.  I am an optimist and of course, I keep looking out my window for flying pigs!

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