Someone has been sitting in my chair!

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This year marks my 40th year being a ‘paid’ church musician.  I’m not quite Methushelah but, I admit, I started my career in music as a young teenager when phones were fastened to the wall and screen time meant playing with Etch-a-Sketch.  I have spent more time in church than I care to admit.  If  I wasn’t sitting on the organ bench practising and waving my arms leading a choir, I sat in a pew supporting my husband, an Anglican priest for over 50 years who’s now retired.

While I have had some long term church gigs, I was and still am a musician for temporary hire – a substitute while the church is looking for a permanent musician or when their regular church musician is away.  This has worked well for me because I’ve also worked for many years as a music producer for CBC, and because I love the freedom this arrangement offers.  I like taking the temperature of churches of all denominations,  working with the choir, and seeing how they worship.  And because of how church has changed during these years, I feel compelled to jot down these musings. It’s NOT to pour gasoline on the conversation ‘This is why I don’t go to church’, but rather it’s to start a dialogue on how churches can address some long standing assumptions and create a safer and more welcoming space for those that want to venture inside a sacred building for the first time.

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And one major problem has to do with the question of where it’s safe to sit.  No matter how many times I step through the doors of a ‘new to me’ church, I feel a certain angst in the pit of my stomach because I’m pretty sure I’ll set my keister down in a spot that will make someone mad.  It actually begins as I pull into the parking lot and wonder:  “Where do I leave my car without ticking someone off?”

You think I jest?  I remember the day I pulled into one church’s parking lot years back, and a few parishoners greeted me not with “Hello” or “Welcome” but “YOU CAN’T PARK HERE.  This is where so and so usually parks.”  I didn’t see a reserved sign, but nodded and moved my car, despite feeling sorely tempted to drive away, pick up a copy of the New York Times, and go home to listen to ‘The Sunday Edition on CBC’.  But because my husband was a guest preacher at the church, and it was a rare Sunday when I wasn’t playing somewhere,  I wanted to support him.  But it was hard for me not to burst out laughing with my distinct cackle when I saw their faces at coffee hour after my husband had introduced me as his spouse!   It doesn’t now surprise me to learn that the church is struggling with poor attendence.

After I think I’ve found a safe spot to park my car, my next dilemma is where can I sit. T-T-15777-Goldilocks-and-The-Three-Bears-Someones-Been-Sitting-in-my-Chair-Speech-Bubble

I love cosying up to a pillar if there is one, or finding a good back seat for easy escape.  Trouble is, I can never guess which seat is ‘free’.  People are creatures of habit.  They like their tea a certain way at a given time.  They usually take the same route to work unless there is a collision.  And they sit at the same dinner place.  It only stands to reason that they also like ‘their’ spot in church.   But think about it.  How is a guest suppose to know that it is taken?  B8xRcePCQAAUhaN It doesn’t even matter if the sanctuary is almost empty.  Some months ago I checked out a church that I was going to supply at for a stint.  I wanted to get a feel for the flow from a congregates point of view.  I arrived early to hear the prelude to see how the organ sounded …was it too loud, soft, where does the choir stand, etc….  There wouldn’t have been more than 15 people there when I arrived.  I bravely plopped myself into a pew, and hoped I was safe.  But a few minutes later, a woman walked down the centre aisle and before she too sat down, she asked another parishoner if this was Lucy’s spot.  Eaves dropping, I learned that Lucy had moved up north to be near her daughter – and probably would never be back.

Things get a little odder when I tell you about another church where my mom went for the first time to hear me play her favourite piece.  Again, it was at a church where you could play throw and catch without fear of hitting someone.  “YOU CAN’T SIT HERE!” scolded a rather officius “force to be reckoned with” individual.   “That’s Josey’s seat”.  The elderly woman, who was perched next to the woman advising my mom on her seating plans, said, “Yes dear. Josey died a few year’s ago but we like to keep it free in her memory.” 8290bfd59d0bf0ae19fabfcf7ff27018--angel-s-angel-wings

Does this happen in your church?  Do you know?  Do you care?  You should, because most congregations treat newcomers the same way.  So  I ask you: clergy, board members, congregants, how do you plan to change your church culture to create a safe and inviting place for everyone? How do you plan to address the stink eye that prevents people from being welcomed and comfortable to sit where they want.  I have some ideas – but what are yours?  Time to start talking, folks, or more churches will be putting up “for sale” signs, and will only have the invisible Josey’s left sitting in the pews.

 

 

 

 

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Surviving the End of the World

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‘Of course I’ll do it!’ I told maestro David Fallis. I remember the morning well, Sunday Dec 8, 2013 because it was the day after Cantores Celestes, the women`s choir that I direct, sang Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria‘ and R. Murray Schafer’s ‘Snowforms’. Murray was celebrating his 80th year and Cantores Celestes marked its 25th Anniversary.  Unbeknownst to me, David came to hear us because he was looking for a women`s choir to participate in the Luminato performance of Schafer`s `Apocalypsis`.  I loved performing Schafer`s music and also was taken with his biography and novel, so when David said he thought we`d be a good fit for a work that rivals the forces of a Mahler Symphony, and that I`d have a chance to join some of the best musicians in the city, I was giddy as a school girl. To me, it was a no brainer if there ever was one.

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Then the conductor’s score arrived.   My first thought was ‘This is gorgeous.  A work of art, and WOW what an honour to be involved with this epic production.’  But as I looked more closely, my heart raced, my chin dropped to my chest and my second thought was:  ‘Oh my.  I have no idea that these drawings mean.  Am I mad?’ Then, after counting over 13 high Bs scooping up past high Cs in a row, I also wondered.  `Can I do it?  Can my choir do it?`  Lots of sleepless nights ensued.
David Fallis joined Cantores Celestes in January for a workshop and gave the  `Women of the Apocalypsis` the guidance and assurances we needed that we could do it. As the pages of the calendar flipped forward, momentum started to build.
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 As we started memorizing our score and being fitted for costumes, it was becoming increasingly real. Then when we all joined forces at the end of May to begin our joint rehearsals in the COC rehearsal space, it finally started to make sense.
We learned how to walk on stage, how to act, and to be still. (Not an easy or natural state of being for women who like to share and laugh!)
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Deep down, I hoped that this would be a chance to fulfill a childhood dream of being on a world stage conducting in my finery and sparkles, looking quaffed and every bit as glamorous as a conductor should be.  The reality much more humbling – but still makes me laugh. In keeping with Lemi’s direction and vision, our outfits were black pants and jackets that were good-will specials. 11330030_10153195180751743_6126935420751271358_n
No make-up was to be worn, and hair was to be pulled back in a bun.  This was a big problem, because my naturally curly hair refused to be tamed into submission.  One day my hair was cut and gelled but before I could make it home Orphan Annie reappeared.  In the end, it was a fist full of bobby-pins that finally did the trick.
When I think about my Luminato experience, I feel honoured and privileged to have had an opportunity to work with such a great Luminato team that included Caroline Hollway, Naomi Campbell, and of course the upbeat and unfatigable Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt,  and visionary, Director Lemi Ponifasio. The friendships forged with working with all of the singers who were so giving of their time and the kindness and camaraderie of my fellow conductors of the first half – Stephanie Martin,  Christine Duncan, Zimfira Poloz, Anita McAlister, Dallas Bergen,  Richard Foty, Ryan Scott and Anastasia Tchernikova – will also stay with me for years to come.
Finally, I cannot say enough wonderful things about Maestro David Fallis.  I do not think there is anyone who could have been so focused, kind, smart and calm as the end of the World was drawing near.  Thank you David, Murray and Luminato for the gift you have given me and Cantores Celestes. 11406690_855139757910006_4654838607531797976_o (1)
Kelly Galbraith
Director of Cantores Celestes Women`s Choir