Posts Tagged ‘singing’

tulips flowers stone church Cambridge

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

—Mary Oliver

tulip magnolia tree bloom blue sky

I love Mary Oliver, as regular readers know, but either hadn’t read this poem or had forgotten about it, until my friend Louise shared it on Instagram.

There is so much to worry over in the world – the second stanza especially hits me right in the heart, these days. But there are also so many reasons to sing.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.


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april reads part 2The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton Disclafani
After a family tragedy, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is sent from her secluded Florida home to a riding camp/boarding school. Away from her parents and twin brother for the first time, she gradually learns to live with the other girls, while reflecting on the scandal that brought her there. Full of dark secrets and beautiful writing; Thea is a complex, compelling narrator. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Love Over Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith
The third 44 Scotland St. novel finds anthropologist Domenica studying the habits of pirates in the Strait of Malacca, Pat beginning her university course, and Matthew making a few disastrous fashion decisions. Gentle humor and philosophical questions, as always, abound. Good fun.

Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly, Susan Schorn
All her life, Susan Schorn wrestled with fear and anxiety. When she took up karate at a women-only dojo in Austin, she not only found a way to address her fear: she discovered an entirely new framework for life. Her smart, witty memoir traces her journey as a karate student and teacher, with plenty of pithy, often paradoxical life lessons and hilarious anecdotes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 28).

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, ed. Caroline Kennedy
Kennedy has gathered her favorite poems under a dozen or so headings (“Falling in Love,” “Breaking Up,” “Marriage,” “Work,” “Motherhood,” etc.), with essays introducing each section. Some sections felt a bit trite, but I loved others, such as “Growing Up and Growing Old” and especially the last section, “How to Live.” A wide range of poems from different eras, and an interesting array of perspectives on womanhood.

Hattie Ever After, Kirby Larson
After a stint on a homestead claim in Montana (in Hattie Big Sky), orphan and aspiring writer Hattie Brooks heads to San Francisco to pursue her dreams. She starts out as a night janitress at a big newspaper, but quickly progresses to cub reporter – even gaining a few scoops. Hattie is a spunky heroine, but at times she seemed overly and improbably naive. Fun, but not as compelling as the original.

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Deborah Yaffe
Although Deborah Yaffe was a longtime Austen fan, she had no idea how huge, diverse and sometimes bizarre the Janeite world could be. But she explores the spectrum of Austenmania in this fascinating blend of memoir and reportage. She interviews Jane fans ranging from pedantic academics to a Texan who orders custom-made Regency gowns every year. She also shares her travails with a Regency ball gown (and corset). Witty, informative and warmhearted. Jane would approve. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 10).

Garlic, Mint, and Sweet Basil: Essays on Marseilles, the Mediterranean, and Noir Fiction, Jean-Claude Izzo
These are more like mini-essays – snippets of Izzo’s thoughts about Marseilles (his beloved, multiethnic home), the cuisine and culture of the Mediterranean region, which bridges Europe and Africa; and one scene featuring the protagonist of his noir novels. Some lovely sentences and images of Marseilles, mostly relating to food (see title), but the substance here felt lacking.

The World According to Bertie, Alexander McCall Smith
Our fourth visit to Scotland Street finds Bertie adjusting to the birth of his baby brother, Ulysses, while Angus Lordie fights to clear the name of his dog, Cyril, who has been impounded for biting people. I love these books for their gentle musings on our everyday interactions with one another and the philosophical questions arising from those. McCall’s love for Edinburgh is evident in every page.

The House at the End of Hope Street, Menna van Praag
The titular magical house in Cambridge, England, is visible only to those women who need it and managed by Peggy, a wise, white-haired mother figure with a weakness for cream. Alba, a young, timid student, finds herself there after a serious betrayal. Gradually she (and the house’s other guests) regain the courage to face their fears, helped by the house’s former residents, who dispense advice through their Hogwarts-esque talking portraits. Whimsical and wonderfully bookish.

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Stacy Horn
Though she only has a so-so voice and she’s not religious, Stacy Horn has sung with the choir of Grace Church in New York City for more than 30 years. Her memoir explores the joy we derive from group singing, with asides about the history of singing societies in the U.S. and the lives of several composers. As a singer, I enjoyed this book, though I got a bit tired of the author’s protesting-too-much assertions of agnosticism.

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When writers and artists come together, there is music. And when the people of God come together, there is music. So at the Glen, as you might expect, we played and we listened and we sang.

mount holyoke college chapel

The chapel at Mt. Holyoke

Jan Krist ably led us in worship during the brief, nightly services, which felt like a semicolon, like a welcome pause after each long, full day of what Lauren Winner admitted, one morning as we wrapped up our workshop, is “hard and holy work.”

Talking and listening and thinking about craft and purpose, and holding each other’s stories, on and off the page, is both difficult and sacred. So I found it fitting that Lauren began each class session with the same words that opened each worship service: “The Lord be with you.” Each time, sitting around a large wooden table with pens in hand or shifting in our chairs in the high-ceilinged music hall, we responded: “And also with you.”

I wasn’t sure what hymns we’d be singing together. This was a wildly diverse, ecumenical group, and I was prepared to hear (and try to sing along with) songs I didn’t know. But on the first night, Jan’s gentle chords led us into a hymn I’ve been singing all my life, one I haven’t heard much in the last few years:

I love to tell the story
Of unseen things above
Of Jesus and His glory
Of Jesus and His love…

With Kristin singing alto on my left, and Kari and Stephanie on my other side, I closed my eyes and thought back to my dad singing scraps of this song around the house, while he took out the trash or unloaded the dishwasher or puttered around on a lazy Saturday. I thought of singing each verse in the small brown sanctuary of the little Baptist church in Coppell, where I learned the words to so many hymns that still live deep in my bones.

And then I opened my eyes and looked around at the room of novelists and artists and poets and songwriters, memoirists and sculpture artists and people who make all kinds of art, every day. I had barely met most of them, but I knew: this is one thing we’re all trying to do.

I love to tell the story
For those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting
To hear it like the rest…

We spent the week telling each other our stories – over breakfast, lunch and dinner in the spacious dorm dining hall, over glasses of wine at the bar across the street, over a wide assortment of beverages in the lounge, until the wee hours, every night. We began to explain who we are, where we come from, what we write or paint or sing about that won’t let us go. But we also spent the week reminding each other of the story we’re all telling, the one we sometimes wrestle with and question and even throw off for a while, but always come back to in the end.

I love to tell the story
‘Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love.

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I love surprises of the everyday variety; I don’t always relish big life surprises. But here, a handful of the most delightful:

1. Loving my first job out of college – an admin job on campus – as much as I did.
2. Bethany moving back to Abilene, for a year and a half of wonderful “borrowed time.”
3. Finding another family in Abilene (and staying there as long as I did).
4. Becoming a total tea addict. (I never touched the stuff until college.)
5. Interning in Hawaii for a month one summer. (Surprises every DAY.)
6. Learning to navigate traffic on a bike in Oxford, and loving that, too.
7. Moving to Boston – the difficulty and the richness, and lots of other things besides, have surprised me.
8. Actually writing a novel in a month in 2008.
9. The surprise party Jeremiah gave me when I turned 21. (Yes, I was totally surprised.)
10. Singing a brief solo in the Les Miserables medley during a choir concert in college. (I was so sure I hadn’t gotten it – but I ended up with a solo from “On My Own,” my favorite Les Mis song.)
11. Writing a cover story for Radiant magazine – how surprised I was to be asked!
12. Being told (not asked) to learn to play the piccolo for a high school band concert in London.

How about you? Any wonderful life surprises to share?

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my friend Wayne

To most people at ACU, he’s the dean of campus life. I doubt most students could tell you half the things he does in a day, though we know he’s one of the busiest people on campus. We see him at chapel, sitting on the stage and giving announcements and leading prayers. Because our school is small, we also see him around, in the campus center or the administration building or at special events. But to me, he’s also the guy who leads singing at the Highland Church of Christ on Wednesday nights.

Some people call his leading style “old-fashioned” – that doesn’t really explain it, but its strict rhythm feels different than the more fluid style employed by some younger song leaders. He is never without his pitch pipe, and just last night he complained, “I can’t ever just sing with a Power Point sheet. Words on a page are just words on a page. I need to see the music!” He’s not only a “Church of Christ boy,” as he says laughingly, but a musician, and I love him for it.

His eyes are startlingly blue among their laugh lines; his smile is quick, and his laugh is always ready. Even on some Wednesdays, when he admits with a sigh, “We’re tired. It was hard to get here tonight,” I can count on a hug and a genuine interest in how I’m doing. He’s old enough to be my dad, but he treats me more like a younger sister, or, more simply, a friend.

Standing on the Highland stage with its hideous orange carpet, we joke around about the music and the sound system and what’s going on around campus this week. I tease him when he forgets the words in warm-up, and on nights like last night, when he starts to sing the wrong words during service and barely catches himself, we can’t help but look at each other and smile. He trusts me to lead prayers, goes patiently over songs I don’t know, accepts my occasional hesitant corrections on the new melodies he knows less well, and never says a word when I slip on a harmony or quaver on an ending. As the lone singer on the praise team who didn’t grow up Church of Christ, I have a slight inferiority complex – but Wayne Barnard is always glad I’m there, and he never forgets to tell me so.

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For nearly a year, I’ve been spending an hour on Tuesday nights at Jeremiah’s house, with seven or eight of my friends, “practicing” for Come As You Are chapel on Thursdays. Practice actually entails some singing, random stories about our weeks, a prayer time at the end, making fun of Jeremiah (and each other, but he usually gets it the worst), and laughter that I’m sure can be heard down the street. There are some particular nights where it’s the Nate and Jake Comedy Show (they’re brothers), or when Charity and I get the giggles, or when Mandy and Olivia canNOT stop making sarcastic comments under their breaths. Last night was all of those…as well as a lesson in what happens when you put people in front of a video camera.

Jeremiah, bless his heart, had the idea of making a DVD as a going-away gift for us, and also for anyone who wants to know more about our ministry. So he wanted to tape part of last night’s rehearsal, as well as taping Thursday’s chapel, and also interview everyone for a couple of minutes about what Come As You Are has meant to them. We sang first (fortunately), with the usual mix of hilarity and music and anecdotes out of nowhere (which included, among other things, Jake’s car getting broken into, Nate’s frustrating past two days, several blonde moments from Charity, and Brett’s classic laconic attitude when asked about GATA formal: “It was GATA formal”).

Then Jeremiah took out the camera, and started explaining to everyone that he wanted them to talk for a minute or two about their favorite Come As You Are moments and what it has meant to them. Jake (our amazing freshman tenor) got put in the hot seat first, and started in with “I’ve really enjoyed Come As You Are this year, and as the youngest person in the group, it’s been so great to be invited in…” At which point Nate lunged forward and grabbed Jake as if to choke him (hey, they are brothers), and we had to go to take 2.

That was only the beginning…we could NOT stop laughing for the rest of the night. Wooden and metal swords were brandished (Olivia: “I’m about to be attacked by the Lollars, and I don’t know what level of heaven that will put me in, but I bet it’s pretty high!”). Threats were made (Nate, tapping a sword in his hand: “We really like it when Jeff shows up to Come As You Are. We wish he would come more often!”). Of course, Charity got all teary-eyed, and I tried to keep it short and sweet (and sort of to the point), and Mandy was cool as a cucumber, even while the boys were reenacting Braveheart from either side of her. Of course, poor Jeremiah HATES to be on camera – but we told him he had to be interviewed, and fifty-seven takes later (actually only about eight), we had a good segment from him.

The last bit of the night was funny and touching all at once – we convinced April, fiance of Jeremiah’s roommate Ben, to come and tape our last song (“Blessed Be Your Name,” which is sort of our theme song). In order to get a cool angle, we had her lie down on the floor in the middle of all of us, with the camera pointing upward – slightly intimidating for her, but fun!

These people have helped teach me what “Blessed Be Your Name” means, and the meanings of all the other songs we’ve sung, like “All the Heavens,” “Shout Hallelujah,” “In Christ Alone,” “Love One Another” and “Great in Power.” They’ve helped teach me what it means to have a life that praises God, even when things are dark or frustrating or out of control or just plain mundane.

Maybe we had an advantage from the beginning. Most of us were friends already. Jake and Nate are brothers. Charity is my soul-sister. Jeremiah and Brett have been singing together for two years. And, of course, Jeremiah holds a very special place in my heart. 🙂 But I think the worship times we’ve shared together have been the main thing that’s formed us. We are not only friends any more, nor are we simply family in Christ. We are a community. Honest, funny, authentic and open. And we love each other. More, I think, than even we know.

Chapel on the Hill. Thursday, 11 a.m. And then Sunday at Highland, 7:30 a.m. (to rehearse for two services). Two last times to lift it up to God together. Until we get to heaven, that is. Or until a Come As You Are reunion in five or ten years.

Blessed be His Name…

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you have to show it

Yesterday I received a challenge – a surprisingly apt challenge, from someone who has only known me a few weeks. I’m used to receiving encouragement and challenges from people who know what I’m capable of, i.e. my parents, my boss and my close friends. But I guess I’m more transparent than I thought I was. Either that, or my new voice teacher, Mr. Cook, is a very discerning man.

During our first few lessons together, we’ve mainly been working on taking deep breaths and opening the mouth wide enough to let some sound out. He keeps pushing me to give more. And yesterday he made me sing waaay higher and louder (and longer) than I wanted to – and finally asked, “Are you scared of your sound?” And then, “Do you feel any emotion when you sing?”

Well, what a stupid question. Of course I feel when I sing – I’ve spent years of my life singing to and about God, or singing love songs, or (at ACU) singing pieces from operas, which require a big dose of emotion. Singing is a huge part of my life. Of course it elicits an emotional response.

Here’s what I learned yesterday, though: If I’m feeling emotion when I sing, it does no one (including me) any good unless I show it. Sometimes that may feel like exaggeration; it will almost always feel dangerous. Mr. Cook explained that my voice is a gift, a gift I give my audience when I sing – even if my audience is only him listening to me doing screechy vocalises.

Something else clicked as I listened to him: I realized that I can’t keep being afraid to give the gift. I have to trust my audience enough, and care about them enough, to give them my voice even when I’m not sure what they’ll do with it. I can’t simply detach myself from caring what they think, because when you give a gift (especially of yourself), you do care deeply what the recipient thinks. I can’t choose the safe way of objective detachment from my audience. I have to choose the more honest, more dangerous – and ultimately more rewarding – way of confidence born out of compassion, and a longing to give.

My assigment this week is to show some emotion when I sing, and I’m going to try to make that true everywhere (church, choir, Come As You Are, chapel, Sing Song). Maybe I won’t move Mr. Cook to tears next week when I sing for him, but I hope he’ll at least be able to tell that my heart is in it. Even if I’m shaking with every note.

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