2020 at St. John's - Yours, O Lord - Part IV

1 Chronicles 29:11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. For everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom, and you are exalted as head over all.
By Dr. Michael Brown

When the Psalmist exhorts us to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” there are few details that need to be noted - mainly in what the Psalmist doesn’t say.  First of all, there is no caveat indicating “Make a joyful noise. . . If you have a voice worthy of a multi-million dollar recording contract,” or “Make a joyful noise. . .  If you can carry a tune,” or “Make a joyful noise - if you are part of the choir.” Second, it doesn’t say “Make a joyful Anglican choral sound” - it says “noise.” Third, it states that the noise should be “joyful,” not “perfect.”   

So what does this analysis mean for my work at St. John’s. Foremost in my mind, it means we are all called to raise our voices in praise to God.  The Chancel Choir, the children’s programs, and other music programs are all non-auditioned. I will teach anybody to sing, to ring a bell, to play a drum, you name it.  If you are interested in contributing to the musical life of St. John’s, you are welcome. This calling isn’t limited to our ensembles, however. Everyone in the St. John’s family is called to sing.  Some of my favorite moments in worship over the past year have involved my hearing the congregation joining with the choir, sometimes as we recess, boldly singing “God of Grace and God of Glory,” sometimes in more meditative moments, such as when we take a verse of “Amazing Grace” unaccompanied toward the end of Communion.

Certainly, there is also a place for the more rehearsed musical presentations of the Chancel Choir, the St. John’s Singers, the Drum Circle, and others.  I am so thankful that, through the giving of our parish, we are able to retain four talented USC singers through the Choral Scholars program. Their presence has enabled the Chancel Choir to take on some challenging and beautiful music which we hope has been an uplifting experience for the congregation.  Bringing in additional musicians for Christmas, Easter, and other services adds a wonderful extra sparkle, and the growth of the music program to include the joyful noises of the St. John’s Drum Circle has added new fervor to our worship.   

The theme for our Stewardship season is “Yours, O Lord,” and I take this to heart in my week-to-week work and medium and long-term planning for the Music Ministry here at John’s.  I am extremely grateful each time someone comes up to me an congratulates me on some musical element of our services, but I am mindful that the music ministry succeeds because many have given of their time, talent, and treasure to enhance our corporate worship.  To borrow the words of the conductor Benjamin Zander, it is my job to help “awaken possibility” in the many participants in the St. John’s Music Ministry.  

Let me leave you with an excerpt from one of the oldest Orthodox prayers for chanters and church musicians:  “Help us to praise and glorify You through singing in a proper way, fervently praying and endlessly praising you for all the undeserved gifts you have poured upon us, and not to sing in vanity and to judge ourselves, but to join the Angelic choirs who constantly glorify You with your Eternal Father and with Your Most Holy, Meek, and Life-Giving Spirit now and ever and unto the ages of all ages.” Amen!

Our voices are very personal;  I frequently encounter those who, upon hearing that I am a voice teacher, tell me I do not want to hear them sing.  It’s never usually a case of, say a brass teacher being told by a new acquaintance that they do not wanting to hear that person play Flugelhorn.  Our voices are tied to our sense of identity, hence the difficulty many people have not just with singing, but with public speaking. We fear that if our voices shake, crack, or sound feeble, we will expose our personal insecurities in front of an unforgiving crowd.  This is before the subject of music enters the picture - and the situation applies to every one of us, even those of us who have been singing for years.  
My first priority here at St. John’s is making sure that we all- not just the music ensembles - are engaging with the musical elements of worship, not just as listeners, but as active participants.  Having a skilled organist, choir members, and other ensembles helps with this goal, but be assured that most of the time our goal is to motivate every one of you to sing.  

One of my musical heroes, the conductor Benjamin Zander, has said in a number of his lectures that one of the most formative epiphanies he ever experienced was realizing that an orchestral conductor makes no sound; it is their responsibility to awaken possibility in the players they lead.  This thought in many ways grounds and focuses my work as director of music ministry here at St. John’s. I am certainly able to raise my own voice in worship, but much more important than that is the task of helping singers, instrumentalists, and the congregation discover, develop, and raise their musical voices in corporate worship.  

Directing the music ministry at St. John’s has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences in my work as a musician and music teacher.
Please sign and return your 2020 pledge card by placing it in the offering plate by Sunday, October 27 or mailing it to the parish office. You can change your pledge at any time.