Wednesday, August 26, 2009


When did it become illegal to expect a lot out of people? When did it become even more illegal to expect a lot out of yourself? I'm asking because I'd really like to know.

I'm having a hard time at the church. Recently, I started choir rehearsals again for the Fall semester. And, in that time I've been told that I'm way too hard on the choir. That I expect way too much out of people. And that I'm no fun.

I've been told all of these things before, but I have reserved myself to the opinion that I have a passion. I believe in choral music. I believe that it creates community. I believe that it can be spiritual as well as fun. I believe that singing in a choir requires discipline and focused effort.

I try making this clear, but it doesn't seem to stick. I was asked very recently why I had to give the choir a handbook. In the handbook, I outline a very, VERY loose attendance plan. Basically, if you miss 8 rehearsals/performances, you'll be asked to leave the choir. Is this unreasonable? Out of the 16 rehearsals for the fall, I don't think that's asking too much. In fact, I would say, if you have missed 8 rehearsals, you should probably rethink where your commitment lies.

I don't have a problem with people having commitments elsewhere. I understand that there's family. There's soccer and piano lessons and archery and just plain "not wanting to go to church on a Wednesday." I understand these things. But is it too much to ask people to be accountable for these commitments? Apparently, it is.

When did it become easy to not commit or simple to not be accountable? When did that happen? I push myself to be the best musician I can be. Why? Because I believe that there should be a future for church choral music. How many of you can name one...just one religious piece of choral music that wasn't written in the 20th or 21st Centuries? Okay, that's easy. How many of you can name 10?

And now, how many of you can name a single piece of classical choral music written in the 20th or 21st Centuries? Probably a lot fewer of you. Pop music and rock music have given way to really bad Christian rock and pop. Or my personal favorite, Christian rap. Will this music last? I can only hope it doesn't.

I don't believe in contemporary religious music. I don't think there is much worth in it. The Christian rock period is already coming to a close. A period filled with big praise bands and thoroughly boring praise choruses.

Along with the rise of contemporary Christian pop music came the demise of the church choir. Where did it go? It was run over by the drummers and electric guitarists. So now that contemporary Christian dreck is leaving us, we are left with a huge hole where church choir used to be. Those choirs are long gone.

I believe in keeping those choirs in tact and alive. That's why I push myself. That's why I require that other people that I work with on a volunteer basis strive to be the best they can be. Not because it glorifies me. But because if we make crappy music, that is one more reason to get rid of the already dying church choir. We recruit with excellence. We don't recruit because we have the most fun or give the best parties.

I'm sorry. It's been a tough day. It makes me want to scream or yell to the point that I can't do either anymore. Where is the commitment? Why can't we strive to be excellent? Why can't people want to be a part of something bigger than they are? And why....why do I have to spell out every chance I get, and defend myself because someone is offended because I handle things in a way they wouldn't?

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I just wanted to let everyone know (because I know you wanted to know) that this blog will be under construction until further notice. We are almost ready to launch our new church website, so I don't know if I'll be blogging here or elsewhere, but I will definitely keep you updated!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

At the church where I work we talk a lot about something Marcus Borg calls "thin places." This is where the ether of life becomes so thin that you can't help but to have a spiritual experience. This is a nice, left-wing, post-modern Christian way of saying this is when you feel God working in your presence.

I blogged yesterday about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I also was the devoter at yesterday's staff meeting. I usually think that these devotions are a waste of time. When I do devotions, I usually find some wacky holiday on the internet or on my multicultural calendar and talk about that.

Yesterday was different. I brought cookies to the meeting for my birthday, but I also talked about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I talked about my "thin place" that I had at the concert.

For me, I had a thin place during a song called "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Of course, you may know this one. It's the title of the MTC's latest CD and the arrangement they were singing (by Mack Wilberg, of course) is brand new. It's a moving piece of music.

The women sing unison, then in parts at the beginning. The orchestra plays an interlude and the men sing in 4-part harmony while creating a key change. The whole piece then comes together with the third verse begin repeated twice. The last time is a huge swell from the chorus and orchestra.

The last words of the hymn are "Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above." This was very moving. Not in a complete break down, I'm crying in my seat kind of way. I would have just been embarassing myself sitting so closely to the people next to me. But I could tell that each of the 360 people in the choir and 110 people in the orchestra, as well as the (probably) 5,000 people in Wells Fargo Arena were all in the same place...their "thin place."

It was magical to say the least.

Question: When was the last time you experienced a "thin place" or knowing that God was there in your presence?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!

I must say that I have no idea what to write about today. I've thought long and with great strain about what to say about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I can't think of anything.

Don't get me wrong...they were superb. I can't think of a choir that can blend 300 voices together to create such beautiful music. But, as a musician myself, I can't think of anything to say other than that.

It bothers me in my line of work when people say, "Oh, your special music was pretty," or the stock compliment, "That was so great." I usually want to say, "Why?" Did it move you? Did you experience some sort of worship? I didn't really practice today, so I know it wasn't that great.

I can only say about the MTC that it was as close to perfect...musically...that I think you can get. The orchestra sounded great. The choir was spot on. But, then I can only ask myself, "Why?"

I spoke with my wife last night at dinner that we can't imagine rehearsals. But I can imagine it. I'm sure that these people (who are all volunteers, by the way) want to be in this choir. They WANT to be there. I'm sure they are quiet during rehearsals. I'm sure they sight read well, since they are an auditioned chorus.

Rehearsals probably come down to organization and planning. The director has to know what he wants to say and he probably has an army of a staff of people, as well as a team section leaders, that help him to do that.

The music they performed differed greatly. There were spirituals and folk tunes. There were masterworks and about 20 different arrangements of hymns by Mack Wilberg, their conductor. Each one was great. I have nothing bad to say about them.

I spoke to other people that were at the performance about production value. I told them that I don't think I could think on the scale that they do. But, then again, I think I could. There are 360 voices in the choir and 110 players in the orchestra. You have to figure that there are probably 100 volunteer tech people, who set up the stage, risers, orchestra seats, organ consul, sound and lights. Then there are the wardrobe people, the directors, the organists and the singers and players themselves.

In an article from the Des Moines Register, they state: "[the choir] chartered three jets and 11 buses this week for a Midwest tour." They also have an interview with a former Des Moines person where he says, "It just runs like a Swiss watch. Every single thing that you can possibly think of needing done, there's somebody who takes care of it," he said. "All you do here is show up and sing."

I could only wish for Swiss watch status in my job. How do they do it? I guess that's the better question for me to ask myself. "How?" not why did I think it was great.

hmmm... How did I think this performance was great?

Well, like I said, the production value was very high. I know that there is nothing perfect here on earth, and I know for a fact there is REALLY nothing perfect during a performance. There are always things going wrong, but to the audience that they were there to please, it appears to be perfect. It looks like everything is "working:" from the lights, to the singing, to the sound system, to the orchestra always following the conductor.

I think that's my answer and that's the what, how and why I thought the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was a wonderful experience. If you ever have the chance to see them...please do. It is worth it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finally Friday

I had every intention of posting this on Friday and completely forgot once I got to work! So, although it may appear that it's Saturday, just close your eyes and imagine it's Friday again.

Well, you can't close your eyes if you're going to read this. And you might not want to revisit your Friday if it wasn't the best day of the week. Hmmm...well, just think in the back of your mind that this post isn't late but that it has been mulled over and thought about for more than one day.

My week was pretty eventful. We had VBS this week: Sunday through Thursday. I was a helper in the craft room. It was a pretty good time. It was nice to take a break from being the "music guy" for a bit. My wife did the music with the kids, so that worked well.

I led two of the crafts: one was decorating a "rucksack" which is a simple canvas backpack. That one went pretty well. The kids used fabric markers to color all over their sacks. The 4th graders got to use puff paint, which wasn't so wonderful. We had to keep their sacks overnight to dry. I only mention that since we hadn't given them a craft to take home yet. All of them had been multi-process projects.

The second craft I led was the God's Eyes. That takes me back to sitting in an outdoor picnic shelter winding yarn around sticks. I don't know when the last time I made God's Eyes was, but that is how I remember it.

The craft, to me, was pretty simple. But telling the kids who had never done this before how to do it was quite difficult. It was hard to figure out how to communicate the steps without going too fast for them. It was a lesson for me, since that is usually what I have trouble with.

I didn't go to rehearsals for Hello Dolly this week and let me just say that it was liberating! I hadn't realized how stressed and angry those rehearsals made me. I knew they were bad and I knew that I wasn't sleeping because of them, but I have had many sleepfilled nights since I haven't been going!

I think I have to return next week, though.

Friday was a pretty eventful day and Saturday is shaping up to be the same. Friday I went to work and practiced with a kid for the Johnston Green Days celebration. There is a Bill Riley Talent Competition at the festival and I'm playing for a few kids I know from show choir.

Friday afternoon I sat at home, did some laundry, and worked on editing the Christmas program for this year. There were thunderstorms in the afternoon, which looked like they were going to put a damper on going to a charity Garden Party for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

The rain stopped, though, just in time to decide not to go to the Garden Party after all. This put me in a very bad mood. I wanted to go to the party, but my wife didn't seem to want to. Then after pressuring me to make the decision not to go, she was mad that we didn't. At least that is how I perceived the events.

So, instead we ate dinner at home and went to a movie. We saw "Year One." I would highly recommend this movie. It's a little slow at first, and you think, "This will only make me chuckle," but before long you are laughing hysterically at Jack Black and Michael Cera, both of whom are playing themselves. Jack Black talks too much and Michael Cera is the bumbling, nice (but effiminate) boy. It was a great picture.

Now I'm sitting at church, doing sound for a conference about old people. I had asked my sound people if they would be willing to work this day, but understandably, nobody wanted to work for free all day on a Saturday, which is turning out to be the nicest day this week (and by nice, I mean not dreadfully hot and rain-filled).

I also have the Green Days festival that I mentioned before to play for this afternoon and after that I'm heading to Redfield to play for another talent show. It will definitely be a busy day. I wish I had more time to spend doing nothing, but as the weekends have been going, that won't happen.

I forgot, we bought half price tickets for the opera this weekend. We are seeing "Tosca" on Sunday. I'm very excited. "Tosca" is one of my favorites, especially because of the Act I Finale. The chorus is singing a classic Te Deum while the action on the stage is dramatic and depressing. It's a beautiful moment in music and opera.

We actually got the tickets because we follow DMMO on Facebook. They advertised to their followers that they had the tickets and we snatched them up. We even get to sit the very good middle section. Any of the other sections are all to the side, so these are prime seats! I'm very excited.

It will be refreshing to have culture back in my life. Culture that I don't have to create and be a part of. I feel drained because of creating so much culture at the church. This will be a great opportunity to recharge my musical batteries.

I think it proper to mention that we were going to try and stick one more thing into this busy week and that is the home show up in Johnston. They were going to have fully decorated multi-million dollar homes open for the public to view, but unfortunately, I don't think we are going to be able to swing it.

I hope you have a nice weekend!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

Okay, gang. Here's the thought of the day:

My cousin has twins that turned 1 today. That's so exciting and it reminds me that my own birthday is coming up. I'll be 27 on June 23. Unfortunately, it's not my golden birthday. This week at bible school, three of the adult organizers had their birthdays all on the same day! It was quite remarkable. There were pounds and mounds of birthday sheet cake everywhere!!

My thought is that as you age you become wiser. You become more comfortable with yourself. You probably become a completely different person than when you were younger. Which, in my mind is probably a good thing since as a child you probably threw tantrums. You probably had to wear diapers. And you probably couldn't reach anything on top of the counter without the assistance of an adult, older sibling or the crafty use of a chair.

Groucho Marx once quipped, "Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough." And with that in mind I'll stop talking about aging. But, I will say that birthdays are a reminder that we can look back and either live with what we've done or look forward and think of what we can and have yet to do. I guess it's a personal choice, but I would like to choose the latter.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reunion Time

I just nearly had a meltdown right here at work. I'm on Facebook and I get invited to join a group called "Lawson High School Class of 2000 - Reunion." I'm tearful just typing it. And don't be fooled...these are not tears of joy.

Yes, this next May will be 10 years since I graduated from high school. My class, being full of slacker-like people didn't do a 5-year reunion. I probably wouldn't have gone anyway, but then again, that was way before Facebook. A magical thing happened once Facebook came around: you can see who has 43 kids, who has gotten fatter than you, and who is still hanging around the town you're glad you're not in.

A little background: I HATED high school. I'm talented now...I was talented then. I didn't fit in. I'm a pretty serious person with serious ideas and that didn't fit in. I wasn't popular. I wasn't a partier. And, you guessed it: I wasn't a jock. I "played piano...not basketball." Yeah, having your mom say that really gets you on the fast track to popularity.
I had my very small group of friends and I feel confident that I could call either of those people (yes, that means there were two) and still hold a conversation.

I don't want to go back and see these people. Not the two friends I had...but all the rest of the people. I know...there's always the laughing at people who didn't do anything with their lives and there's - again -seeing who didn't escape the clutches of the tight Lawson society. But all-in-all...won't the whole experience just plain suck?

I dont' know.

I joined the Facebook group. People have already written on the wall that this "is soooo exciting!" There's always the option of not going to the reunion just as there was the option to not join the Facebook group...but then you end up being "that guy." You know the one..."I'm too good for you all and I don't want to have anything to do with you."

Well, I may think those things anyway.

I'm sure that this meltdown in a passing thing. Perhaps closer to the reunion time next year I feel such collegial pride that I can't help but to return to the ole stompin' grounds. Plus, ten years is a long time. Popular and unpopular don't matter much now and people, I'm sure, are different than they were then.

So, here's the class of 2000. You can cue that stupid Vitamin C song now. And, yes, just in case you were wondering, that was played by our valedictorian during her speech at commencement. Oh, what a grand time.

Question: What is your favorite memory of your most recent reunion?