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!