Thursday, July 30, 2009

Milton in Church

Milton in Church
But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister's pale,
And love the high-embow├Ęd roof,
With antique pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight
Casting a dim religious light.

There let the pealing organ blow
To the full-voiced quire below
In service high and anthems clear,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all Heaven before mine eyes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Agonie

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love in that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

- George Herbert (1633)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Residence, New Friends

I thought I'd include a post about my experience moving to a new area! Bryant and I moved in June to a more rural area in the northwest of the Milwaukee metro complex, so that has kept us incredibly busy in the meantime. Our house is finally beginning to look like a home, and I love how Bryant has been so involved in the furnishing/decorating process. Most guys try to leave that to their wives, but Bryant has definite ideas about what he wants. =)

I'm still the music director at Pilgrim Lutheran in Wauwatosa, with no intention of leaving any time soon. The congregation has provided organ lessons for me for two years, and it looks like I may get my lessons for some time! I'm absolutely thrilled with the opportunity, but I wondered how I would be able to continue practicing 7-10 hours a week when I live so far away. I never waste trips into town, of course!

My solution was to contact several of the local churches to find out 1) if they had a pipe organ, and 2) if I might be allowed to use it for practice. Google was invaluable, and I talked to many pastors and church secretaries who informed me sadly that they no longer had an organ of any kind. One UCC organist refused me quite rudely, and a Catholic church wanted to charge me a fee. I actually got a key to a Lutheran church within the first few days, but their organ was a wheezy electric organ in bad repair. But finally I got a response to an email from another Catholic church--a few more miles away--and the director was interested to meet me because she, too, had studied organ with Sister Mary Jane Wagner.

Yesterday I kept an appointment with her, and met a very pleasant woman just a few years older than myself who holds a post as full-time music director (imagine!) of the opulent Catholic church in Hartford. She plays for three masses a week, directs the choir, and organizes special music. She told me the church's "open" hours, and gave me free rein to practice at my leisure, no fees! The little pipe organ is a gorgeous Schwanz with many more stops and a couple more pedals than my Martin Ott. It fills up the resonant space admirably. It's such a pleasure to practice on it, and such a blessing to be closer to home! Gasoline is much too expensive to warrant special trips to Wauwatosa for organ practice. Thank you so much, Ms. Rinehart!

I just recently discovered Paul Manz's God of Grace, a festive organ setting of "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah." I can't stop playing it!

Some of you may wonder, "What's it like to cut yourself off from human society for an hour or so every day, just to put in all that practice on the instrument?" It's a little bit strange at first! But you get sucked into your "piano world" or your "organ world" or what ever world your instrument inhabits. Some days the practice is real work and you can't wait for it to be over. You plug along on some piece that just seems impenetrable. But some days your fingers get it--your feet get it--you're swept along by the adrenaline and the thrill of being The Great Noisemaker. Yesterday was the latter for me. I had to call Bryant so he could see the instrument and appreciate the incredible sound of it!

Mary Jane Wagner, as a teacher, strikes a very good balance between disciplined "left-brained" technical mastery and insightful "right-brained" artistry and spirituality. She has given me some awesome insights into the art I am priveleged to practice. She observed, for instance, that the empty church almost pulsates with the "esprit de corps" --speaking of the congregation and the spirit of worship that remains in the building. It's an awesome thing to enter that beautiful, spacious church designed to inspire your worship; to be all alone in that place where people strive to meet with God--Who of course is not confined to those walls, but promises He will visit His people. It's a great privelege to know that you "own" the space and the organ for that time, and to receive the inspiration you need to make your craft the best it can be.