Pulling Out the Stops and Whistles

Today’s blog post title comes from what the Rector said this morning about the service today, because All Saints Day is one of the fixed date feasts of the entire calendar. Since the expression is either “pulling out all the stops” or “putting on bells and whistles,” I got inappropriately tickled at the wrong moment and had to pull myself together. I tend to do that a lot. I start laughing at something, and because I’m laughing at an inappropriate time, I’m laughing at how inappropriate I am and how I should know better. Take, for instance, the time I was ten years old and discovered in the middle of quiet, contemplative evening worship that in the United Methodist Hymnal, Philip Bliss is listed as “P.P. Bliss.” Hilarity ensued.

I could tell you a hundred stories just like that one, and there are lots more people who could tell them *about* me. But today I just want to focus on this morning’s worship, and how it affected me.

In my life, music and prayer are the same thing. Whether it’s an intricate Bach piece or just Gregorian chant, I find God there. I have a harder time with more modern music. Praise choruses make me a little nauseous, especially when it becomes an ostinato with no end. The exception to that is Taize, because there are so many different variations, descants, etc. that it doesn’t sound monotonous to sing it more than once. To say that I am a classical music fan is an understatement. I lived and breathed it for a number of years, both in the church and in school, where I played trumpet and sang in a number of ensembles.

All of that came together this morning when I realized that my church had recently hired one of the most incredible musicians in the city to be organist/choirmaster, and if we started coming to this church, I would get to work with him.

It was important for me to find the right church, and even more important for me to find the right conductor. Finding a great conductor is the equivalent to looking up the best literary criticism you can find. Often, reading the critique gives you more insight and appreciation for the original work, and with music, it is no different. A conductor looks at the background of the piece, and truly tries to present what it is that the composer would have wanted… and a truly great conductor is on the level of an e.e. cummings. Once you know all the rules, you are free to break them.

I have had so many conductors like this over the years, both in Portland and in Houston. I know a good conductor from a bad one because I’ve worked with both ends of the spectrum. This conductor (we’ll call him Joseph, mostly because that’s his name) is artistic and articulate. When he sits at the organ, Virgil Fox gets jealous… even though he’s dead (Hey, I had to work in a saint somewhere, ok?). I sat there through the entire service and thought, “I want to work with him.”

The first time I met him, he asked me to join the choir. I told him that we’d just moved to Houston and that I needed to settle in. That was three weeks ago. Today, after the service, I went up to him and said, “Joseph, if it’s ok, I’m in.”

I start rehearsal on Thursday. You have no idea how good it feels knowing that I’m putting on the last cassock I’ll ever wear…



One thought on “Pulling Out the Stops and Whistles

  1. I know the joy of creating music with others, and laughingly tell folks that I don’t have blood in my veins, but rather sound waves. 🙂

    After 30 years of turning my back on music, I dived into the deep end, and am learning music theory – and loving it.

    Interesting blog, so sorry for your deep wounds and pray that in time the Lord will heal them all. Most of life was spent going from one abusive relationship to another. At last I was able to break free of making destructive choices. Since then, God has been faithful to heal my heart and make me whole. I never thought life could be so peaceful.

    Thanks for following Lessons by Heart.

    Praising Jesus – the Great Healer!


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