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Posts Tagged ‘cantor’

“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” we sang at the beginning of my friend’s funeral.

When a singer goes to an organist’s funeral, it is a trip with the Ghosts of Church Music past. To the far left is the organist I’ve known for decades. To the right is a lady I sang with from my kids’ choir. Beside me is another singer from a former choir. The pianist and I worked together decades ago on other projects.  There was a time our lives were intertwined.

Sometimes we struggled through music for this performance or the drama of the rehearsal where nothing worked.

We’ve come together to honor the memory of a friend, for whom his music was his life.  Here, in this congregation joined to celebrate the memory of a friend, are the strands of his life and our own. 

As our voices blend at the funeral, I don’t remember the bad rehearsals. I do remember the joy we had when we sang together and things worked – the Hallelujah Chorus. The a capella “Panis Angelicus.”

Our singing is our final tribute, our final farewell to a musician friend. Every line of every song has new purpose. 

It feels like The Sound of Music, when the Trapp family sings “So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye.”

At the funeral, we each sing our own final personal tribute. When the music ends, we wish each other a final good-bye in the parking lot. Our lives, once joined together, have ventured on different paths. 

This good-bye is no more final than the one we said to our friend who died.  Our worlds will touch again in the future. We will sing together again. Hopefully not just at funerals.

Perhaps when I sing my Alleluia and you sing your Amazing Grace, in our separate lives, we can remember each other and sing them together in our hearts.

The So Long Farewell isn’t final.  It’s just awhile –

Till we meet again.

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“Can you substitute cantor New Year’s Eve?” our church’s music director asked when she called earlier this week.  The scheduled cantor was ill.

After I mentioned my cantoring to a friend, he commented, “Once I walked into a church for the first time, and a nun walked up and asked me if I could help the choir sing.  The best way to keep get new people involved is to ask for their help.”

Yesterday, I arrived at 3:30 to review music before the 4:00 service.  It was easy, except the communion song, “Holy is His Name.” I had never heard nor sung it. I struggled with the rhythms, missed some entrances, and we ran out of rehearsal time.

“God, help me not look like a fool,” I desperately prayed.

Five minutes before we began, musician friends of mine from Connecticut walked in.  He’s music director and she’s director of religious education at churches, and they love to sing.  I grabbed them and introduced them to our music director.  “Can you help?” she immediately asked. When she learned he played guitar, she handed him one.  He quickly tuned the guitar he had never before touched.

The beginning of the Mass felt like skiing downhill on a slope for the first time, when you don’t know what will happen till you reach the bottom. We had never rehearsed and had no time to talk.

We began smoothly. I worried about the communion song.  “God, please make this ok,” I desperately prayed.

When we began singing it, I realized they had sung the song before. 

Then the miracle happened.  We had finished the verses and needed more time, so we began to repeat the refrain, “Holy, holy is His name.”  In 3-part harmony, with guitar and keyboard – using music with no harmonies written. It jelled.  My arms were covered with goosebumps from the Holy Spirit by the time we finished.

It was the most profound, moving musical experience I’ve ever had. Unrehearsed, unplanned, and totally from God.

Music gives us a chance to share our souls with the world. Sometimes, we feel the hand of God with each note. This was one of those times.

Have a feeling this is going to be a great year.  When I asked for help, it was given.

If someone asks you for help and you share your talents, great things happen.

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Morning sunrise

In my musical family, my instrument was French horn. I sang but was told, “Your sister is the soloist. You belong in the choir.” Music was more habit than artistic expression.

Those early years were hard. By the time I was 20, one too many heartbreaks silenced me. I quit singing. Completely. Singing reminded me of things and people I did not want to be. I chose not to.

When our children were born and I started going to church, I sang with them.  They got the childhood I never had, along with a strong musical education. Other than Sunday mornings, I never sang.

When my kids started singing in a professional choir, I became president of their parents group. I still didn’t sing with choirs myself. It had been so many years that now I was afraid to begin.

One Sunday morning when I was 40, a friend who’s often like a surrogate mom, Virginia, cornered me after the service. “Why aren’t you in church choir? They need you. They practice this Tuesday, and you should be there.”

So I went. The first week went ok, and I was so overwhelmed I cried the whole drive home.

Within a month, other choir members helped me begin to cantor, to lead the singing when needed at services. Each service felt like I was trying out a ski slope for the first time and had no idea what would happen between the start and when we got to the bottom of the hill.

That was 5 years ago. I cantored again last night.  As the music begins, I feel God grabbing my soul and pulling music from each heartbeat and heartbreak of a lifetime. The tremendous losses are there – death, illness, fire, flood, famine, and more.  Those losses neither defeated nor define me but are the valleys I went through that help me treasure time on the mountaintop.

Some said I wasn’t the sister with the good voice to sing the solos. But God had a different plan.

Every time I cantor, each song feels like Amazing Grace. For 20 years, I thought my music was dead. He brought it back and showed me how to pour my heart into every song.

Melodies dip into valleys of the shadow of death and soar on eagle’s wings to mountain tops.

Singing through the mountains helps me see the sunrise more clearly.

Give it a try.

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