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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother | Tag Archive | church music
Tag Archive - church music

So Long, Farewell

“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.

Farewell to a Friend

Yesterday, I learned that an organist who had accompanied my singing, Joe Jacobs, had died.

This blog is a thank you to accompanists and other unsung heroes everywhere.

I’ve sung with good accompanists and bad ones. When I sang with one accompanist, I felt like she was the organ grinder and I was the monkey. I followed her playing and direction. When she stopped, the monkey (me) stopped singing. Sometimes I felt like I was singing an obstacle course on a reality show, with the congregation as the viewing audience.

Then there’s the other kind. The accompanist who listens. He can spot when I’m shaky on a melody line and emphasize the melody. We would watch together to see how many verses of a hymn to sing and when to stop. We had hidden cues we both understood – when I set my hand on the side of the organ, he knew I thought we needed to finish this verse and end.  When he nodded at me, I knew to pause between verses so he could improvise an interlude.

Great accompanists are patient with singers and roll with our stumbles. Once, while I was cantoring, as we exchanged peace, I saw the priest shaking hands with my son, who was serving. I was caught up in the moment, overwhelmed with mama pride, when I heard a hissing, “Mary!” I had forgotten it was time to sing the next response. Back to the job. If I sang the wrong verse or stumbled, he added emphasis to his playing so I could get back on track.

They are also reliable. Musicians don’t have the luxury of only performing when at the top of their game. They play in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, in good times and in bad. When there was an ice storm one Christmas Eve, services were cancelled and everyone forgot to tell the organist. So he braved the slick roads and ice, arriving at a darkened church with no services, and never complained about the oversight.

When he played we had those moments when I could feel music flowing from us through a whole sanctuary.

My friend died unexpectedly yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to tell him thanks. Look around you – who do you know who’s reliable, forgiving, and empathetic?

Thank them while you can.

A Cantor's Christmas Gift from Connecticut

“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.