Just a few years ago, December 25 was on a Sunday in 2016. At the church I served at the time, all were encouraged to wear their PJs to church, including staff. As it turns out, only staff dressed in that way, including me! I dressed in PJ bottoms, t-shirt with a fleece, and slippers. Definitely not usual attire for a Sunday morning at church.
Since it is a rarity to have Christmas Day on a Sunday, I wanted to mark the day in a special musical way. As a Bach enthusiast and baritone, the aria “Großer Herr, o starker König” came to mind. It’s from the first Cantata from the Christmas Oratorio, written for Christmas Day. I had sung it several times in the past, so I thought it was a good addition, even the day after leading multiple Christmas Eve services. With the unique attire that morning, it was probably the most comfortable I’ve been singing music by J.S. Bach. If you’re unfamiliar with the aria, here’s a recording:
Perhaps you noticed a lot of fast and seemingly endless notes. In the aria, finding places to breathe that are not obvious took time and practice. If there was a place where I had to take a quick breath, I would practice the first and second passages by themselves, then gradually over time connect them so I could sing at the desired tempo. Similarly, finding moments to pause or breathe in our lives sometimes takes time and practice. From my perspective, we’re living in a long, fast, extended piece with seemingly endless melismas in sight. It’s only through close examination where we can find those short moments of pause and breath that help us keep going.
In full disclosure, I’m writing this post during several days of time off. It’s the first instance in a very long time when I remember that I’ve been truly able to stop. Almost like a slightly longer interlude before the next long phrase in that metaphorical Bach aria. While I have a temporary pause at the moment, I know a mountain of projects and priorities are awaiting me when I return. Even in the midst of such frenetic activity, I know I’ll need to find ways of pausing and resting in order to serve my community to the best of my ability.
I was observing a masterclass once and a performer sang a fast piece by Bach. After they were finished singing, the teacher asked where the points of rest were. After some confused looks from the performer, the teacher pointed out “notice how there’s a quarter note after so many sixteenth notes” or “consider lifting after this particular eighth note”. Perhaps we could find those metaphorical moments of pause amidst a rapid torrent of sixteenth notes? Just as it takes practice to find those spots in a piece, so it takes practice to find those spots in life.
In music, I find that a few things go into practicing a challenging piece include, but are not limited to: making mistakes, slowing down, persistence, finding the exact spot(s) giving me trouble, stepping away for a time, or finding the right tempo. Maybe quarter = 80 isn’t doable today. Perhaps quarter = 70 is more realistic. From my experience, life isn’t that much different. Finding those brief points of rest or pause may involve making mistakes, slowing down, persistence, or stepping away. Or rather than overhauling everything, perhaps there’s one specificpart of my life I can pinpoint where I can slow down?
In addition to thinking about pauses and rests for myself, perhaps I can think about rehearsals as pauses and rests for our singers and ringers. What could I do to give that gift every rehearsal? How can I intentionally give ensemble members space to slow down? Sometimes I’ve had ensemble members breathe in and out three times before moving on to the next piece. Perhaps if I did that consistently, that would provide a sense of spaciousness without taking a whole lot time out of rehearsal. Or as another option, perhaps I could engage singers more for a few minutes on the meaning of a text we’re singing.
On the other hand, I don’t believe that slowing down means choosing pieces that are only at a slow tempo. However, one piece did come to mind, called “God’s Peace”. A subtitle is “Come Away from Rush and Hurry”. I included the link below for the SATB voicing. The piece also comes in SAB voicing (Hope Publishing C5987). The text is by Marva Dawn set to the tune of BEACH SPRING by C.J. Adams.
I’ve conducted this piece several times. Each time, it takes on new meaning because the text has such richness and depth.
Are there activities that have helped you rest and pause, even briefly? If so, comment below! May we all find moments of rest in chaotic and busy times.