I live in Jacksonville, FL and frequently I go to the beach. Labor Day weekend had some beautiful and perfect beach weather. However, on one particular day, the waves were too rough to swim. So I sat and watched the ocean, read, and at times stood ankle deep in the water. Since I live 25 – 30 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, I’ve been to the beach several times in the two years I’ve lived here. There have been times I’ve gone where the surf has been much more turbulent. At other times, the ocean has been extremely calm.
That epiphany helped remind me that it’s a lot like life. Sometimes the waves feel like they’re going to drown us. Other times, it’s smooth sailing. Right now, it feels like life’s waves are rougher rather than smoother. Perhaps you can relate.
The hymn O God Our Help in Ages Past came to mind. Here is an excellent rendition of an arrangement by Jeremy Bankson from First Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
My name is Austen Wilson and I’m the Director of Music and Worship Arts at Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville, FL. In these blog posts, I plan on writing about how we can better withstand the rough waves of life and help enable transformative experiences in rehearsals and worship, even in these tough times. I’ll include specific activities, resources, or repertoire that have worked for me in the context of worship in music. I’ll bring artistic inspiration through videos found on YouTube and other platforms. Finally, I’ll write about questions I’m thinking about that help me withstand those waves and create transformative experiences in worship and rehearsals.
One of the key resources I’m using is a book called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. It emphasizes the importance of discovering a clear and compelling purpose behind an activity. As we are in the beginning of a new season, what are your top 2 – 3 priorities/purposes for this year? Since we are all in different contexts, our priorities will look different. Mine happen to be the following:
- Enable transformational experiences in rehearsals and in worship.
- Re-Discover, Re-Awaken, and Revitalize the Congregation’s Voice
- Deepen connections between people who are in person and connect people who are in person with people who are at home
Based on those priorities, I’ve already started making changes to procedures I had done for years. Every week, I send out announcements by email to all my choirs. In the past, it’s contained a hodge-podge of communication, including logistics, rehearsals files, and other information. The announcements were usually sent out a day or two before the rehearsal, depending on how busy my week was.
This practice and much of the format were modeled off of eNews that the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia sends out, a choir I sang with from 2015 – 2019. However, it was only recently where I asked myself what the purpose was of my weekly announcements in my current context? As a result, I made some changes.
If one of my goals is to “Re-Discover, Re-Awaken, and Revitalize the Congregation’s Voice”, then I needed to look at all tools at my disposal, one of which is the weekly announcements. Since the Chancel Choir is a key player in this goal, their leadership on hymns is crucial. As a result, I made the decision to send the hymn texts. The more singers read the texts, the better they’ll be able to confidently lead the congregation in singing. In addition, if I wanted the choir to read the hymn texts ahead of time and practice at home, I needed to email them the announcements earlier in the week. Instead of a day or two before the Thursday rehearsal, I decided to send the announcements no later than Monday. I also decided to have a prayer request section towards the top that asked if they had any prayer requests for rehearsal on Thursday. For my other ensembles, changes to the weekly email announcements will reflect specific priorities for those ensembles. Only time will tell how much of an impact these changes will make in the long-term.
In the short-term, the Chancel (Adult) Choir sings every Sunday except for 4 – 6 weeks during the summer. Especially with rehearsing with masks on and not knowing who might have to quarantine due to exposure to Covid, finding the right repertoire has been paramount. Recently, we sang Welcome by Mark Miller and Let All the World in Every Corner Sing by Calvin Hampton. Both are extremely adaptable and accessible. Fittingly, we sang Welcome on September 4, the first Sunday the new Senior Pastor preached. For more information on those resources, here are the following links:
Let All the World in Every Corner Sing:
The score for Welcome can be found in a collection called Roll Down, Justice! Songbook at this link:
As we start another academic/program year, I hope you are able to enable meaningful and transformative experiences with your singers, even in the midst of chaotic and changing times.