father, farmer, and builder

This week, my daughters and I sang in the choir for the funeral of our friend Nancy’s dad. Nancy is a long-time church musician and liturgist, so many current and former choir members and friends arrived to support her by participating in the liturgy. We had 43 singers and 3 instrumentalists. The music was a beautiful and meaningful part of our prayers for Joe and being surrounded by so many musician-friends helped Nancy to play the funeral mass.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to play for a loved one’s funeral or memorial. Because you have to concentrate on doing your job musically, some of the mourning that one would typically do at a funeral is deferred. My hope is that the memory of the music we shared will be a comfort to Nancy when she reflects on the funeral in the coming days.

The reflections offered centered around Joe’s roles in the community as a father of five children, a farmer in his younger years, and then a long-time builder of homes in our area. Each of these roles has many scriptural and faith references which were woven throughout the liturgy.

It was my privilege to write the universal prayer for the funeral. I served on the liturgy committee with Nancy for many years in our former parish and learned so much from her; I was honored that she asked me to write the petitionary prayer that closes the liturgy of the word.

Nancy and I have been supporting each other through an extended period of multi-generational family caretaking. Strangely, some of our most stressful periods have coincided. Fifteen years ago, I was staying at the hospital with one of my daughters when Joe had a serious stroke following heart surgery. I missed Nancy’s mom’s funeral when my mom had a heart attack while my dad was in the hospital for surgery. Now, Joe’s final illness and death happened while my mom is in a hospice residence.

I am truly thankful for Nancy’s support, friendship, and gracious example. I pray for solace and peace for Nancy and her family. Rest in peace, Joe.

flowers from Joe's funeral luncheon
Joe’s favorite color was blue, so there were blue hydrangeas and white roses on the tables at the funeral luncheon.

 

 

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the legacy of Father James

In my last post, I wrote about a long-time, retired pastor who was near death. Father James died Friday night and these past few days have been about preparing and celebrating the funeral rites.

Leading those efforts has been Father James’s nephew, Father Tim, and Father James’s long-time music director Nancy. Father James served at Blessed Sacrament church from 1978 through his retirement in 2003. He hired Nancy early on, shortly after she graduated from university with her music degree, and they developed a true partnership and deep friendship that lasted through his retirement years.

They both loved liturgy and taught me that thoughtful, prayerful planning was the key to vibrant worship. I served on liturgy committee and in music ministry for many years and learned so much from them both. My role in the funeral planning was to write the universal prayer, which is a set of petitions which closes the liturgy of the word, for both the vigil service and the funeral mass.

Along with my daughter T, I joined the 40-voice choir, which was assembled from the choirs of Father Tim’s church, Nancy’s current church, Father James’s boyhood church where the funeral was being held, and some other former Blessed Sacrament music ministry alumni. (A number of the other choir members had also sung at Blessed Sacrament when Father James was there.) We rehearsed for two and a half hours Sunday night to be ready for the two services.

When a priest dies, he lies in state in the church, clothed in his priestly vestments. Father James had chosen white vestments with a multi-colored trim which, if I recall correctly, had been a gift from the parish for his 40th ordination anniversary. For three hours before the vigil service, Father Tim along with Father James’s nieces and other nephews received condolences from hundreds of friends and former parishioners.

We then held a vigil service with Scripture readings and prayers which focused on service. There were three homilists, one a priest-friend, who offered stories of Father James as a friend and traveling companion; one a niece, who told of growing up with with three priest-uncles, Father James and his two older brothers; and a Blessed Sacrament parishioner-friend, who told of the strong bonds of love and friendship that Father James built among us. His words reflected beautifully my own experience at Blessed Sacrament, what that parish family meant and continues to mean to me. (Unfortunately, for reasons too complex to relate here, the Blessed Sacrament community that we knew no longer exists as a parish.)

The next morning was the funeral liturgy. Nancy played prelude music on the organ, followed by two choral pieces. During the opening hymn, the many priests and deacons in attendance, all dressed in white, processed to their places, followed by the concelebrating priests, including Father Tim, and finally the bishop, who was the presider for the funeral mass.

The readings centered around Eucharist and included a gospel passage that was close to Father James’s heart and ministry, the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35).  Father Tim gave an inspiring homily, which was both intimate and encompassing. Not only had Father Tim had the example of his uncle Father James before him all his life but he had also been in residence with him at Blessed Sacrament for nine years when he was serving as chaplain at a nearby hospital, during which he assisted with weekend and special liturgies and shared homilist duties.

I was especially moved when Father Tim spoke about how special the Blessed Sacrament community was in the twenty-eight years of Father James’s pastorate, how Father James drew people together and encouraged them to develop and share their talents, how important liturgy was to him as the work of the people, and how extraordinary the partnership was between Father James and Nancy, resulting in eight choirs and a congregation that actively and joyfully participated in both spoken and sung prayer, empowering them to go out and serve others. He reminded us that it is up to those of us who were part of that community to continue to carry on the good works, friendship, love, and caring to others.

For T and me to be singing in the choir for the services was a special blessing. While Blessed Sacrament had been a modern renovated building with the music ministry in the front of the church, the church where we were gathered is one of the oldest in our area with a choir loft and a pipe organ. Being in the loft gave us a good view of the church and a bit of space from the emotions of the family. It also gave us the best advantage of the acoustics.

Some people who were unfamiliar with Nancy’s skills had expressed reservations about the choir not being amplified, but, under Nancy’s guidance, we did not need microphones to be heard and understood. They were also afraid that the congregation wouldn’t sing, but we were confident that they would – and they did. Many people were former Blessed Sacrament parishioners who were used to singing hymns and responses. Moreover, what many Catholics don’t realize is that it is not a choir or cantor that leads the singing, it is the organ. Nancy is a wonderful organist, who knows how to register the organ effectively and to pace and phrase in such a way as to lead the congregation to confidently sing the hymns and prayers.

Nancy also is the best liturgist of any Catholic church musician that I know. The hymns beautifully reflected the Scripture readings that had been chosen for the services. People commented afterward about how thoughtfully the music enhanced the service.

I know that Father James would be pleased with the vigil and funeral mass that we celebrated before laying him to rest.

With a wink, he would say it was because he had taught us how…which he did, by word and example.

As Father Tim reminded us, it is up to us to carry on, loving and serving one another, as Father James did.

May he rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon him.

 

 

crying does not help dry eyes

B and I traveled to Syracuse yesterday to attend the last service and concert that daughter T will do with the Hendricks Chapel Choir. Although she is a student at ESF, not Syracuse U., she is able to participate in activities at SU.

On the ride up, I had told B that, at some point, I would probably dissolve in tears. Since Grandma died six weeks ago, I’ve barely teared up. I thought that I might be okay until we were with our daughters at the graveside service later this month, but I didn’t know.

On Saturday, we had attended the funeral of the mother of one of B’s co-workers. I had managed to get through the whole funeral, even though we were singing some of the familiar hymns that usually evoke tears.

I was not expecting the confluence of events on Sunday.

I expected some emotion as we witnessed the last in a very long string of academic choral events, stretching from E’s first concert as a kindergartener, going through both daughters’ elementary, middle and high schools, college, and finally T’s last service and concert as a master’s student.

Of course, there is still the fresh memory of Grandma’s death, ever-present below the surface.

What hit harder than I expected, though, was that this was the final ecumenical Christian service being held at Hendricks Chapel by Rev. Colleen, the last in an 85-year string of chaplains provided to the university by the United Methodist church.

Endings are sad.

This one, in particular, as a dynamic, young woman was being pulled away from a community that she loved and served and that loved her in return. The choir is having to search for a new musical mission, as their primary function for decades has been to  provide music for this service every Sunday.

What was unexpected for me was that this dynamic called forth not only the obvious present losses but also many long-ago ones.

Hearing the pipe organ reminded me of how much I miss playing – or even hearing – a pipe organ on a regular basis. Nearly all the organs I hear in churches at home are electronic. I can no longer play due to orthopedic problems. I have generally made peace with that, but there are moments…

The ending of a church as we have known it also brought back two other similar losses.

First was the loss of chaplaincies and regularly held services at Smith College, my alma mater.

I had spent many, many hours in Helen Hills Hills chapel, practicing, service playing, rehearsing, singing, and accompanying. I was married there a few weeks after my commencement.  When I returned to campus, I always visited the chapel and a tree planted beside it in memory of a member of my class who died in a plane accident our senior year.

I still go to visit, but it is so odd to see the chapel, which was modeled on New England Congregational churches, without its pews, replaced by clunky wooden chairs, stacked or arranged in circles or rows, depending on if the last event has been a concert or lecture or whatever. It feels empty in a way it never did when I was there alone but when it was being used for services of various traditions on a regular basis.

Second, was the loss of our home church eleven years ago. This was even more painful as T and I went through it together. T lost the only church she had ever known, where she was baptized and made her first communion, where she had sung in choir since she was in third grade and had rung handbells since sixth grade. I had been in liturgical service, both in liturgy planning and music ministry for many years. I had written music for the choir and congregation. I had accompanied E and T’s choirs, although, as my orthopedic problems worsened, I had been doing more conducting than playing.

All of these things just flooded over me and I cried – a lot.

It was comforting to have B beside me. I also was not crying alone; there were many, many tears being shed.

Rev. Colleen, while herself struggling with the forced loss of her ministry, led a beautiful “service of celebration, healing, and transition.” Despite her own tears and grief, she was able through a series of rituals to lead everyone to reflect upon and let go of what we needed to and to find joy to share. After communion, she also offered to anoint anyone who wished.

I was very grateful that she made this offer. As a Catholic, I follow the wishes of my church and do not receive communion in Protestant churches, even though they would welcome me. I don’t do it as a blind following of rules, but as a sign of personal penance and sorrow at the division among Christians.

But, anointing is a powerful, ancient practice in which I could participate.

Almost everyone came forward to be anointed, either on the forehead or hands.

What I really wanted to do was to ask Rev. Colleen after she anointed me if I could anoint her, but I decided not to ask. We had never even been introduced and I didn’t want to throw another unknown element into what was already an emotional situation.

But I do send my blessing to Rev. Colleen:  May God, who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, hold you in love and strengthen you for service all the days of your life.

Amen.

 

 

SoCS: What?

What might I be doing later today?

Attending a singalong of the Vivaldi Gloria with the Binghamton Madrigal Choir.

I have sung it before, although it has been many years. Fortunately, perfection will not be expected, as some people will be sightreading. Fortunately, the Madrigal Choir will lead and their director, Bruce Borton, who is also the longtime director of the Binghamton University Chorus, with whom I have sung for decades, will be conducting.

The best part is that my younger daughter T is still at home on break from her master’s program and she will be able to come and sing with me. I love the opportunity to sing with my daughters whenever it presents itself. T currently sings with the Hendricks Chapel Choir of Syracuse University, even though she is a student of SUNY-ESF. It’s been a great benefit to her that the two campuses share classes and activities, so that she has a great place to sing. I think it’s neat that she made one of the auditioned choirs, which are mostly filled with music majors from Syracuse.

It would be fun if my older daughter E and her husband L were still here because they also love to sing and are also people who have formal training and multiple degrees in the music field. But Honolulu is a bit too far away to come join us!

Here is a link to Vivaldi Gloria.  Enjoy!

You’re welcome.
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. This week’s prompt is to begin with the word “what.” Join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/15/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-jan-1616/

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It is also part of Linda’s Just Jot It January.  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/16/just-jot-it-january-16th-what-socs/

JJJ 2016

To find the rules for Just Jot It January, click here and join in today.

Morning hymn

On my way to 7:30 mass this morning, I was listening to public radio. Early Sunday morning is reserved for organ and church music.

The drive is not terribly long but I did hear one piece in its entirety, an organ/choral setting of the hymn, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” [Tune: Nicaea], which was one of the first hymns I ever sang as a young child after Vatican II.  The organist was Gerre Hancock and the recording was from late in his career when he was in Texas.

When I was an undergrad at Smith, I had a friend who was pursuing his Master’s in Sacred Music from Yale and who studied organ with Gerre Hancock. It was a great privilege to attend one of my friend’s lessons, held at St. Thomas Episcopal in New York City, and a rehearsal of the choristers there. St. Thomas was the place where he spent most of his career and established himself as one of the finest organists and choir directors of his generation.

Mr. Hancock, while prodigiously talented as a musician and teacher, was a kind, generous, and polite gentleman. I remember that he addressed me as Miss Corey, which was a surprise to me as a college student coming, as it did, from the one of the best church musicians in the country.

The recording I heard this morning was magnificent. It opened with an extended organ introduction and included an artful modulatory interlude. (The modulation reminded me of talking with my daughter T last weekend, who recalled her favorite description of modulation, as voiced by someone at our church, as “that thing you do on the organ and then everybody sings louder.”) While I know that Mr. Hancock was fully capable of improvising these, I expect that for the purposes of making a recording, he had actually composed them in advance.

When mass began this morning, our entrance hymn was “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Saying good-bye to a friend

Today was Peter’s memorial service.  I had written about Peter here and, this afternoon, we were all able to say our final good-byes and to celebrate his life among us and the eternal life to which he has been called.

Although Peter’s final illness was short, he was able to participate in the planning of the memorial, both musically and liturgically. The service was one of the most meaningful I have ever experienced and included some favorite Scripture passages, including 1 Corinthians 13.

The choir was made up of past and current members of the Trinity Episcopal choir and of Harpur Chorale, the most select choral group at Binghamton University which Peter had conducted since 1998. He had been organist/choirmaster at Trinity Church since 1981.  Also participating were the remaining members of Early On, a quintet that Peter helped form several years ago

Tellingly, the organ was silent for most of the service. The program explained:

 “In tribute to Peter’s many years as Church Musician at Trinity the organ will not be used during the first part of the service. The return of the organ at the end of the service symbolizes the enduring nature of music.”

The organ first played after communion for the commendation anthem, which was “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”, an arrangement that Peter had done of the tune St. Columba for choir and organ. It was so moving for all of us. You could tell that some of the choir members were struggling to go on, but together, they were able to continue.

We all sat and listened to the postlude, which was Olivier Messiaen’s “Dieu Parmi Nous” (God Among Us), the last movement of The Nativity of Our Lord.  The organ professor from the University played, but I couldn’t help thinking about how Peter played it. While the professor played it well technically, Peter played with more feeling and nuance and with a profound understanding of how to coax subtle shadings of sound from the 1960 Casavant organ. I thought about how often I had stood next to the console, observing Peter playing and turning pages for him, absorbing everything I could about service playing from him.

After the last reverberations of Messiaen died away, there was a profound silence in the full church. I believe we were all giving thanks for Peter’s years with us and feeling his absence.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine : et lux perpetua luceat eis.  Grant them eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Sunday New Normal

For the second week in a row, I met my parents at church for 8:30 Mass. It’s great to have them back out and about after working through all the health stuff of the summer.  I’m hoping that I will be able to meet them for church most weeks through the fall, until the cold and snow make it too difficult for them to get out that early in the morning.

Today was the first time this season that Genesis Choir sang. This was the choir with which my daughter sang during her last two years at home.  Last June, I wrote about the impending end of her singing and ringing handbells at church near home; today was the first time I heard the choir without her in the front row.

The sound is different. The vast majority of the choir is 30+ years older than my daughter and her younger voice helped to smooth out some of the vibrato of the older soprano voices.  Besides her voice, I know they miss her energy, caring, and helpfulness.

For prelude, the choir sang “Servant Song” by Richard Gillard. This hymn is inextricably tied in my mind to the last weekend my daughters and I particiated in liturgies at the parish we lost in 2005.  That June Saturday, we provided music for the diocesan ordination at the cathedral in Syracuse. My older daughter cantored, my younger daughter rang handbells, and I helped with the conducting duties.  On Sunday, the choirs combined to sing for the first Mass of one of the newly ordained priests, who was from our parish.  “Servant Song” was one of the requested pieces that weekend and holds a lot of personal meaning for me.

The circumstances that led to our leaving our parish home were very painful, so difficult that it still hurts nine years later. For the first several years in our new parish, I would cry every time I heard “Servant Song.”  I couldn’t sing it at all. Eventually, I got to the point where I could make it through singing it part way, although the line, “I will weep when you are weeping” would always make me choke up.  In the last couple of years, I’ve actually been able to get through the whole hymn dry-eyed.

This morning, with an empty seat in the front row of sopranos where my daughter used to sit, I admit that I did brush away a few tears.