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good evening and a familiar tune

Pat Michaels, who does the music for chapel at EDS, had a brilliant idea this year: an evening of sung arrangements of Psalm 23. They ranged from Haitian (in Creole, thanks to a cantor who knew it; the rest of us bumbled along as best we could on the refrain) to Bobby McFerrin to Anglican chant to African American spiritual.

And there was one arrangement of Psalm 23 by Howard Goodall. It's one you can hear on this CD, but you can also hear it every time the opening credits of an episode of The Vicar of Dibley. I love that psalm arrangement, which was actually written as the theme song for the series. It's got a wonderful center section you don't hear from the Dibley opening credits, and the whole thing is just gorgeous -- simple and beautiful.

And I sang the soprano solo. It's just three brief passages, none in a particularly high or low range, but I was still a bit nervous -- I really wanted to do it justice, and I wasn't feeling in full voice. People tell me it was good.

I've only recently begun to sing things like this -- or like "Great Day," with its high b-flat I blogged about last week. I came to seminary thinking that I was an alto -- on the low side of alto at that -- and an alto whose voice was suitable for rock, blues, punk, and maybe a bit of folk (people compared me to Michelle Shocked and Amy Ray a lot). I thought my vocal range at best was pretty much the same as Bono's.

Singing in the EDS chapel choir, and with the encouragement of its director, I discovered that I'm actually a soprano. And with more encouragement, I started to find out that I could sing things not accompanied by an electric guitar, and sing them in public, and people wouldn't run screaming from the room. He encouraged me to take voice lessons, and I did, from an amazing teacher, for a few months.

I still have no real idea of what I sound like when I'm singing anything usually sung by people with classical training. I've heard recordings of my singing rock and folk and whatnot, though I have generally gone to great lengths to avoid hearing recordings of my gigs. But I haven't been recorded singing in chapel, or singing since I've had voice lessons. I've though of recording myself, but my building is just too noisy for it, EDS housing policy prohibits music rehearsal without the explicit consent of all neighbors, and maybe I just haven't had the courage.

So I know what it feels like when I sing that way. I know how my face, head, and body feel when I'm singing the way my voice teacher said was using the resonant spaces that I didn't know I had before I started singing at seminary. But I don't know what it sounds like.

I should try to find a way to hear it sometime. I do love singing!

February 19, 2008 in Music, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (1)

U2charist (with all live music!) @ Hancock UCC, March 4

I'll be singing and playing guitar alongside Elisa Lucozzi, drummer extraodinaire, at a U2charist at Hancock (Massachusetts) UCC on the evening of March 4th. If you're in the area and would like to experience a U2charist with live music -- or to see how you can do a U2charist with entirely live music when you've only got two musicians -- please save the date! We're planning a session in the early evening at which anyone who wants to come to the service but isn't familiar with U2's music can learn songs we'll be singing, then have a break for my voice and Elisa's hands to recover, and then the service will start. I'll announce the exact times soon.

Blessings, and I hope to see some SarahLaughed.net readers there!


For more info on the U2charist, check out the U2charist resources page.

February 19, 2008 in Churchiness, Music, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (0)

lived to tell

Well, I can say definitively now that I have sung a high b-flat in public and lived to tell the tale. Furthermore, I can say that none of the hearers were driven to madness or violence by the experience.

Actually, folks seemed to think it was quite good, and while at first I suspected that everyone was just being nice, I discovered over the course of the reception after the lecture that quite a few of them were telling people who are NOT me that it was good. I hadn't noticed when I was singing that the (totally fabulous) voice teacher from whom I took lessons this summer was in the audience, but when I sat down afterward I saw her a couple of rows in front of me -- and I was immediately mortified. I'm not a perfectionist, as people who know me know very well, but for some reason music brings out the perfectionist in me. I hear anything even remotely out of tune like nails on a chalkboard, and I'd know I'd slid into some notes. And my tone ... I just had no idea what that was like -- somewhere between yowling cat and quite good, but I didn't really know where. So it was a great relief when my voice teacher said convincingly that it was good, and also when my partner -- who always tells the truth about such things (she has said things like, "well, that wasn't your best sermon" or "you seemed really nervous") -- said that it sounded good, and she was sitting all the way in the back (as was my voice teacher, come to think of it).

I do think I could have done better with more voice lessons. I miss the lessons, and hope to be able to get back to them someday.

But hey -- I stuck my neck out and sang something I wasn't totally sure I could do in front of a big group of people, and I'm kinda proud of having done that much. Maybe that's more important in some ways than exactly what it sounded like. Maybe that's why people refer to time in seminary as important formation.

And the important formation continues tomorrow in a different vein -- I'm working for much of the day as an instructor-in-training for IMPACT Boston, leading pieces of a workshop for teenager. Similar experiences, in some ways: singing and IMPACT are both about discovering the power of stance and voice and using one's whole body.

February 13, 2008 in Churchiness, Music, Personal News, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (0)


Tomorrow evening EDS is hosting the Absolom Jones lecture. As I blogged a while ago, EDS tried something new this year at the annual lecture in honor of lecture: they added music (namely, a piece I'd written in honor of Jonathan Daniels and designed for congregational singing called "No Greater Love"). It worked well enough that EDS decided to add music for the Absolom Jones lecture, which is tonight.

Tonight, the music is a spiritual called "Great Day," in an arrangement for a choir and soprano soloist. Last time I heard the piece performed, the soloist was the absolutely amazing voice teacher who gave me lessons over the summer. I had to give them up the voice lessons, alas -- just didn't have the money -- but she did wonders for my tone and range in speaking as well as singing. I'd entered EDS thinking of myself as an alto, and the (also wonderful) choirmaster here after listening to me for a while suggested that I try soprano, which I've sung ever since. And in voice lessons, I even managed to sing a high b-flat once.

Well, the solo for "Great Day" has at its climax a nice, long (whole note with fermata) high b-flat. I haven't practiced it other than driving in my car and in two rehearsals we've had for the song, lest by singing it in my apartment I cause our neighbors' dogs to go mad and attack their owners or something -- at that pitch, and at this point in my vocal training (and lack thereof), I either have to sing at full volume or no air escapes my throat, and while my immediate neighbors graciously said they had no problem with my practicing the part at home, I just couldn't bring myself to inflict that on them. So I'm a little nervous. Can you tell?

But it was pretty much OK in rehearsal this morning, I've got one more rehearsal this evening, and I think I will be able to sing the part without sounding like a dying cat. PeaceBang deserves more than a series of UU Blogging awards (she's deservedly up for quite a few -- vote for her!); she deserves a medal for her counsel to "snarf your sinus troubles away," which prompted my honey and me to get ourselves neti pots, which let one clean one's sinuses and nose with a saline solution. It's amazing how much more those spaces in a singer's head provide resonance when they're not plagued by winter dryness and filled with crud. And it's certainly more healthy to use a neti pot to clear things out from a cold or allergies than it is to take drugs or use sprays that dry out nasal passages. So hurrah for PeaceBang, and hurrah for neti pots!

So, gentle readers, please send good vibes or anything else you might think would benefit a singer at 7:00 p.m., when I will face that high b-flat, and I hope I'll sing it in a way that honors Absolom Jones and EDS's guests for the occasion.

February 13, 2008 in Churchiness, Life and Whatnot, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

engaging God's mission

Lately there has some discussion in the partisan blogosphere as to whether one should give to Episcopal Relief and Development if one disagrees with one or more things going on the The Episcopal Church, or to Anglican Relief and Development if one doesn't, or if it's better to give to some other organization entirely.

I plan to update this post to offer links to the organizations I mention and to ones to which I refer, but I want to go on the record as saying immediately and unequivocally:

If you want to give to change the world, to relieve global poverty, than the theological bent of particular people involved in the organization doesn't matter much.

What matters much, in my reading of the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus, God's Christ, is our giving is that we're engaging God's mission by doing so, and that means giving as much as possible from compassion for the poorest and most marginalized and as little as possible from our sense of what will accomplish any partisan church or civic political aims.

So yes, I support Episcopalian Relief and Development, and rejoice when others do. They do amazing work, partnering with indigenous ministries for maximum efficiency and sensitivity to local context, and spending as little as possible on overhead versus aid. I've looked into them, and I feel on solid ground in saying that their work is worth supporting, whether you're an Episcopalian or not, and whether you're a fan of any particular policy or other tendency of The Episcopal Church or not. Episcopal Relief and Development, as far as I can tell (and I would welcome any data I should take into account that might demonstrate the contrary), is doing important and urgent work that's Good News to the poor.

I have not investigated to the same degree organizations such as Anglican Relief and Development (which, as I understand the situation, was formed by groups seeking to break away from The Episcopal Church to provide aid especially from organizations and people who, for a variety of reasons, can't accept funding for or don't feel comfortable donating to anything associated with The Episcopal Church) and Five Talents. I hear good things about what they're doing, though.

What I encourage everyone to do is to INVESTIGATE. Ask questions about how much money goes to fund people in the U.S. (you'd be surprised at how many organizations claim to be about ending extreme poverty involved and that still spend most of their income right here, one white people better off than me). Ask them about their partnerships with organizations indigenous to the populations they serve. Personally, I don't chalk up anything I give to organizations that spend more than 15% of their total budget as PROGRAM budget OVERSEAS part of the 1% that organizations such as the ONE Campaign is advocating.

In other words, how much is my giving helping comfortable American citizens live comfortably while they talk about extreme poverty? Talking about extreme poverty is important, but does not necessarily relieve extreme poverty, and personally I prefer to fun initiatives -- such as Global Voices -- that give voice to people outside the U.S. and who work directly with if not being immediately among the populations most affected by extreme poverty.

And with respect to organizations abroad, how much budget goes to administration as opposed to program -- i.e., the program of relieving extreme poverty, as opposed to talking about relieving extreme poverty? What accountability measures are in place to assure that checks cashed are used by the organization for its stated mission?

Personally, I don't many organizations -- faith-based or no -- that match Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) in terms of efficiency, cultural sensitivity, and working to channel relief in directions that foster autonomy.

If you want to register your disagreement with The Episcopal Church in some way, though, I'm going to do something crazy:

I suggest, a la St. Paul's advice in his letter to the churches in Rome, that you strive to outdo ERD in collections gathered, in accountability offered, and in effectiveness in getting relief and means to economic sustainability to those in extreme poverty. Do that and I'll stand up and cheer at the top of my lungs.

Because in the end -- I have to say as some who takes seriously Matthew's report of Jesus' talking about 'sheep' and 'goats' -- I don't give a rodent's posterior about which organization sends which people which tax form.

I just want a world in which every child has a chance -- clean water, enough food to get by in reasonable health, enough health care to end childhood mortality from diseases we have for decades had cheap technologies to cure, enough education and a clean enough environment to make a living by their own hands.

We could do it -- not just because we have the resources (and we do -- because God has blessed this world with more than enough resources), but because, I think, there's critical mass in this world such that if those of us who believed this but aren't making a big deal about it decided to make a big deal about it, we could witness firsthand the changing of the tide that God is doing.

I'll write more about this soon, I'm sure -- especially given that this is Lent, and that I've got certain ideas (for which I'm deeply indebted to the prophet Isaiah, among others) about in what kinds of fasts God is engaged and honors -- but I wanted to go on the record about this much right now.

Thanks for listening.

February 6, 2008 in Churchiness, Current Affairs, Episcopal Relief and Development, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist | Permalink | Comments (0)