It’s Day Two at the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians’ conference in Seattle, and the day began with the alarm going off at 6 am. It was sure a short night! Carl was asked to be the reader at Morning Prayer today and was supposed to be at St. Ignatius Chapel by 7:40 am. I was struck by the creativity of the service — in the use of handbells as harmonic punctuations, the violin as an obbligato instrument, and the Chinese erhu as an obbligato and solo instrument on a hymn. I also liked the use of a musical “vamp” to connect spoken prayer bids, along with a musical refrain. We processed out of the chapel to the reflecting pool outside, accompanied by bell peals.
Today was the first day of plenary session lectures by seminary Professor Christian Scharen and Pastor Pamela Fickenscher who spoke about the use of hymns and sacred texts in secular settings. Professor Scharen played a video clip of Esperanza Spalding, the Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist and bassist who performed at the White House. The piece she sang was based on Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter.
The second video clip we watched was from the opening scenes from the movie, “True Grit,” and Pastor Fickenscher had a little difficulty getting the movie started in the right place. So she had us start singing the gospel hymn, “Leaning on the everlasting arms” What’s so amazing is that the whole assembly spontaneously started singing in parts — that’s one of the magical moments that happens when you get a whole crowd of Lutheran church musicians together. Within a few minutes the movie started and I had no idea that the hymn was used as a musical theme throughout the film.
Tonight we experienced a Hymn Festival at St. James Cathedral, led by St. Olaf conductor, Anton Armstrong and organist John Ferguson. They opened up the event to the community, and when we arrived there were no good seats left. My sister Doris, Sharon Dennis and I sat in the side foyer, so we couldn’t see anything — but what was so magnificent was the hearty singing by the thousand or so people in the cathedral tonight. There were 22 hymns this evening (Wow!) and the most amazing hymn was believe it or not, “Amazing Grace”, which was sung in a four-part canon, each phrase overlapping each other like waves of water. It was for me one of those very special “chicken-skin” moments.