Dear Christ Church Family,
I hope this message finds you and your families safe and healthy during this difficult time. It feels like an eternity since we were last singing together, hugging at the Peace, and sharing bread and wine at Holy Communion. It has been a little over five months since our last Sunday worshiping in person in beautiful New Brick. When we first started livestreaming in March and continued into Holy Week, it took me some time to learn to play to an empty sanctuary. In truth, I’m not really used to it yet. I long for our safe return to our sanctuary, our sacred space, our church home.
As anyone in either of our choirs will tell you, I often recite the “forgotten Beatitude:” “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape.” This pandemic has forced all of us to be flexible, to adapt and change, to find new answers to unanticipated questions. Church musicians everywhere, paid and volunteer alike, have been grappling with our “new normal” in a uniquely existential way. Singing, and leading singing, is so central to what we do and who we are. Worshiping God in song is a biblical imperative. And isn’t the hymn titled “How can we keep from singing?”
Lamentably, from a public health perspective, group singing is among the most dangerous activities possible at the moment. Robust and spirited singing feels great - as anyone in our choirs will assure you - but scientists (including university researchers funded in part by my professional organization, the Association of Anglican Musicians) continue to uncover new evidence about the dangers of communal singing at this time. Recognizing this unfortunate reality, in our current phase of reopening, the diocese has forbidden choral and congregational singing during in-person worship. So, what on earth are we supposed to do? Or, to ask this question more productively: how is God calling us to use this time?
Luckily, I have not had to wrestle with these questions alone. My partner, Karl Robson, is also a church musician and organist, serving as Director of Music Ministries at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Norwood Parish, in Chevy Chase. We have been bouncing ideas off of one another throughout this pandemic and checking in with our friends and mentors around the country. We came to consider what it will be like when we, our clergy, our choirs and our congregations do finally return to our sanctuaries. How best can we use this time to prepare for our return to our normative means of worship? How can we use this time to grow our music programs, and our musicians?
To those ends, we are launching an exciting joint initiative between our two parishes! We will offer a Thursday evening sight-singing class and a Tuesday evening music theory office hour, both via Zoom, from 7:30 to 8:15 p.m. We will provide workbooks and other materials to help participants grow as singers and musicians. Our fabulous RSCM Vocal Coach, Dr. Madeline Miskie, will offer group voice lessons on Tuesday evenings in a breakout room. We would be looking for about an 80% attendance rate on Thursdays (akin to a commitment to our choir under normal circumstances); Tuesdays are optional. Week by week, Karl and I will generate hymn and anthem accompaniments in a variety of styles which we will send out to our choirs. Choir members can record their parts individually and send it to us for us to splice together into a “virtual choir” performance, which we will share on our web site and Facebook page.
Our hope is that when we do return to worship, we will be stronger singers and musicians than we were when this pandemic began. If you are not already a part of our Adult Choir, this is the perfect time to join. Don’t know how to sing? We’ll help with that! Don’t know how to read music? We’ll teach you! Don’t want to wake up early on Sunday? No need (for now…)! If you would like to participate, please fill out this Google form. Sixteen musicians from our two parishes have already signed up – it is going to be a blast! What better way to use this time than to build new skills and make new friends?
Many of our Royal School of Church Music Choristers returned to digital Zoom rehearsals and vocal coaching sessions this Spring; many of them will do so again when we reconvene in September. RSCM Chorister rehearsals are Thursday evenings from 5-6 p.m. We begin with a brief warm-up and group lesson, after which our Vocal Coach works with children individually or in household groups. While she works with them, the other Choristers work on music theory workbooks and packets. We close every rehearsal with the Choristers’ Prayer and some social time with one another. Any child aged eight and up is eligible to participate. Long term, our goal is to have our Choristers record hymns and simple anthems remotely for us to splice together, just as we will with our adult singers. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to enroll your child, or if you have more questions. Please know that for safe church guidelines, we expect a parent or guardian to be in the room with their young singers during rehearsals. We will also be inviting the young singers from St. John’s to join us. We hope that as our virtual program year develops, we will be able to join our youth and adults to make a truly fabulous intergenerational choir.
Both the Adult Choir and Chorister offerings will begin in the second full week of September, with our first Tuesday and Thursday sessions on September 15th and 17th. Please ponder in your hearts whether this is the right time for you to dive into our amazing music program. And know that if you are not feeling called to join us on this digital frontier, we will welcome you to our program whenever you wish.
There is much to mourn these days. But we are called to be a resurrection, people! I am excited to begin this digital “adventure” with all of you. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me with any questions or thoughts. Your feedback is invaluable.
Christ Church Director of Music