Friday Five: The Advent of Advent

advent-mary

At RevGalBlogPals, Mary Beth Butler invites us each to sit quietly…as Mary sits in the photo above…and consider five things about Advent. They might be images, practices, hymns, anything you like. Here are my five:

1. For me, Advent is always a chance to focus on the Magnificat in one form or another, whether that’s preaching on it, listening to songs connected with it, paying attention to the wide range of art that has tried to capture that moment between Mary and Elizabeth, or presenting adult education sessions on it. I love the strength of it, the hope of it, the poetry of it. It’s Advent at its best.

2. In the last congregation that I served, one of my favorite events was the Advent party on the second Sunday of Advent, when a good percentage of the congregation ate together, packed items for Christmas Eve on the streets of New York City among the homeless poor, made crafts of various kinds, decorated a very large tree in our Fellowship Hall and sang Christmas carols along with the Mediocre Ensemble, an orchestra made up of musicians of all levels and ages. Some people played well and played regularly, some pulled instruments out of attics or basements and only played once a year, some knew all the notes and played them easily, and some could only play a few of the notes in each song. Some years I played guitar with them (though more often I was helping coordinate another part of the evening and couldn’t be with them for the rehearsal in the first hour).   But when that orchestra played We Wish You a Merry Christmas and the lights went on for the first time on the tree, I knew we were in Advent.

3. For many years, Advent has also been a time that I associate with my workload ramping up big time and then slowing down a bit because the semester is coming to an end. In the third week of Advent, my academic semester ends. My grades are due well before Christmas so I’m swamped with papers, projects, and final exams to plow through in that week. But then, once they’re graded the pace and focus change a bit. In the many years when I was working in a parish it meant being able to move my attention entirely to parish preparations for Christmas and was a way for me to really focus on waiting and preparing for Christmas.

4. Nowadays, Advent means I begin to look forward to practicing for the Messiah sing-a-long. This will be my third year spending late November and early December getting ready for the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah sing-a-long and it’s beginning to become a new Advent tradition. The first year I was doing this, there were a huge number of notes that I didn’t yet know how to play, much less play in tempo, on my flute. Last year at this time, I had learned the fingering of all the notes, but getting the proper sound out of them was still a challenge. This year, it’s speed on some of the pieces like “Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” that is where I’m putting my effort.

5. Years ago, when Kathy and I first moved into our house in Dobbs Ferry, I ordered copies of Christmas carols for each of the instruments that our children played with the dream that, during Advent, we’d find time to take out our guitars, saxophone, violin, keyboard, and drum that were still being stored at our house even though most of the children had moved out. We’d sit in front of our Christmas tree, grab the carol sheet music, and play together.  It never happened. The sax was taken to a new home, the drum was given away, and the music stayed stored with the rest of our sheet music. Last year, when Kathy retired she began to play clarinet and I ordered a clarinet copy of the same book of carols. This year, she’s learned enough that she can play with me. Even before Advent has arrived, we’ve begun to rehearse some of the carols. I’m looking forward to an Advent when we can sit in front of the lighted tree and play together.

Friday Five: Guilty Pleasures

Over at RevGalBlogPals, it’s time to play Friday Five. This week it begins with the paragraph:

guilty-pleasure

“It happened again this week. In a social setting, during a conversation with people that included some I had just met, I made a reference to the church I serve. “Oh!” one of the new acquaintances exclaimed, “I shouldn’t have said hell!” Sigh. This kind of projection can be so tiring, as can the general need to be mindful of how our words and actions are perceived as appropriate (or not). In light of that, I relish moments to myself when I can shed all such perceptions and projections and just be. Occasionally this involves what might be known as a guilty pleasure.

For this week’s Friday Five, share with us five “perception be damned!” pleasures in which you indulge. We promise we won’t judge, or tell. What happens at RevGals stays at RevGals.”

In my ministry, for good or for bad, I try very hard to be “what you see is what you get” rather than “playing minister”. When I used to fill out PIFs (clergy resumes), in response to the question about what I was looking for in a congregation I’d put that one of the things I wanted was a congregation where each member of staff (including myself) can be a total person, not just a role. And when I was in a congregation, I’m pretty sure members of the congregation knew all of me—the rough and the smooth places in my life. I thought that was a good thing, since I hoped it would also give each of them permission to also bring all of themselves to the congregation’s life together.

Having said all that, do I have guilty pleasures? I do, even though they’re not connected with the parish. So here are five:

  1. I love books—academic books, books for ministry, novels, poetry, sci fi, mysteries, books in other languages, old books, new books—and, while I do go to the library for books I’m sure I’ll never read again and do get some books in e-format of one kind or another, I also love owning books. The owning is the guilty pleasure.
  1. Peanut M&Ms. I’ve had to give up most candy, including M&Ms since my soy allergy has become so bad, but peanut M&Ms used to be a guilty pleasure of mine. I loved the combined salt and sugar. I could always find a way to justify eating them since the peanuts were a source of protein.
  1. Instruments and time to play instruments. One of my favorite things in all the world is making music—singing (which makes me feel guilty if anyone else is around because I’m so tone-deaf), playing flute, playing guitar, playing mountain lark, playing uke. I’m not very good at any of these instruments, but I love making music and especially playing with others. In the ideal world I would make music of one kind or another two to three hours a day, seven days a week—and then listen to music for a few hours more. Working three plus jobs, my life really doesn’t allow me much time for music-making and there’s always something that should be done in place of it, so when I play music I usually feel like I’m stealing time from something that has a more legitimate claim on it.
  1. Non-work-related travel. Travel is a guilty pleasure for me because I know that it increases my carbon footprint. I don’t do most of my travel by foot or by bike or by public transportation. I do it by car (or if I’m lucky enough to be going somewhere farther away, by plane). I struggle with how to balance my desire to see something new or participate in something that isn’t in my neighborhood with the environmental cost of my doing so.
  1. Whenever I’ve had an opportunity to step away from noise and connections with the world, I have so loved the silence. By silence I don’t mean the lack of natural noise, I mean having to be connected, to speak, to be “on” and reachable by others. When I was in my twenties, my mother used to give me the gift of watching my (then one) child for a long weekend once a year, so I could go away to a cabin in the woods and soak up the silence, hike the nearby trails, and not have to speak or respond to anyone. I didn’t feel guilty being away from it all. Instead, it was heaven. For a variety of reasons I’m not at a place in my life where these kinds of opportunities for long periods of total silence are possible and I’d probably feel very guilty if given the chance.

 

 

Playing in The New Westchester Symphony Orchestra

         I’m having a blast playing in the NWSO, but more than that, I’m learning so much.  I think to some extent that’s probably true for most of the orchestra members since we’re getting pieces into our fingers that I’m guessing most of us have never played before, but it may also be true for me in a different way since I know so little about classical music.

            Growing up, even though I was deaf for a while and so missed some of the more popular songs from those years, I heard lots of music.   I heard hymns both in church and on records, lots of folk songs (since my mother adored the Weavers and more specifically Pete Seeger and both bought records of the songs and took me to concerts), Broadway show tunes, and records of music that was popular when my mother was young (especially Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Any Williams and Perry Como) to which Simon and Garfunkel and Glen Campbell were later added.  My grandmother would often putter her way through a piece of sewing or dusting singing songs from her youth, especially Dolores del Rio’s Ramona and the Spanish ballad Juanita.  I also spent a lot of time at my next door neighbor’s home where I’d hear different pop music—songs by groups like The Cyrkle, Little Richard, and The Coasters.  At school, as I learned to play trumpet, I learned “band songs,” snippets of various pieces, mostly children’s songs of one kind or another and as I learned guitar I learned “Peter Paul and Mary” type songs.  And of course there was other music to which my friends and I listened—the Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, John Denver, the Stones, Elton John, and the like.

What I almost never heard, though, was classical music. No one in my family liked classical music and if it came on on a radio or a TV show, someone would quickly switch the channel or turn it off. Because of that, the only time I’d hear work by any classical composers was when I would sneak into the church and listen to an organ concert from the steps outside the sanctuary or when we’d sing something classical in children’s choir.

As an adult, I learned a little more about classical music, but still not in much of a systematic way.  But now, playing with the NWSO, I’m beginning to get at least a basic feel for some of the composers we’re playing. As I try to get Grieg’s Peer Gynt into my fingers and mind, I’m becoming more aware that “In the Hall of the Mountain King” isn’t just a theme used in the movies Inspector Gadget or The Social Network. Instead I begin to see both how it fits into a larger body of work and some of the unique challenges it offers. Right now it may seem that I may never be able to get play all the notes in the Flute 2 part of “Jupiter” but I’m getting a lot more of a sense of Holst’s The Planets as I try.  And through both working on the music and listening to Ben’s comments on what a composer is doing in a piece, I’m beginning to get a broader sense of various time periods and styles.  Most of all though, as I get to explore and experience this music with a really nice group of people, I’m coming to appreciate some wonderful music that I might otherwise never have had a chance to come to know so well or enjoy so much!