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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

We loiter in winter while it is already spring.
Henry David Thoreau

There’s a whole new season out there—America’s sport opened yesterday with hearty shouts of “Play ball!”, the grass is way more than knee-high to the already jumping grasshoppers, Mr. and Mrs. Finch have built a nest under our patio roof, the dandelions are shining like the sun, and the most recent snow didn’t even stay on the ground a whole day—well, in most spaces.

Easter Sunday, after singing two church services (the finale of a song-filled Holy Week that began with a Saturday all day rehearsal, followed by Palm Sunday service, the two-hour Bach St. John Passion service, a Wednesday choir practice, plus Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services), I was ready for what seemed more like a long winter’s nap than spending time outside in the midst of earth’s rebirth. But with what turned out to be just a short spring fling with sleep, I was ready to experience the great outdoors I had been so missing with all that indoor singing.

My husband Sherman and our dogs Furgus and Sam were just as willing as I was to get back at moving under the big blue sky with which we were blessed on Easter.

Just a few minutes into our hiking climb up the Hogback, I realized how early in this season it still was. Yes, it was warm enough that I needed to keep an eye and ear for rattlesnake activity, but my breathing told me I hadn’t been climbing for several months. Apparently the large (to me) hills I run in my neighborhood as well as riding a chair lift up a mountain in order to ski down have not kept my lungs in anything like the hiking form I soon hope to regain. Another excuse to pause and admire the view stretching below, right? Worked for me and Sherman (though he already has been climbing on his mountain bike) even if the dogs would rather we pushed the limits from the start versus eased into the season.

By the time we descended to terra more firma, we sported evidence of both sun and dirt, morphing our winter skin into brand new shades. And speaking of brand new shades, the warmth of the new season seemed to have ushered in the return of the full moon, thanks to a cyclist-gone-commando who felt no need to hurry into his post-riding shorts. Yes, it is most certainly springtime next to the Rockies.

Transformations are happening in our home, too—though we prefer a more modest (and appropriate) approach style-wise. Our daughter is graduating from college next month. She and I are both looking for work—in many ways it seems as if finding that first post-college career job is a lot like finding one as a returning job seeker. The world wants to see both levels as stuck in the winter of our recent pasts and yet we are primed for the rapid greening that comes with spring.

Oh yes, the seasons are changing—outside and inside this house. Let us not loiter too long in winter when it is already spring—each step we take brings us closer to the growth and eventual fitness that comes with moving upward and outward into the world.

From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church, March 29, 2015

From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church,
March 29, 2015

Sunday’s experience singing Bach’s St. John Passion felt more than a little surreal. Other than on the songs when I myself had to join in on the hard work of singing, I often felt as if I were somehow inside a recording of the music I’ve been listening to over the past several months. The 40 songs on my phone that are now so familiar provide so much more music than the choruses and chorales our choir has been rehearsing. For one thing they come accompanied by an orchestra, not just our choir accompanist playing on the piano a small portion of the completeness provided by the various instrumental parts. And for another, we practiced our own songs but had little or no exposure to the arias in ordinary rehearsals.

In fact, because what we were doing was only part of the complete work, that is why I decided to start listening to those 40 songs in order—no shuffling allowed. This winter whenever I plugged my ear buds into my phone, I selected Bach to accompany me as I pushed my snow blower or ran. My purpose wasn’t to focus on the music but to let the songs—mine and those of others, transitions, and accompaniment seep into me. Last week, before the dress rehearsal with the other musicians, I would have told you I wasn’t ready to sing my parts—despite seven months of group rehearsals and practice on my own.

But with those musicians? Wow—just wow. Oh certainly, I didn’t have everything down just perfectly, but it helped so much to have the support of such high level instrumentalists as well as the professional soloists who also sang with us. At Saturday’s dress rehearsal there were moments when I would hear the other sections of the choir sing and think, “Is that sound really coming from us?” It was so much easier to sing up to a new standard surrounded by all that excellence as I sat and stood immersed in something that sounded a whole lot like what had been coming into my ears all winter long.

For the few hours of Sunday’s service I was transported into an almost ethereal space where I even forgot sometimes how hard I was working.

Because of that I could really hear the message and sense just how passionate this passion was—our God was put to trial and forsaken. The heavenly music told a tale of oh-so-earthly human failures. No wonder so many of the faces I faced as I sang that the final number—including not just those of those in attendance, but also of our director—were either close to tears or had tears escaping—as is also likely true of my face and of those standing with me in the choir. How could we not “get” the story when told as Bach intended?

Indeed—what a way to put the holy into Holy Week.

(Note: in order to listen, access the link embedded above and go to the worship archives for March and click on March 29, St. John Passion.)

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Music is one of my first languages—and I know it had a big role in how my brain first developed. Music is also one of the best ways for all people to keep our brains healthy as we get older. But when I joined the church choir after my kids left home, I didn’t do it for my brain. I did it because I missed practicing music within a group. Yet I am sure my brain appreciated the regular exposure to learning and singing demanding music, just as my heart appreciated the words we sang.

I had only sung in the choir for two years when our long-time and excellent director retired. Everything old seemed new again under the direction of Dr. James Kim—for many reasons, but especially because he is a passionate scholar of J. S. Bach. Thanks to Dr. Kim’s focus on Bach and the messages in his work, all our brains have stepped up the mental workouts while also growing in understanding the whys behind the sacred music Bach left behind.

This second year with Dr. Kim, our brains should be even healthier. He has challenged—and guided—us to sing J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion—and in German, too. Together (and on our own) we have been learning words in a new language and delving into complex musical patterns since late last summer. Oh, sure, some of our members are accomplished singers who have extensive musical training and who have sung in or do sing in performance choirs. But in the end, we are a church choir and as such anyone is welcome to join us. There are no auditions or requirements—except maybe for the desire to sing for the glory of God.

Bach was a church musician—not your average church musician, neither then nor now—who was most concerned with how his works glorified God. No doubt he strove to strengthen the health of souls through his words and notes, but I am also grateful for how they have also benefitted my brain health at the same time the words have been written into my heart.

Tomorrow on Palm Sunday afternoon at 4:00, under the direction of Dr. James Kim and accompanied by guest instrumentalists, the Bethany Lutheran Church Chancel Choir, along with accomplished soloists, will present the St. John Passion as an extended church service.

The complex and beautiful music by Bach that has challenged and developed me simplifies the difficult task of opening hearts. After so many months immersed in such exceptional words and musical notes, the spirit is willing in each of us participating in this offering to the congregation and community—may our flesh (and brains) also be strong enough so that all who listen—young, old, and in-between—hear the glory to God that Bach intended.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

When I took the Strong Interest Inventory about 20 years ago, some of the results indicated I might like to work in a church. Since I didn’t feel any calling in that direction and since I also like my weekends free from job-related tasks, I eventually put the suggestion down to a cultural bias. Just because I answered as a person of faith doesn’t mean faith-based work was my vocation. Perhaps I am just called to think and act as a person of faith in other professions/work settings. Nonetheless, I’m betting it was my “I like singing hymns” response that most directed that particular result.

But, hey, I do like singing hymns. In past centuries much of the best music was written for the Church and I’m into singing good music. Beyond that, though, part of why I am musical is because I was raised in a strong German-American family. The German-Americans where I’m from had traditions such as playing instruments together in family bands and meeting up often to sing—which included singing many of the hymns that came from the German chorales.

Even as teens and young adults in the 70s and 80s, my cousins and I had great fun doing this. It never occurred to us just how nerdy our singing hymns might appear to the general population. However, we didn’t sing just hymns—I remember singing songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” or pieces from musicals such as Pippin—but we always sang in at least 4-part harmony. The youngest cousins started as page-turners for my mom’s piano playing, learning from the bench before they were old enough to join in. When we reunited in song at Mom’s and an uncle’s services, it was as if we were doing what we had always done but with cousins moving into the places of director and accompanist.

My own music lessons began with piano and clarinet, but picked up vocally when we moved to a new town when I turned 10. With our family back in a Lutheran church again, Mom began to teach my brother and me—Sunday service after Sunday service—how to read and sing harmony from the liturgy and the hymns. So much of what I know about choral singing comes from first honing my sight-reading skills while singing hymns. Hymns have also helped me practice singing almost weekly since 1972, even during years when I do not participate in a choir.

Thanks to Mom, I always had an opportunity to sing while growing up, whether at home, in church, or through some group she was directing for my brother and me and our friends. Of course I also sang at school, but only through my freshman year in college. The hymn-singing is what has remained most constant for me.

And when I can, I sing the harmony in those hymns, week after week. Over time I’ve noticed the patterns of particular organists. For example, the organist playing for the church I attended in college always changed up the harmonies on the third verse while my church’s current organist usually varies the final verse. Until I joined the choir at church again in 2011, hymn-singing has been one of my only opportunities in adult life to sing harmony besides the three years in the 80s in another church choir and an earlier year (1990) with my current church choir. Singing harmony with hymns is to singing in choir as doing warm-up jogs are to running races or as writing in a journal is to formal writing—it is a very good way to practice skills even when you aren’t performing, so to speak.

As our society has transitioned to a post-Christian one—a society where a person who likes to sing hymns might not just be considered an average churchgoer but instead someone who should work in a church—so has the Church’s desire to be welcoming—as it should if it wants to remain relevant to all who hunger for God. We need to remove barriers that make others feel unwelcome. Yet at the same time we are also losing traditions, some strongly tied to eras when our ethnic traditions carried into how we “did” church services. Nonetheless, what feels inclusive to me most likely feels exclusive to someone raised outside my tradition.

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I like musical changes in the church service such as (only) the words of hymns being displayed on walls for us to sing or our hymnals showing just the melodies for many songs. For me so much joy has come from communal singing—in harmony.

Which means I better keep singing in a church choir. Trust me, though, when I say no one is going to pay me to do so as a profession. As Bach wrote at the bottom of each of his works, “S. D. G.”“Soli Deo Gloria” or glory to God alone. To get to sing to God—in harmony with others—is enough.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

The winter of my son’s discontent has begun to thaw thanks to—his Grandma Mae’s accordion? Really. These long days and nights of waiting for his post-concussion syndrome to subside have left him with time on his hands since he is still banned from doing his martial arts—the activity that previously filled his evenings and provided an outlet for the excessive energy that runs through his body whether or not his head is aching. Winter’s low light, his restrictions, and his pain have led to a massive case of cabin fever, especially as he has no idea when his healing will pick up. He needed something (safe) to do and we needed him to have something do when he wasn’t at work—which was more often since he’s still not released to work a full schedule. Who knew the accordion really could step in against the face of doing too much of nothing?

Not I, but I was getting desperate. If you don’t know, people who are concussed (mini-rant: when did that become a proper term?) get pretty irritable. Plus, any brain challenges a person has get exacerbated—which means my son’s rant gene (we’re pretty sure there must be one in our family including in his mother) has ramped up the monologues around here. What could he do that would grab the attention of his brain while having a physical component? I thought he’d try out my LEGO suggestion but instead he grabbed onto the accordion idea, especially after I pointed out he could start learning by using the Internet.

After the first two days he had already played the thing for eight hours. His bored (yet bruised) brain sang with joy—or at least his fingers did. Pretty soon he was researching how the accordion was put together and how to fix the stuck buttons. He knows the background of his accordion’s brand and has a good idea of its age and value. He can tell you about different styles of instruments and accordion-playing traditions across different countries and over several time periods. I’ve become used to falling asleep to the sound of an accordion—which is fine since he most often chooses to play with a sweet tone—it’s almost as if I’m rocking asleep in a boat in Venice. Almost.

At first our dog Sam ran from the music. Something about the vibrations or the movement of the bellows scared him in a way that our playing other instruments hasn’t. Thankfully Sam’s made a truce with the instrument because I don’t think it’s going away any time soon—and that’s a good thing because this personal music therapy has done more for our son than anything else has over the past three months.

Perhaps he’ll become the next Lawrence Welk? When I first said that, I meant it in jest, but after finding a really old video of the Bubble-master playing his accordion, old Lawrence is much redeemed in my eyes—I’ve yet to forgive him for all those dull shows of his I had to watch while visiting my grandparents, but if he’d played his accordion that way in his later years, he would have kept my attention.

Maybe my son had to get hit on the head to find his true calling—or not. But thank goodness the accordion is a friend when he needs it to get through this overly long healing period. Even if his music didn’t sound so sweet, that alone would make it enough for me. How sweet it is indeed.

P.S. Check out Lawrence Welk’s playing–it’s well worth a listen.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Memory is usually one of my strong points—or at least it was until I was really deep in the sandwich of raising my kids and watching over my mother. And even if my memory is nothing like it was in my youth, it’s still pretty good if I am listening and/or participating in something. So why can’t I remember much about one particular activity from my freshman year in college? Usually the phrase isn’t “What happens in Bach Chorale stays in Bach Chorale.” As far as I know what happened is that I practiced with the group every Monday night until we performed a good part of Bach’s St. John’s Passion during Holy Week.

I now realize this experience should have been a big deal. The St. John’s Passion is very difficult. And while I come from a very musical background—having played piano, clarinet, oboe, and violin, as well as having sung in parts since I was 10—I am a generalist who has never taken musical theory—or practiced much individually—I’m rather a musical bum. Or as my music teacher mother finally said of me and my brother, “I don’t know why I wasted so much money and energy on your music lessons if you were just going to turn out to be jocks.”

That is, musical “jocks” who didn’t take musical preparations as seriously as we took our physical workouts. My brother has almost perfect pitch and we both picked up reading music easily with our first piano lessons back in kindergarten. In some ways music was so much of our early childhood that we don’t even know how we know what we know and too often we get by on that easily developed knowledge.

From time to time I discover I “know” many parts of the St. John’s Passion my choir is practicing even if I can’t tell for certain what all I have sung of this music. For certain, my choir did not sing the words in German, but I have had particular English phrases from the songs stuck in my head ever since that one “lost” year—and I sing them, too—just ask my dogs who have been called malefactors many a time.

So it seems very strange to me that I can’t access exactly what I did in those practices. Did I find the music hard or not? Shouldn’t it stand out if it seemed that way? Maybe my malleable 18-year-old brain was just in the middle of constant learning and it found the music neither harder nor easier than anything else I was learning in my first year of higher education. I do know that while the choir itself was geared toward generalists, music majors who did not have time to be in the traveling choir were required to participate in this choir instead. Perhaps we amateurs were paired with these people deliberately as I do remember one person who I would say was my mentor during rehearsals.

Fall trimester Monday rehearsals seemed hard because by Monday night I would realize just how little I and my poor time management skills had accomplished over the too-short weekend. But by the second and third trimesters, I also had added track practices—that jock thing—and sorority meetings. It’s possible I was just in a daze at choir practices due to panic over what all I had to accomplish after my longest day of the week ended and before I could go to sleep.

Whatever the reasons, I don’t really know what I did or did not do in that choir. I did decide I didn’t enjoy being in the choir enough to do it and track together for several months. Ever the generalist, I didn’t really care about all the music theory and jokes bandied about between the director and the music students. However, what I most learned from the experience was that I liked Bach.

Bach still appeals to me, even as my brain feels so much less malleable than it did when Bach and I first met, well, first met in choral singing anyway. The genius of what to me is a call and response between the various vocal sections of the choir is just a marvel and adds so much to the meaning of the pieces. I love all the counting—even when I get lost. Learning German is a bigger stretch and though I loved learning foreign languages in my early days, I am glad that I learned these songs first in English—the emotions of the words I don’t yet understand are stuck to the notes in my mind already.

Each time I practice this particular music I re-discover a little bit more of what I learned so long ago. So glad to get back to these specific works of Bach that somehow are a part of me—despite my not giving them the attention they deserved the first time around.

(c) Trina Lambert 2014

(c) Trina Lambert 2014

Though I don’t miss eight-track cartridges, cassettes, or albums, I do miss how listening to one set of works at a time allowed me to get to know a particular set of music well. When we upgraded our stereo system to include a CD player that let us listen to five—five—CDs, either one after the other or shuffled together, I still felt I could really get to know the individual pieces of works. Sometimes that song I didn’t think I liked grew to become one of my favorites, something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been forced by the industry to take my music as a set.

At the time when we built our CD collection, I would have told you the options were almost overwhelming. What did I want to listen to for the next three hours or so? But for the most part I did come to know the songs on those discs, some in an intimate way. Remember reading the words from the CD cover, not just looking them up online where you hope that person sharing the words hears well enough to get them right? I wanted to know what they meant and write some of the words on my heart.

Now I can access my songs shuffled in so many ways: randomly, by album, by artist, by genre, by playlist, etc. Yet all those songs are there for me at the same time. With my CDs, I never stopped before to count just how many songs I had available to me. Despite not having converted all those songs from the original format, just the sheer number listed on a screen of what I own overwhelms me. And the new stuff acquired—some individually, some in album groups—has never grown as near to my heart and memory. Somehow it seems almost wrong to focus on an individual song or album when I can listen to some endless random loop.

Having too many choices has weakened my connection to this song or that album. I feel as if I’m losing my ability to come to know a work so intimately that it becomes part of the soundtrack of my own head. Instead, so often it’s all this grand, big collection of music I like versus something really personal to me.

So while I’m open to new songs and new artists, the expansion of music options available to me seems to keep me quite a bit in the past. These days I hear songs I like then promptly forget about them. Without repetition they just don’t stick with me.

Though it’s easier to live without physical representations of music cluttering my space and gathering dust, I feel that when all my music is contained in one small box or a cloud, the too-muchness of the formats puts a barrier between me and true love for that music individually.

The other day after driving around in my car while listening to a mix CD made several years ago, I realized just how often I had fallen into singing along with those songs without even knowing it. I, not some random algorithm, picked those songs. Sure, I made the “playlist” myself, but first I had to know those songs well enough to want to choose them.

Yes, even with a car that is smart enough to allow me to bring along all my music at once, I prefer to put a boundary on what I can hear in that small space, even if that means cluttering up the car with specific CD jewel boxes. How else am I going to live up to my “Caution—driver singing” license plate holder? I can’t sing along with every one of the songs in my collection, but give me 10 to 15 at a time and you’re going to need that warning.

And, thus, I’m mostly leaving you with pictures. Well, other than of relaxing activities such as my delicious nap today and my soak in the tub—I will spare you those images. Thank goodness for small favors, right?

Christiana petting giraffes on our trip to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Christiana petting giraffes on our trip to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Running.

Running.

Road trips.

Road trips.

Reading.

Reading.

Singing in church.  (c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Singing in church.
(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Walking dogs.

Walking dogs.

Now, off to grab 40 winks–or more.

My mother Mae singing with guys--no doubt as the high tenor!

My mother Mae singing with guys–no doubt as the high tenor!

Oh for certain we sang this hymn at my mother’s memorial service. Her life had been one long song to the next, something I’m sure she passed on to me when I was yet in her womb. How can I keep from singing?

Though I am not the musician she was, I am musical, often in ways I don’t even recognize. I never stop hearing the beats in all kinds of music. My toe can be found tapping out some tune even when my brain isn’t aware of having a song in that head of mine. I hear the fluorescent light’s buzz that often echoes the one being sung by the bass section in choir. Snippets of songs run just below my consciousness levels and sneak out when I least expect them to do so.

I sing the blues, I sing nursery rhymes, I sing praise, I sing advertising jingles, I sing Broadway tunes, I sing corny Americana songs taught to me by the banjo-playing music teacher who was not my mother, I sing classic rock and (crappy) pop from my youth. To my family’s dismay, I even sing random ZUMBA songs. It’s just one long (or short) song to the next in my head—and sometimes out loud.

And my life is so much better for it. My family of origin, for better or worse, was always breaking out in song, something my husband pointed out when he first got to know us.

My son might not want to admit it, but he’s been infected by this disease, too—or at least I think that’s what he’d call it when he gets a particularly bad earworm repeating in that lovely broken record format in his head. But it’s a thing of joy to me when I can hear him singing spirituals through the bathroom door and above the running water sounds coming from his shower—oh how proud his grandmother would be.

But I really know life is improving around here when the other half of this family starts breaking out in song too. Just Saturday on the ski slope, my daughter was singing while she skied—something she always did as a kid. And then on Sunday, my husband was making up songs as he created and put together his Easter Day “resurrection” pizza. What music to my ears to hear those two forget to stay silent.

How can I keep from singing? Indeed.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Sometimes you’re forced into a whole new way of doing things—yet somewhere amidst the panic of relearning, you start to see that maybe, just maybe, there are sound reasons behind the changes and that the results could be infinitely better than you had imagined.

Truth is much of life is like this—we have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into change. We aren’t going to go, they can’t make us, that’s just wrong, blah, blah, blah—those are the kinds of thoughts that run through our minds. When the terra firma upon which we stand is no longer so firma, we just have to leap. And often where we land is terra even more firma than we had known possible.

Big change is going down in our church choir after the retirement of our former director who was the most excellent director I’ve had in the tradition of various directors I have experienced throughout my life. However, I’d only been in this particular choir for two years, so I wasn’t really so set in my ways that I couldn’t move on. Or so I thought.

The truth is all my directors—choir, band, orchestra—had a similar style throughout my life, one I can only assume developed from the educational theories and the society of the times in which they lived and grew, whether that was during times of direct military conflict or while being raised by people who had served during the conflicts. My mother began her directing career while men were away serving in Korea. Still, women took over in the same traditions. Even the directing my own kids experienced in community and school groups was little different. The director is In Charge, right?

So when candidates for choir director auditioned with our choir, I thought the candidate who thought we ought to look at him less and “feel the music” more was crazy. Heck, I thought that was crazy for the general public, let alone for a group of Frozen Chosen Lutherans leaning closer to Medicare age than to the era of early career days and parenthood. Look, I dance around here all the time and I know I “feel the music” more than many—in fact, I have been known to move in time to music in church—gasp. But, still, what could he mean by that sort of crap? I mean I’m still this obsessive-counting German-American type, raised by a woman for whom not having rhythm wasn’t an option for her children.

Then we get to the first practices and the “feel the music” director doesn’t even warm us up. He just starts us with hard, hard pieces. And tells us to sing boldly—even if we don’t hit all the notes right. No, in fact he’d rather we get the rhythm right first (score one for being raised by my mother!) Anyway, little by little we’re learning to sing—or sin, as I say—boldly reading Bach—in German, no less. And for all these people with Germanic backgrounds, can I just say that we as a group (and that includes me) are probably sinning so boldly in that language that our ancestors are rolling (in rhythmic precision, of course) in their graves.

Every practice I go to, I think I can’t do this, this is beyond me, etc.—and I know I am one of many. But then we get a section right, a song right, and the sound is something new to us. I can’t help but think that we are “feeling the music’’—perhaps for the very first time in a choral setting for many of us. This choir has always been technically advanced, but no doubt a little emotionally restricted. Might our ministry reach people better if they felt our music too? Can we cerebral Lutherans yet stretch into something more?

The first Sunday we sang together in this new era, people came to us afterwards gushing just a little. I think we all felt we had been a little different, but how so? I came home and watched the archived service. You know what? Our director had most of us moving with the music, not just the most expressive members. We were—dare I say it—feeling that music.

Last night we practiced again. I thought I was floundering, that we would never get it right, whatever, all over again. And, yet, I also didn’t feel as if it were wrong to sing a wrong note on the way to getting it right. I didn’t feel that I would receive dirty looks from fellow members or that there wasn’t room for a little levity surrounding the boldness of our singing sins. No, what I felt was that making those mistakes was actually part of the learning process and that it would get us where we needed to be. Even though that doesn’t seem technically possible, I have hope based upon what improvements I’ve heard so far.

Isn’t this what I’ve been searching for much of my life? A release from the tyranny of needing always to be right from the beginning versus giving into the inevitable mistakes encountered on the way to true learning—which could bring me and others to much higher levels than would be possible if we’d never sinned—boldly or otherwise. Feel the music of that . . . .

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert