Today’s Word from Minister of Music, Karl Olsen…  

African American singer and founder of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bernice Johnson Reagon said:
“The song is not a product.
The song exists as a way to get to the singing.
The singing exists to form the community.”

And J.S. Bach said:
“…we weave notes together to form the fabric of our community’s praise and lament; each of us offering a unique and invaluable thread.”

Today, the last Wednesday in August, would have been the annual church choir retreat at TLC, as we normally would gather to meet, eat and tweet (sing!) together and get fired up for another season of choral music. This week should be a time of selecting music, hours of work for music librarian Marcie(!), planning special events, and meeting with keyboardist Sheila Weidendorf and handbell director Linda Nevermann to plan out rehearsals and Sunday music. It would also be a time to begin thinking about youth choirs and TLC Preschool music offerings and schedules.

Well… normal is probably not the first word you might think of to describe the last six months! So… the music program at TLC will take different forms this fall than in normal times.

Even if we could safely gather, in Phase 3 the guidelines say “No choir shall perform during the service.” For a singer, how discouraging is that! You might as well say “thou shalt not breathe!” Congregations and soloists may sing, but with face masks. “ … musical performances of more than two individuals are prohibited.” Wow!

So, as we remain online, I will continue in the ancient church role of “Cantor” as I sing songs of faith and inspiration, and draw on the talents of Linda, who has been rehearsing bell duets with son James, and Sheila, who will be providing occasional piano and organ support. I will also rely on so many of the musical folks you’ve loved these months and years to continue to supply us with inspiration and songs they record at home or safely outside here at church.

Once we get livestreaming under control, I hope to present a couple of online concerts this fall, with mostly me (due to virus restrictions) performing, but with recordings of others fit into the presentation as well, and hopefully one for younger kids, too.

Personally, I hope to compose more music, revise my liturgy (written some years ago) and record parts for that suitable to be presented for publication, and to keep increasing my knowledge of and fluency with digital based music (thanks, Kaj!) to support our music programming, now and for our eventual return to live worship! Yes, it will happen! In person!

In light of all this, in these strange and challenging times, let me paraphrase the words of the president of Oberlin College, musing on the death of George Floyd, and the pandemic:

“…Yet, each day I hope. I hope because I simply refuse to despair, and because I see reason to hope every September. My hope is with the people who grace this congregation. Every year we observe a different unending well here at TLC. People check in with a seemingly insatiable level of curiosity, a love and appreciation of difference, and an unyielding view that what has always been, does not have to be.

“My hope is with our people and our God. Hoping that they will have the courage to face the world as it is, and to be unrelenting in their desire to see it change. For good. I see their passion and commitment and desire to do good in the world, and it moves me.”

We can keep in our hearts and memories the worship services we’ve shared, the songs we’ve sung, the bad jokes Pastor Jim has told, and the coffee hours shared. Memories such as these have tied communities together for decades, indeed centuries. We can do it, with grace, for a few more months! Until we can safely gather all the musicians together again. What joy that will be!

When the memories fade, or get too challenging, remember what the poet and Sufi mystic Rumi said:

“When I am silent, I fall into that place

where everything is music.”

Enjoy the memories, the silence, the grace and the music. It can’t hurt to revisit this song performed by 1300+ Lutheran musicians (including me) a few months ago. Click HERE for the video of “O Day Full of Grace.”

Until we meet again, see you online! — one day closer.