Thursday, January 21, 2010

Musical Literacy

I recently started playing in a local community band. I found out about this group through the local newspaper, emailed the director, and went to my first rehearsal a couple of weeks ago. As a clarinetist, it's usually not too hard to get into wind ensembles and concert bands, as they're always short. It's been fun-the hard part has been adjusting to the fact that it's a community band and not the type of ensemble I'm used to playing in, but it's a place for my to indulge my musical side, which always makes my soul feel better.

Anyway, the theme for the spring concert is outer space, or something like that. All of the music we're playing has some space-y thing in the title. Two of the pieces we're playing are from Gustav Holst's The Planets ("Jupiter" and "Uranus," to be specific). I've played "Mars" in both wind ensembles and orchestras before, and I've played the "Jupiter" in orchestra. Plus, this work of Holst's is wonderful and I know it decently well and imagined that everyone in the band would have recognized the pieces (especially "Jupiter"-it and "Mars" are probably the two most well known movements of the work) as The Planets is well known and almost movie-esque, in an early twentieth century kind of way. Imagine my surprise then, when one of the clarinets piped up after we finished "Jupiter" and said "Where did you find this piece?" After rehearsal, several players asked me the same sorts of questions. My response (mentally) is below:

WHAT?!?!?!?! Are you serious? You're a musician and you've never heard Holst's The Planets?!

I spent the entire drive home thinking about this. I'm still in disbelief. It got me to thinking about musical literacy in our society. You hear about the "cultural canon" or "great books" so much, but it's all about literature. Not that I have anything against literature-I study it, for crying out loud! But I find that music is rarely-if ever-included in discussions of cultural literacy. You could probably mention Beethoven or Mozart to people, and maybe even Tchaikovsky (if it's close to Christmas) and folks would know who you were talking about. But when you run into musicians who have never heard of Holst, the problem of musical literacy becomes apparent.

I don't even know how we approach this problem. I'm just...flabbergasted. Music transcends boundaries in ways that reading can't (language barriers don't exist here, although cultural tastes in music do, but I'd argue not to the same extent as language). I just want to go into rehearsal and hand out copies of The Planets, and even the soundtrack to Fantasia 2000 (which I find to be the best intro to the range of classical music, played by the oh so wonderful Chicago Symphony Orchestra) just so people would know these pieces. I mean, listening to modern music is enriched when you know the standards, just as knowing the standards in jazz helps you pick up on tags and quotes during improv sessions. Case in point-John Williams. I am convinced that "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana was a direct influence on the piece "Duel of the Fates" from the score to Star Wars: Episode One. Aside from the obvious similarity in title ("O fortune!" vs. "Duel of the Fates"), the pieces have a similar sound. The first time I heard it in the movie theater, I was immediately struck by this and my experience of that musical moment was deepened because I knew (and had played, for that matter) then Orff setting.

I apologize if this post seems scattered or doesn't make sense. I'm just still kind of astonished by people not knowing the Holst piece. Crazy.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Whew. It was a big weekend for me, to put it mildly. For those who don't know, I was ordained to the priesthood on Saturday (officially in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church, but specifically I'm Episcopalian). It was a big moment-I won't say that I felt ontologically transformed or anything-which is fodder for a whole discussion about women's ordination-but it really was a great service. Because travel is so expensive (for me, specifically), we had the ordination at my parish up here in MA. My bishop and family traveled from Kentucky for the service. The bishop even cried at one point-I wasn't sure he was going to make it through what he had to say when he was presenting the Bible. A few priests from the area came to support me, and my good friend came to preach. Several of my close friends from Yale came up, which really meant a lot to me. I think joy is probably the best way to describe that service. Everything was great-the musicians were wonderful, the preaching was top notch, and it was really nice to be surrounded by my parish at that moment. They did a great job with the resounding "IT IS" and "WE WILL" when asked if I should be ordained and would they support me. And it was wonderful having the rector's presence by my side-I think that was a calming influence, as I was (strangely perhaps) nervous before the service, but once it got going I was OK.

Sunday I celebrated the Eucharist for the first time. Honestly, I was more nervous about that than about the ordination. I had visions of that scene in the movie Luther where Luther spills wine at his first celebration. If I had it wouldn't have been the end of the world, but I wanted to do a good job. AND I was chanting the service, as is the custom at the church, and had practiced to make sure I knew the part well enough. I thought it went alright, and many people came up and told me that they thought the chanting was great and it looked as though I had been celebrating for years. I should note here, though, that I was never one of those kids who "play Mass" at home. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it honestly never occurred to me to do so. If someone had asked me to play that with them, I probably would have looked at them like they were crazy and gone outside to ride my bike. But I did spend many a Sunday acolyting, so the service itself is ingrained within me. Wednesday I've got a Rite One healing service, which will be interesting as well. Luckily I'm not completely unfamiliar with Rite One, so it should be OK. I need to memorize the healing prayer.

Other than that, it was great hanging out with my family. Unfortunately my brother wasn't able to make it up due to a quartet competition, but my mom, dad, sister, and nephew were able to make it. I swear my nephew gets more and more fun every time I see him. And it was a blast to see how he and R interacted! Sunday afternoon my sister and I played Mario Party on the Wii and my nephew wanted nothing more than to play with R. It was great! I'm looking forward to going home in February/March to spend more time with them.

They're still driving as I write-it's about 1000 miles so it's a long haul. We had a snow stormette last night, too, which made their morning travel a little messy. R and I had to shovel tons of heavy snow too, which was lame. After we were done I came in and looked at cruises. I've never been on one and would love to go; maybe for now I'll just cut up the pineapple someone at church gave me (as a gag gift when I told her I wanted pineapples for the flowers at the ordination) and make a pina colada or something. Or just eat it plain. I don't have the ingredients for a pina colada, although I guess they're not that hard to find. Whatever. Pineapple makes me think of warm places and summer. And I am so ready for summer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I'm sure everyone's heard of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday. Already the poorest country in the western hemisphere, it's hard to imagine what this is going to do to their population. The news pouring out of there is pretty awful-for me, at least, it's bringing back memories of the tsunami that hit southeast Asia a few years ago. Unfortunately there's so little infrastructure in Haiti to begin with that I imagine relief work is going to be that much more challenging.

My parish sponsors a school in Haiti (some folks were going to go down in February to help rebuild the walls of the school). Furthermore, the Episcopal Church has been a pretty strong presence throughout the country, helping run over 200 schools, not to mention other facilities like clinics and hospitals. Episcopal relief and development has set up a Haiti fund to help aid in the response and relief of the folks down there.

And if you're the praying type, feel free to do that too.

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 215).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Album Review: Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek

Somehow I went years without hearing anything by Nickel Creek. I'm not sure how this happened--but it did and fortunately I've finally solved this problem. The band, probably best defined as bluegrass or folk, is made up of Chris Thile and siblings Sara and Sean Watkins (interesting factoid-Christ Thile's dad worked at Murray State for a while, and Chris attended for a few semesters. This fact makes it even more crazy that I'd never heard anything by this group before-although to be fair I had heard of them). The group is currently not performing together (they're all doing solo stuff). I bought two of their albums with Christmas giftcards. Their last album, Why Should the Fire Die?, I got because I wasn't paying attention when I bought it. I'd actually meant to purchase the self titled debut album. Lucky me. Seriously. I'll stick to the self-titled album for now, though, as the last cd deserves its own post.

Anyway. Nickel Creek was released in 2000, produced by Alison Krauss. From what I can tell, it's been their most successful album so far (went gold in 2002 I think, and platinum after that). Listening to it once will tell you why--it's a great mix of instrumental pieces, and a blend of more traditional (or at least traditional sounding) and contemporary stuff. The instrumental standouts for me would be the opening track "Ode to a Butterfly" and "In the House of Tom Bombadil," the first because it's a great opening number and I'm a sucker for folk-bluegrass instrumental jams, and the second because not only is it a great song but it references one of the more intriguing characters from the Lord of the Rings (that's stuff for another post, however, but just let it be noted that I am incredibly interested in Bombadil and his place in the Story of Middle Earth).

The "lyric" songs, for lack of a better term (it's 10 PM on a Sunday night, which means I'm not at my intellectual best but BLOG I WILL), are great as well. Standouts include "The Lighthouse's Tale", "The Fox", and "When You Come Back Down." This last track is likely a fan favorite-a really great love song, but not exactly a story so to speak. The lighthouse and fox tracks, however, follow that great tradition of folk music and story. "The Fox" will appeal to listeners of all ages, but I imagine my 3 year old nephew would get a kick out of it. "The Lighthouse's Tale" is rather surprising-it's a story told from the perspective of the lighthouse, as opposed to a song about a lighthouse. Strange as it sounds, it works. The point is, though, that not only are these good songs to listen to, but they're great stories.

In this album, Nickel Creek displays an undeniable musical talent-these folks can really play. But not only that, they can write songs and sing you to sleep with them. The harmonies are great and the group members seem to melt together in some ways. It's really lovely. The influence from Alison Krauss is apparent, but not overwhelming. Perhaps her presence is even more noted when one listens to this album in relation to the last one (Why Should the Fire Die?), which Krauss did not produce.

If you like folksy-bluegrass music, you'll love this band. In fact, I've already gotten another person tuned into Nickel Creek. Neither of us could believe we hadn't heard them before. Nickel Creek is a great starting place for their musical talent, and is definitely worth the money. So go buy it, but don't blame me when your toes are done wore out from tapping so much.

Friday, January 08, 2010


So. That was 2009. What about 2010? What kinds of hopes and goals to I have for myself? I have a few, and like I said they're not really resolutions but whatever.

2010 Hopes:

-That I actually get into a PhD program that funds me and I can start studying church history at the doctoral level. This is probably my biggest hope for 2010, but it's a hard hope because my applications are in and now all I'm doing is waiting and praying. And that's tough!

-That, if I don't get into a PhD program, I can faithfully trust God to help me discern where to go next. I'll have to find some kind of supplemental employment at the very least (living on a salary and a half in New England is really hard), and I pray that if I go that road it will be an employment that doesn't feel like it's sucking out my soul.

2010 Goals:

-That I can get my weight to 175-180. I checked, and last year at the beginning of January I was at 215. I started working out more and then joined Weight Watchers and lost a good amount of weight. I quit WW in November, though, as it's an expense I can't have right now. I've leveled off between 185-187 it seems, which is still almost 30 lbs down from last year, which is awesome! I'm really proud of that, because I worked really hard at it. But I've been stuck at this weight for 3 months now, and while I know everyone has a weight their body tends to stop at, I feel that I can get mine down lower. It's just doing to take some more work. R and I have been great about the gym in the last couple of weeks, so we just have to keep it up. Hopefully I can up the cardio to an hour a day, with weights three times a week (right now cardio is around 35-40 minutes a day).

-That I can run some sort of race this year. I was going to do something with Team in Training at the Grand Canyon, but I have a work-related event that weekend. Oh well. There's something at Disney in January, so maybe I can convince R that we will form a team and do it! Maybe my brother and sister would too. That would be cool. We'll see-they don't post winter events until later. I find with running and fitness that I need a tangible goal, and I feel that a 10 miler or half marathon would be a good one (I do a 5K pretty regularly-as in once or twice a week-as it is so that doesn't seem like much of a goal to me at this point).

-That I can be a more faithful blogger. I'd like to try to blog 3 times a week at least (which I've obviously not done so far, but 2 in one day is doing pretty well! One more this week and I'm set!) I'm planning to include sermons on here, and to be more faithful about my book, movie, and music reviews (as well as the occasional cool thing to do in New England post).

-To bike more. I got a 2006 Rockhopper in the fall for cheap. R is going to help me overhaul it, and I'm hoping to get some shoes so I can learn to use clipless peddles and be awesome at it. And I just love biking, so I'd like to do that intensely. It's good cross-training for a race anyway.

-To camp more. I love camping, hiking, and backpacking. And now I live in a perfect place to do it and I don't. I already have most of the equipment, and it's good equipment. One of my goals for the summer is to do some good camping trips and to share them with R.

So there you have it. My personal hopes and goals for 2010. Here's to a good year!


Happy New Year!!!

I realize, given what I'm about to post in this blog, that I'm egregiously behind on my postings. But such is life and I have my own excuses (namely Christmas as a minister-it's a slightly busy time of year) but regardless. I've been absent from the blog for a while I am.

During my "blog break" I thought about why it is I blog in the first place. I mean, I really don't think there are untold numbers of people who read this thing. Maybe 10. However, I feel that I have things to share and that maybe-eventually-someone else will read something I've written and get to thinking about it. So it's really just a public forum for me to jot down my thoughts and beliefs about certain things. I toyed with just letting the blog go, but decided that the discipline of writing on it every few days would be good for me.

Now, I'm not one for making New Year's Resolutions-saying I resolve to do something has never really gotten me into gear about anything. I do realize, however, that the new year is a time for us to stop and reflect on what has happened in the past year and what we would like to accomplish in the year to come. It's a spring cleaning in a way, but one that happens in January. To be perfectly honest, though, I find Lent to be a much more helpful time for any kind of personal evaluation and cleaning up. That may just be me, though. So in the spirit of the New Year, I figured I would give a short summary of my 2009, and then go on to what I would like to accomplish for 2010 (part of which involves this blog). So, without further ado:

2009 in Review

January 1 2009 didn't feel like much of a new year, to be honest. As a person who is still set to a school calendar (even though I'm not in school at the moment-I hope to be soon and I also work with high school kids who are obviously set to a school calendar) January 1 has always felt like it was in the middle. But it was a new year nevertheless. R and I spent it with two good friends at their apartment drinking Bourbon Barrel beer and watching The Office. It was wonderful. My brother was home for the first time since his November cancer diagnosis, and it was good to be home with him, as opposed to in a hospital room or in the house he was renting (although it was a nice house, it wasn't home). School started, and then my paternal grandmother passed away very unexpectedly. My sister couldn't attend the funeral because of her job, my brother was in the hospital for chemo so my mom went out there, and I traveled to PA--through a crazy snowstorm no less-to be with my Dad. I preached at her funeral, which was especially poignant as my Gorgeous Ma was looking forward to my June ordination. While this might sound bad, though it's not meant to, I'm glad hers was the first funeral homily I gave. Barack Obama was inaugurated while I was out there for the funeral-never had I felt so much hope in a new president.

February I went to Canterbury, which was awesome as it's my favorite city in England. I also started getting rejections from the PhD programs to which I applied, and thus the job search began. That took up most of my spring, and to be honest I found it to be a pretty stressful and maybe even horrible process. I felt alone in the search, but that could just be because it was a crappy time for my whole family, I got rejected from every program, and I wasn't finding any job that would have me because I was going to be unable to move to their town. Commuting wasn't an option for many of these churches. And, on top of everything, the economy was busted and no one wanted to hire an assistant. Ugh. That was the word for February through April really. And even into May. The bright spot was that N's scans at the end of his chemo showed NO signs of cancer. Thankfulness is not the word to express how we all felt at that moment. We continue to pray over the next year that it will stay gone.

But praise God I did find a job (I think it was finalized in June, or late May-one of the two) and I graduated from YDS. Then I headed home for the summer. It was really great to be home. My nephew turned 3 and gets more and more fun every time I see him. My family was closer, I would argue, after my brother's illness and so it was good just to spend some time healing with everyone (although I don't think it was a conscious healing-it was a healing-by-presence). The hard part was that R was up here, and I was down there, and we didn't see each other for something like 8 or 10 weeks. Thank God for Skype!!!

And then...THE WEDDING!!!! It was an absolutely perfect day. I think maybe I blogged about it, so you can see what I said there. Perfect is the best word to describe it. And the honeymoon was AWESOME. We went to Disney World (I hadn't been since I was 7) and I think I may be addicted. It was so wonderful-I want to go back this year! And every year, really.

The fall brought changes. I moved into R's house and we've been working on making it our house. I started my first September without being in school. My job is great, but I admit I feel such a pull toward the academic world that it was really hard not starting classes this fall. I started PhD applications (again), however. By December I'd finished 9 applications, and am now praying that I'll be able to follow my academic vocation next fall. Otherwise it's time for more discernment, which will be hard as all discernment inevitably is. Good, but hard. R and I are adjusting the married life just great, I think. It's funny though, people would ask me pretty early on how it felt to be married. I said it felt the same, only we see each other every day and have rings on our fingers. I don't know if everyone feels that way, but because we'd spent a couple of summers living together we knew how one another operated, and didn't have that adjustment to make when I moved in permanently.

That's my 2009 in a nutshell. Inevitably I've left things out, or glossed over things. Some are because it's another person's story to tell. Some because it didn't pop up on my radar right now. And some because I didn't feel like writing about it. But there's a basic overview of 2009.