Friday, 5 October 2007

New Blog Address!

Welcome to my new site: Notes from Deb (click here).

I thought it was about time for a change! Plus there are some features with WordPress that I really like. If you happen to drop by, please let me know what you think. Thanks!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Those magical musical modes

This will date me terribly, but when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I developed a really keen passion for the sounds of modal scales, and began adding folk music to my repertoire of Mozart, Schubert, and Grieg. If my memory serves me faithfully the musical source I turned to again and again was a small but thick compilation of folk tunes by Burl Ives. Because Mr Ives played the guitar, this musical morsel introduced me to the musical world of chord symbols and progressions. I fell in love with haunting and plaintive minor melodies and the ways the modal harmonies added certain colours – all great stuff for a little girl with an active imagination. I remember liking the Dorian mode so much that I thought one day, if I ever had a little baby boy, I would name him Dorian. But instead I grew up to inherit a little female puppy dog and Dorian just didn’t seem to fit.

Anyway, from these playing sessions inside my treasure book of folk music – which quickly became worn and dog-eared with use, with pages unhinged from glued binding – I learned about other composers of folk music, and learned that we Americans have been gifted with a lot of early music from the British Isles.

Some of the songs I would play over and over again, and much to the dismay of my long-suffering family who had to listen to me practice, would be those of John Jacob Niles. Black is the colour of my true love’s hair and Barb’ry Ellen must have been a couple of tunes I drove them crazy with! As an adult I still appreciate his lovely contribution to our music repertoire for hymns and Christmas carols. For his last work, he turned to the poetry of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, to give us the Niles-Merton Song Cycle.

For the Christmas season Niles’s I wonder as I wander has always been a favourite of mine when I introduce his music to some of the English choirs I’ve conducted here in the UK. Its tonal colours and poignant message never fail to transport me to another time and place. Born in 1892, by the time Niles set this work to music and lyrics in July of 1933, he had travelled the world several times and become a keen observer of the human condition. Here are his recorded notes of how this lovely creation came to be:

‘I Wonder As I Wander grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan. The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933. The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, coking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance. Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out--a tousled, unwashed blond, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of "I Wonder As I Wander". At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song. After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material--and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, "I Wonder As I Wander" came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.’

For this Christmas season, I’ve been asked to introduce another American Christmas carol to another English choir. As I was trolling through my choral library this summer, a hidden gem of Niles's seemed to float to the top of my choral octavos. Soon I will begin to teach Sweet Marie and her Baby (Aeolian mode) to the kids in our Village Children’s Choir.

Hopefully these precious children will become enthralled by the magic of the modes in melody and harmony, and as touched with the message of the text as I was – all those years ago when I was close to the age they are now.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, 24 September 2007

Allegiance to whom?

This post sounds scattered. I’ve just been processing through some thoughts from yesterday’s worship, on recent Blog debates over at Preacher Mike’s, and future plans our Churches Together group is praying about for our village community. They all just seemed to converge.

Churches Together met yesterday afternoon at the Methodist Chapel. We began praying for and planning a spiritual initiative for our village community to implement in the coming year, which begins in just three months on New Year’s Eve. The year-long outreach is entitled Hope 2008.

And yesterday morning was my turn on the church rota to read the scriptures. On this particular Sunday, Proper 20, Year C, our Epistle reading was from 1 Timothy 2.1-7, and our Gospel reading was from Luke 16.1-13.

1 Timothy 2.1-7 – Instructions on Worship: or how to genuinely include all the corrupt world leaders and politicians in authority into our prayers – ‘requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving’. These are to be made for all, ‘…so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’

Not a lot to be thankful for with our current lot of world leaders. Especially when the decisions they continue to make lead to the deaths of so many innocents, and all they are worried about is how to wiggle out of legal loopholes and preserve their legacy (much like the shrewd manager in Jesus' parable).

Luke 16.1-13 – The Parable of the Shrewd Manager: or how to watch out for one’s own interests when one gets caught embezzling other people’s assets.

This was difficult for me to read, in light of how the business of all the sub-prime lenders in America has been affecting people’s lives here in the UK. But most Americans don’t read our newspapers or hear about what goes on over here – unlike the news we get, typical American TV and Radio broadcasts give more regional and national coverage, and very little world news. Still, they should take more responsibility: how one nation’s debt-ridden citizens can ruin the financial lives of those in the UK, for example, whose good earnings are used to cover Americans’ bad debts is just pure evil.

But as I prepared for my readings, God reminded me that Jesus has lessons for us that are not all wine and roses. Some, like those found in these two scriptures, are just plain hard to swallow at times.

After the reading of the Gospel our congregation stands to face the altar and, with our focus on the symbol of the Cross, in unison we all say the Creed of the Apostles. I love to face the Cross and say the Creed together with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Every Sunday, it seems the Holy Spirit illuminates one of its truths to me in a special message.

I have only learned the Creed as an adult. The religious denomination I grew up in preached that the Apostle’s Creed was in itself a sin. The church leaders who taught this could never tell me exactly what the Creed was. When I would ask them why they couldn’t tell me, they communicated the idea that it would be a spiritual stumbling block for them to even recite the words. Even though none of them had ever said it, they were certain that those who did intoned the words mindlessly and without conviction, thereby committing blasphemy. So the only words of the Creed I grew up hearing were two: ‘The Creed’. We did not have the Internet back then, or I would have been a most disobedient child and secretly Googled ‘The Creed’ in a search field.

As the church leaders were godly men, I believed and trusted them, and eventually stopped asking what The Creed was. Besides, they were much more pleased with me when I put my hand over my heart and recited The Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem in a school programme. Hey, I knew both by memory from the age of 5, reciting and singing both with gusto every weekday morning in front of the Stars and Stripes.

When my family returned to America after having lived in Afghanistan, for some reason I just could not find the spirit to get my hand over my heart, say the Pledge, or sing the National Anthem. Bombs bursting in air no longer appealed to me. And the Pledge of Allegiance sounded so empty when I realised there was no truth in America’s Constitutional Promises for all people to be treated equally, and learned that some of the Founding Fathers were not believers of God and Christ.

It’s been a good while since I have lived in a country where one sees a classroom or school hall full of small children stand in unison, hands over hearts, to face a great flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance from memory. Recently my husband and I watched, with friends, a TV show from the United States and in it, a classroom of children repeated the age-old tradition that had been drilled into me when I was their age. Our friends, needless to say, were transfixed.

‘What was that?’
‘Well, in the States all school-aged children begin each school day saying the Pledge, and singing ‘O Say Can You See?’.
‘You are joking!’
‘No, seriously. It’s our patriotic duty.’
‘Well, that looks and sounds like brain-washing to us! Certainly looks it. What happens when the child doesn’t want to do either of those things? That song is pretty militaristic and hard to sing.’
‘They can be disciplined by the teacher and taunted or bullied by their classmates before recess or at lunch in the cafeteria. BUT if they bring along a note from home saying that the practice is against their religious beliefs, they get excused. They remain seated at their desks while the other kids stand around them. They’re not in trouble then, but they still get made fun of by some kids.’
‘How absolutely awful! We thought America was a lot different. We love our country, too, and our guys are dying in Afghanistan, but the only time we wave our flag is when England is in the World Cup!’

I must say, I see their point. For a country that is all about separation of Church and State, as America is, it seems that the Church cannot separate the politics of the State from its religious beliefs and teachings. Where does one begin and the other end? One’s unalienable rights trump loving one’s neighbour.

The passage from Luke which I read from yesterday ends with Jesus telling us that no servant can serve two masters. It's either a choice between God and the treasures of his kingdom, or the world and its earthly riches. In our world, where more sceptics are calling believers in Christ to stand up for their faith, I wonder which captures the truth and hopes of my passions better:

The Pledge of Allegiance I learned as a child OR The Apostles' Creed?

The Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
One Nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for all.


The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
He ascended into heaven,
He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
And he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church,
The communion of the saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, 21 September 2007

They came...they sang...they conquered our hearts!

They came...
They sang their little hearts out...
without a karaoke machine! :)

They wowed...
And when all were sung and wrung, THIRTY-THREE children became the very first new members of our Village Children’s Choir.

What a privilege for me to take part in their new adventure with music!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Autumn blowin' in!

Well, things have been really busy, and that was just the summer!! I honestly cannot comprehend how people with full lives have the time to constantly update things like Facebook or Blogs.

In honour of my Darlin’ Pup, who is aged 10 today, here is my feeble attempt at updating.
  • Our Village Children’s Choir will commence this week, with Buddy Auditions on Wednesday. For kids in Years 4, 5, & 6, our first rehearsal will be next week. We are in partnership with our terrific village primary school, and have fantastic support from the PCC. So lots of work to get the word out, organise, and prepare the music. Christmas will be upon us before you can say Harvest Supper!

  • Dear One and I put up quite a production for our village's 10th annual Scarecrow Festival last weekend. He constructed the Scarecrow, and I and one of our wonderful neighbours baked goodies and served peach iced tea, hot tea, and home brewed coffee for our Texas Tea Tables extravaganza. I was reminded that Brits cannot comprehend the need for cold drinks that contain any or more than four ice cubes when skies are overcast and cloudy. But quite a few folks tried the peach iced tea out and politely commented on the nice taste. Hmmm... We were just one of several individual stalls located throughout the village, but managed to take in over £168 for our charity (our parish church) over the two days! Dear One set up the sound for great C&W music coming straight from the Texas Broadcasting Network to waft over the Upper High Street (ain’t Broadband great?). Our friends, H & R, wowed folks with their violin and guitar playing with a couple of inspiring sets, and Consensus Vocalis busked for charity as well. Daughter A and Friend G were indispensible in their help and were terrific servers for those who came for a cuppa something, a baked treat, and to sit a spell.
  • Click here for more photos of the Scarecrow Festival.

  • I joined the Village Quilter's class last week, and am now deep into a Quillow project for Dear One. The group is a gathering of some awesome ladies, all ages. My brain is sore from all the super quilting tricks they were eager to share. Bets are on I can finish the Quillow in time to put under the tree for Christmas, or before Dear One's feet freeze off, whichever comes first!
    Click here to the link for the best little quilt shop in the Shires!

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Children and Faith in Nothing

Balloon Forest (Posando en el Bosque de los Globos)

We have lovely children in our village. Not only are they polite and considerate of others, they play well together. They are on their bikes and horses, enjoying the sunshine we have finally been having these past few days. (Thankfully our area is not in a flood plain, or we would easily have had a washout with the rain this July!) And they have been out of school for Summer Holidays since the 20th of July, not to return until the 5th of September. Lucky them!

I’ve spotted a few birthday parties, with kids and parents coming and going as they stroll through the High Street and on Old School Lane, either laden with gifts brightly wrapped up on their way to the parties or gift bags full of party goodies on their way out. One can usually spot epicentres of most of the merrymaking by the multi-coloured balloons that dance and dip in smiles across the blue skies we’ve had lately.

Parties in the sunshine make kids’ eyes dance just like those balloons. Their eyes also dance with anticipation and excitement when they describe their holiday plans to you. One little girl bubbled over to tell us that she had to get up at 3.30am in order to catch her flight to Spain for a couple of weeks on a sandy, sunny beach with her grandparents. Her words tripped out of her mouth, she was so excited! A summer tradition for many British children, fond memories of sunny beaches in Spain with Grandma and Grandpa well up intensely each year about this time as they get ready packing their swimming kits to go again.

If 'a child shall lead them', then who leads the child?

I hope that along with the sun and the beaches the adults in their lives will guide these kids to other sacred places on a holiday Sunday and take some time out to reflect and worship God in a different setting, possibly unusual yet all-inspiring. As those adults who are in charge of the kids on holiday pack the picnic supplies, sun-screen, and other necessary personal effects needed for their outings, perhaps they could also prepare for an enlightened worship experience.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could bottle up all this Holiday Excitement – all the laughter, bright eyes, bubbles, and anticipation – and transport it to our church sanctuary this coming Sunday for our monthly All-Age Worship service? Last month our village
Girl Guides led a wonderful service. This month most of them will probably be away.

This Sunday, for those children in our village who won’t be at a sunny beach in Spain, they can come and see the rays of Light stream through our stained-glass windows – it won’t rain because we received the rainfall for August in July! They can feel the warmth bounce off the centuries-old stones in the nave as we sing praises and read the scriptures. They can be uplifted in song as one of their peers, an accomplished young violinist, helps me lead a few hymns. And they can see how much their presence and fellowship lifts the spirits of those who commune sweetly and regularly every Sunday. All Saints – both old and young alike.

Most of today’s parents are busy teaching their children the Faith in Nothing. Imparting a deep and abiding faith in God, indeed the Trinity, is not very high on their list of priorities. Oh, there are quite a few reasons for this, and some are valid.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Don’t Do Church
10. The old vicar we used to have hated me when I was a kid;
9. Church is so boring -- me and my child need to be engaged in the worship activity;
8. I couldn’t possibly be a hypocrite!
7. The church is so cold, my child will get sick;
6. We're so busy in the week, my child needs all day Sunday to revise for exams;
5. I don't read or study the Bible because it's not the vocation I chose;
4. I’m not charismatic; I prefer the higher end of the Cross;
3. I can't stand the organist; I prefer a worship band;
2. The music is dead;
1. Most of the people who show up are nearly dead.

At the end of the day, many of these reasons have settled into becoming excuses. We get what we give, and let's face it, the society we live in is one that would rather get. But quite rightly many of these Top Ten ought to be revisited by the church leaders. If the Bishops and Canons and Archdeacons and Rural Deans could get over their collective 'bums in seats' mentality, revise their property issues, and release certain theological holds -- over things like, oh, say 'communion by extension' -- to be more about the Kingdom of Heaven instead of the earthly bottom line, then they might get a picture of the results God intended in the first place when he decided to become incarnate through Jesus the Christ.

Ah, I digress. Back to the village...

Our sanctuary is childless on most Sundays.
It’s true that most of the month’s Sunday kid sightings are at our village churches’ joint Sunday School programme held in the Baptist Chapel. Even then, the most children aged 4 to 8 that come number only as many as six or eight. Children older than that are elsewhere with their parents, practicing their Faith in Nothing. It used to be that, at least in our village, if the children had parents who applied a Faith in Nothing, that they would at least be taught the hymns and scriptures in RE at school. But that is not the case now. Oh, they can sing the usual hymns they hear at football games and any weddings they might attend. I can count those on the fingers of one hand:
  1. Abide with me
  2. All things bright and beautiful
  3. Amazing grace
  4. Love’s divine
  5. Jerusalem
'God save the Queen' is a given.

This Sunday, if we have more than one child visit our All-Age Worship (the young violinist is a teenager, and a visitor as well), what a celebration we shall have – break out the balloons! If it were up to me, I would have them
dancing in the bright blue sky from the path leading into the church, and they would be floating from the ancient stones and pews as well. We will worship in sacred space and we will worship in splendour.

And hopefully, these precious children who grow up with a Faith in Nothing will discover not only a Faith in Something, but will see Christ incarnate within us and desire to know him personally.

(Hebrews 12.7-10 is the scripture from the TNIV bar on the left that displayed on the day I posted this.)

Monday, 9 July 2007

From the Far Side

I always wanted my own Far Side Sheep. Now that I have them, they don’t quite know what to do with me.

Got a recipe for some good mint sauce?

(Picture taken of sheep in paddock behind our garden, shortly after lambing season.)

Locations of visitors to this page