The University of Kansas Chamber Choir, ca. 1997, singing the Kansas state song in a lovely arrangement by Mark Hayes, at Marlborough College in Marlborough, England, on tour in May 1997.
Another school year is beginning.
Contracts commenced yesterday for the 2020-21 academic year.
I’ll save for some other time the comments about how strange this year feels already.
When I was in high school, I thought that teaching was the path I would take. Music came easily to me, so music education seemed the right road. Working at Windermere Baptist Assembly the summer before my senior year of high school, though, I felt a strong call to do church music. (This was one of four or five times in my life when I felt an overwhelming, deep, intrinsic presence of something greater than me.)
So church music was the path, and off I went to Southwest Baptist University. And then, part-way through my first year of college, I realized that God’s call on my life was broader perhaps than solely church music. I recall clearly: I was in a course entitled Introduction to Religious Education (the topic in which my father took his graduate degree) and was lit up by Maslow’s hierarchy and learning theories. So I changed my major to religious studies.
I expected to live my life as a musician and pastoral type in Southern Baptist settings. But life intervened. The circuitous path that followed was something I now liken to wilderness years. And in December 1987 I was asked to teach voice lessons to a teenager whose voice had recently dropped.
In quick succession: quit my day job, hang out a shingle as voice and piano teacher, start raising rates to whittle away the chaff, take a part-time gig at the local community college, grab a church gig, gain a Master of Arts in Music, start a doctorate. That was all in a span of nine years.
Teaching found me. Music found me again, claiming me from my wilderness.
And here I am today, commencing my 22nd year of full-time university education, and my 33rd year of being in love with teaching.
Memories from the years:
Twenty-five years ago today I flew home from my first-ever trip to England. I’d been there with the Mixed Choir from Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City. We were on tour singing from Edinburgh to London’s Westminster Abbey.
Reminiscences and from my journal:
Here’s some of that music that still sends me into tears:
And the entirety of that Vaughan Williams anthem, sung at the Abbey by their choir:
Watching this, I burst into tears at that climactic A5 from the boys, and that last chord, and the memory of such wonders as the gift of singing this feet from the grave of the composer, in the company of dear people from my home parish.
A photo from that last day at the Abbey, in the Abbey garden:
Twenty-five years ago this week, I was singing daily at Westminster Abbey in London. I was soloist with the mixed choir from Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, on a tour of Scotland and England, culminating in a week-long residency at Westminster Abbey.
We had sung at the Abbey on Monday and Tuesday, then had Wednesday off. Twenty-five years ago, this day was a Thursday.
And on this Thursday 25 years ago, after singing Evensong, and the vergers closed the Abbey, the choir broke into two groups and had a guided tour of the Abbey. No others present. Just us and the ghosts and the saints.
Our tour took more than an hour. Then the guides said to us “Stay as long as you’d like. We have a late prayer service at 10 p.m.” So in the twilight (the sun did not set until 10 p.m. or so) I wandered the Abbey and visited the monuments for people who were already important in my life — Handel, Purcell, Stanford, Vaughan Williams.
I explored the family chapels, the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor, the graves of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. The incredible Mary Chapel.
But most importantly for me, I stopped for a long time at the grave of Herbert Howells. (Just search this blog for Howells!) To be alone with him for those few minutes, in the quiet of the Abbey, was a powerfully emotional, even transcendental experience.
Three days later I sang his Westminster Abbey service, and Vaughan Williams’ “Lord, thou has been our refuge,” just steps away from their graves in that north choir aisle. And barely made it through the emotions.
Every subsequent visit to the Abbey has included a moment of quiet at HH’s grave. I hope to visit once again before I too am gone.
I went down a rabbit hole on AirBnB the other day, looking longingly and lovingly at places I’ve stayed on travels around the US and Europe.
- Vienna https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1278595
- London https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/636232
- NYC https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18946032
- Berlin https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1701332
- Amsterdam https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2580902
- Portland https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1918256
- London again https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/75811
And some photos from these places:
This idyll has refreshed the soul, strengthened the spirit, and gladdened the heart.
Tunnel Hill, Illinois.
7.25 a.m. I step off the back porch to give Nelson a moment after his breakfast. We walk to the fence line. He is interested in the cows in the distance. I look up.
The little valley is shrouded in morning fog. But it’s sun-kissed just enough that I can see the distant tree line, then the hills, and then a receding curtain of translucent white.
There’s a lyric in a song I teach: “This is the closest I’ve been to being part of a painting.” And I sing that truth aloud.
Had the Impressionists ventured to this little vale in southern Illinois, they would painted this.
Sadly, the fleeting moment disappeared as I stood transfixed, giving way to the inexorable sunrise. Such visions are gone too soon, never to be captured again except in memory.
But another day will dawn, equally as vivid and alive. Oh that I could be here to see it too.
This is the vista. Imagine this as a lake of thin morning fog. I don’t recall the last time I was so effected by a landscape.
Tuesday dawned wet with rain, and the rains fell off and on all morning.
By noon, the sky was clear, and my meetings were finished, so Nelson and I took a ramble.
The cows were up by the fence today, just a few yards from my back porch:
Nelson thinks cows are something at which to bark.
After lunch (ham salad sandwich, pineapple, grapes), I went the front porch to read. Here’s the report:
I was sitting on his leash and reading a book. And he jerked so hard that the leash went flying, he went flying to chase cattle, and I went flying to chase him, and we ended up panting (both of us) and sweating (me) only after a kind driver stopped a full 1/4 mile away, stepped on his leash, and he (the dog, not the driver) walked with me in shame back to the homestead. He’s an adventurous and brave little shit, and also supremely unaware of danger.
And Tuesday’s dinner:
Tuesday morning on the farm.
I have a candle lit to dispel the gray gloom and to bathe in light the weathered yellow plank walls of this cozy kitchen. An oil lamp is on the sideboard, but I have no paraffin oil to burn, so a candle must suffice.
The walls in the kitchen appear to be original planks. Over the stove is an original brick flue, with a twin in the living room. This was where the coal or wood stove was vented; the stoves would have provided the only heating in the house, back in the day, with a stove in the front room and one in the kitchen.
Nelson has now spotted the horses in their enclosure to the east of the little white farmhouse.
The problem with Nelson on a farm is that he has apparently never seen a big animal, so the bull on the other side of the (electrified) fence seems to him to be a challenge. And challenge to perhaps engage. I had him on a leash, of course, so no engagement took place, and the bull, brought in from a neighboring farm in hopes of making bullocks, as it were, munched on grass and completely ignored the little varmint.
Now it’s the horses that need engaging. We shall see. I brought apples to feed them, so we will take a (leashed) wander over there soon enough.
We both had a restless night. Nelson seemed to be disturbed by a couple of moths flying around, a price we pay for life on the farm. He was up and down all night. Truth be told, so was I, thanks to a noisome chattering fan that seemed slightly out of kilter, and my poor decision to turn off the air conditioning on a muggy but cool night.
We had a rainstorm come through around 5 p.m., and at 11 p.m. we were still getting a shower. The pond was glorious in the rain, and mist-shrouded this morning at daybreak.
Our first morning walk in the dewy grass led to me doing battle with a horsefly that was determined to dive-bomb. Fool me once . . . fool me twice . . . but the third time . . . well, the string of expletives I unleashed upon the little flying creep must have scared it away.
Nelson meanwhile sniffed and peed (and pooped) thoroughly. There isn’t a fencepost that hasn’t been marked by the little terrier.
Connie, my host, has a wee dog too. Sugar. She’s black with some white markings, and looks like she has some poodle in her. She’s a sweety.
Today is, in the communion of saints in the Episcopal Church (USA), the Feast of Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Frederic Handel, and Henry Purcell. Reading their hagiographies at Morning Prayer reduced me yet again to tears, something that seems a near-daily occurrence. I think the tears are a release from the weariness with uncertainty, our national devastation of leadership, the pandemic, the state of the world, and much more. I’ll own these tears if they keep me out of therapy. (And so far, they have.)
People who regularly read my blog know that I enjoy a good tromp around an old rural cemetery, or an old urban one for that matter.
I call this necro-tourism.
I’m fascinated by the short poetic inscriptions on tombstones. And I enjoy trying to put together the who-relates-to-whom in old church graveyards where generations of intermarried families are all buried in a jumble.
Reynoldsburg is a tiny hamlet off of US Highway 45 in southern Illinois. The one church, simply called Reynoldsburg Church, was founded as part of the Methodist Episcopal denomination, according to its cornerstonre.
In these rolling hills near the Ohio River, more than two centuries of pioneers, farmers, teachers, soldiers, homemakers — all are buried on a wide, well-kept patch of land hemmed in on three sides by forest. On a July day, the scene is peaceful, and sun-parched.
Plenty of Reynolds are buried in this sacred ground.
Notice the spelling of Mrs. Harper’s given name: Phebe. The Lawrence tombstone, elsewhere in this posting, has the same spelling of the wife’s name. A daughter? Grand-daughter is more likely given the birth years are 1799 and 1838.
Elisha and Nancy Reynolds were in their 80s when they died. Their photos are symbols of a time and place — severe clothing and severe hair parting. They likely lived a hard life too.