My Thursday included the first recording session on my Webster University faculty development grant.
Nancy Mayo (piano) and Matt Pentecost (baritone) and I went to Shock City Studios in Saint Louis and recorded my first set of Storypeople Songs, written 18 months ago for Jimmy Stevens’ senior recital.
I’m already working on another set, by the way.
Our recording engineer was Luke Arens, a Webster alum who started as a music major the same year I started at Webster.
We made our way through each song four times, and generally (not having listened intently yet) I do think the last take is going to be the best….
This was the happiest wedding ever. EVER.
And we had the most wonderful Webster University Department of Music reunion, including several students just back from Europe.
And another announced her engagement at the party.
I love my work. What a Saturday!
Wilhelmine Elixhauser died one week ago today. She was the grandmother — or beloved ‘Mutti’ — of my dear friend D.
D asked, and I of course said yes, to some music for the ceremony. So it was that on Friday, l sang a few songs, and led in song a few men with whom I had made music in the Gateway Men’s Chorus, at her memorial service at Kutis in South City.
The arm-chair sociologist/anthropologist in me takes in and makes list about traditions. Some places in the Midwest close the casket before the service begins. Others leave it open until the last person has filed by after the service. Many traditions have some sort of music at the memorial event; others don’t. (In this case, in keeping with the active religious practices of one of the surviving relatives, all the music was unaccompanied.)
The minister today was deferentially referred to by Kutis staff as “The Reverend.” No name. Just an all-purpose title. And he conducted a strictly scripted service — lots of scripture, plenty of reminders about our Savior, carefully written spoken prayers. (For the record, he was a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.) The service followed a familiar, even comforting, order and type.
Two of the vocal pieces, “How great thou art” and “I come to the garden alone” are guaranteed, time-honored funeral pieces. And they had their typical effect today. D bravely and beautifully sang solo the first verse of “How great thou art,” in German at that, as befitted this German-speaking refugee from post-WWII Austria.
At the graveside, a few more prayers. I sang the gut-wrenching Anglican tune “Abide with me.” The Reverend went down the line of seated mourners. And then we departed under gray skies and a few spitlets of rain.
One day later, I am awaiting time for the marriage of Dom and Michelle. This is, I think, the first time since I’ve been at Webster that two of the students in my department are marrying each other.
I’m betting their wedding, while including traditional elements, will include some of the outrageous quirkiness that is especially part of Domenic’s personality. This wedding will be an altogether different ceremony, in both its feel and the way it interprets tradition, than the funeral yesterday.
Thanks be to God for traditions, and for society-driven permission to reinvent them as well!
By the way, here’s Dom in my office a few years ago, filing papers in student record files:
The New York Times ran an article this weekend, indicating that research shows that luck has quite a bit to do with ones success in life.
I don’t deny that being in the right place at the right time is a good deal. I’ve been the beneficiary of such luck.
Or is luck just another name for providence?
In my undergrad days, Dr. Gary Galeotti taught me that Providence is ‘the hand of God moving in the lives of His people for the purpose of redemption.’ Thirty-five years later, I can still quote that definition.
And that belief in Divine Providence (now more in a Jeffersonian sense, rather than my earnest late-teenage literalism) has been a guiding force in my journey.
For journey is the right term for life on this planet, and the road to or from success.
I am often asked the age-old question, ‘if you could do it over again, what would you do differently?’. And that question is impossible, in both premise and answer.
Everything I am today is result of the journey to this day, of the choices that I did or did not make, of what was done to me and for me.
- each day when I play the piano, I am reminded again of the goodness of my parents in finding a way for me to take piano lessons when I was ten years old. I could not possibly be the musician I am today, or do what I do today, without the gift that was given for me.
- each day at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, I am reminded of the steps I took in finding my own religious expression in my late 20s, and of the kind oversight and teaching of Fr. Chip Gilman (now a Roman Catholic monk in Québec) as he helped shape me into the Christian traveler I am today.
- each time I learn a new musical theatre score, or start a new show, I harken back to the chances that directors took on me in Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs, and Warrensburg. I owe so much of my current providential luck to Pam Buck and Russ Coleman, and I take with me to every rehearsal kernels from Lee’s Summit/Blue Springs folk like Janice and Jim and Russ and Charlene and others I don’t now remember to name, but whose faces are part of the galaxy of folks who have touched me.
- each time I visit with a prospective student in my office at Webster University, I bring to the table lessons learned 30 years ago when I worked college admissions at Southwest Baptist University, especially some of the things I gleaned from Rod and Jerald and Lee. Their lessons, both positive and negative, about how to talk to high school students and parents — these lessons continue to inform my journey.
- in seven weeks, when I arrive at Heathrow Airport, I will pack with me kernels of wisdom and wonder that first started taking shape in a high school English Lit course taught by the late (gone 20 years this Thanksgiving), great Sandy Simpkins. The decision to take that class — to fill a hole in my schedule — led me to an Anglophile journey that continues to enrich and entertain and delight. (Read more about Sandy Simpkins and her influence on my teaching.) And Jerry Voss’ class in World Historical Biographies helped shape a much wider world view than I think I would otherwise have had in my 20s.
- Art Phillips gave me a landing place in 1987 when I needed to leave my SBU job, and then 15 months later he gave me an unintended push to a life in music when he made some personnel decisions in his management company. Every day since then, Art’s faith-filled decision to do what was best at that time for his company — that decision that upended me for a few days, and led me to despair and fear like I had never felt before — each day that decision has been part of my journey as voice teacher, accompanist, music director, church musician, choral conductor, show choir director, and now composer and faculty head at university. Art’s decision caused me to go to school and gain two more degrees. Art’s decision has been, for nearly 30 years now, a cause of great joy and satisfaction, even as it was terrifying in the moment in 1988.
- each day, when I view the photo of Herbert Howells that stands on my desk at home, I consider the providence that led me to the University of Central Missouri, and Mike Lancaster, and Howells‘ Collegium Regale service that we sang at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral at Evensong in February, and the subsequent work I did with Simon Carrington at the University of Kansas, and the ongoing and powerful relationship with the people of Grace & Holy Trinity and especially John Schaefer . . . and this colliding,intersecting amalgam of strands of providence that entwine music and Howells and Episcopalian and Jayhawk and Anglophile . . . and this leads me to students who I taught and how have become friends and with whom I journeyed, both literally and figuratively.
I could go on and on. Jacomo Chorale. Christ Community Church. Ball State University Singers. Graceland University. Grace Episcopal Church. Friends and loves and mentors and guides.
This web of Providence is complex. And yet the journey is simple. Keep on walking. Take one step at a time. Carry everything with you in your heart, for you are surely a product of all that has come before.
The bottom line: things happen to you, and things happen around you. It’s what happens inside you that really counts.
Luck? Providence? I care not to quibble over terms. I’ll keep living the journey, and hope that before I’m done, the world will be a better place for the few steps I took along the way.
Michael Williams (Webster BFA ’15) came back to town for one night only last evening, as the lead in Bullets Over Broadway.
My date (Jean) and I snuck backstage before the show and had a few minutes with Michael, who looks fantastic after 160 performances.
He sounded and looked fantastic, too — truly a shining star in this show!
His voice teacher, Martha J. Hart, was also very proud of him: