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Playing with My Circle of Pianos

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Big Red – my first piano

I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t had a piano as one of my best friends. I was born into a household that had a big old upright piano living in it. Big Red. I remember trying to read its name scrolled in Old English typeface – Bush & Gerts, Chicago – but Big Red is a better name. My mom taught me a couple little melodies to play on some of the white keys near the middle of the keyboard – “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and something about “Birdies in Treetops” so that I could do more than just pound on the keys. When my big sister Nancy (11 years older than me) started to give actual piano lessons to my brother Danny (2 years older than me), I demanded my rights to the same advantage. He was 6, I was 4 when we started. Danny gave up on developing a friendship with Big Red within a year or two. Once he learned “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater,” all on the black keys, he thought he knew enough to quit lessons. I kept on until I graduated from high school, although I had to move on to different teachers when Nancy moved away to college.

Throughout my school years, as soon as I got home from school, I’d check the mail lying on the dining room table where my dad had left it (my mom was at work in Madison), run upstairs to change my clothes, and then go straight to the piano to practice. I’d play each song of my lesson 5 times, and then I’d play with Big Red just for fun. Sometimes we’d try to figure out new tunes that I mostly remembered in my head from when I’d heard them on the radio. Sometimes we learned new songs from “Singspiration Gospel Songbooks” that my mom picked up from religious bookstores whenever a new songbook was published.

That’s when Big Red and I really became close friends, spending time playing together after school. Big Red was able to figure out immediately whether I was having a good day or a bad day as soon as I sat down on the old piano stool. If I was feeling sad, Big Red knew just what songs to remind me to play to feel better.

Big Red and I drifted apart a little when I was about 10 and an electronic organ moved into our household and tried to distract me from my piano friend. I developed a close friendship with the organ, too, but never as close as my relationship with Big Red.

The next piano in my close circle of piano friends was Lonnie Lyon & Healy. I’d been living in Chicago with my new best friend Mim for about a year, but I knew that something was missing in my life. I needed a piano friend. The big music store in Chicago at the time was Lyon & Healy, and I heard from another friend that they didn’t just manufacture and sell pianos, they leased them for a mere $15 a month. One phone call and a week later, Lonnie Lyon & Healy moved into our apartment. She was a little spinet with a squeaky sustain pedal, but she quickly became a good friend. We settled into a routine of me getting ready for work about half an hour early, so we could spend some time playing together before I took the “L” downtown to my job.

After a couple years of playing together with Lonnie, she confided in me that she was getting tired and wanted to move back to the store for awhile. I said OK, and went looking for a new piano friend.

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Sally Sohmer – the first piano I bought

That’s when I met Sally Sohmer in the Lyon & Healy store at Woodfield Mall in suburban Chicago. She was a little bigger than Lonnie, but not as big as Big Red. The store called her a console. I thought of her as a short studio piano. I really liked the touch of her keys when I tried her out. I also tried out several of her cousins in the store, but it was an easy decision. I liked her the best, and she was going to come home with me. I knew we were destined to become really good friends. As Sally and I got to know each other better, we experimented with different kinds of music, especially the easier works of classical composers. We had so much fun with Beethoven’s “Rage Over a Lost Penny.” We also began to explore more creative arrangements of hymns, like I had begun to find with Big Red when I was in high school. We also built up a bigger than necessary library of Christmas music.

il_570xN.717033260_mgycSally Sohmer moved to Wisconsin with Mim and me in 1992 when me moved back to the farmhouse where I had grown up, and that’s where we had some of the most fun of our lives. We discovered golden oldies. My mom used to buy popular sheet music before she was married (in the late 1920s and early 1930s), and her collection was still in the store room upstairs at the farmhouse. Mim joined our playtimes for this. She sang some of the most hilarious lyrics we’ve ever heard. “Pink Elephants” became one of our favorites.

A couple years after we moved to Wisconsin, Mim invited Jim Forrest to join our circle of people and piano friends. Mim had met Jim as a patient at the clinic where she worked, and she learned that he was a piano tuner and technician. Jim became our piano tuner – both for Big Red who still lived in the farmhouse and for Sally Sohmer.

After a few years of seeing Jim at least twice a year, sometimes more often, when he happened to be in Cambridge to tune someone else’s piano and we met for lunch, we learned that Jim’s real passion was being a matchmaker between people and pianos. That came up one day just after he had tuned Sally Sohmer. He said, “Marian, I have just the piano for you. It would fit perfectly in this end of your living room. It’s a Baldwin baby grand. It’s a beautiful 5’ grand that I’m rebuilding in my workshop right now. I’m almost finished with it, and I’ll sell it to you for a really good price. You and this piano need to be together.”

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Playing with Betty Baldwin while an assisted living resident watches

I responded with, “I already have a really nice piano. Two of them, actually. Why would I want another piano?”

Jim replied, “Ah, but neither of them is a grand. Have you ever played a grand piano?”

“No, I haven’t. But I’m very happy with the pianos I have right now.”

“Why don’t you just come to my workshop in Madison and play the Baldwin, so you can hear and feel the difference between a grand and an upright.”

Mim joined the conversation at that point, and said, “Let’s just go and try it. It will be fun to try it out, and then we’ll know if there’s a big difference, or not.” A few days later we did. I couldn’t believe the difference in touch and sound, especially hearing the high notes just ring out. I may be fickle, but I fell in love with Betty Baldwin on the spot. I sold Sally Sohmer to my brother Danny (not for him to play, but for his daughter Emily to learn on), and Jim found a new home for Big Red at a Victorian style bed and breakfast in Stoughton, where she would fit right in. (At least we could still visit my two old friends.)

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Stella Steinway

A few years later, matchmaker Jim told me that he had just the right piano for me. He was rebuilding a Steinway, the next size up from Betty Baldwin, about 5-1/2 feet. We repeated nearly the same conversation we’d had before, and I went to his workshop to try out the Steinway, just so I could hear and feel the difference between a Steinway and a Baldwin. I fell in love again, and sold my Baldwin to Danny who ended up with two pianos, with his greatest personal musical accomplishment still being “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” on the black keys.

Stella Steinway has been my best friend (except for Mim, and maybe a handful of other people) for ten years now, and I’m pretty sure our relationship will last for the rest of my lifetime. Then Stella will need to find another friend. I’m helping Jim match up pianos with other friends of mine – hopefully, no more for me. Stanley Steinway, Stella’s bigger brother, went to the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge. I still play with him about once a month, or so.

The only other piano I play with any regularity is Stephanie Steinert, the piano at my church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison. Stephanie Steinert is a cousin of Stella Steinway, and they’re almost identical. Stephanie’s designer had worked closely with the Steinway Company over the years, and the style and quality of Steinert pianos rivals that of Steinways.

So, why am I reminiscing about all my piano friends today? Last week Stella and I had so much fun playing together that I just laughed and laughed and laughed. Last weekend our church celebrated All Saints Day, and I wanted to pick out some fun but appropriate music for the Saturday evening service I was scheduled to play. Saturday night services are a little more casual than Sunday morning services, and I usually play the prelude, the opening hymn, and communion hymn on the organ, and I play the offertory, closing hymn, and postlude on the piano.

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Messiah’s Steinert piano and tracker organ

I worked with my digital piano, Claire Clavinova (pretending to be an organ), first to find an appropriate prelude to play on the organ.  We came up with an energetic arrangement of For All the Saints and a fun variation of Shall We Gather at the River. The two pieces fit together nicely and timed out at 5 minutes 30 seconds, just about the right length.

So I was ready to move on to my friend Stella Steinway to play around with all the music we could think up related to All Saints Day for the offertory and postlude. I thought about old gospel songs like “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder” and “When We All Get to Heaven” but I didn’t have any fancy arrangements of either song. Then I turned to my James Koerts 3-ring binder of spirituals I’ve down-loaded from the Internet. Stella and I just played and played and laughed. We finally narrowed down our offertory and postlude choices to just a few, and played them for Mim and Carolyn (one of our 96-year-old residents) so that they could help us decide. Carolyn chose a very jazzy “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for the offertory, and Mim chose an equally jazzy “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the postlude. By the time we finished making our selections, all the spirits in our household were having a great time. It’s amazing what music can do for the soul. And my friend Stella Steinway never lets me forget that.

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

[Psalm 150 – New King James Version]

Little Hands

6360489455192162291563850737_TrumpDonald Trump gets very angry when people say he has little hands. I noticed his hands last night when he addressed the nation about his Afghanistan War strategy. He used his right hand to gesture a lot as he spoke, and I noticed that his fingers are relatively short. But obviously, his hands are big enough to hold a pen to sign executive orders, and big and strong enough to swing a golf club.

I have little hands. The only adult I know with hands smaller than mine is Mim. Her fingers are about a quarter of an inch shorter than mine.

IMG_2271I sometimes wish I had longer fingers. Most people who play the piano have longer fingers than I have. On both of my hands, my thumb and little finger can stretch over eight notes to play an octave, a frequent requirement when playing special arrangements of hymn tunes. If my hands are in the right position, I can even hit a ninth note, if needed. But absolutely no farther than that. The challenge comes when I need to fill in three notes of a chord with my other three fingers. Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t, depending on the position of each note. Fortunately, I usually play hymn arrangements where I can freely substitute notes I can reach for the ones I can’t, and the music still sounds okay. (Good thing I don’t play too much demanding classical music where substitutions would be considered a musical crime.)

I really enjoy playing the piano (and organ, too). I can get totally lost playing a song like “Be Still My Soul” or “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.” The music becomes a conversation between God and me.

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When I select music to play for preludes, offertories, and postludes for church services, I try to select music that can prompt others to communicate with God in the same way. I start the process of planning the music for the service by reading the scriptures assigned for that Sunday. Usually, that will bring related hymns to mind. Then I’ll search through my books of piano and organ arrangements and choose something that seems to fit the theme for the day.

For example, last weekend, the Gospel was Matthew 15:21-28, the story of Jesus refusing to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman because he didn’t want to waste his healing powers on the “dogs.” Those powers were intended for the Jews. But the woman persisted with great faith, and Jesus healed her daughter after all. It’s a difficult story to understand. What better hymn to reflect on that than “More about Jesus.” I really want to know more and more about Jesus to be able to understand this story better. As the song says…

More about Jesus I would know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me..

[Eliza E Hewitt, 1887]

“Coincidentally,” earlier that week I had downloaded a new piano arrangement of that hymn from one of my favorite websites, and I decided that would make the perfect offertory. For the people familiar with the hymn, they could silently pray the words as I played the music. For those who didn’t know the hymn, they could simply enjoy the music. (The tune name is SWEENEY.)

As I was looking for a postlude, I paged through a new book of arrangements I had ordered a few months ago, and came across “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” That seemed to me like a very appropriate postlude, considering how Jesus healed the woman’s daughter, even though she was a Canaanite. But, I thought this was another old hymn that would most likely be unfamiliar to most of the congregation. So, I decided to test Mim, a life-long Lutheran, to find out if she recognized the tune. I played the arrangement for her, and asked if she knew it. She said, Oh sure. That’s “Once to Every Man and Nation.” Well, she was right. The tune name is EBENEZER, which is commonly used for both hymns. I guess that made this arrangement doubly appropriate. The theme of that week’s Gospel is both about the deep love of Jesus and about the fact that Jesus’ love is for all people, not just the Jews. group handshake 1

So, what does all this have to do with little hands?

In my devotional reading this morning, I read 2 Corinthians 10:12-18, as specified in the devotional booklet, CHRIST IN OUR HOME. Here’s part of the reading…

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us…

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

[2 Corinthians 10:12-13, 17-18 NRSV]

The reflection on this text in CHRIST IN OUR HOME ended with:

Paul’s point is this: we boast and are proud of a … gift that God gave. In fact, to do otherwise might be to deny the gift that God has provided. God has given us many gifts. We can be thankful for them, be proud of them, boast of them, and use them to enlarge God’s kingdom.

God gave me little hands, and a wide exposure to sacred music – from the gospel songs of my Methodist childhood, to the more formal hymns of the church, to Evangelical praise songs and choruses. My fingers are too short, as is my ability to memorize long complex musical phrases, for me to be a classical pianist. But that’s not what God created me for. That’s not what I should compare my talents to. God created me to help create music in church, to help others pray and worship God. And for that, I am thankful – little hands and all.

Marian at Messiah organ 2

And best of all, I don’t have to get as dressed up for church as I would for a fancy concert hall!

Happy Birthday!

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My mom wanted a picture of her flower bed. That’s why I’m holding my birthday cake outside.

The earliest birthday party I remember was my brother Danny’s 7th birthday. I was 5. He had invited about a dozen of his classmates to come over after school on his birthday – September 11. Mom had organized lots of simple games to play, and all the games had prizes for the winners. Even though I didn’t know most of the kids, and I was much younger, being only a kindergartener and they were all second-graders, I was allowed to play the games. One of the games was dropping clothespins into a quart jar. Whoever got the most clothespins in the jar, won the game. I didn’t get any in the jar. But what was so wonderful about that, is that I learned that there was such a thing as a booby price. I won the prize for being the worst player of the game. Wow! What a new insight into life! You don’t have to be the winner to be special and win a prize. Even being the worst at something can be good.

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Danny

I think I was about 10 when I went to the best birthday party ever. It was for my friend Susan. It was in the summertime, I remember. Susan had invited about 10 of our classmates, all girls. She had told us in the party invitation to wear play clothes, not to dress up in party dresses. When we all arrived at her house, we piled into a couple cars and rode to a farm near Lake Mills. This wasn’t just any farm. It was a horseback riding stable. The stable owner paired each of us up with a horse and helped us climb into the saddle.  In my case, my legs were too short to reach the stirrups regardless of how much he tried to shorten the straps. He finally figured out that he could maneuver my feet into the leather above where the stirrups hung, and that would stabilize me enough to not fall off the saddle, especially if I held on tight to the saddle horn. I was in heaven. At that time in my life, Roy Rogers was my hero. My biggest dream was to have my own horse. That never happened. But that day, I could pretend, and I loved the gentle old horse that plodded along the trail, dutifully following the horse in front of her. Our ride lasted an hour. Then we got back in the cars and rode home to Susan’s house where she opened her presents and we had the usual birthday party supper – hot dogs, potato chips, Kool-Aid, birthday cake and ice cream. I think I can safely say I’ll never forget that day! Almost 60 years later I still remember it as the best birthday party ever.

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Susan is on the far left. I’m next to her, sitting down.

I could write on and on about special birthday celebrations, like:

  • The year Mim turned 30 and I gave her 30 presents. The most fun that year was shopping for presents that would reflect Mim’s interests at each year of her life – a sort of biography of Mim written in presents.
  • fullsizeoutput_20d0The year our mystery-loving friend Marilyn turned 40, and Mim and I gave her seven little presents, each being a clue to what her real present would be – a weekend trip to Waverly, Iowa, where we boarded a luxurious passenger train for a 3-hour journey, and we dined on-board with a 4-course gourmet dinner as we watched the countryside fly by.
  • The year I turned 50 and my co-workers decorated my office in black because they mourned my passing into old age.
  • Or, this year, when Mim will turn 70 on Saturday, and she will receive a 5-CD set of me playing some of her favorite songs on the piano – as she requested.

Birthdays are on my mind these days because summertime is the busy time of the year for birthdays in our household. Our resident Carolyn turned 96 on June 13. (Our other resident Anna had already turned 96 earlier in the year.) On June 24, I reversed the digits “96” and turned 69. Mim is already 69, and will turn 70 this Saturday, August 5. Then on August 22, Dulce (the girl we help support in Honduras) will turn 9, and on September 1, Leydi (the other girl in Honduras we help support), will turn 14. Like I said, summertime is the birthday season for us.

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Celebrating Carolyn’s 96th Birthday at Norske Nook – Denise (one of or colleagues), Anna, Mim, Carolyn.

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about how wonderful it is to celebrate birthdays. Honoring someone’s birthday is the perfect opportunity to let the birthday girl (or boy) know how special they are. One tradition in our home is to stand up all the birthday cards on the piano for a week or two as a strong reminder of how loved that person is. The birthday girl needs to be reminded of how special she really is.

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” [William Barclay] Celebrating birthdays helps us remember that.

I hope you are filled with love and joy as you celebrate your own birthday and the birthdays of your friends and family throughout the year – and every year. Happy Birthday!

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PLAY – the Best Medicine

A couple weeks ago Floey and I went for a long morning walk, and it really felt like summer for the first time this year. The sun had warmed the air to the mid 70s, a few white clouds floated in the bright blue sky, the birds were singing, and cornfields were showing off neat rows of 2-inch baby plants. Floey trotted beside me on her 16-foot extendable leash, watching carefully for any movement along the side of the road that could indicate a chipmunk, rabbit, or squirrel was hiding from us.

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As we walked along the country road that goes by our old farmhouse, a song that was popular when I was in high school popped into my mind – “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.” In my mind, Nat King Cole was singing it, and I was in the driveway of the farm, washing my first car, a 1963 Corvair. I remember I did that on perfect Sunday afternoons in 1966. That song made me smile and feel good 51 years ago, and it made me smile and feel good now as I was walking Floey.

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.

When Floey and I got back home, I said, “Alexa, play Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer by Nat King Cole.” My Amazon Echo gadget accommodated my whim, and I listened to the song just as I had remembered it.

Danny and Marian in first go-kart

We also built go-karts.

Summer is my favorite time of the year for lots of reasons. Most of my happy childhood memories took place in the summer – planting tobacco, baling hay, playing cowboys and Indians in the barn, walking down to the woods to explore, playing croquet on the front lawn. There was always lots of work to do, but there was always enough time to play, as well. Now that I’ve grown up, I find that it’s much harder to find time to play, although I’m usually most successful in finding time for play in the summer.

For the month of May, Joan Chittister wrote in the “Monastic Way” devotional pamphlet all about the importance of finding time to play. She started by quoting Proverbs 8:30, “I, Wisdom, was God’s delight day by day, playing with God every moment…”

fullsizeoutput_208aI’ve never used words quite like that to talk about “playing.” But as usual, Chittister gave me something to think about every day. One day she quoted Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” She went on to explain, “Play frees our minds to think things we have never had the opportunity to think before. It enables us to come to know ourselves in other ways. It prompts us to think differently – about old things and new.”

Another day she said, “Adults get so work oriented, they forget to keep on growing. As a result we risk never becoming the rest of ourselves. To know who we are and what we can be requires a great deal of aimless activity…”

The next day she added, “To be really happy, we have to discover how to play as well as how to work.”

One of my favorite reflections of the month was on May 23. “Play … gives the mind room to think about more than the present. It provides the space we need to remember what life was like before arthritis of the soul set in.”

“Arthritis of the soul” is an image I won’t forget. I have a little arthritis in my knees, hips, and wrists. I don’t like it, and I do whatever I can to keep it from getting worse. I certainly don’t want to develop “arthritis of the soul,” and if taking time to play can prevent it, finding time to play will become a new priority for me.

So, how do I play as a “mature adult?” I’m not sure that rounding up my cousins to play cowboys and Indians in the barn will be quite as much fun as it was 60 years ago. Chittister had a suggestion. She said, “Get up tomorrow and go do something you’ve never done before. Then, decide if you’d like to do that again. If not, try something else the next day. Keep trying until you discover a whole new part of you. You’ll like yourself a whole lot better if you do.”

I think I have a few ideas of my own about how to play, too. Going for walks with Floey is fun and provides aimless time to think. Going on a treasure hunt with Mim usually ends up at a resale shop where all kinds of discoveries can be made – especially in the book department. Cuddling up with a good book can provide hours of escape from reality. Sometimes playing through a songbook of golden oldies on the piano can be unbelievably refreshing.

Now that the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” are here, I’m ready to play. I need to prevent “arthritis of the soul.” And, as Joan Chittister says, “There’s no substitute for knowing how to do nothing [i.e., play] without feeling guilty about it.” And now you know how.

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Floey and I also play with gardening on our deck.

Floey and I Have a New Theme Song

Floey looking at cameraThe first thing I do after I get dressed in the morning, before I go upstairs for breakfast, is light a few candles in the sitting area of my office, and do some devotional reading for maybe half an hour to an hour. It’s a good way to start my day. I sit in the lazy boy with my feet up and pick up a book from a stack on the end table next to me. Floey often hops up on the love seat near me for this quiet time.

One of the books I’m reading these days is Hymns for Personal Devotions by Jerry B. Jenkins. Jenkins has selected 52 hymns where the words are addressed directly to God. They are songs that encourage the reader/singer to feel as though they are talking to God directly, praising God from the bottom of their heart and soul. Jenkins suggests that readers focus on one hymn a week to fully internalize the theme of that hymn. Some of the song titles are: Holy, Holy, Holy; More Love to Thee; Breathe on Me Breath of God; Search Me, O God; Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; To God Be the Glory; and so on.

Last week’s hymn was Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. As I picked up the book to read a little about the hymn, and mentally sing the hymn to God, I looked over at Floey, who had joined me, as usual. She was gazing back at me. “Good morning, Mom,” she said softly. “What are you reading about today?”

“Good morning, Floey. I’m glad you joined me. The author is talking about the image of Jesus Christ as a shepherd. You’re part border collie, aren’t you, Floey? You should know all about shepherds.”

“That’s right, Mom. I think I’m part brittany spaniel (that’s where I get my good looks), part border collie (that’s where I get my natural instinct to herd any animal or person in sight), and the best of every other breed there is. And, yes, I know quite a bit about herding sheep and working together with a shepherd. What does the author say about Jesus as a shepherd?”

“Listen, Floey. Let me read part of his introduction to the hymn Jesus, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us. Jenkins writes:

The image of Jesus Christ as a shepherd was impressed upon me at a young age. Two pictures hung on the wall at the front of our sanctuary – on the left Jesus praying in the garden, and on the right Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders.

As a youngster I mistook the painting on the left as God the Father, but no explanation was necessary for the other. I knew the story of the shepherd who had gone looking for one lost sheep out of a hundred, for each was precious to him.

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As the baby of the family I identified with that sheep, and though I don’t believe Scripture indicates this, I always assumed the lost sheep was a young one. Otherwise, why would he be lost?

Sometimes late at night I heard my mother playing the piano and singing. When she sang, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” it nearly made me cry, but not from unhappiness. I was too young to understand the emotion, but now I know I simply adored the idea of having my own Shepherd – the good, the great Shepherd.

Isn’t that a neat image, Floey? I can imagine myself wandering off the path, getting lost in the distractions of this world, and having Jesus, the good shepherd, come and find me, pick me up in his strong arms, and carry me safely home, like a little lamb.”

“Yeah, Mom. That’s a neat image. But you know what I think about? I think about how wonderful it would be to be Jesus’ sheepdog. I’d love to watch Jesus give me hand signals – or call out directions – to safely herd his sheep along the pathway. And then, when the sheep are in the fold, I can imagine myself sitting down beside Jesus, feeling him put his arm around me and giving me a quick hug, and talking to me softly about what a good dog I am.”

b9ea59273dbcba1689e2135f1b328547“Wow! That’s a neat image, too, Floey. I never thought of being Jesus’ sheepdog before. Working together with Jesus to care for the people of the world… That’s an image I want to ponder some more.”

“What does the hymn say, Mom?”

“It’s written as a prayer, from us, the sheep, to Jesus, the Shepherd. Listen to the words:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Thy folds prepare;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine, do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou has mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow’r to free:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee.

Early let us seek Thy favor,
Early let us do Thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With Thy love our bosoms fill:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

20131216214722-374“Look at the gentle words in the first verse, Floey. Words like tender care and pleasant pastures. It’s easy to imagine how much the shepherd loves each little lamb with words like that. It’s comforting to feel like a little lamb with a very kind shepherd, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, Mom. But as a sheepdog, I identify more with the second verse. The Good Shepherd not only guards and defends his sheep, but he finds them when they go astray, and even more wonderfully, befriends them. And I was created with just the right instincts to help him with all of those tasks! Can you imagine that, Mom!”

fullsizeoutput_200d“Maybe we should keep this hymn as our own little theme song, Floey, so we never forget these images.”

“Good idea, Mom. You play the piano, I’ll sing the melody, and we can get Mim to sing a descant! We’re all in this together!”

 

This Is the Day

fullsizeoutput_204fLast week I posted a blog entry called “Progress.” It was an update on the progress I’m making on my latest writing project, a devotional series based on my favorite hymns. The first part of the series will be a booklet of reflections based on 31 of my favorite Psalm-based hymns. My first draft of last week’s blog post was too long to expect you to read all of it, so I chopped off the last several paragraphs of the post. Here’s the rest of it – what you didn’t get last week.

The next Psalm-based hymn I wrote about in my booklet (after the four hymns based on Psalm 100) is “This Is the Day.” This hymn, written just 50 years ago, is a short, simple song that is a direct quote from the King James Version of Psalm 118:24. Les Garrett put the words of this verse to music. He was a pastor and traveling evangelist, originally from New Zealand.

The music is based on a Fiji folk tune. Musically, it has a simple call and response pattern, which makes it easy to learn, and easy to add verses to. Garrett wrote only the first verse, or should I say copied the words of Psalm 118:24 as verse one. Today the hymn is often published in hymnals with additional verses that have been added anonymously by oral tradition, a good example of the call and response pattern prompting other people to add new verses to a hymn.

fullsizeoutput_2056One of the books I’m reading as part of my own devotional reading this year is JESUS ALWAYS by Sarah Young. In the “Introduction” to her book, Young writes, “I enjoy singing this short, simple song in the morning, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ It helps me approach the day as a precious gift from God – remembering that every breath I breathe is from Him.”

During my last stay at Christmas Mountain, I re-read Young’s “Introduction,” and I decided to place “This Is the Day” as the next hymn after the four Psalm 100 hymns in my booklet. I’ve adopted Sarah Young’s practice of singing “This Is the Day” every morning as I begin my day. I even started to play with the call and response pattern of the song, and came up with some of my own words.

What can I do, What can I do
to reflect God’s love, to reflect God’s love?
I can be kind, I can be kind
to everyone, to everyone.
What can I do to reflect God’s love?
I can be kind to everyone.
What can I do, What can I do,
to reflect God’s love.

I’m not a hymn writer, but it was a fun exercise, and it reinforced for me that music, and the Psalms in particular, are wonderful gifts from God. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

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Progress

imagesLast week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells again for a 4-day, solitary getaway. I packed heavier than usual this time. It took me 9 trips to bring everything from the car into the condo. I had one small suitcase with a few clothes, 3 briefcases full of books and notebooks, my computer, my piano keyboard with its ironing board-like stand and folding bench, a step stool so I can reach the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards (where the wine glasses are kept), an ice chest, and a bag of groceries. I’m not a backpacker when I travel. I like to have everything with me that I might “need.” Needless to say, I make myself comfortable in my 1100-square-foot timeshare.

I spent most of my 4 days sleeping, reading, working on my latest writing project, and going for walks when it wasn’t raining or snowing. I had a nice, relaxing time, and I made good progress on my writing project.

fullsizeoutput_2052Several months ago, when I stopped blogging weekly, I defined my next major writing project to be a daily devotional book that will be reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started the project last fall by creating a list of all my favorite hymns and sorting them into the most appropriate month for each hymn.

By October, I was ready to start writing about the hymns for November – mostly hymns related to All Saints Day and Thanksgiving. I did my research on the background of each of those 30 hymns, and I contemplated my personal reasons for liking each hymn.

I designed a 2-page spread to follow for each hymn. The left page will include the hymn title, the tune name, the author of the hymn text including a brief bio of the author, the composer of the tune including a brief bio of the composer, the scripture the hymn is based on, and finally the story I want to tell about the significance of the hymn – what will make the book a devotional rather than just an annotated index to hymns I like. The right page will be a lead sheet for the hymn. I plan to create these lead sheets myself using Finale music writing software in order to address copyright concerns.

I have done most of this thinking, organizing, and writing during a few 2- or 3- day writing retreats at Christmas Mountain over the last several months. At home I’m too busy with other things to focus on such a big project. Over the past 10 years, most of my Christmas Mountain getaways have involved some writing – either writing blog posts or working on bigger projects like this.

fullsizeoutput_2051Late last fall when I had about a quarter of the November hymn devotions drafted, I decided to jump ahead to December’s hymns.

When I was about half done with December’s hymns, I decided to jump ahead to January’s hymns.

When I finished writing all 31 of January’s hymn devotions, I decided to change my approach. Rather than organizing the hymns seasonally, I decided to come up with 12 themes or styles of music, and to organize my favorite hymns within those 12 categories.

Each month will have a particular focus, rather than just being a collection of 30 or so separate hymns that loosely relate to the time of year. I’m currently envisioning this project as being twelve 68-page, self-published booklets. When they are all written I’ll decide whether or not I want to re-publish them as a single book.

My 12 themes, subject to change, are:

  1. Psalms
  2. God’s Love
  3. Lent
  4. Easter
  5. New Life
  6. Nature
  7. Classic Hymns
  8. Spirituals
  9. Gospel Songs
  10. Contemporary Styles
  11. Thankfulness
  12. Christmas

Obviously, many of my favorite hymns could fall into more than one category. Maybe I’ll incorporate cross references in the introduction to each section.

fullsizeoutput_204fI decided to start with Psalms because that’s where church music has it’s beginnings. In my “Introduction” to the Psalms booklet, I wrote:

God loved us so much that God gave us the ability to express ourselves through music. And God told us to use that gift. We are supposed to make music. The Bible is filled with examples of how to do that.…

The book of Psalms is often referred to as the hymnbook of the Bible. It consists of 150 poems set to music. Many of them are songs of praise addressed directly to God. Others are laments, sometimes blaming God for the sorry state the singer is in. Some of the Psalms plead with God for help. All the Psalms can be viewed as tools that can help us express our feelings to God, all kinds of feelings, both good and bad, or maybe it’s better to say happy and sad, peaceful and frustrated….

Over the years, many of these Psalm-based hymns have become favorites of mine. I can identify with the words, and the music helps me express the feelings within my soul….

I started the Psalm booklet with what is perhaps the most widely sung song throughout the English-speaking world today, Psalm 100, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell.” This well-known paraphrase of Psalm 100 was written by William Kethe for the Anglo-Genevan Psalter, published in 1561. The hymn has been published in more than 1,000 hymnals since that time. It is usually sung to a tune called “OLD HUNDREDTH,” composed by Louis Bourgeois in the mid-1500s.

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But this isn’t the only hymn out there that’s based on Psalm 100. About a hundred years later, Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest, wrote another paraphrase of Psalm 100, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” often referred to as the “Doxology.” This hymn is also sung to the “OLD HUNDREDTH” tune. (This is the hymn we sang every Sunday while the ushers brought our offerings to the front of the church in the Methodist church where I grew up. We also sang it as the blessing at potlucks.)

About the same time this hymn was first being sung in England, Joachim Neander, a German Reformed Church teacher, wrote a much looser paraphrase of Psalm 100, and adapted a German folk tune to serve as the music for “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” This tune is now referred to as “LOBE DEN HERREN.” Two hundred years later, Neander’s paraphrase was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth. Her translation of this hymn has been published in more than 300 hymnals.

Over the centuries, many other hymns have been written based closely or loosely on Psalm 100. One of the most recent hymns that falls into the “loosely” category is “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” written by prolific contemporary hymn writer Marty Haugen. He used a Caribbean folk tune to carry his joyful hymn.

The first 8 pages of the Psalms section of my devotional hymns project are devoted to Psalm 100, as expressed in these 4 hymns.

037615d43a4eb23542337b122c5d54d1The original song writer of Psalm 100 must be delighted to know how far and wide this Psalm has spread, especially considering that the Psalm begins with the words, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing…” [Psalm 100:1-2 KJV] Millions of people have been singing this song of praise for thousands of years. I’m delighted to be counted among them!

That’s why I’m committed to undertaking this large writing project. I want to become even more aware of how valuable God’s gift of music is, and I want to share that awareness with others.

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