Tag Archive | church choir

What I’ve been doing during the pandemic

For the past seven months I’ve had lots of quiet time at home – the perfect environment for writing. I’ve set aside this blog, mostly, to concentrate on my latest book – Talking with God through Music: Seasonal Hymns. Right now I’m on page 186 of the first draft. I think I have about 50 pages left to go. I’ve had quite a productive few days of writing, so I decided to take a quick break from the book today to blog about how much fun I had this week while working on the book.

Right now I’m on the last page of the chapter devoted to reflections on hymns about Pentecost. Compared to other major church holidays, like Christmas and Easter, not many hymns have been written for Pentecost – the day the Holy Spirit came to fill Jesus’ followers with God’s presence – the day often considered the birthday of the church. I came up with a list of twelve hymns I wanted to include in this chapter. After doing my research, I ended up with nine hymns in the chapter.

My process for researching a hymn to determine if there is a special story associated with the hymn is:

  1. Find the hymn in multiple hymnals, and compare versions.
  2. Google the hymn title along with the words “hymn history” and other relevant key words.
  3. Match up the “Internet facts” with my personal associations with the hymn.
  4. Put together a story about how the hymn helps us “talk with God,” or I decide not to include the hymn in the book.

One of the hymns I wanted to include in the Pentecost chapter was “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is.” Even though some people may call it just a “chorus” rather than a “hymn” because it has only one verse and is rather short, I think of it as a very meaningful hymn. 

When I was part-time organist at the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, there was a small choir that sang once or twice a month. I usually selected a short hymn for the choir to sing at the opening of the service to draw the congregation into an atmosphere of quietness, to sense that we were all together in the presence of God. The choir often sang this hymn.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, 
there is peace;
Where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is love.
There is comfort in life’s darkest hour;
There is light and life,
there is help and power
In the Spirit, in the Spirit of the Lord.

I did my usual research to find some story about the hymn that would be inspirational to write about for my book. I googled “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is hymn history,” but the only information that popped up was the name of the composer, Stephen R. Adams. I googled his name along with several other words, but found nothing. I really wanted to include this hymn, but I was coming up with nothing. After a few hours of searching, I was just about ready to give up. I googled one last combination of his name and some words – I don’t remember exactly what they were – and I scrolled down a few pages and found a story written by Adams’ son, Craig Adams, about his father and another hymn he had written, “Peace in the Midst of the Storm.” That was it! The perfect story to illustrate how the Holy Spirit works in our lives, just as described in a song Adams had written the year before, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is.” Here’s the page I wrote about this hymn for my book.

——————————————-

STEPHEN R. ADAMS GREW UP IN NEW ENGLAND, the son of a Nazarene pastor. He started to study music when he was seven. Ten years later he became the organist of his father’s church. Shortly afterwards, his family moved to the Midwest. He continued to serve as a church organist while he went to college at Indiana University, where he studied Greek philosophy and English literature. He later settled in Ohio and served as a church organist, choir director, and hymn writer.

Adams’ most popular hymn is “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is.” It has just one verse, but the words tell us a lot about what the Holy Spirit does for us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is – 

… there is peace … there is love.
There is comfort in life’s darkest hour;
There is light and life,
There is help and power …

Adams wrote this hymn in 1973. The next year, Adams was serving as the worship pastor for Xenia First Church of the Nazarene in Xenia, Ohio. About mid-morning on April 3, 1974, one of the largest tornadoes in history charged through the town of Xenia, carving out a mile-wide path of destruction. Adams happened to be inside a furniture store, just down the street from the church, when it happened. He was buried alive beneath the rubble of the furniture store. Adams’ son, Craig Adams, described what happened:

Trapped in a pitch-black cavern of panic and isolation, Dad cried out to God, fearing death. He recounts that, miraculously, God met him in a supernatural way and brought the most unthinkable and powerful peace he had ever known. His darkest moment was filled with the brightest hope.

Adams didn’t have the strength to lift up the concrete and steel surrounding him, but he was able to pull chunks of rubble toward him until he was able to create a hole large enough for him to escape. Once outside, Adams walked up the street to see what remained of the church where he had been just moments before the tornado hit. Only a few partial walls remained standing. A few days later, Adams and his pastor walked over to the former furniture store and learned that everyone else that had been in the store during the tornado had died. His pastor told him, “God doesn’t promise to take us out of the storms of life. He does promise, however, that he will be right in the middle of them with us.”

That’s what this hymn tells us – “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is peace… love… comfort… light and life… help and power…”

——————-

Even during a pandemic, the Spirit of the Lord is with us. And, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is peace… love… comfort… light and life… help and power…”

Trying to Remember a Song

Do you ever have one of those songs that keeps running through your mind, over and over and over again, but you can’t quite remember the whole song?

That’s happening to me right now. Actually, the song has been going through my mind for over a week, and I just can’t remember the whole thing. I’ve even spent loads of time on the Internet trying to google it without success.

Singing Xmas Tree 1964

Can you find me?

The song is a choral anthem that the church choir sang when I was in high school, about 1965 or ’66. It’s the only anthem that I specifically remember singing during the high school and college years I sang in the choir.

I just loved this one particular anthem! The words were Psalm 1, the King James Version, verbatim. It was hard to sing, at least to start singing it, because it started very loud and on a high note. It was written in the key of E-flat, and the first note for sopranos was the high E-flat.

The first part is:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Then it starts to get a little softer…

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And that’s as far as I remember the music. I’ve looked up the rest of the words of the Psalm in my King James Bible. I’m sure those are the words we sang, but I just can’t bring the rest of the music back into my mind. I remember that the mood changes at this point, to a very peaceful setting, which fits the words perfectly:

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Then the mood changes again. It becomes more restless:

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the  congregation of the righteous.

I can’t remember the tempo or dynamics of the ending. The last words of the Psalm are:

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

I wish I could remember the rest of the music, but it’s just not coming back to me. I think what I liked so much about this anthem when the choir sang it fifty-plus years ago was how well the music matched the words. It was exciting to me. I felt we were communicating with God with our whole being as we sang the Psalm together. I felt it in my soul and my body – not just my mind.

5640851837_1fa5c61383_zMany years later I read a quote attributed to St. Augustine, “Whoever sings, prays twice.” That’s what was happening when we sang that anthem. We were not only expressing the words of the song to God, through the music we were sharing our feelings with God. That’s what’s so special about music. With music, our ability to communicate is not limited to our mere intellect. Our mind, soul, and body are all involved as we sing or play a musical instrument.

As you may recall from an earlier post on this blog, one of the reasons I stopped posting to my blog every week is that I wanted to work on some other projects and needed to free up some of my time to do so. One of my new projects is writing a devotional book focused on 365 of my favorite hymns. Over the past few months, I’ve been organizing my thoughts for this book and selecting the hymns to include. I think I’ll start the book with a chapter on The Psalms and how these songs have been sung historically as well as ways they are being sung today. (I’m sure that train of thought is what triggered Psalm 1 to start playing in my mind.)

The Bible encourages us in many places to sing to the Lord. And over the centuries, we have been prolific in our response. Thousands of hymns have their roots in one or more of the 150 Psalms included in the Bible. For example, the online resource hymnary.org (one of my new best friends) identified Psalm 23 as the source of 344 hymns. Psalm 23 is rich in imagery of God as our shepherd. Each hymn of the 344 hymns listed on this web directory built upon this imagery. Some of my favorites among these hymns are:

  • The Lord Is My Shepherd
  • The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll not Want
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is
  • He Leadeth Me
  • Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
  • All the Way My Shepherd Leads Me
  • God Leads Us Along
  • God Will Take Care of You
  • O Love that Wilt not Let Me Go
  • Day By Day
  • Surely Goodness and Mercy
  • Lead Me, Guide Me

Each hymn can trigger a slightly different conversation with God, although they are all based on the same general image of God as our shepherd. Every one of these combinations of words and music enables us to “pray twice” to God – to pray with our mind, body, and soul. The most usual result of the prayerful conversations based on Psalm 23 is that our troubled soul is comforted, and that pleases God as much as it pleases us.

This newest writing project of mine is bigger than I thought it was going to be, but I love the digressions it’s leading me along – even if I experience a bit of frustration along the way. Whether I ever remember all the music of the Blessed Is the Man…”  anthem I sang with the church choir when I was in in high school, or not, I’ve been blessed by remembering one of my earliest and most dramatic experiences of “praying twice.”

bird singing 1O come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Psalm 95:1-2 – New King James Version