Happy New Year! The Church year began on 27 November, the first Sunday in the season of Advent. This post was going to be both a look back at the music program at St Luke’s in the 2015-16 Church year and a look at how we are starting this new 2016-17 Church year and some of the good things we anticipate. But the great news is that when I started to count our blessings, there were clearly so many that I had to split it into two posts – here, a look back. In the next post we’ll look at present and future.
We enjoyed some open-air singing, which is a little unusual for us, in our Palm Sunday procession and at the dawn service on Easter morning.
For our shared Pentecost celebrations, we banded together with the choir of Renewal Chinese Christian Church to form a combined choir. The music directors of our two churches conducted one song each.
We also collaborated with local Uniting Churches for our combined service in June 2016. Members of our congregation joined in with the choir, the chamber singing group and the instrumental music.
In September, the worship ministry group sent three of us to attend ‘Intergenerational Ministry Practicalities’ at the Centre for Theology & Ministry. Some insights from these seminars have already helped us in our approach to music-making in worship (see In the midst of generations)
It’s been a great pleasure to experience the congregational use of hand percussion instruments in services from time to time during the year. We don’t get the instruments out so often that we would get tired of them, but when we have them around the pews and give ourselves permission to pick them up and play, I’ve noticed that their spontaneous use during hymn-singing is always both musical and sensitive to the worship service.
Musical services of worship
In a big first, we celebrated two series of Taizé-style evening services during the past year: an Autumn series March-May and a Spring series August-November. As we took our first taste of this style of worship, it was interesting to see people arriving a little ruffled at the end of a full day, then leaving refreshed and renewed after just half an hour of chanting and silent prayer.
On Sunday 17 April 2016, the morning service had a special focus on JS Bach, not just by playing and singing his music, but also featuring deep reflection in the preaching informed by Bach’s life and faith.
Instruments and collections
We’ve expanded our collections through the purchase of sheet music and a hand percussion set and thanks to the kind donations of some harmony hymn books, sheet music, and a glockenspiel. In addition, a thoughtful and skilled member of the congregation made soft cases for all the hand percussion instruments so that the whole kit can be transported easily.
The organ has undergone an important development. Thanks to an ingenious and handy member of the congregation, we made modifications to the organ pedalboard and bench, creating removable risers that enable short-statured players to reach the pedals with ease.
Holy Humour Sunday in 2016 was a significant time for our chamber choir, the Mustard Seeds, as the occasion encouraged us to risk looking silly, and singing and dancing to Jason Gray’s “Laugh out loud” gave us an experience of choreography (see Laughter is a holy thing). It’s also dear to us because the preparation for this song marked the teaching debut of one of our children.
During the year we benefited from the generous loan of choral sheet music sets from High Street Road Uniting Church.
The Mustard Seeds undertook a discernment period during May-August 2016 and have begun, with enjoyment, the trial of new rehearsal format, under a new director and with a full-time accompanist for the first time, moving the focus away from a cappella singing.
Team of instrumentalists
During the year, two of our instrumentalists decided they had gained enough experience to move from quarterly to monthly commitments. We now have five principal musicians who play regularly at Sunday morning services, Wednesday evening Taizé services, Tuesday midday communion services, and other services at special times (such as evening of Ash Wednesday).
One of the points of pride in our music program is the flexibility of payment status for the musicians at St Luke’s – every year, each musician chooses from a range of options including full fee, part fee, travelling expenses, unpaid, or paid for some services and unpaid for others. Musicians appreciate the ability to make this choice without feeling that they will be locked into ‘volunteer’ or ‘professional’ status, and I’m always struck by the generosity of their contributions regardless of what kind of transaction is involved. During the past year, one of our instrumentalists transitioned into a different fee, and all of our musicians played at least some of their services at St Luke’s for no fee.
Music for the wider community
We held the second of our Local Voices songwriting workshop series during September-October 2016 (see Lyrics: Voices distilled. A sneak preview of Local Voices 2016). It was enjoyed by first-time and more experienced songwriters from St Luke’s and the local area, and the tutors took just as much enjoyment in learning from each other’s sessions, which provided a great model of workshopping lyrics and music for the participants.
Meanwhile, we published some songs from the first workshop series, Local Voices 2015, via the St Luke’s blog (see Welcome to this table, Free agents, and New life – new beginning). And as St Luke’s director of music I took special pleasure in seeing the warm reception one of our songwriters received when we shared his composition with local churches at the Ecumenical Hymn Festival in October 2016.
Finally(!) we built upon our relationship with Essex Heights Primary School by hosting the school strings concert in the church, which is a venue of just the right size for the string players and provided a bright, warm welcome to a large number of school families on a night of flooding rain in June 2016.