Monday, August 24, 2009

Oak Chapel

Yesterday we played at Oak Chapel, a country church over in the Montford neighborhood, an area that has mostly escaped the physical changes coming to the county due to our being less than two hours from Washington D.C. (and 30 minutes from Charlottesville). Montford has been a stable little community for generations, tucked there between Montpelier and the Rapidan river (which was often the boundary line between the Confederates and the Federals).

The weather was on our side. Some time back I noted the sudden hot weather a day we played at the Gordon House sort of dragged down both the players and the audience. Last Friday there were weird ructions in the night due to hurricane Bill's passage off in the Atlantic, and Saturday there were tropical downpours from time to time. Sunday morning was bright and clear and there was that feeling of the community coming out safely after a storm.

The Players were Bill C. on Eb Tuba, Steve on trombone, Bill B. on alto sax, Judy on percussion and me on F horn or guitar and singing. For fifteen minutes before the service, while folks were gathering and greeting, we played old time hymns I've arranged, simply taking them down a few steps, putting them in flat keys, and tweaking the parts so that every one has all four parts in a range that suits their instrument. We then mix and match parts, depending on what's workable with the instruments present. We played each hymn twice, tuba on bass, horn on alto, trombone and sax switching soprano and tenor. The blend and the intonation we got when the alto sax was on top was very good and sometimes we got that terrific sound when you can't tell where one timbre stops and another starts.

I sang "What A  Friend We Have in Jesus" at the beginning of the service, and led the 5-7 year old Sunday Schoolers in "Count Your Blessings" midway through the service, alternating vocals with trombone and sax solos. I arranged these two songs by writing out a bass line for the tubas, the melody line, and then adding the simplest possible two inner voices based on the I, IV and V guitar chords. This style arrangement allows the skilled improvisers to take off running and gives the novice improvisors some easy training wheels that really help fill out the sound. When it works, as it did on both these songs at Oak Chapel, there's a wonderful freshness to the sound that an elaborate arrangement can never have, no matter how faultless the recitation. 

A highlight for me was our playing the Doxology ("Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow"), while Judy conducted us and the congregation's singing. The blend of our four instruments, one to a voice, with the singing was a wonderful sound.

We closed with a few more hymns in four parts during the social moments after the service when everyone was getting up and speaking and leaving. Afterwards a number of people came up to say how they had enjoyed the music, and from the looks on their faces, they really had been touched. 

There are lots of aspects to music therapy, but helping people in their spiritual practice has to be one of the most rewarding.

Next week it's on to Macedonia, down in "the lower part of the county" in an area even older and more settled than Montford. Crawford, one of our Eb tubas will be alternating preaching and playing tuba with us. Just like Oak Chapel it's a small structure with lots of wood inside and wonderful acoustics.

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