Monday, January 18, 2010

Return to Macedonia

Yesterday the Kenwood Players went back to Macedonia to provide music for a service conducted by one of our tuba players who is a retired minister. We'd done this previously last August, when we performed some tunes on our own and the church organist played for the congregation when they sang. At that service Crawford mentioned in his sermon an occasion back in Danbury when he heard a Salvation Army group play with a church organ, and how that inspired him to take up the Eb tuba again after decades of not playing.

So this time we played with the organist for the hymns. I printed out for her music in the keys we use, usually a step or two lower than the standard key. The only chance we had to rehearse together was in the half hour before the service.

Musically, there was lots of room for improvement. The biggest issue was that she's used to a slight pause between verses, whereas we keep a strict rhythm. (I used to do it her way, but the players were much more comfortable with the straight turn around, so I've trained myself to do that.) Turns out she's free on Friday afternoons, so the next time we do this we can rehearse together to tighten things up.

What was wonderful was the response of the congregation to our combined instrumental forces. They really sang out, and the blend of their voices and our instruments was a splendid sound. Just like at the caroling event, regular folks really enjoyed the opportunity to sing with some orchestral instruments. For me it was a sort of proof of the concept there is a huge opportunity for introducing more music into the community. All that's lacking is useable music. 

Per usual, I think the players enjoyed the event at least as much as the congregation, if not more. As we're a small ensemble, everyone gets to be heard and make a significant contribution. The alto sax, trombone and trumpet took turns playing the soprano line along with the congregation's singing. The interplay between the instruments and the voices is about the best thing on the CD. 


  1. I remember some time ago when I was living and working in the south of France, I was a member of a small brass group there, made up of English and Americans living and working nearby. We would occasionally turn up and accompany the hymns at the local Anglican church.

    On one occasion, a woman came up to me during coffee after the service and said how much she enjoyed us playing. (When we weren't there, hymns were normally accompanied on a portable electronic keyboard.) She also said that she was usually very hesitant to sing out as she wasn't confident in her voice and thought that she might be making a fool of herself.

    I replied that she need have no worry about that. There was no reason to think her voice any worse than that of the rest of the congregation, and even if it was, it's not a competition. When singing hymns everybody else is far too busy keeping up with the words and tune in their own singing to worry about her voice, and so she should enjoy herself and sing out.

    Her eyes lit up and she said "I suppose I'm really singing to God, aren't I?"

    When we returned some weeks later, she thanked me for the encouragement, and said she had been really enjoying the hymn singing since.

  2. Great comment, Jonathan. Using your skills for something everyday as a small church service and then interacting with the singer and encouraging her are exactly the sort of things I wish there were more of. What you did for her was probably as valuable for her on her terms as a wonderful performance of a major work would be for a member of the classical cognoscenti.