As Gene Autry used to sing, “I’m back in the saddle again.” I probably would not even know this old song if not for my father, who adored the old 1930s westerns and used to spend literally all day Saturday at the movies.
Yes, I am back in the saddle again, but mine is a musical and liturgical saddle. In fact, it is the only saddle for which I am qualified and at which I am successful. I am not coordinated enough to ride a horse or catch a ball, but somehow I am coordinated enough to play toccatas and fugues on the organ. Indeed, I am grateful for my saddle and to have found it at an early age.
The sabbatical from which I have just returned was such a supreme gift from my rector and my parish. On my first sabbatical in 2009, I ventured to Oxford University in England, among other places. These past three months, I stayed here in the states, venturing for study to Stamford (CT), Houston, St. Louis, and Bloomington (IN).
In June, I attended the national conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians, an international body of Episcopal and Anglican musicians. Some 250 choir directors and organists sang, worshipped and studied together for a week in Episcopal parishes throughout Fairfield County (CT) and Westchester County (NY). I also had the opportunity to see Professor Charles Krigbaum, one of my Yale organ professors, and my Yale Institute of Sacred Music liturgical mentor and thesis adviser, Bishop Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Seeing these two important figures in my formation, for the first time in more than 20 years, was such a blessing.
I also attended the semi-annual national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Houston, where I heard world-famous organists and choirs perform. Since I lived and worked in Houston from 1990-96, this conference was also a bit of a homecoming. Between morning/noon/night recitals and workshops, I renewed friendships over meals with colleagues and friends from 25 years ago. One highlight was the Thursday evening closing concert, two organ concertos played with the Houston Symphony. Before the concert, the audience of 1,200 was welcomed live by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Their faces were beamed directly onto the huge screen set up on the chancel steps of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
July was a mix of some vacation time and a week’s residency at the St. Louis Course of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), with which our own parish is affiliated. I was especially excited to spend a week with Dr. Bruce Neswick, one of the most respected Episcopal musicians in the country. The RSCM St. Louis Choir of Boys, Girls, and Adults sang for High Mass at the St. Louis Basilica on Sunday morning, backed by one of the largest organs in the country and in European-like acoustics of five to six seconds of reverberation.
After August 1, I hit the road again, headed for Indiana University in Bloomington, where I had lessons and coaching with my doctoral organ professor, Dr. Marilyn Keiser, one of the most prolific organ recitalists of this century. I played the big new Fisk organ (a mere dream when I was there 20-25 years ago) while she conducted me. We played the organ simultaneously, and we sometimes sang the organ works as we played. (Yes, you can sing organ music!)
Dr. Gamble, Ms. Koziel and our Sunday evening cantors and instrumentalists carried forth in my absence, for which I am most grateful. Because the mark of any church music program is what happens when the director departs, I rested assured that music and worship were going right along during my absence, which they did quite valiantly, I hear.
And so, we’re back in the saddle again. Bring your children to one of our now two fabulous children’s choirs. Feed your soul and spirit by joining our Parish Choir, and help us evangelize the message of the Good News. Come join our Taizé Schola and sing quiet chants and soak up the silence in the liturgy. Fling wide the barn door: The corral is open!
Photo of C. B. Fisk organ, Opus 135, Auer Hall, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.