"Reflections of Faith"
Barbara Jobe and Jack Michener
May 20, 2012, 2012


Barbara Jobe ~ "Music Reflections"

I'm Barbara Jobe.  I sing second soprano and I have been a member of the Westminster Choir for 19 years.  On the off chance you are thinking that's a long time, let me assure you that I have no bragging rights whatsoever.  Stand up, choir members who've served for 20 years or more.  I'm thrilled to think of the years of service represented in the choir loft added to those of retired choir members sitting in the congregation.  The music ministry at Westminster is habit-forming! And it's a good habit to have.

Even if singing with the choir is not your cup of tea, you may want to learn a little bit more about choral music at Westminster.  Let's try a little pop quiz:

True or Flase?  Choir practice is held on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Adult Music Room at Westminster..  False.  It's true that choir members and director convene in the Adult Music Room on Wednesday evenings but... Sports teams practice.  Choirs rehearse. Mention "choir practice" to Paul Fleckenstein at- your -peril!. But sometimes organists practice.  If you are not picking up on the fine distinctions, just memorize them and we'll move on.

Next question...

In music notation, f means forte or loud, p means piano or soft, and m means mezzo or medium.  True of False?. If the Westminster Choir sees the notation mp, the singers sing medium soft.  False.  Westminster Choir members have been accused of interpreting mp as "mighty powerful."  We do like to raise the roof! Seriously, the choir does on occasion sing softly, but it is usually only so that we may then build to a glorious forte "Westminster finish."

I'll save the final pop quiz question for the end of my remarks.  For now, let me share a few reflections on the role of music in life and worship.  When I was a child, I might leave uneaten portions of meat or vegetables on my plate, but then insist that I was ready for dessert.  I explained to my parents that my dinner compartment was full, but my dessert compartment still had plenty of room.  I'm pretty sure that scientists would disagree that the human stomach is divided into dinner and dessert compartments.  For me, the jury is still out!

On the other hand, scientists readily agree that the human brain is divided into specialized compartments devoted to different activities and emotions and that there is definitely a music compartment that is separate and distinct from, say, the speech compartment.  In fact, sometimes when a person has a stroke that impairs the operation of his or her "speech compartment" which resides in the left side of the brain, therapists tap into the music compartment in the right side of the brain to help the patient regain speech by singing rather than speaking.  What a gift that God has given us by creating us with a way to heal ourselves with something that some may consider incidental.  It turns out that  music is not incidental, it is essential to well being!

In a choir there are four voice parts:  soprano, alto, tenor and base.  Each part, depends on the others:  locking-in the harmony, following the same tempo, blending the sound.  There are times to match the other parts in volume and intensity, times to stand out, times to pull back.  I can almost hear Paul saying, "Second sopranos,  your cascading notes in measure thirty one are one of the most beautiful passages in all of choral music...bring them out!"  or "Bases, your part at the bottom of page three is just not that interesting.  Tone it down."

The goal is to create unity through diversity.  In this way the choir community mirrors the Christian community... many gifts, one spirit.  I don't know which is the cause and which is the effect, but our choir community supports and upholds each other in its personal relationships as well as in its performance of music.  We celebrate each others joys, share each others burdens, grieve for and with those who mourn.  Bound by love, we create music together; bound by music we cannot help but love one another.

Just as there are different voice parts in a choir, there are distinct components of the music we sing:  Choral music blends melody, harmony, rhythm and poetry.  What part of the music speaks to you?

  • Is it the tune that sticks with you and emerges unbidden at odd times as you go about your daily lives-in the shower, driving the car, doing laundry?
  • What about the excruciatingly beautiful combination of tones that clash and then resolve to melt your soul?
  • Maybe the pattern of beats and rests touch a primal chord and set your toes tapping.
  • Or does the poetry of the text give voice to your unspoken prayers?

Each element communicates a message from the heart.  In worship all these elements combine to proclaim the word and open up a dialogue with God.  I think all of us have attended worship services in which every part of the service seems to fit perfectly with the others, filling us with God's word and inspiring us to service.  I encourage each of you-all of us-to pay attention to the hymns and choral offerings and see how they speak to the theme of the worship service.  Let the music touch you and complete your experience of worship.

Let's end with the final pop quiz question:

True or False?  The primary purpose of the choir is to augment worship with an anthem, offertory and sometimes a choral prelude or postlude each Sunday.  False.  The primary purpose of the choir, today's offering of a magnificent choral work notwithstanding, is to lead and support congregational singing.  Our Presbyterian Book of Order states (W.-2.1004) To lead the congregation in the singing of prayer is a primary role of the choir and other musicians. Each Sunday morning at our 8:15 choir warm-up the first thing we do is go over (I guess that would be rehearse, not practice) the day's hymns, so that we can assist and encourage the congregation in singing joyfully and confidently.  Don't you hate it when you feel exposed, as if you are the only one singing?  Don't worry, the choir has got your back. Praise God, singing in worship is corporate prayer.  And those who sing pray twice. Amen!


Jack Michener ~ "How Singing in the WPC Choir Nurtures My Faith"

To tell you how singing in the choir nurtures my faith, I need to take you back to my childhood and Bridgeport Baptist Church.  The church, located about 30 miles north just off Route 202 in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania was a fundamentalist bastion.

I was an only child of devout Baptist parents whose life centered around the church. My parents sang in the choir (alto & bass), ran the Sunday school, served on various boards and attended virtually every service, including Wednesday night prayer meetings and revivals.

As a result, I spent a lot of time in church, not always reverently.  Sundays were all day affairs; starting early, remember my dad was Sunday school superintendant, and finishing late at a choir member's home over coffee and donuts.

For the Sunday morning service I sat with my Michener grandparents and my Aunt Mildred.  I was strategically placed between my Aunt, who created math problems and puzzles to keep me busy, and my grandmother who gave me lifesavers.

Sunday night was different.  Since my Aunt and grandparents did not usually attend the evening service, I was placed down front below the choir so my parents could keep an eye on me.  On more than one occasion my father had to leave the choir to provide instruction.

The evening service had lots of singing.  My Uncle Gordon, a tall, handsome man led the congregation.  My Aunt Mary played the organ (she was also my piano teacher-no I can't play now).

It was spirited singing with members calling out requests and my uncle directing men or women only verses, repeated refrains, and other variations.

At some point, perhaps 10 to 12 years of age, I began to think about singing in parts, probably because my mother played piano and my parents practiced their choir parts at home.  I would try to sing bass, imitating my dad.

In many hymns the bass part isn't particularly challenging - staying on one or two notes for many measures.  That was a good way to start.  Over time, I moved to more challenging things.  Learning to contribute to the beautiful harmonies was fun.  I still especially enjoy singing many of the old standards.

I enjoyed the Sunday night singing, but I never did like the sermons!

As a teenager, our youth group sang at a retirement home most Sunday afternoons, and during the summer our church had a street corner service at the intersection of 4th and DeKalb (that's Route 202) in downtown Bridgeport.  I sang at these services and also handed out tracts to people in the cars stopped for the traffic light.  I can still see the expressions on people's faces when I gave them tracts asking where they would spend eternity.

Our church pre-recorded a Sunday morning radio service for WNAR in Norristown, Pennsylvania; the theme song was "When Morning Gilds the Skies."  You may recall the first verse-"When morning gilds the skies, my heart awakening cries, may Jesus Christ be praised.  Alike at work or prayer, to Jesus I repair, may Jesus Christ be praised."

I still remember the words and tunes of the many hymns I sang in my youth.  While we don't sing as many of my old favorites as I would like, when we do, the richness of the melodies, the harmonies, the lyrics carry me back to Bridgeport Baptist and at times gives me goose bumps.

Sacred music is the major part of my spiritual life.  I find the words and melodies of sacred music to be comforting, inspirational, and challenging.

A church choir is the perfect place to experience the power and glory of sacred music.  Over the years, each time Bunny and I moved and joined a new church (Presbyterian, of course), I joined the choir.  It was a quick way to become part of the church community and it just "felt right" based on my upbringing. In addition, I've always found choir members to be a caring, energetic, knowledgeable and spirited bunch.  And this group is surely no exception.

I joined the WPC choir in 1978 when we came back to Wilmington.  I drifted away for
awhile, but shepherd Paul, to his credit and my benefit, pursued me like a lost sheep.  Thank goodness he did, singing in our choir is an opportunity to enjoy and be part of the glorious history of sacred music.  For me, that history includes all those years at Bridgeport Baptist.