When God shuts the door

I’ve been procrastinating about finishing this blog post for over a year now. Why the delay? Partly, it is the strange irony of a church song/worship leader who can no longer sing, who is also the author of a blog about church music and grace. Shouldn’t God just be giving more grace, and healing, so that I continue in this role which has been so much a part of my identity for 26 years?

My reluctance is also partly down to the enormity of the struggle in my head; having to explain it to you means I have to think about it, and try to reason with it, and accept it to some degree.

Let me fill in some of the background.

Since the end of 2015, I have been struggling with the effects of a hiatus hernia (where the top of your stomach bulges up through your diaphragm, at the place where stomach meets the end of oesophagus, and this allows acid to flow upward. Gruesome isn’t it?). The result is reflux, oesophagitis and coughing, particularly when singing – or when playing any number of wind instruments, which is something I’ve also done for almost four decades. The medication I take for this situation is reasonably effective, but not when I have to sing or project my voice. So, for the last year, I’ve contributed to church music only from behind the keyboard.

Few people know the enormous sense of loss I feel not being able to stand out the front and do what I can (do well, apparently) to lead people in enthusiastic praise of our great God. Worse still, I can’t even sing as part of the congregation, unless I want to pay for it with a tight throat, cough and stinging tongue for the rest of the day. My participation is thus reduced to lip syncing and whispers.

Now I know that some people would be quite content with this amount of involvement in congregational singing. For them, my loss would seem pretty minor. Not so for me.

And there’s more.

Moving beyond what I was originally going to describe (in that difficult blog post I’d been avoiding), I now must share another loss: the end of high school teaching.

About five weeks ago, I realised that my throat/hernia could no longer cope with the demands of the classroom. Despite six weeks symptom-free in the Christmas school holidays, I came back to Term 1 and things soon got pretty bad, brought on by full days of enthusiastic English teaching. With worsening symptoms, I made the difficult decision to leave at the end of term.

Today is the last day of term. Tough day, made more difficult by the flood emergency in Brisbane which kept students away from school for two days. I didn’t really get to say goodbye.

But I will cherish the moment with my Year 12 students a few weeks ago. When I told them of my impending departure their reaction was priceless: they stood around me in a circle, holding hands, and prayed through tears for healing and blessings for my future.

As you may imagine, I now feel like I’m in the middle of a ‘Job’ experience (you know, the guy from the Old Testament who lost everything, as a test in a spiritual battle). I feel like much of who I am is being stripped away, taken away, and I’m wondering what is left. Sure, I have a degree in journalism, so I still have a useful skill to offer. But is this really God’s perfect plan for me? Is it some test I have to endure? Is this punishment? And what is left of me when all that is gone? What happens now that the teaching and the music fades away?

I could easily choose to give in to despair at this point. In some moments, that is exactly how I feel. I’m sad for lost relationships with students, and lost opportunities to challenge them and bring out their best writing. I also grieve the many good friendships I had at work, friendships which will never quite be the same again. A Christian school is such a unique community, and across three different schools I’ve seen such a consistent witness to the grace of God which transforms lives. I’ve been blessed to see the power of Christ working in people from such diverse backgrounds, yet with a common outcome – we become more like Christ.

As I reflect on all this, I must choose my attitude, and in Christ’s strength fight the despair, and focus on the fact that our sovereign God does all things for a reason. In fact, as things are stripped away (that I have relied on to validate my existence) I more clearly see that only one thing of value remains –  Jesus Christ, Lord of my life, Ruler of my heart. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His Name!

For whatever reason, God has shut the door on this season of my life. But no matter what happens, my continuing purpose is to give him praise. Please pray for me that I will do just that. 

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (John Piper)

Blessings, 

Ros.

(I wrote this on March 31, but I accidentally have an older publishing date. It’s just one of those enigmatic things about the internet!)

Magnificent & Song of the Father

Loving these songs from Urban Rescue. Excellent and uplifting lyrics – “Magnificent

And “Song of My Father“:

MAGNIFICENT

Welcomed in, I’m overcome at the feet of perfect love
I am ushered in by Your nail scarred hands
to the place where my chains come undone

Chorus
Magnificent! Magnificent!
We crown You Lord of all, Lamb upon the throne
Magnificent! Magnificent!
Awake my soul to sing to Him who died for me
Magnificent!

See His face now glorified
See the grave where death has died
By His royal blood
Christ has covered us
Crown Him Lord, crown Him Lord of all
He is Lord, He is Lord of all!

Bridge
All of heaven bows down
all creation cries out
‘Jesus, Jesus, Je-sus!’
All of heaven bows down
all creation cries out
“Jesus, Jesus, Jes-us!”

 

Song Of My Father

Verse 1

When silence falls
I hear You call in the secret place
You still my soul with quiet joy
And I’m wide awake

Chorus

In the middle of the night
I look up to the sky
I can hear You singing over me
Through the fire and the flood
I know that I am loved
I can hear You singing over me (yeah)

Verse 2

You spoke the earth with just one word
And You hold my heart
My ev’ry step my ev’ry breath
Is Your work of art

Bridge

I hear Your melody I hear Your symphony
There’s nothing louder than the song of my Father
(REPEAT)

Sing for Your Life | Desiring God

Singing is a potent life skill. Even the world knows that singing — true, heart-engaged singing — releases oxytocin into the body, a hormone that helps to alleviate anxiety and stress, while boosting your immune system, your mood, and serving as an ally in the fight against cancer. But even more importantly, singing releases a spiritual affection that breaks apart the cancer of our most ingrained sinful habits.

Singing is one of the most immediate actions we can take to stoke our God-centered affections, and yet we grow careless of this neglected spiritual discipline.

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/sing-for-your-life

King of Heaven – come now!

paul-baloche_christmas-worship-vinyl-image_web-2At Christmas we remember the coming of the infant King of Heaven, Jesus Christ. God could have sent him as a fully grown man, and provided a grand entrance with enough pomp and circumstance to rival any contemporary celebrity. Yet God chose for him the womb of a virgin and a lowly cave/stable as his first resting place on the planet. Jesus shared the growing pains of our humanity so that he could be our perfect counsellor, Saviour and Lord. This King of Heaven is coming again and we probably should spend a lot more time praying for such an outcome, rather than sitting comfortably in the limitations of our mortality.

Paul Baloche’s KING OF HEAVEN (2012 – “The Same Love” album) is a song which captures something of the longing we (should) have for Jesus’ return. Here is his Christmas version of the song combined beautifully with Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

And here is the original song, performed with All Sons and Daughters: (don’t mind the 40 seconds of silliness at the start – the song officially gets going around 45 secs. I’m determined to included KING OF HEAVEN as one of our congregational songs next year.)

KING OF HEAVEN

Jesus, let Your kingdom come here
Let Your will be done here in us
Jesus, there is no one greater
You alone are Savior, show the world Your love

King of Heaven come down
King of Heaven come now
Let Your glory reign shining light the day
King of Heaven come
King of Heaven rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save in Your mighty name
King of Heaven come

We are children of Your mercy
Rescued for Your glory
We cry, Jesus set our hearts towards You
Every eye would see You lifted high

Ooh, ooh, ooh, King of Heaven come

Watch “Paul Baloche Vocal Workshop”

This looks like a really great workshop from a humble guy who became a worship/song leader. It would be great to watch together with your music team. I haven’t watched it all yet, but what I have seen so far is really helpful.

Sing in me, Breath of God

image
“Singing is a profound example of how we are made in the image of God. Whether we come to it through the science of the body, the breath drawn in and transfigured into music, just as the breath of God brought the first human to life (according to Genesis); or whether we find it through the mathematics of the intervals of sound that work together to produce beauty; or the soul of the artist, painting with sighs; there is room for everyone to come together with God in that work of creating God’s image on earth.

Whether you are the outgoing type who just has to share all your feelings and words with the people around you; or whether you are more on the shy side, hiding yourself inside the notes, letting the music speak for you, give you a voice, there is room for every image of God in the choir, in the song.

And just as we never reach the end of the image of God, so we never reach the end of the ways that music can speak to us and for us. It is a gift.

And those who sing it show us the image of God, and bless us with the image and echoes of immortality.
Amen.”

Originally published at http://wp.me/p1sWUy-1jn

Sing along!

This is just such a groovy song. You will soon be singing along, trust me. Thanks for the music Pentatonix.

from the October 2015 self-titled album.

Why you should keep practising your instrument 

I found this set of eight helpful suggestions for finding time to enjoy practising your instrument. I’m sure we could all use the encouragement to keep learning skills and enjoying the gifts we have developed.

healthy habits

1. Sight read often 

Believe it or not, sight reading can be fun. Not convinced? Dig out your old grade books from two or three grades back and try playing through a few of the pieces you didn’t learn at the time. Not only is this good sight reading practice, it’s a good way to reacquaint yourself with your instrument if you’ve taken some time off over summer. PLUS you’ll learn new repertoire that you might enjoy AND you’ll give yourself a confidence boost by sight reading music you once thought was impossible.

 

2. Don’t separate theory from repertoire

 Time’s up! Another lesson or practice session has come to an end and, alas, there was no time for theory. Don’t sweat it! Make musical theory a part of your everyday practice and lessons. Stop playing briefly and analyse one passage of your sonata. Grab your smartphone and check that you know all the definitions for the Italian terms in your piece. Play on and ask yourself ‘what key am I in? What relationship is this key to the original key?’

 

Spend a lot of time online? (Answer: ‘Yes!’) Sacrifice just 10 minutes of precious internet browsing time to do a lesson or a test from an online theory course once a week. You’ll be a theory guru in no time. 

 

3. Compose 

We all have memories of that time we were playing around on our instrument, came up with a brilliant riff, never wrote it down and learned the true meaning of regret. Are you the next Brahms? Maybe not. Do you have great ideas that other people might like to hear? Absolutely. Keep a pencil and a manuscript or manglescript pad with you while you practice.

 

Ideas don’t often strike out of the blue like a bolt of lightning (especially in this drought-ridden country!) – so write them down if they do! Then you can spend some time working them into something more substantial through ongoing exploration and experimentation. Working on your own musical ideas can also be a great way of really engaging with the sound that you are making, sparking musical ideas for your other repertoire.

 

Insightful Clara Schumann says, ‘There is nothing greater than the joy of composing something oneself and then listening to it.’ 

 

4. Record yourself 

A recording device may be one of the most effective practice tools and most students just aren’t using one regularly. There is no need for fancy gear, microphones or studio set-up; recording is for personal use only! Your smartphone, tablet, laptop or handheld digital recorder will work just fine.

 

Recording yourself puts you in the teacher’s or examiner’s chair, helping you to listen critically to your own playing. How would you rate your pitch, articulation, phrasing, tone quality and overall performance? Make a conscious change to your performance, record and evaluate again. As musicians, there is often a significant disconnect between what we feel we are creating and what we actually produce on our instruments.  Recording is an important reality check and benchmark and the best tool for students who are eager to see practice results first-hand – even if it is a little scary at first!

 

5. Master the short-and-focused practice session

berstein

You don’t have to wait for a two-hour window to appear in your schedule in order to sit down with your instrument or work on your voice. Long practice sessions can be great for building stamina, but sometimes more can be achieved with multiple short sessions in which you set out to achieve one particular goal. Keep track of your goals and your targeted practice in your practice diary.

 

Clever Leonard Bernstein says, ‘To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.’ 

 

6. Listen to great recordings 

“Have students listen to fine performances of the pieces, even before you begin teaching it” advised Glenn Riddle to teachers at last week’s Piano Series 17workshop in Melbourne. Between concerts, recitals, studies and everything else life throws at us, most of us don’t spend enough time just listening for the sake of listening. 

 

Listening to music is not only an inherently pleasurable experience, it is also an incredibly beneficial exercise for the brain. A recent study from UC Berkeleyfound that listening to familiar and unfamiliar music ‘increased interaction between the nucleus accumbens and higher, cortical structures of the brain involved in pattern recognition, musical memory, and emotional processing.’ That certainly sounds convincing!

 

Listening to repertoire before or as you learn a piece can help to inspire you, give you ideas for your own phrasing and interpretation and allow you to see the piece from another performer’s perspective. Grab a recording of your exam repertoire from iTunes or Spotify, plug in your earphones and talk a walk outside. You never know what details you might hear!

 

7. Go to concerts 

Seeing a live classical music performance is insanely exciting… the nerves, the spectacle, the variety, the triumph! So why do we so often save concert-going for ‘special occasions’ or one-off experiences? It is easy to think of concerts as expensive ventures or special-occasion experiences, but this is not necessarily the case!

 

Google your local university music department and attend one of their (usually free) lunchtime concerts. Most professional concerts also offer discounted student tickets or last-minute ‘student rush’ tickets. Even better, have a soirée-of-sorts with your musical friends. Get an opportunity to practice performing in front of others, support your friends and be introduced to a lot of great music!

 

8. Have fun!

john cage

Remember that all of your hard work is really aimed at making it easier to get your instrument or voice to do what you want it to do. From time to time, play around with the sounds you can make – beautiful sounds, ugly sounds, funny sounds and sad sounds! Get up close and personal with your instrument (or voice) and experiment away. If you’re not enjoying playing or singing at the moment, maybe you just need to reacquaint yourself with the joy of making sound. Learning music is challenging but should also be fun and rewarding. 

 

 

Happy John Cage says, ‘Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.’ 

 

Upgrade your practice with these simple tips.

 

 

 

http://www.ameb.edu.au/8-simple-music-hacks

The Synchronicity of Singers

heart_beat_by_digitallymused-d4adcgaThis is a recent news item I simply had to share:

Choir members do more than sing in harmony – they synchronise their heartbeats, a study has shown. Their pulses rise and fall in unison, depending on the nature of the work they are performing.  Scientists in Sweden brought together 15 teenage choristers from a high school in Gothenburg and asked them to perform three different choral exercises – monotone humming, singing a Swedish hymn and chanting a slow mantra.

As the 18-year-olds performed, their heart rhythms were recorded. The results showed that the music’s melody and structure had a direct effect on their hearts. Singing in unison had a synchronising effect, so that the heart rates of all the singers tended to increase and decrease at the same time. Lead scientist Dr Bjorn Vickhoff, from the University of Gothenburg, said: ‘Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre.

‘Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states.’

Choral singing is said to have positive effects on health and feelings of well-being, although this has not been studied scientifically to any great extent. The Swedish researchers believe the health benefits arise through singing imposing a calm and regular breathing pattern, which in turn affects heart rate.

‘In the case of controlled breathing, the heart rate or pulse decreases when breathing out during exhalation in order to then increase again when breathing in during inhalation,’ said Vickhoff.
‘Exhalation activates the vagus nerve that lowers the heart rate which slows down the heart.’
The findings are published in the online journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/new-study-shows-how-singing-synchronises-choirs-heartbeat-8698315.html

And if you would like some info on how selecting certain music can help you train better (by synching with your heart beat during exercise) check out jogtunes.

You may also like:
Film Review: As it is in Heaven                              Why music makes our brain sing
As it is in Heavenbrainsing
Who has the X Factor
cat vass