Earworm Alleluia

It’s that time of year when Choral Union prepares for Handel’s Messiah, which always confuses the inner calendar.  We skate from Isaiah’s prophecies to Luke 2 fulfillment, from Lenten sorrow to resurrection triumph, to judgment, and then back in reverse order because that’s how rehearsal works.  Truly, it is a glorious liturgical muddle.

This week, we ran through the happier movements of part 2 (“Lift up your heads, O ye gates” and the choruses following) and all the choruses of part 3.  Instead of picky melismata, there’s more emphasis on dynamic contrast and fugal exposition.  The music rises in one great crescendo, such that I left practice with “Worthy is the Lamb” resounding in my head.  There is such a fierce joy in proclaiming Christ’s victory over sin and death, a taste of what is to come.

That vehement delight also accounts for my aural addiction to Anuna’s “Dicant Nunc,” a new setting of an old Easter antiphon:

Christus resurgens ex mortuis          Christ, being raised from the dead,
iam non moritur:                         dies no more;
mors illi ultra non dominabitur.        Death hath no more dominion over him.
Quod enim vivit, vivit Deo.              For in that He lives, He lives to God.
Alleluia.                                    Alleluia!
Dicant nunc Iudaei,                      Let the Jews now say
quomodo milites custodientes            how the soldiers guarding
sepulchrum perdiderunt Regem         the sepulchre lost the King
ad lapidis positionem.                    sealed with a stone.
Quare non servabant                    Why did they not watch
petram iustitiae?                          the rock of justice?
Aut sepultum reddant,                  Let them either return him buried,
aut resurgentem adorent nobiscum    or with us worship him risen,
dicentes Alleluia.                         saying Alleluia.

This whole text makes me waggle my fingers in exultation.  Death has no mastery over Him!!  In the same way, we may count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

What welcome news at any and all times of year.  Alleluia indeed!


Midnight’s Chiding

Russell Kirk (and many others, I am sure) called 3 of the clock in the morning, the “Witching Hour”.

It is an hour which has inspired some of the best imaginings and writings from many. The combined comfortable darkness and the pleasant relaxation of concentration allows for great freedom and spiritedness. Or, just spirits of several kinds.

Lately, my “witching hour” has not been very pleasant. In my green youth, 3 o’ clock Ante Meridian was a time of fresh energy; usually after a night of signing, guitar and violin music, poetry discussions, and genteel wine-sipping, the liveliness began to fade at about 2. But if we just pushed a little further until 3, we suddenly caught a second wind and began to debate anew, and with more brilliant wit, the merits of John Donne versus John Keats.

With (relative) maturity came a more responsible witching hour. My late nights were usually in the company of my books, research, computer, blankets and candles. Elthelweard used to call my nest of studiousness. That magical hour really did bring clarity and quick writing.

Then, as age crept towards me, the haunting of the that hour become one of slight concern. It is the time of night when I regularly wake suddenly, gasping with almost hysteria over everything I forgot to accomplish (do laundry, pay bills!) and everything that I have to yet to do (grade the spelling quiz, submit lesson plans, clean the kitchen, job hunt, apartment find). So I lull myself back to sleep with promises of doing everything in the morning. But it takes so long to do so that by morning I am too exhausted to remember my midnight chidings. And the vicious cycle continues.

Is this a part of growing up? Why must the magic of the 3 0’clock be lost to me? How do I find my way to Neverland?

Finally, in desperation, I started to recite things I had memorized in my childhood in an effort to fight the midnight worries. After a few minutes of brainless mumbling, I found that I was simply repeating two lines which I had not particularly considered in years.

The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.

The ultimate song of peace and trust, and it took my semi-conscience mind to turn to it. Once I actually started to concentrate on the words and meaning, it took only a few minutes to fall back asleep. Amazing how simple my problems are once I get my priorities straight.

And this morning I had enough energy to rememorize the whole verse.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.     He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,     he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths     for his name’s sake. Even though I walk     through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,     for you are with me; your rod and your staff,     they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me     in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;     my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me     all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord     forever.

Literary Liturgical Litany

Having been inspired by Thalia’s Blog Birthday post, I put together this litany for writers.  Its format follows the Great Litany of the Episcopal Church.  No disrespect is intended; rather, I hope that we all might seek the aid of the Author of Life as we set out to write.

O God the Father, whose name precedes all discussion of existence; who spoke all things that are into being; who orders the cosmos with a word,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us; the author and perfecter of our faith; whose words will never pass away,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, who spoke by the prophets; who sunders speech and melds it anew into coherence; who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God, who has given the scriptures by inspiration for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our first drafts, nor our long-disposed outlines; neither reward us according to our wordcraft.  Spare us, good Lord, spare thy creatures, for whom thou hast poured out the treasure of thy precious blood: the Word become flesh, the myth become fact, the sinless become sin for our sake.  By thy mercy preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From tepidity of convictions and weakness of thought, reason, and diction,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From vacuity of substance and fatuous compositions,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From misuse of our time and distractions in our research; from antipathy for labor and the soul-weight of sloth,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From needless verbiage which obscures truth and sense,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From incorrect data, false testimony, skewed perspectives, incomplete citations, and misleading rhetoric,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From disorganized ideas; from overused tropes and clichéd plots; from plot holes and inconsistencies,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From paper-destroying fire and flood; from battery failure, power outages, viruses, frozen screens, unsaved documents, and all other complications,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From writer’s cramp and carpal tunnel syndrome; from smudged ink; from an illegible hand,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From poor grammar and careless editing; from conflation of similar terms and confusion of homophones; from the run-on sentence and typo,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the evils of comma abuse, apostrophe neglect, and subject-verb disagreement,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From confusion of tense, voice, and mood,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all kinds of aphasia and dullness of expression,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From unconstructive, vicious reviews; from careless readership,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From fear of honest writing and the perils of self-doubt,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all instances of writer’s block; in all time of springing words; in the hour of editing, and in the day of publishing,
Good Lord, deliver us.

We writers do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please thee to govern our hearts to glorify you in our writing,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illumine our minds as we put words to the page,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to breathe into our spirits your life-giving word, and sustain us when fainting,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant that, in the fellowship of Francis de Sales and all the saints, we may attain to thy heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Let us pray.

We humbly beseech thee, O Father, mercifully to look upon our infirmities; and, for the glory of your Name, turn from us all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory; through our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore.

Tuesday with Thalia: O Adonai

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

This is today’s antiphon, one of the Great O antiphons that precede Christmas in the countdown to the birth of Our Lord. I will share a small observation, in the hope that it will comfort those who may read the thoughts of a merry Egotist. There is a great deal of trouble and evil in the world, both on the national scale and on the personal level as well. Times are harsh, children die, wars continue and cars break down.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

The translation I used to know said something like “stretch out your arm to save” and I thought of the embrace of a Father. While our Father does fold us in his arms, I think now that I missed something.

This isn’t an appeal to a passive God that waits for us to run to him and then pats us on our head and says “hush, now”. This is a battle cry. This is a terrified bugle call that summons one Stronger than we. This is the shout of the soldier for his Captain. Save me.

This is not a two armed comforting embrace. This is the Hero we call, and he never fails. He rides forth with his arm outstretched to fight the Enemy that seeks to destroy us.

The whole creation pleads.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Messiah Miscellany: Humor in Handel

You can’t spend four autumns singing an oratorio without coming away with some stories about it.  Here are some snippets of things I’ve encountered along the way…

First off, there’s our conductor.  Jerry Blackstone is a beautifully dynamic man, and endlessly fascinating to watch.  This is convenient, as I have not yet met the choral situation which demanded that I look at anyone other than the conductor.  The plasticity of his face and the expression of his baton tell me more than my music (which, inevitably, I still hold up and turn when appropriate without so much as glancing at it).

Like any good music director, Jerry will use whatever cajoling or mental picture or example which proves effective.  Some of his exhortation follows:

(whenever we repeat a phrase) “You can’t sing it the same way twice!  You’re insisting – Did you hear what I said?  And the glory, the glory of the LORD!  It should explode!  It should be really really compelling!”

“The ness of righteousness should sound like Loch Ness.  The –ng of king shouldn’t spread the vowel; sing it as though the word were kitchen.  Don’t let the n sneak into since; the word is city.  THE WORD IS CITY.”

“Listen to you guys.  It’s like you’re afraid to stick out.  If you’re a real tenor, you go ‘I’m gonna stick out.  And they’re gonna hear me.  And it’s gonna be gorgeous.’”

“Not CHOStisement, ‘cause that’s not a word.”

“It’s hard to hide ugliness.  ….yes!  That’s a word that’s language!”

“I hope in Hill we have more vibrancy and more drama…right now it’s a little gentle, as though being taken captive were okay.”

(on how to enunciate “Hallelujah”)  “We’re always going to the lu, so to speak.”

(on the “Amen” part of “Worthy is the Lamb”) “You would sing that differently if you were thinking ‘First Noel’ instead of ‘This is the end of the fugue; I can relax now.’”

Movement 5: Thus Saith the Lord
Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts; Yet once, a little while, and I will shake the heav’ns, and the earth, the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations

My choir director in college told us – right before a performance – how he’d conducted the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and Jackson Chorale for a performance of Messiah once.  Rehearsals had been fairly typical, and none of the soloists had given him any reason for concern.  When it came time for this movement during the performance, however, the baritone soloist suddenly branched out into musical theater or jazz choir: he held up and vigorously shook a hand through every melisma in the movement, stretched out an arm toward the ceiling and the floor to indicate heaven and earth, and even, it seems, fluttered his wrist to indicate the liquid nature of the sea.

We all teased our conductor for sharing this story before we processed in to sing it, as the baritone slated to sing that solo was always a bit of a red-haired wild card, and it did not strain the bounds of anyone’s belief to imagine him imitating the baritone of legend in attitude and gesture.

Raconteurs who shared the story thereafter recognized the unique applicability of this movement to cocktail preparation, which is why I have begun making some effort to learn a recitative I will never perform with an ensemble.

Movement 6: But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming?
But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth?  For he is like a refiner’s fire.

Not much of a story here, sorry; it’s just, whenever I hear this particular air, I want to go back to chemistry class and, you know, burn the dross out of something in a crucible.

Movement 19: Then Shall the Eyes
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing…

Our organist has a little pastoral scene that he sets up on the organ console in Hill.  He must get a new animal for it every year; he has some 6 or 7 sheep, as well as a miniature stag.  Last week, as the mezzo-soprano sang, Scott was left to his own devices.  His own devices evidently include making the little stag figurine leap, as harts do.

Movement 23: He was despised
He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not his face from shame and spitting.

You probably think I am a horrible person for finding anything amusing in this movement, which typically runs between 7 and 9 minutes on account of the tempo and repetition.  It really ought to be grueling.  However, Thalia once pointed out that “smiters” sounds an awful lot like “spiders,” which, creepy though it sounds, is far less wrenching.

I carefully broached this subject with a fellow soprano on Sunday and she agreed, saying “I’d wondered why Jesus would give his back to the spiders.  Are there even spiders in the Bible?”

(In Job 8 and Isaiah 59, it turns out)

Movement 28: He Trusted in God
He trust in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, if he delight in him.

Quite aside from the abundance of third person masculine pronouns, this movement makes me both laugh and cringe because it’s so curiously pleasant to get wrapped up in the persona of a jeering bystander on Golgotha.  I may write more on this topic later; for now, let me just say that Jerry gets so involved and so in character that he begins to resemble John Noble as Denethor:

Jerry Blackstone delighteth mine eyenwordpress, why must you be divorced from the reality of my image-resizing?

Further silliness (and music markings) on the morrow!

A Foretaste of the Feast to Come

So I’m part of this choir that sings Handel’s Messiah in Hill Auditorium every year.  Sometimes that means we sigh at the fact that it’s December again and we’re singing Messiah for the 4th or 10th or 37th time.  Sometimes that means we pass over rehearsing Handel in favor of rehearsing more unfamiliar repertoire; this season, it’s MacMillan’s Tu Es Petrusthe finale of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and Milhaud’s Oresteia.  Sometimes we hold our scores but never look at them, which can backfire on the odd occasion our conductor makes changes to the dynamics or duration of the notes.

It can get a bit wearing, is what I’m saying.  Singing a piece year after year ought to make it more polished, but I’m convinced I get worse at the melismas every time.  Squishing onto the risers never really gets better.  I typically end up counting how many movements are left.  December doesn’t really get any warmer (well, okay, it did this year.  One-off).  I never get any less liturgically confused.   The Hallelujah Chorus always feels so relaxed and somehow that doesn’t seem right.

And yet, no matter how wearing it gets, the moments remain which remind me why I do this – why I’m part of a choir, why I sing, why music is:  The end and final aim of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.  In high school, we had choir tour shirts with this line from Bach on the back, but it hardly seemed so true then as it does now.

During performances this weekend, that nigh-wearisome familiarity with the score allowed for the music to glorify God and refresh the soul as I’d never before experienced it.  The notes, the rhythms, the dynamics, the diction: they were not abandoned, but observing them was drawn up into conveying the meaning, the truth of words heard so often over the years that we sometimes cease to attend them.  To paraphrase our conductor, each chorus must be sung as though for the first time these words have ever been heard:

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders

Glory to God!  Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.

Surely, surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruiséd for our iniquities.  The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healéd. 

Let all the angels of God worship Him!

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!  Blessing and honor, glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb.  Amen!

When the final cutoff arrived, it seemed to me that we hadn’t yet sung enough…in fact, it seemed we never could.  The power and verity of those words provided a glimpse of what praising God in perfect heavenly harmony might be like.  To focus one’s energy on the One who is worthy of all praise: this is delight.  This is what we were made for.  This is a foretaste of the feast of thanksgiving to come.

Words, and Otherwords

I am doing some preliminary preparation for teaching a segment on poetry to my fifth graders.

The segment begins on Monday.

It will be a busy weekend.

But since my first goal is to teach them to enjoy poetry, I am scrambling to find a copy of Richard Wilbur’s Words Inside Words collection. Understandably – albeit sadly – no version is available online.

Instead, I did find a reading and animation of a few snippets, put forth by that eternally – entertaining TV station, PBS.

It is actually rather unnerving, but you can see what kind of fun things Wilbur did with words.  And poems.





Is your appetite whetted? For the sake of fostering Beauty and Truth, I give you . . . .

Richard Wilbur reading and commenting on “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World”!!!!!!


I pine.

I long.

My heart aches to find such expression of truth.



The night before my dad and I left Dallas, I was robbed.

My purse, book-bag, and other various items were taken from my car.

I was an idiot for leaving them in the car, of course. The car was already weighed down by so much that I thought no one would even bother to try to get the unwieldy and very heavy bookshelves and dresser from the back seat. And therefore they would bypass it entirely.

And so, like a Dufflepud, I tried to do something to save time. I hid my purse under the seat, and left my book bag open so potential thieves would see that it was only books.


Items lost:

  • wallet, containing –
    • license and other photo IDs (including all the school IDs from every college attended)
    • credit card and debit cards
    • AAA card
    • insurance card
    • checkbook
    • concealed carry licence
    • cash
  • passport
  • camera
  • emergency spare cell phone
  • book-bag, containing:
    • The First Days of School: A Guide for Teachers
    • The Heart of the World, by Hans Urs Von Balthasaar
    • The Well-Wrought Urn, by Cleanth Brooks
    • The Collected Yeats Poems
    • Good and Evil, by Yeats
    • A Vision, by Yeats
    • Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form, by Helen Vendler
    • The Man and the Mask, a Biography of Yeats
    • Beyond Byzantium, critical essays on Yeats’ later poems


Do you notice a theme?

Yep. I had packed every book that I need for my thesis in that book-bag, with plans to get some work done on the road.

The loss of my purse is annoying and time-wasting. And without access to my funds I would not have been able to make the move; thank God for my dad and his generosity.

And thankfully, the very valuable or dangerous items were buried under loose piles of books.

But it is the loss of my carefully chosen books on Yeats that troubles me. The books held all my notes, the passages I wanted to use were marked, and I knew every page intimately; each spine was worn from rereading and studying, and the margins were filled with my scribbles.

I am still upset.

Later that day, on road, dad read the Divine Office morning prayer aloud. And I realized – yet again! – that God has a sense of humor.

Psalm of the day:

1Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
    he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand,
forget not the afflicted. (Psalm 10:10-12)

New Testament Reading:

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:8-15)



Alright God, I get it. Fine.  Have mercy on those who need so desperately that they steal. Do not begrudge them such a paltry share of my goods.

But, may I ask that they write my thesis for me in exchange?



Apparently my lesson was not sufficiently learned. After spending yesterday moving into my new place, I dropped off my rent check with my new land lady.

This morning, (after several very vivid dreams of having my place broken into, which I have never dreamed about before,)I got a call from the landlady.

Her office had been broken into and robbed. Guess what was taken?

My check.

Just my check. Nothing else.

Dear Lord, what are you trying to tell me?