Posted in Ministry

Getting my chops in shape

Photo by Chris Bair on Unsplash

With Easter around eight weeks away, I wanted to be in shape to play trumpet that Sunday, so I’ve been working hard to get my chops in shape by playing as many days each week as I can. From experience, I know it will take consistent practice over the next few months to play my best for hymns and special music that day.

One does not simply pick up a horn and play after months of inactivity, or since the previous Easter. It takes a while to restore muscle tone, breath support and endurance. It also takes some self-discipline to work this into my already busy days. But you know how it is: you make time for what is important to you. Not only is this important to me, but it is still something I love to do.

Today I took my horn to work with me and played through the Epiphany and Lent sections of the hymnal. It is miraculous to me that I can fill an empty, expansive sanctuary with sound from a single horn. The moment I do, something unique comes to life in me as sounds, overtones and melodies fill a room. I played everything up a step. You can never practice transposition too often.

The physicality of playing a brass instrument is addictive. You send a stream of air through the horn from deep within your lungs. The feel of your lips buzzing in the mouthpiece turns into a tone by the time it reaches the bell. In an instant a dot on a staff is transformed into a sound that not only fills a room, but lingers in the air after you stop blowing. But I don’t stop blowing. I need more. I inhale, breathe out and ride the wave of sound that carries out over the rows of seats in front of me, towards the massive cross window behind the altar and rising through the cupola into the heavens. It is a magnificent and glorious experience that words can barely describe.

Once I start playing again, I can never remember why I let myself get out of shape. I enjoy it so much! But life happens, family and work commitments suck up time and music is relegated to the back burner. Without a band to play with, it’s hard to keep practicing. Today it was definitely worth it, though.

Posted in eyes, music

Is that a sharp or a natural?

Photo by Betty Rotaru on Unsplash

I have been thoroughly enjoying my new lens implants following eye surgery to remove my cataracts. My distance vision in my left eye is crystal clear. My reading distance vision in my right eye is perfect.

And then I sat down to practice my trumpet. My music stand isn’t far away and it isn’t close up either. It’s about one arm’s length from my eyes, and it’s not in focus! I just can’t see all the ledger lines below or about the staff. Is that note in a space or on a line? Is that a sharp or a natural? I can’t move the music closer because I’ve got a horn in front of me. I can’t stand further back, either, cause the notes will be too small.

Hmm. I did not foresee this dilemma. I had to come up with a solution. I need to get my lip in shape for Easter. So I came up with a solution. I purchased a pair of cheap reading glasses, popped out the right lens, and wore them with just the left lens in place. Voila! Every note is in focus. Pretty slick. I’ll just keep them in my trumpet case, next to the valve oil.

My followup appointment with my eye doctor is this week. I’ll mention it, but I can’t imagine there are any cheaper or easier solutions. I only spend a little time each day playing trumpet, so I can’t see investing a lot of money in glasses for that purpose.

Posted in joy, Life, listening

A spontaneous smile

Yeah, these guys make me smile, too. Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

It was right in the middle of a song on Sunday morning. The praise team was smaller than usual, just a couple of voices, but they produced a moment that still echoes in my mind. I don’t remember what the song was, but at one moment, when the two voices –one male, one female — harmonized, it lifted my heart, brought a spontaneous smile to my face, and made me stop and marvel at the beauty of that moment.

Eight days later, I am still thinking about that moment. There was another such moment this morning when, as turned the corner on my way to work and the pre-sunrise colors in the sky took my breath away and made me smile. In the dim morning light, my phone’s camera just wouldn’t capture the colors to preserve that moment, so I can’t even share it with you. Or when I got back home tonight and my two-year-old grandson saw me and shouted, “You came back!” How could I not smile at that?

I am grateful that God sprinkles these little moments into my day from time to time. Sometimes you smile because you have to. Or because you don’t want to cry. But sometimes you just can’t help it.

Posted in Life

Jazz 91.1

I’ve got some new music to listen to while I’m working at the computer. It’s the live feed at, Jazz 91.1 from Toronto, Canada. All jazz music, all the time, an amazing variety of music and musicians, instrumentalists, bands, and vocalists. A few things I’ve heard before, but a lot I haven’t. As soon as I turn it on, it creates a very relaxing mood wherever I am. I even have the app on my iPhone.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been somewhere that had an actual jazz station to listen to. A long, long time ago, there was one in Philadelphia. There used to be a smooth jazz station in Jacksonville, FL, but they changed format to Latin music. So these sounds are very welcome when I find myself parked at the computer, working on sermons or letters or whatever.

It’s got me playing my trumpet more, too, especially some jazz etudes I’ve collected over the years. It would be nice to have some kind of band to play with, but for now, practicing on my own with some occasional background tracks has been a good way to clear my mind and stimulate some different parts of my brain.

Posted in Life, Ministry

Real Epiphany thoughts

Epiphany brings back great memories of touring with the Ft. Wayne Seminary Kantorei each winter I was studying for my M.Div. 12-16 male voices plus an organist and director packed up a couple of vans and headed out for a two week tour of churches in different areas of the country.

My first year found us in Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. That was a long, cold trip (We always traveled in early January). My second year I think we didn’t roam as far, going to Wisconsin and Minnesota. My fourth year is fuzzy; I’m thinking we were in Indiana and Illinois, perhaps some Ohio.

This was probably my most enjoyable choral experience. Very talented director, voices, and instrumentalists. A lot of camaraderie with men all studying for the pastoral ministry. I still remember the music, the people, and the worship experiences.

The current edition of the Kantorei is touring in parts of Florida this year, but in parts of Florida not close by, so I won’t get to see them. I hope that they have just as memorable experience as I did.