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 memories

I’ve got some relics

I’m not sure why this popped into my mind this morning, but I wondered to myself, “What do I still have from before I got married?” My wife and I are coming up on our 36th anniversary this May. Do I own anything that is older than that? Not much.

My Strad, still in its original case.

First thing on the list: my trumpet. A silver plated model 43 Bach Stradivarius Bb. I bought it in 1979 when I had just graduated from college and was working my first job at Bell Labs in West Long Branch, NJ. It was my second Strad. My first was a brass plated horn that my dad bought for me when I was in ninth grade, I think. But someone broke into my car in the Bell Labs parking lot and stole it my first summer in NJ. I still remember going to Red Bank music where they had a whole bunch or horns in stock and playing them till I found the one I decided to buy for $600. (I think they list for about $3,000 today!) It has served me well for forty-one years.

Next: some tools. I’ve got some metric wrenches I purchased when I owned a 1980 Volkswagon Rabbit that had a diesel engine. There wasn’t much to that engine, but it got over 50 miles to the gallon when I was at the seminary. In fact, I could drive from the seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN to my parents home in Philadelphia on one tank of fuel. I think I bought these to switch out the glow plugs one winter. I’m not sure what else I used them for back then, but I still use them now.

I’ve also got a few pots and mixing bowls my mom bought for me when I moved into my first apartment. She got me a small set of Revereware. We still have and use one small sauce pan and a couple of the steel mixing bowls. These items would actually predate the trumpet by about six months.

I’ve probably got a few photo prints from before I got married, but I’m not sure where they are in the house. Perhaps a theological few books from my first two years at the seminary, too. But that’s about it.

Posted in church, Ministry

I went to a funeral.

shutterstock_722607682I went to a funeral yesterday. As I sat there before the service began, I realized that I’ve been to very few funerals that I haven’t conducted. The person who had died was the father of a member. I had met him a few times, but didn’t know him very well. I was there mostly to support the family.

The service was held in an Episcopal church. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an Episcopal church before, either. As expected much of the liturgy was familiar and reverent, the ministers did a good job, the family participated in a meaningful way.

But when it was all over, I thought to myself, “I wish it were Easter.” Why? Because if it were Easter, I would have heard an account of Jesus’ resurrection! The homily did contain a passing reference to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but nothing more. The well-intended meditation focused on the ever-present love of God even in the face of death, but lacked the impact of the resurrection. Yes, the deceased will live on in our memories and in the presence of God, but no reference to that last day when Christ will come, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised.

Though I wasn’t exactly grieving, I know that this was a tough day for the family. I don’t believe most of them had yet experienced the loss of someone that close to them, who was such an integral part of their lives.

I made up my mind right there and then that I would either read or include in any funeral or memorial sermon the account of Jesus’ resurrection from one of the gospels. If I’m doing your service, your friends and family are going to hear about the rolled away stone, an empty tomb, and angels telling you, “He’s not here, he is risen!” I cannot type, read or speak those words without feeling rush of emotion. A casket or an urn or even just a picture of the deceased may be on display before the altar. Death may have come quickly or over a long period of time. You may have had a chance to say good-bye. Or not. But you can be 100% sure that you will hear me say that the urn, coffin, vault, or grave can only hold your loved one for so long. When Jesus comes, the best trumpet I’ve ever heard (and I listen to a lot of trumpet players!) will be followed by the sounds and sights of urns, coffins, vaults and graves surrendering their dead as “the resurrection of the body” becomes a reality.

I am doing a memorial service next Saturday for a long-time member of our church. I am so looking forward to this. They are letting me pick the songs and readings. We’re going to send our friend and brother off with joy, hope and expectation!

Spoiler alert: at my funeral, you’re going to hear a Gospel Easter account (you pick one), Psalm 16, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Hymns: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, Crown Him with Many Crowns, In Thee is Gladness, and For All the Saints. Hire a trumpet player. There you go.  Funeral planning done. I suggest you do the same. 


Posted in Life

The blessing of being nonessential

It’s taken a while, but one pastoral task I seem to be getting better at is “preparing God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). I realized this tonight as we were practicing music for Easter tonight. I’ve got three other guys playing trumpet with me. And they are good. I can remember the first times I got to play for worship. It is such a great feeling to know that God can use you to lead people in worshiping him.  It was a stepping stone for me on my way to the pastoral ministry. I am so thankful that I can give other musicians that experience!

Either I’m getting better at letting go of things, or God is motivating more people. Or a combination of both. There have been times when it seemed like I had to do a little of everything. Now other people are taking responsibility and stepping up to the plate, and that’s a blessing for both me and them. One  of my goals is that if for some reason I wasn’t here, it would be business as usual. Thank you Lord for letting me be, in many ways, nonessential!

Posted in Life

Do you understand?

I cleaned my trumpet today. As I think about writing that last sentence, I realize that any non-brass playing person probably has no idea what I’m talking about. They’re thinking, “Why would you clean a trumpet?” Trumpet-muggles probably have no idea that a trumpet has numerous slides and valves that all come apart so that you can clean the tarnish off the brass and keep everything in top working order. When everything moves and slides effortlessly, it is so much nicer to play the horn.

Now to get some mileage out of this metaphor. As a pastor, I probably say a number of things that puzzle many people who listen to me preach, teach, or counsel. My education was so good that theological talk comes very easily and is very useful around other clergy. But not around the people I’ve been called to shepherd. Sermon preparation involves going back and cleaning up all the theological jargon and making it understandable to a normal person. (Not that I’m that abnormal.) Even after all these years, I can go into any sermon and find phrases that need to be translated into something people can understand. At least if you want them to understand anything you’re talking about. Words like “faith,” “Bible study,” “repent,” and “mercy” probably go way over the heads of many listeners. I’ll bet some people have listened to me and wished they had a translator. Not all the time – but I am sure I have my moments.

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.