More on Music

To Create Beauty – A Joyful Collaboration

posted Jun 5, 2018, 7:03 PM by Penny Skildum

The Ringers of Peace will attend the Handbell Musicians of America Area VII Handbell Festival in Rochester, MN from June 22-24. These events are held every two years. The group has been attending since 1996. Besides the massed choir ringing (usually 3-400 ringers) there are workshops on various topics, displays by music vendors and much time for networking and hanging out.
This year, for the first time, I signed up to lead one of the workshops. I decided to call my presentation The Joys of Collaborative Ringing. Since my idea was accepted, back last fall, I have sporadically (usually while pushing a vacuum) spent time thinking about what to include in my presentation and how to structure it.

This morning’s vacuum pushing had me thinking about beauty, how it is created and the joy that is experienced both in the creating and in the sharing. It occurred to me the creation of beauty, at least in its musical forms, and specifically helping others to share in that creation, could describe most of what I have tried to do as a church musician over a span of 40+ years.
Like anything truly worth doing, creating musical beauty involves effort – intensive plain hard work – the labor in collaboration. Singers refine their ability to create lovely sounds (in tune, understandable words, proper volume, sensitive phrasing, good breathing, etc.). Ringers learn how their notes fit with the other notes, what techniques are required for different types of sounds, both how to fit in unobtrusively and how to stand out when needed. There is always more to learn – always some greater refinement, something new to notice – and always the effort to make it all seem effortless so the result looks as beautiful as it sounds. Sometimes it all seems overwhelming. Indeed, a ringer was heard once to mutter under her breath, “picky, picky, picky!” during a rehearsal, as we went for an even more delicate rendering of a section of a piece. Yet, for any who have experienced it, the collaboration that creates beauty is one of life’s truly fulfilling experiences – the swing of the bat that connects truly, the swing of the club that drives a ball far down the fairway, the persistent effort that coaxes a giggle out of a distressed child, the symphony of chopping, sautéing, baking and cooking that leads to a delicious meal – to say nothing of the sound of music done well.

We’re going to talk about what it takes to create beauty in handbell ringing in my workshop at the festival in June. I would enjoy working with some of you over the summer to bring musical beauty to our summer worship experiences (see link to sign up web page below). I look forward to seeing many familiar faces (maybe even some new ones) next fall as singing and ringing musicians gather in their groups and take up the task once again of making beautiful music. But mostly, I hope that each of you, right where you are, in what you have to do, in what you feel called to do, take your work seriously enough to find the beauty in it and to collaborate with that beauty to make it manifest in your world – putting it into sharable form for anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Summer Opportunities

posted Apr 30, 2018, 7:19 PM by Penny Skildum   [ updated Apr 30, 2018, 7:20 PM ]

Summer Music Volunteers Needed
Our regular music groups take the summer off. This leaves the Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day open for anybody who would like to make a musical contribution to our worship experiences. In past years, volunteers have included children who have recently begun learning to play instruments, singers whose schedules don’t normally allow them to contribute to our regular music groups, people with hidden musical talents, as well as many of our regular musicians who like to contribute in unique ways.
To coordinate the scheduling, I have created a SignUpGenius webpage for 2018 Summer Musicians. That link is immediately below this invitation. Check your calendar, maybe talk to a few friends you want to help you out, pick a date and put your name down. The program lets me know when people sign up. I’ll be in touch to coordinate with you and be of any assistance that you need. I really enjoy these summer opportunities to do a wide variety of things with music. I hope you will accept this invitation to join in!

Church Summer Lawn Care Volunteers Needed
Switching hats here for a minute (putting on my custodian hat), summer is also a great time to pitch in and help with the task of keeping the church lawn looking nice. It takes about 3-4 hours each week to mow the yard and trim around trees and the building. The church has all of the necessary equipment. The church trustees keep the equipment in good working order and provide training for anyone without previous experience using the equipment. Once again, SignUpGenius has proved to be the best way for us to coordinate ourselves to see this task is accomplished each week. The link is below. Pick one week, or several, to help out. The program even automatically reminds you when your work time is near.

All of this reminds me we are a volunteer organization – we volunteer to become participants in the Peace Community of Faith and much of what we do depends on our voluntary efforts as participants. I like working with volunteers. I hope you like volunteering and that you will continue to do so.

April 22

posted Apr 2, 2018, 8:04 AM by Penny Skildum

I hope to see many of you on Sunday morning, April 22nd, as the Praise Singers with several guest instrumentalists present musical reflections, along with my spoken reflections, on the closing verses of the 40th chapter of the writings from the Jewish tradition of the prophetic school of Isaiah. 

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
            They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
            They walk and don’t lag behind.
(The Message interpretation)  

The experience of exile and homecoming, according to contemporary scholar Marcus Borg, is one of the three main themes of all of Biblical literature. While its historical point of reference in the Bible is the Babylonian exile of the Hebrew people in the 6th century BCE, the reason that the theme itself is timeless is because exile and homecoming seem to be a part of the spiritual experience of most people. So, two dear friends from my days in the ARC Retreat Community can speak of themselves as gay Catholics in exile from an institutional church that refuses to recognize the possibility of their existence. Women with gifts for pastoral and prophetic ministry have fought through the entire time period of my adult existence to come home to their calling in a church that still sometimes only grudgingly accepts their gifts. And we all experience moments of deep personal grief and loss that place us in exile from a God who we thought both cared for us deeply and was powerful to protect and sustain us. 

On April 22nd, through musical expression and spoken interpretation, we hope to provide some edification, some food for thought, some encouragement both for our community and your individual journey within the spiritual world of exile and homecoming. I hope you will be able to be present to celebrate with us!

Celebrations and Challenges

posted Jan 15, 2018, 8:35 PM by Penny Skildum

December 10th and 17th were both exhausting and exhilarating! Attendance at the Advent Dinner, on December 10th exceeded our wildest expectations. 125 guests enjoyed a good meal and musical performance. Serious challenges in the food delivery and meal clean-up aside (challenges that WILL be addressed effectively if we decide to do something like this again next year), the beautifully decorated sanctuary and wonderful community spirit-of-the-season linger still in my mind’s eye and warm my heart.

Worship with communion the following Sunday morning around the same tables in the sanctuary, with Joseph Martin’s lovely music about the importance of the light of Christ coming in this season of darkness, was uplifting to many (our largest worship attendance since Easter last spring) – one person commenting that we should make it our regular practice to do worship around tables.

The next couple of weeks were consumed with family holiday events, with very little time for reflection. But the necessity of writing a regular monthly article for this newsletter has provided a pondering opportunity. When I come down from the high points of experiences like these just mentioned, the shock is similar, I imagine, to that of the brave (or foolish) folks who participate in polar plunges. That is to say that my perception of the contrast between the energy and participation levels of these high points and the regular, weekly Sunday gatherings of our faith community is striking and, to me, unsettling.

It is completely beyond the scope of an article of this length to summarize the complex web of cultural forces that have battered the Christian Church (and many other institutions) during the course of my lifetime. And it is definitely not my intent to lay blame in any particular place or with any of the individuals, families and communities that find themselves living in an era where much has unraveled and there is little consensus on how to build into the future. But, with the multitude of spiritual challenges facing us these days (again, whole books have been used to put large topics like climate change, genetic manipulation, militarism and nuclear power into terms that are spiritually relevant for individuals and local communities), it seems to me like we, as a faith community, should have more to offer to our members than occasional spiritual high points.

If we are a community that believes that spiritual health and wholeness is as essential as nourishing food, clean air and water, things that are essential to us on a daily, routine basis, however much we might enjoy an occasional special meal or the freshness of a mountain campsite, then it seems to me that we must find new ways to make the daily – the weekly – the routine spiritual care and feeding of our community every bit as relevant, as accessible and as compelling as the sporadic high points, like those mentioned above, that we rightly enjoy so much. Perhaps the person who spoke to me about routinely having worship around tables was onto something. Could this be a format for engaging people more regularly in vital smaller group experiences? Could we use technology to make our community experiences available at different times for people whose engagement with communities beyond our faith community makes it impossible for them to regularly attend? Do we need to find ways to offer experiences at different times or in different spaces? Do we still need the same skills in those who lead this process (preaching, training of volunteer musicians) or are other talents called for (training and nurture of small group leaders, music performance).

I am of an age in this culture where one thinks about retiring. It’s relatively easy to be interested in retiring when the work seems relatively unimportant and is not going much of any place. In fact, people often resign from such work to try to find something more meaningful (I did that once). But I would rather be engaged in something of great importance that is practically bursting with new ideas and possibilities and the energy to persevere even through failures. I might never retire from that. Perhaps you are another person who would like to take on a challenge – to find practical new strategies and methods that will provide fresh energy for new approaches to regular spiritual nourishment for our community and maybe even push us to offer these to others. Perhaps you’ll do me the honor of sharing your ideas, your passion, with me. Maybe we’ll find ourselves working together on a committee or work team. That, I would look forward to.

Seasonal Awareness

posted Dec 17, 2017, 5:19 AM by Melissa Navratil

I really don’t like marketing very much. My reasons really aren’t important for this article. I only mention it for context. I would like to get your attention just briefly to remind you of two special musical events coming up in December – and that feels like marketing to me.

One musical event, the Advent Dinner, will be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the Advent/Christmas season with your faith community friends which begins at 6 pm on the evening of Sunday, December 10th with appetizers and a social time (with live music of the season by the Ringers of Peace). The social time will be followed by a nice dinner (meat, vegetarian and gluten-free options available) with the Praise Singers presenting a marvelous collection of Holiday music called Christmas Fantasia by Greg Nelson and David Hamilton immediately following. Twenty years ago, when this music was published, it was nominated for a Dove award. The orchestration is so well done that the Praise Singers have chosen to sing along with the orchestral recording. They would really like to sing this music for you! I hope you will attend. And this is a great kind of event to invite friends and relatives to join you for the experience.

The other musical event will be during our worship time on Sunday morning, December 17th, the Celebration Chorale (with a few folks joining just to sing this music) and a small instrumental ensemble will present The Longest Night, by Joseph Martin, a set of seven pieces (approximately 30 minutes of music) conceived as a service for those dealing with grief and loss during this culturally festive time of year. I will modify the narration to give the service a broader context. For the seminal message of Christmas for Christians is indeed that we see Jesus as a light in the darkest of times, a source of hope in the bleakest of times, a guiding force pulling us securely forward even in uncertain and dangerous times. So I believe the focus of this service can be widened to speak effectively into the personal and cultural darkness which so often surrounds and permeates each of us and the communities which we inhabit. This is a one-time event, as is the Advent Dinner – a gift from the musicians of the Peace faith community to you and anyone you might choose to invite to join you. I hope you will make plans to be present to receive these gifts.

Finally, it might seem by plugging these two events I diminish the importance of other events, I would close by saying each and every Sunday those who lead music for your worship experiences work very hard to present their musical gifts to you. I, and they, strive to make each Sunday morning an occasion worthy of your time and attention. I look forward to the next time you are able to enjoy our worship time with us!

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