It All Started with Christmas Music

I created my first blog for 12 years ago today. It's long since abandoned--The Blue Room is blog #3 for me--but I still remember the first post: a taxonomy of Christmas music to blow off steam during the height of Clergy Superbowl stress. I think about three people read it, all with the last name McKibben. So much has changed in me... and in the Internet. Blogs aren't what they used to be, although I'm grateful people stop by here to read what I have to say.

In honor of that silly first post about Christmas music, I share this graphic that came across Facebook last week, created (I think) by John Shouse and shared by my friend Cathy Boyd. Brilliant!

a taxonomy of christmas music

Merry Christmas!

And Happy New Year! ...It'll be even happier if you sign up to receive Gate of the Year, a free workbook/playbook to help you do a review of 2015 and set intentions and visions for 2016. Learn more here. Sign up here.

Improv in Action: Guest Post from Marthame Sanders

1-faith-450x300I met Marthame Sanders a couple of years ago at an event at Columbia Seminary. Since then we've followed one another on Facebook and shared a mutual interest in improv and the spiritual life. Marthame was lucky enough to receive a sabbatical grant last summer which allowed him to study improv at Second City. Right now I'm working on a grant application for a similar purpose myself, but in the meantime, it's great fun to see what Marthame and others are doing to encourage an improvisational "posture" in worship and think about how to expand those skills into the larger church. (Church of the Pilgrims in DC is also doing great work in this--see Ashley Goff's blog for more.) Marthame wrote recently on his blog about an anthem the congregation composed in the middle of worship. So rad. I especially love the acknowledgement that while there are many more polished, technically "perfect" pieces of worship music out there, there's something powerful about creating something right in the moment. And it sounds like he provided just enough structure for this creative work to happen.

Thanks for sharing this inspiration, Marthame!!

~

An Improvised Anthem--guest blog by Marthame Sanders

Pulling the weekly bulletin together is always an act of improvisation.

It rarely looks like it; after all, it is the planned order of worship that the congregation receives a few days later. And yet, there is always something that we hadn’t anticipated: a hymn we chose that’s unfamiliar; a special litany that needs to be included; a Scripture that doesn’t speak to the moment…There are always last minute adjustments. This past Sunday, however, stood apart.

Tim, our Music Director, was returning from a month-long sojourn in Europe. Our worship planning had gotten us through his absence, but we had not planned for his return. Tim and I agreed that the two of us would “do something”, and that was as concrete as it got.

Then it hit me: why not improvise? After all, I have been spending the better part of a year learning about the habits of improvisation; why not put some of that into practice? Using my own children as my willing improv guinea pigs in the days before (with different results each time), I hatched a process.*

Last Sunday, our Scripture was Psalm 146 from the Narrative Lectionary. During our time with children, I told them how the psalms were meant to be sung, and that Tim and I had nothing planned. And so we needed their help figuring out what it was we were going to sing.

I read the Psalm, asking them to say something like “I like that” when I read something that grabbed their attention. Then I told them we needed to figure out our key: I needed a letter between A and G and two numbers between 2 and 6. After one child asked if it needed to be a whole number, we got our suggestions: A, 3, and 5. That became the chord progression.

Tim and I began playing our three chords on piano and guitar; eventually, a melody emerged, which became a simple chorus:

I will sing my praise to God;

I will sing my praise to God;

I will sing my praise to God all my life.

The congregation soon joined in; I used the “liked” phrases to build verses. It took a while. The melody wandered on- and off-key, but we always returned to the chorus with full energy.

I have heard prettier and more interesting melodies. I have encountered more poetic lyrics. This was no Coltrane or Davis. And yet, there was something about this particular piece of music that “worked”. Along with everything else, the whole process invested the congregation in the anthem in a unique way. It wasn’t just Tim’s music or the choir’s music or my music; it was our music, our praise. Our shared creation had them “rooting” for the music in a new way.

We will definitely do this again.

One final note: our worship recording failed Sunday; so here’s my rough re-creation with guitar and voice:

[audio mp3="http://theblueroomblog.org/wp-content/uploads/146.mp3"][/audio]

~

Marthame Sanders is pastor of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. His 2014 Sabbatical in Chicago focused on the intersection of Spirit, creativity, and improvisation, including classes at the Second City Training Center. Since returning to Atlanta, he has continued with classes at Dad's Garage and has incorporated improv exercises into congregational leadership training. His website is www.marthame.com.

An Advent Playlist: What Would You Add?

medium_11665249906 Got to talking on Facebook the other day about Advent albums---in theory, this should be its own thing, as a season separate from Christmas, but it's often folded into the behemoth category of Christmas music.

I only knew of one album of Advent music, but of course, many friends schooled me on the other great ones out there. So I've been building a bit of a playlist, which people have asked for.

Here you go---sorry there are no links, but I'm doing this quickly since we're celebrating a certain seven year old's birthday today. A quick Google or iTunes search will get you there.

ALBUMS

Advent: Piano Solos, Jim Morgan. Especially these tracks: Rejoice, Divinum Mysterium, Hyfrydance (my favorite)

Advent at Ephesus, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. I dumped the whole album onto the playlist because it's such lovely choral music.

Midwinter, Peter Mayer. This singer-songwriter hits just the right Adventish tone on this album of original music, though a few tracks are explicitly Christmasy. So you should avoid Stables, Christmas Morning, Heavenly Child, and Make My Christmas Day until later. But don't forget to add them to your Christmas playlist because they're beautiful. I dream of using Where Is the Light with a church choir someday. It's rousing!

Advent, Vol. 1 and Advent, Vol. 2, The Brilliance. These were recommendations, haven't downloaded them yet. Same with Advent by Tangled Blue.

SONGS

Thanksgiving, George Winston, December.

Each Winter As the Year Grows Colder, Marty Haugen. Haven't found a version of this that I love, but the words are wonderful, very Adventish.

God, Beyond All Names, Bernadette Farrell. I like the Trinity Episcopal Church version. I could listen to these lyrics all day. And it has a fun alto line.

Veni Emmanuel and Of the Father's Love Begotten, both from Winter's Solstice III by Wyndham Hill

Beneath the Trees, William Ackerman, Winter Solstice

There is No Rose, Chanticleer, A Chanticleer Christmas

Lo How a Rose E'er-Blooming, Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, The Hymns of Christmas

O Come O Come Emmanuel, Pentatonix, PTXmas

Gabriel's Message, Sting. He has a couple versions of this (most recently on his Winter's Night album) but I like the original 1980s version from A Very Special Christmas.

Enjoy! What have I missed?

~

photo credit: chrisotruro via photopin cc

3 Ways the Internet Made My Life Awesome This Week

medium_6814239829 It's a heavy time in the world. Ebola. Israel and Palestine... please let the cease fire hold. Ukraine---still unstable, and I have a personal stake in this. There are no Christians left in Mosul, Iraq for the first time in almost 2,000 years. The children keep coming from central America, fleeing a level of violence and lawlessness (or even just poverty) we can scarcely imagine. And those little Nigerian girls are still missing.

The globalization of the news means it all appears right in my blue room. I wouldn't have it any other way. As David Wilcox sings, "there's no 'far away.'"

So like many of you, I do what I can, and I take my signs of hope and joy where I can get them. It is a privileged thing to be able to do that, to turn one's attention elsewhere for a while. But I must. We must. Otherwise it's too overwhelming.

So in that spirit, here are three things that brought some awesomeness to my life this week---Internet edition:

  1. Serving communion to one of our members who's in a nursing home. She wanted the five of us gathered to sing "On Eagle's Wings". We didn't know the words, but no problem: Safari on the iPhone to the rescue. Best communion I've attended in a long time.
  2. The discovery of Moms RUN This Town, a running club whose local chapter has a Facebook page. After 3 years of running solo and only occasionally with friends because of my crazy schedule, I now have access to groups of people in the neighborhood running early and late and fast and slow and everything in between.
  3. This guy. Just this guy. You're going to want to fast forward, but don't. Just let it emerge.

http://youtu.be/qs_-emj1qR4?t=5s

What is making your life awesome right now?

photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc. I chose it simply for its beauty.

Selfies, Social Media and Sarah McLachlan

My sweet mother and I at Wolf Trap last Saturday night. My mom and I went to see Sarah McLachlan at Wolf Trap on Saturday night. It was a great night to be on the lawn, and a lovely show. (By the way, just how much Wolf Trap picnic food is provided by Trader Joe's? A LOT.)

I've got technology on the brain these days as I work on my book, so I was interested in how people were experiencing the concert with and through their smartphones.  It's been a couple of years since I've been to Wolf Trap, but I've seen the norms change dramatically even during that time. Whipping out one's phone to send a text or check Facebook used to be rare and (I sensed) frowned upon. By now it's the norm, at least on the lawn.

One of the great things about live music is the way it knits together audience and performer as a community, albeit for a limited time and in a particular place. Does the use of social media expand that community, or does it dilute the overall experience? Or are both possible? (I think you know I'm a Both kinda gal.)

Before I go further, let me say this: the vast majority of cell phone usage I saw was from people who were way older than I am. So those of you clearing your throats for your "kids today" lecture, save it. This is a seriously intergenerational phenomenon now.

Here are some ways I witnessed people using their phones during the concert... or did so myself.

  • Looking up Sarah's Wikipedia page to see how old she is, because she looks amazing. (She's 46)
  • Taking notes on her setlist, presumably to download tunes later, or create a playlist.
  • Googling the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, a free program for underserved kids in the Vancouver area that provides high-quality music programs and lessons at no charge, which Sarah mentioned during the show.
  • Random checking of social media during the slow moments.
  • Texting friends to say, "I'm here watching Sarah McLachlan and remembering so happily our Lilith Fair days." (That was me. Shoutout to K and G)
  • Receiving a photo of one's children proudly displaying the awards they received at the swim team picnic that evening. (Also me.)
  • Lifting up glowing screens during the slow songs, with or without the benefit of the Candle app.
  • Recording snippets of songs to share with friends.

My guess is that some of those activities seem legit to you, and others make you bristle. Which ones and why?

It should be said, I could've done without the gals in front of me taking repeated selfies after it got dark... with the flash.

I also could've done without the people next to me talking loudly during much of the first act. Oh yeah, that has nothing to do with smartphone use. But wait! I thought technology was the downfall of polite civilization! You mean people can be boorish and rude without benefit of their cell phones? Get outta here! ;-)

New Running Playlist: Holly Jolly Edition

medium_4179627461 UPDATE for 2014: I've created a Spotify playlist, though not all of the songs were available.

You knew this was coming... after all, I have strong opinions about holiday music.

Very. Strong. Opinions.

On one hand, a running playlist consisting of holiday tunes is a daunting assignment. Christmas music is much more "hot toddy" than "hill repeats."

On the other hand... I own a LOT of Christmas music.

So here it is: the Christmas playlist, and at more than 25 songs, it's a long one. It may not get you pumping your fists like Rocky or strutting like Queen Bey or two-stepping to Texas, but it'll put a jingle in your step and a smile on your sweaty Grinch face.

Full list is below, including album info as needed.

And here it is in iTunes widget form, minus some of the Chieftains medley and the U2 song (sorry, that appears to be on some kind of import that I picked up somehow)

"Jingle Bells," Diana Krall

"Christmas is Coming," Vince Guaraldi Trio (Charlie Brown Christmas)

"Merry Christmas, Baby," Bruce Springsteen

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Mary J. Blige (A Mary Christmas)

"I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," Frank Sinatra

"Trepak," Modern Mandolin Quartet (from Winter's Solstice III)

"Silver Bells," Tony Bennett

"Sleigh Ride," Andy Williams

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Manhattan Transfer

"Go Tell It on the Mountain," Wynton Marsalis

"Little Saint Nick," Muppets (John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together)

"The Holly and the Ivy," George Winston (December)

"Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me," Elvis Presley

"My Favorite Things," Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (Making Merry)

"Amen," Take 6 (He Is Christmas)

"Medley, 'The Wren, The Wren!'" The Chieftains (Bells of Dublin)

"Greensleeves," Joshua Bell with Chick Corea (Musical Gifts)

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Amy Grant

"Soul Cake," Sting (If on a Winter's Night)

"Jingle Bells," Ella Fitzgerald (Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas)

"Sleigh Ride," She & Him

"The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Harry Connick Jr. (What a Night!)

"Maybe This Christmas," Tracey Thorn (Tinsel and Lights)

"Deck the Halls," Butch Thompson, Yulestride

"Good King Wenceslas," Mel Torme

"I Believe in Father Christmas," U2 (All You Need is Love EP)

"Holly Jolly Christmas," Michael Buble

"Hallelujah Chorus," pretty much anyone

~

P.S. Are you on my email list? Inspiration sent quarterly-ish. Sign up here.

photo credit: Ben Lawson via photopin cc

A Sermon in 272 Words

gettysburg-address-2 I've been talking about it on Facebook and Twitter for weeks, and here it is, today's "Gettysburg sermon." At 272 words, it is the same length as Lincoln's masterful address, delivered 150 years ago on Tuesday.

Err... let's just say he had a gift.

(Preacher nerds: you'll notice I couldn't resist trying a Lowry loop, even with so few words! Old habits die hard.)

MaryAnn McKibben Dana Idylwood Presbyterian Church November 17, 2013

Psalm 98

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

~

Here is a psalm for the month of thanksgiving! It is infused with gratitude as the psalmist rhapsodizes about God’s glory, the wonders of creation, and the thankful songs of the people of God. We are sailing along on a swelling sea of words like joy, steadfast love, faithfulness.

And then, like a thud, or like a needle scratching across the record, we’re told:

God is coming to judge us. To judge.

What comes to mind when you hear that word?

Maybe you’re rubbing your hands together imagining "bad guys" getting what they deserve, and "good guys" getting their reward, courtesy of God’s perfect justice.

Maybe you’re making a mental tally of your secret transgressions, squirming, wondering what side of the ledger sheet you will come out on.

Maybe you’re disturbed by the idea of a judging God.

Note that, in the midst of God coming as judge, the psalmist doesn’t tell us to shape up... or beg us to repent. He doesn’t even urge us to get to work doing what God commands.

Instead, he asks us to sing.

God will come—God does come—among us. But we don’t worry or calculate. We don’t try to measure up or crack God’s code. We simply inhale deeply, breathing in God’s spirit, and sing—with our voices, with our lives, and here with this community.

Yesterday’s health fair, and last week’s CROP hunger walk, are more than mission activities. They are songs of praise, joyfully offered to a God who promises to be with us always, who calls us not to despair, but to offer a new song.

Thanks be to God.

~

UPDATE: Here are three additional Gettysburg sermons, from Jason Cashing, Rob Jackson, and Jen Hackbarth. Thanks for sharing, everyone!

Upcycle the Blue Hymnal: Five Easy Advent Crafts

Like many Presbyterian churches, Tiny Church recently purchased a set of the new hymnal, Glory to God. (I love it.) Now, of course, we have stacks and stacks of blue (1990) hymnals we are no longer using. We'll keep a set of them, but we're starting to talk about what to do with the extras. Are there fledgling church communities or nursing homes that could use them? Undoubtedly... though I suspect many of these organizations will be inundated with offers of old hymnals since there's a lot of us suddenly trying to unload these things.

If and when we find a new home for the hymnals, there will be some random extras that are in such poor condition that they can't be passed along. I myself have 2 or 3 hymnals floating around my house and study, and they are not fit to donate.

So... how about upcycling the copies that have lived a good life and are ready for some transformation? Old sheet music is beautiful and historic and a lovely material to work with. It's good stewardship to give these old books new life.

Presenting: five easy Advent crafts using the blue hymnal!

I enjoy doing things with my hands, but I'm not skilled. So my suggestions are meant to be simple enough even for the craft-challenged. Got an Advent ministry event coming up? Sunday School lessons to plan? Potluck dinner in need of an activity? Here are my five best suggestions for EASY crafts with the blue hymnal... or any other sheet music or pretty paper. (Of course, I recommend you use hymns 1-60 for these crafts: Advent and Christmas.)

Stamped Music Ornaments

Upcycled Vintage Book Paper Holiday Ornament Tutorial

My girls and I are in the middle of making these right now and they are pretty and simple to make. The circles of music are so pretty, and the snatches of lyrics are festive. I got a set of Christmas-themed stamps and some burlap ribbon and we're good to go. We're putting sheet music on each side so there's no "wrong" side.

~

Clear Globe Ornaments

IMG_9569

This picture is done with a wedding invitation but it would be easy to create strips of hymns and coil them inside the ornaments. Add a decorative ribbon and you're done. Here's one set of plastic ornaments I found.

For this project and the one above, it would be nice to have a small tag explaining the source of the music... especially if these are gifts.

~

Advent Poems

1283300

This is a craft and a contemplative activity rolled into one---great for a Quiet Day or prayer gathering. Take a favorite Advent/Christmas hymn (or maybe a non-favorite) and read through it for words or phrases you might string together to make a new poem. Circle those words and doodle the rest of the page as shown.

~

Paper Chain

vintage_sheet_music_paper_chain_garland-_set_of_2_jpg_430x430_crop_q85

Oldie but goodie! Use strips of hymnal pages to make a garland for the tree or a Christmas "countdown" chain. I can report that vertical strips of the hymnal are a good length for stringing together.

~

Paper Trees

CONFESSIONS OF A PLATE ADDCIT Easy Vintage Paper Trees_thumb[5]

Scroll to the bottom of this page for instructions. This is the most complicated of the five options here, but still not all that challenging.  

~

I've started a Pinterest board with these and other ideas for upcycling the old hymnals. With each liturgical season---Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost---I will choose my favorites and create a post just like this one. In the meantime you can follow my "upcycling-the-hymnal" board (or all of my boards).

Speaking of ways to connect, starting later this month I'll be writing weekly email articles including tips and inspiration to have a "Sabbathy" Advent. Sign up for those here.

Week 9 Running Playlist: Sports Soundtracks and Stadium Songs

3.italian-21 It's been a few weeks since I put together a running playlist---my epic soundtrack list has served me well. But I need something new for this, my first 30-mile week.

This week's list includes songs from sports-themed movies, plus several stadium/ballpark favorites. Here's what I have so far, but I need more. What would you add? And a bonus question: What song would you pick to be played when you walk onto the field into a room?

Eye of the Tiger, Survivor (Rocky Soundtrack)

Gonna Fly Now, Bill Conti (Rocky)

Chariots of Fire, Vingelis

Run Forrest Run, Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump)

Jump Around, House of Pain

Enter Sandman, Metallica

We're Not Gonna Take It, Twisted Sister

Another One Bites the Dust, Queen

We Are the Champions, Queen

--

Image is a still frame from Rocky's training run in Rocky II. Bonus link: This guy calculated the distance of Rocky's training run through the streets of Philadelphia. Distance: more than 30 miles. Wow! He really is the champ...