Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Twenty-Eight: Lacrimosa

Today’s writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 28: “last time I cried”.

The actual last time I cried? I’m going to bypass this one. It occurred a few hours before I wrote this … and I’ve spent quite a lot of time on that little “difficult time in my life” (speaking of writing prompts).

Instead, I shall scoot backward in time to the second-most-recent time, which was, oddly, a tiny bit more public.

For background, go read the item that I read at my Dad’s memorial service. I’ll be here when you get back.

That wasn’t my moment of weep.

He died on a Tuesday, if I’m not mistaken; and the following Sunday, I was at my post in front of our church’s volunteer choir. Partly because it was one of my jobs; partly because of Dad’s “carry on” philosophy; partly because it was something to focus on, rather than sitting and moping.

Our family decided to put off the memorial service at least a week, mostly so we wouldn’t have to rush pell-mell through the planning process in just a couple of days.

One part of the plan was that I would deliver a little paragraph or two, in the spirit of eulogy; which I did. There were folks who marveled that I did so with not a hitch or a pause to wipe the eyes or nose. I kinda wrote the thing so that there were more laughs and smiles than anything else. Distraction, maybe, but also a focus on the great and funny memories.

Another part of the plan was that I would conduct the volunteer choir that assembled to sing an anthem or two at the service. There were folks who were completely blown away that I could do that, but as my college band director used to say, “I’m a professional. I can do this.” Again, notes and rhythms and such to focus on. Again, distraction, and an awareness of the responsibility of conducting a choir (and helping to keep their heads in the game).

What took me out, though, was the last hymn of the afternoon. “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, by Thomas Chisholm and William Runyan. Number 140 in your Methodist Hymnal. Before and since, it’s been one of my very favorite hymns. A couple of really cool chords in there, the kind that gives us music theory nerds a little tiny thrill and causes us to see how the chord was approached and how it was resolved thereafter. A fun intellectual exercise, at the same time as the harmonies stir the spirit.

Well, between that and the accumulated experience of the previous nearly two weeks … the stirring won out. All I can say is, I’m glad that everyone else’s noses were kinda “buried in the score”, as we say in the choir world, so they didn’t notice that I was a quiet wreck. At least I didn’t have any more musical or public-speaking leadership responsibilities that afternoon, so there was that.

But it was a good day, so I didn’t mind, and have not minded since. And now, every time the opportunity to sing that hymn rolls around, I lay into it with just a little extra verve, and just a little extra smile.


May 28, 2016 Posted by | blogging, choir, family, music | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Fifteen: What Am I Doing?

Today’s writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 15: “Timeline of my day”.

Fine. Let’s take today, shall we?


6:00 AM … alarm goes off. Amazingly, I get up.

7:00 AM … in the car and away, to the east.

7:40 AM … arrive at my church gig. I am alone in the parking lot, which is not a surprise, because it’s still Absurd O’Clock. Go in, determine that there’s no special musical furniture to set up for the morning’s service.

8:20 AM … rehearse a couple of quick musical items with my musical partner-in-crime (-slash- brother-in-law) and niece for an event later in the day.

8:23 AM … done with that. Efficiency!

8:30 AM … begin the choir “early bird” session. Earlier this program year, we began offering a 15-minute extra session for the benefit of the folks who travel for business during the week and can’t get to Thursday night rehearsal. Not only are people not abusing the opportunity (i.e., “oh, I don’t feel like going to choir Thursday; I’ll just catch up Sunday morning”) … lots of people who did get to rehearsal are showing up to the early bird session, just to get one more chance to live with the notes and rhythms. Such that, for the first month or two, people who showed up on time for the “official” 8:45 AM start time looked around, worried that they were late. … I’ll take it!

9:30 AM … Sunday service begins. And progresses. Choir delivers two anthems – gliding neatly through Harold Friedell’s “Draw Us In the Spirit’s Tether”, and fighting hard for every note in our a cappella rendition of Thomas Tallis’ “If Ye Love Me”. Gads I love these folks. And they sing pretty too.

11:00 AM … extra-lengthy service (full of Confirmation liturgy and such) concludes. While many people rush for coffee hour, a few of us gather in the choir room to rehearse a quick musical item for next week’s afternoon concert-series date. More on that item in a separate post!

11:40 AM … hit the road, bound for a congregation couple’s house, wherein the annual “staff appreciation lunch” will occur.

12:00 PM … our staff/parish relations committee appreciates the staff; the staff appreciates them. And the spread. Yummmm.

1:40 PM … hit the road again, bound for the sound check for the Composers Concert held by the Worcester chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

2:40 PM … probably thanks to a poor choice of route, arrive there 20 minutes later than I wanted to. Just about get things set up by the time …

3:00 PM … concert starts.

4:30 PM … concert ends. Briefly we stand, smile, chat, say “yay concert”, and realize we’re all (sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, mother) really hungry.

5:00 PM … arrive and immediately get seated at a very fine Worcester seafood eatery, and stuff our faces – I may not eat again until 9 o’clock. Tomorrow morning. Yummmm.

6:20 PM … return home, and begin writing the day’s 31-Day Blog Challenge item.


Many of my weekdays are not as busy as this particular Sunday.


This is the life.

May 15, 2016 Posted by | arts, blogging, choir, family, music | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clap Clap Clap

[Ed. Note: Here’s a piece that will probably run this week in The Chronicle, the weekly electronic newsletter of the church at which I gig.]


“This past Sunday, if you had been a newcomer to this congregation, I am imagining that there was one feature of the service that confused the heck out of you:

“So when DO I applaud?

“As a musician, the reason I’m thinking this is: there were some downright counterintuitive moments of congregational response, as it related to the musical offerings of the day.

“[1] At prelude time, Kevin and our trumpeting friend Richard Given presented J.S. Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, and I believe I recall applause. [2] At offertory time, the choir launched the grand and glorious Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of ‘For All the Saints’, and after its firm and forthright conclusion … no one clapped. Instead, there was a gentle, almost unspoken ‘mmmm’ from the congregation. [3] During Communion, Kevin and Richard brought forth a gently swinging rendition of ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’, and it got applause – causing Pastor Joel to do a small eye-take, and causing a few choir members and me to whisper to ourselves, ‘we don’t often applaud right in the middle of Communion, do we? Oh well, it was Good Tunes…’ [4] And after the rousing closing hymn, which was text set to the grand old Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ melody and featured a blasting brass arrangement that was decidedly based on moments from its Symphony-No.-9 source, and therefore was played at near-jet-engine decibel levels (well… maybe not THAT loud) … no applause.


“Take note: above, I described these pieces of music as offerings. I didn’t call them performances; and I never do. A worship service isn’t a concert; and the choir and other assorted musicians are really offering up their art to God … although admittedly the congregation gets hit with it on its way by! And whatever effect the musical offering can have on a congregation is also all to the good.

“If this were a concert, we would have some idea as to the proper times to clap. At a musical comedy, it would be right after just about every piece of music. At a classical concert, it would be after each piece, except if a piece was one of several pieces in a multi-movement work like a symphony; then only after the last of a set. At a jazz club, people also clap in the middle of a tune after a soloist has completed her or his improvised solo. At a rock concert, very often they’ll clap any old time they want.

“In church?

“Ordinarily, I’d suggest that it’s much more complicated than mere protocol. If it’s one of those bouncy African-American spirituals, or one of those more contemporary ‘praise songs’ with drums and bass and such, then applause seems to work, either borne of the songs’ emotion or its resemblance to pop music. If it’s a quiet, contemplative choir anthem, then maybe not. If it’s a choir anthem that appeared to take lots of skill, or was quite forceful at the end, then we tend toward the trained response of clapping. If it’s a calm organ prelude, then both the lack of a dramatic stinger at the end and the selection’s placement in the order of service may dictate no applause.

“So the response to Sunday’s music, again, may have made a new churchgoer a little flustered. Do I clap? Do I not? And nobody wants to be the single person who claps, and then looks around. (Early this program year, a number of choir anthems finished, and it sounded as if that single person clapped and then other people jumped in and clapped too, as if not wishing to let that first person feel embarrassed!)

“Short of buying a flashing applause sign, as used to be used in the days of live radio variety show broadcasts, all I can say is … in church, please don’t feel obligated to applaud … but if the Spirit moves ya…!

“*sigh* There are no set rules. There is just what seems appropriate in the moment. Didn’t make that any easier, did I?”

November 3, 2015 Posted by | music, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment