Thursday, June 22, 2017

Europe 2017: Packing Is the Worst

I used to love packing. The deep decisions that had to be made would cause my brain to send out signals of happiness. What cool outfit should I wear? What shoes need to come? What CDs should I include in my travel case? (Yes kids, this was a problem.)

I loved packing because it meant I was going somewhere and doing something different.

Packing started to become a chore when I just kept going places. My family and friends are spread out all over the country, and I am usually the one packing up my stuff and seeing them because it's much easier for me to go to them than it is for them to come to me.

Most of the time I just throw a bunch of stuff in a bag and call it good. It takes a unique vacation to cause me to pack carefully. Next week's Europe trip just so happens to be one of those unique vacations.

I have done what seems like millions of hours of preparations, and one thing that keeps coming up is to pack lightly! I can understand why; there will be a few times on my trip where I will be going almost all day with my luggage, and I'd rather not pull a rolling suitcase or sling a duffel bag over my shoulder.

I purchased a soft-sided suitcase from that not only is lightweight, but also has backpack straps. The best part about the suitcase is that it is carry-on size.

Does that mean I am only traveling for three weeks with just a carry-on suitcase? Well, yes and no.

To be completely honest, that bag will carry all of my essentials. Since I can only travel with a small bag of 3oz liquids, I am planning on buying a few toiletries (like sunscreen) when I arrive in Europe. I was able to pack a week's worth of clothing, which really is all I need, because I can wash my clothes over there! (What an amazing idea!)

For the first two weeks, that's my plan. But since I'm joining the VBS crew in Plzen for the third week, I actually gave them my small rolling-bag suitcase filled with all of my VBS two or three outfits.

This type of packing method is a far cry from my "pack everything I may need!" mantra. I know that it will be pretty easy for me to stop at a pharmacy or convenience store and grab something I might require.

When it comes to technology, though, I am finding it more difficult to whittle my items down. The actual devices themselves are small and easy to pack, but there are so many cords! Trying to keep them all organized and in their own respective areas without becoming nuisances is hard. I plan on getting a few more drawstring bags to hold them in place!

Thankfully, I am almost done with my packing. I have a few more odds and ends to throw in, but it looks like my bag will not be overflowing.  I may even have room enough to fit a few pieces of artwork to add to my World Art wall!

Follow me for (hopefully!) daily updates from Europe starting next week! Let's all pray for good wifi connections!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Day 6 Worship Conference 2017: The Light that Knows No End

Read about Day 5 HERE!

What a lovely week.

I am now sitting at home watching my cat Riza run around. I am thoroughly exhausted, which is good. If any of you were at the conference and feel the same way I do, then well done. That means that you made the most of your time while you were at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

To those of you that weren't able to go, I pray that you will seriously consider attending in the future. As I've said before, this conference isn't just for music people! It's for everyone. It gives people ideas for worship. It allows laypeople to open a dialogue with their pastor, worship coordinator, or worship committee on ways to enhance worship. It provides so many resources for all the members of Christ's church.

The finished Pentecost artwork. (See yesterday's blog.)
Today we had a simple schedule. (Simple, at least, for those not at all involved in the chapel events of the day. If you had any of those scheduled...well, you were busy.) After breakfast everyone gathered for Pentecost worship. (Pentecost, by the way, has turned into my favorite Christian holiday.) We were led in worship by piano and a variety of instruments, from bass guitar, guitar, and a drum set to strings, oboe, clarinet, flute, and saxophone. A small choir led us in the more challenging songs that were commissioned for this service.

Some might say that the service was "contemporary." (That's even how many people categorized it at the conference. They would tell each other, "This morning is the contemporary service." But let's be honest. The word "contemporary" means "existing in the present" or "occurring at the same time." If you think about that first definition, the "Isaiah Mighty Seer in Days of Old" we sang yesterday is also a contemporary piece, but very different from the "Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" that we sang this morning. So can we just call it "worship" please?

The service was a great way to point out to people alternative ways of worship while still keeping the focus squarely on God the Holy Spirit.

My only sectional of the day was a choral reading for unison/2-part music. It had some nice items, but nothing that would really work for Junior Choir. I made sure to put on my evaluation form, "Please include a Junior Choir choral reading session next time!" We'll see if they listen to my request.

The Children's Choir and Honor Choir
Finally we all gathered in the chapel one last time to hear the hard work put forth by the grade school and high school choirs that have been around all week. While the Children's Choir had been adding to worship in many of the services, the Honor Choir had been working up to this closing concert, and it was our first time hearing them.

They did a great job following conductor Jon Laabs, and you could tell they were enjoying the pieces that they performed. They really got down to Robert Ray's piece "Credo: I Believe In God" from The Gospel Mass. It was funky and the congregation had fun, too!

My favorite piece actually came from the Children's Choir, and it was written by current favorite composer Dan Forrest. "Psalm 8" had amazing dissonant chords from the choir combined with a piano that did not do much assistance to the kids (but was beautiful), violin, and djembe.

We ended the concert as we always have done since 1996: singing "Jerusalem the Golden" using the tune "Jupiter" from Gustav Holtz' The Planets. In 2014 Dale Witte composed the perfect arrangement of this song with which to end the concert. When the piece began the same way today, I was thrilled! If they decide to use this arrangement from now until the end of time to finish our WELS Worship Conferences, I would not be disappointed at all.

Final BINGO tally. Alas, no blackout. But
I did get a lot of comments about it!
Many tears were shed during the singing of that final hymn, because that piece now has etched itself into many people's hearts as "the Worship Conference piece." It reminds us of the fond memories we have created in the past, the wonderful sermons, songs, artwork that we've experienced, and the great friends we have found. Put all of that into one song, and the waterworks are going to start for sure.

I take away many physical notes, papers, and music, but I primarily take away a sense of community between all these people. We all come to this conference with a yearning to make worship better at our home congregations. Hopefully we learn how to educate those same congregation members and open dialogue so that we don't get shut down or create rifts in worship. We seek to unify, not promote ourselves!

So what will you do with all this new knowledge? What one item will you definitely share?

I take this away: all our praise, no matter how it's done, will continue to praise God forever. As "Jerusalem the Golden"'s final stanza says,

"To God enthroned in glory the Church's voices blend,
the Lamb forever blessed, the Light that knows no end."

It's been a privilege to stay up late writing these articles for you to enjoy. My Europe trip is in nine days, can you believe it?! I'll be blogging as much as I can, so please like Blurb Musings on Facebook or bookmark this website to stay updated on all the fun I'm experiencing overseas! 

One final Worship Conference video to wrap all this up. This is "Jerusalem the Golden" from Friday, June 16, 2017. Take care, everyone! (Video by Dale Witte)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Day 5 Worship Conference 2017: Tips and Tricks

Missed the Day 4 recap? Read it HERE!

Today I was going around the conference thinking of all the good tips and tricks I could share with you. When I started to write them down, I just kept writing, and writing, and writing!

I pray that someday you'll get a chance to come to this wonderful event. If you do, here are some things to keep in mind:

You are not at a hotel.

Some conferences and conventions take place at hotels with a separate convention space. Many people are used to a hotel room with all the amenities and toiletries they would need, plus a daily maid service. 

This is not one of those conferences. Many people stay in dorm rooms, which means reverting back to old college (or high school) living. Make sure to bring the following items:
  • soap
  • shampoo/conditioner
  • tissues
  • maybe another roll of toilet paper, if you get an en suite like we did
  • a large towel (they provide you with some, but if you like 'em big, bring your own)
  • fitted bedsheet (same thing - you get two top sheets so you could make do if you're not picky)
  • blanket (ditto)
  • notebook (some people just write in their conference booklets, but if you like jotting down notes, just bring your own notebook)
  • pen and pencil
  • fan
  • snacks (for me, I could kill for a Hershey bar right now)

It will take you longer to walk around than you think.

I enjoy my current dorm location. However, it is quite a hike to the chapel. I don't need to use golf carts, and you probably don't, either, so make sure to bring good walking shoes and get ready to move!

You will not sleep much.

With the Gem├╝tlichkeit gathering last night (and every night) and my ultra-early wake-up call this morning, I only got 5 hours of solid sleep last night. Since this is a short conference, just be ready to cut down on the shuteye, and I hope you get to sleep in on Saturday!

You will not see everything.

Pick your battles. Do not suffer from FOMO. Enjoy the stuff you're doing, the workshops you're seeing, and the worship you're experiencing. But when you know it's time to do something else, just go. Unless Jesus shows up in the Todd Wehr building for a few minutes, you'll probably be okay.

One of my sectionals ended up being canceled, so I went to a sectional featuring the Children's Choir director, Kurt Cereske. Man, that guy is so talented at directing children! I had a page filled with notes as he pretty much just stood up there and talked and did a few warmups with the kids. While I was disappointed my conducting sectional was canceled, I was so glad I got to check this out. 

Utilize alternatives.

There were many more people in the Student Union today getting lunch and dinner, and I think people are realizing that it's delicious, even though there's not as many choices. 

At the same time, the majority of people just automatically go to the cafeteria because that's what they always do. Some people had to come to the Student Union because the cafeteria got so full that there was a lady informing people that there was no seating upstairs and they had to go across the street! Later she stood on the sidewalk and encouraged people to check out the alternative meal. 

Those with mobility issues should always accept a ride on a golf cart. You'll get to wherever you're going with time to spare!

And finally, I'll let you in on my big secret: there are better bathrooms at the library right next to the chapel. The chapel has very tiny bathrooms and yet people still automatically go there. But take a few steps north, and right inside the library are six stalls per bathroom, and they're much more spacious!

Enjoy the art.

While the official name for this event is the National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts, many times and the Arts is ignored. A lot of effort is put into enhancing the worship and displaying art made by WELS artists. Take the time to appreciate the work!

Near the exhibitor room is artwork that people have put out to be viewed and judged. In the past, the hall has been full, but this year there were a handful of artists who displayed work. But the artwork is stellar! 

There has always been an Attendee Participation Art piece, too. In 2008 my friends and I stumbled across it on our first day. That year they had triangles and invited people to decorate one. We collaborated on a single triangle, and then we were very surprised to see our triangles put up in the chapel for Friday morning's worship service! You can see the final result below:

This year the service on Friday is Pentecost, so we were invited to paint a sheet with things that remind us of the gift of the Holy Spirit. You can see the poster and the artwork (unfinished; this was taken Thursday afternoon) here:

I ended up thinking of the fact that the apostles were speaking in different languages as they were filled with the Holy Spirit, so I wrote down the phrase, "Praise the Lord!" in Czech:

Oddly enough, as I was writing, a guy asked me the language and picked out the Bohemian. He decided to write another Czech phrase on the other side!

I can't wait to see how it's displayed tomorrow. It makes me feel proud to look at a beautiful piece displayed at church and think, "I had a part in making that." 

Don't skip church!

It is perfectly fine to skip certain sessions if you're exhausted and need a nap. Every meal does not need to be eaten. But if you're at Worship Conference, you are going for the worship. Don't miss it! (Does this contradict what I said earlier? No. The services are always the only thing going on when they occur, so you can't miss anything else.)

Each service is different. While I love the first day of the conference, it always seems to be Thursday that brings out the best services. That happened last conference with the "Many Voices - One Lord" service that I and many people loved. 

This year we did the All Saints' Day service in the morning, and Ascension in the evening. I was part of the All Saints' Choir, and our pieces went incredibly well for such short practices beforehand. My Mendelssohn piece ended up during communion, so it wasn't as effective as I would have liked, but the definite thrill of the service was from a commissioned piece based on "Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old." It was written by Jeremy Bakken, editor at Northwestern Publishing House, and it involved many different parts. The children started it by doing a chanting session, explaining the vision that Isaiah sees. Then the double choir joined in, singing the part of the angels. The instruments - percussion and brass - came in next, and the congregation copied the choir. 

Now when we'd practiced it, we didn't have all the different parts together. It sounded nice, but it was just another piece. But at the service itself, we suddenly had the entire congregation singing along with the choir and the children and the instruments, and it was one of those ethereal moments. I talked to many people afterwards who were so effected by that piece. It was truly incredible. 

We started the Ascension service with candlelight. Beautiful!
The evening's Ascension service also provided some great heavenly sounds. The choir had nine pieces to learn. One was a fun setting of Psalm 150, and the other was an insane arrangement of "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing" with eleven brass players, three percussionists, organ, choir, and congregation. The arrangement was perfect for the occasion, and it was glorious. 

The moral? Don't skip the worship. 

See the displays before Thursday night.

I had initially planned on going to the displays on Thursday night because I would have completed my organ reading session by then. Unfortunately, when I got there at 10pm, many displays had already been taken down and much of the popular music was gone. 

I was able to spend money and get lots of great resources, but I didn't get to enjoy the entire thing. Lesson learned. I will make the time to look at those things early and purchase stuff right away.

Don't do too many "reading" sessions.

When I talk about these sessions, I am referring to Northwestern Publishing House-sponsored sessions, where they get certain choir music, organ books, or piano books together and preview them for you, so you can listen and decide if that's something you want. 

They have many different offerings - easy, difficult, unison voices, SATB, piano, organ, etc. But all these are offered during the normal presentation times. 

It is great to get these items (especially the choral music, because you've paid to get these sample copies that you can take home), but don't fill your entire presentation list with these sessions. Limit yourself to two, I would say, and then enjoy the presenters and their resources, too.

(And as a memo to myself: Claire, don't go to any more piano/organ sessions.)

Don't freak out because the presenters have informed you that you've been doing everything wrong.

At a sectional it would be very easy to fall into a sort of depression, because when the presenter talks about something "bad" that they've seen, you might realize that you've been doing that "bad" thing all along. 

Ignore that. Realize that stuff is in the past, and embrace the advice they're telling you now. Focus on the future of your ministry. 

Go to Synod presentations.

In 2014 and 2017 there was a special presentation given by the Hymnal Project director, Michael Schultz. He gave a lot of information and answered questions. He's really good at it - he doesn't get flustered and can crack a joke if people start getting a bit opinionated. 

You can take that information back to the congregation and prepare them for what's coming. It's never too early! (By the way, it looks like December 2021 is when the NEW Hymnal is going to be released!)

This is a recharging station.

I think many attendees at this conference leave it with a new sense of vigor for worship. Three years is a great gap for the conference, because by the third year, maybe things are getting a bit stale in your congregation. 

Worship Conference gives you a chance to compare notes with other congregations, see what the synod has to offer, and just relax and enjoy! Use this as a way to recharge those batteries. Gain new information and ideas, narrow it down to the stuff you find usable, and then go home and introduce it (slowly!) to your congregation. 

They might not be too receptive at the start, but give them time. They might need a bit of a recharge, too. 

Tomorrow's the last day! But it won't end with a whisper - it will end with a bang. Stay tuned to hear about the Pentecost service and the closing concert!

Read about Day 6 HERE!