Monday, November 23, 2015


A breeze is stirring in our courtyard 
as the temperature drops
and the seasons change.

Out beyond the courtyard is the cottage -
a simple room with a table and a chair.

As the weather cools,
it becomes a good place for focus.

So I'm spending more time there

slowing down,

being calm,

and changing little by little.

For good use,
this space needs a bit of attention.

It needs something
like the wind in the courtyard.

As seasons change,
it needs a stirring, too.

Enter the broom.

Invariably, while I've been out and about my daily business,
some bit of dust has collected in this peaceful place.

So I sweep.

And as I do,

I think of a certain grandmother who kept a neat house and swept her porch religiously.

And I remember a poor friend who kept the tradition of the swept yard -
an outdoor room, the best for living -
driving the snakes away and burning mounds of detritus like little offerings.

Their sweepings were daily and quiet, just like my own.

As I recall that wind and fire are emblems of the Spirit moving mysteriously to cleanse and to consume, I realize that such sweepings are just what we need in the cottages of our souls.

It is thought that St. Columba oversaw the work of his monastery community from a hut on this windy hill on Iona. He must have swept there a time or two-hundred-thousand, and in sweeping, daily cleared out the attitudes, habits, and patterns of thought that would have doomed his metamorphosis from exiled warrior to sweet abbot.

A rich interpretive sign at the foot of Columba's hill

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years . . . Genesis 1:14

The musical score is full of signs. 

The note on the page requires a pretty complex bit of reading: 
its shape and coloration convey the duration of the sound while its location on the staff indicate the pitch to be performed.

And then we have an array of signs that indicate how to play a note or groups of notes.

These include:

articulations (how one note is connected or not connected to the next note)

phrases (which notes go together as a units)

dynamics (how loud or soft a note or group of notes should sound)

processes (changes in dynamics or pace over time).

What we lack is a sign for the specific purpose of delineating trajectory. 

All the other signs require interpretation so that we can understand the flow and direction of the music.

As Charles Rosen wrote in his book on the music of the Romantic generation, it is not enough to obey the signs. Interpretation - that is, our artistic duty - requires asking why those signs are there. Asking that question yields insight into the composer's strategy, insight into the composer's personal way of writing a sonata, a rondo, or whatever the form at hand is. 

In this way, we learn how the music is moving, and when we communicate that knowledge through our performances, the composer's personality and genius are heard and our listeners are moved, too.  


Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Your Important Self Esteem"

My father would have turned 86 yesterday. 
In his memory, I share the following bit of "self help" he wrote in the 1980s. 
I think we still need it.

Your Important Self Esteem
by Rev. Charles J. Hulin III

A very unfortunate trait of our day is that of persons being forced into situations in which they are made to contest, compete, and clash with others.  Always, someone loses and has the ego bruised. We need cooperation more than competition to build up and bind together the human race. Since we make others feel like "losers" or "lesser persons" or "less than persons" by this onslaught on their esteem, such persons are nullified, in a sense, so they have to try to assert the self again. This is often done through various "attention getters."

Some "attention getters" used to massage the ego in hopes of regaining a sense of personhood:

being rebellious                 "I reject you."

being bossy                        "I am leader."

being dishonest                  "I am sly."

being sensational               "I am unusual."

being boastful                    "I have accomplished."

being self-centered            "I am important."

being "martyred"               "I suffer."

being self-righteous           "I am good."

being perfectionistic          "I am flawless."

being boisterous                "I am here!"

being sullen                       "I am not impressed."

Your Self Esteem

Always keep in mind that your self esteem is not dependent on others! Never think less of your self based on the thoughts of others.

1. Acceptance of you as a person

You were neither created nor endowed by any man. You were created and endowed by your Maker; you came from Him and will return to Him! You are a person and most unique since no one has ever been just like you, and no one can change that!

2. Approval of your intentions

You need no one's approval for your hopes and dreams. Your hopes and dreams are just that - YOURS! We all are taught when babies to win approval, and to avoid disapproval, from our parents. Thus, we live for years doing just that! Now, however, you are a grown-up person - your own person - and the approval of others is not necessary; Others may not know enough to qualify for approving or disapproving in regards to your life.

3. Appreciation of your accomplishments

Your importance as a person does not depend on whether your efforts are appreciated. You do what you do because it is your desire and capability as a person to do so. Tell yourself that because it is true! Tell yourself that many times a day if necessary.


If you believe and practice these three above, you will find that, being independent of others regarding your worth and esteem, you will:

view others objectively

view no one as threatening

discover the great potential in your life to be a very real, strong, noble, loving person.



Saturday, October 03, 2015

Big Week, Part 3: Dream

Last Tuesday, between the faculty gala and the choral hall opening, I addressed our departmental recital gathering (the weekly meeting of all our music majors) along the following lines.

Dr. Ingle, our university's president, set the tone for this academic year with the word "dream," so I would like to consider this topic of dreams together as musicians.

During the summer, I visited with a couple of old friends - friends who trained to be professional musicians. As we are all reaching middle age, we reflected that, while we are working in music, the primary duties of our jobs are not the things we trained for. Yes, we spent hours and hours learning how to perform a musical phrase with elegance and healthy technique, but since then, we have also learned to tutor students, to write good e-mails, to manage budgets, etc..

This being paid for things you didn't exactly train for is actually the norm. (And, by the way, it is a good reason for pursuing a liberal arts education.) But more than being the norm, this emphasizes that music is ultimately a gift to humanity. Yes, we do have gifts for performing music, but we are also to give that music to others. My friends and I agreed that, whether we were working professionally in music or not, we would still be making music and giving that gift. We do not have to be paid money for it, although it's nice to be. Our real pay is in the giving of the gift, in being part of a design that brings blessing to the world.

We music faculty want gainful employment for our students after they have finished their degrees, and hopefully that work will be in music. But achieving employment, even in music, is not really our central desire for our students. If our students' dreams are simply to be employed as musicians, and they achieve that goal, what then? What do the remaining years of their lives look like? What propels them to keep achieving and what gives meaning to that work?

And so I turn to questions that I first heard proposed by my friend, Brother Stefan Waligur. (Stefan is a great composer and an equally great friend whose gifts for empathy and getting to the heart of a matter are profound.)

Br. Stefan asks:

What are you doing with your music?

Whom are you loving with your music?

When we consider what we hope to accomplish with our music-making, we Christians tend to turn first to worship. Some of us are called to explicit church ministry, but not all of us. Those who serve by supporting the worship of congregations would do well to dream of three types of prayer found in the Psalms. I will list and briefly discuss them below but they are explored nicely here.

1. What should be obvious to most of us, worship involves praise and thanksgiving.

2. A second facet of what the psalmist offers - and something we don't frequently provide our congregations in any significant measure - is the opportunity to lament. Much of the world lives in lamentable situations, situations in which Christ joined them on Good Friday, but more often than not, we are not willing to linger with them even though many of these brothers and sisters have no choice but to lead their entire lives essentially on the cross or in the tomb. For a very challenging word on this topic, see this writing by Dr. Miguel De La Torre.

3. A third spiritual orientation is played out in the Psalms and that is the calming and quieting of the soul as referenced in Psalm 131 and other places. These words suggest a mode of relating with God that moves beyond praise or requests, nourishing trust and inviting intimacy, instead.

There is music that expresses and catalyzes thanks, lament, and silence. This is music of the church that could make a difference for the world. And a great many of us are called to make music "out there" in secular space where the needs of the human heart are just as great. A number of powerful passages speak to the possibilities of music in that arena and help us know how to build our dreams.

Exodus 15 - Miriam's celebration
What do we celebrate as individuals and as a culture?
We should be on the lookout for what to celebrate so as to help others recognize its specialness and importance. Musicians have a strong voice in defining what and how to celebrate.

Exodus 31 - Moses' remembrance
Poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses reviewed and interpreted Israel's history for his nation.
What history do we need not to forget?
World War I, the Holocaust . . .
but good things, too -
the lives of saints, the legacies of those who shaped us and of those who answered God's call. 

Joshua 6 - Jericho's walls
What sorts of walls do we see that need to come down?
Joshua's story teaches something about the real labor of bringing down walls. And this is it: While the quick clip of the wall falling flashes across the broadcast news and captivates our imaginations, the real work of advocacy consists of untold days and years, even generations, of preparation. The advocate comes to recognize the need for change then works and works and works to raise consciousness, and then just keeps keeping at it until critical mass finally weighs heavily enough on the wall. Somewhere in all of this, music can be a megaphone for the powerless. 

I Samuel 16 - Saul's therapy
Who is troubled and can be relieved by our music-making?
When we reach out to bring relief through music, we enter into relationships, and, just as in David's case, those relationships might well determine the very course of our lives.

Acts 16 - The pastime of Paul and Silas
I picture it like this: at midnight, having been flogged, jailed, and put in stocks, Paul looks to Silas and says, "So what do we do now?" and Silas says, "Let's sing some of those hymns you like." And so they persisted in faith and in the holy pastime of private worship. And God responded. We who strive to make music professionally for others sometimes forget to make it in our homes and to express our heart to God with it, whatever the situation.

Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3
What needs to be taught or learned? Who needs to be encouraged and to what end?
Music plays a role in these things, too, and perhaps a greater role than the factors we normally think contribute to these dynamics.

In conclusion, I think of Brother Stefan again and of another of the probing questions God has given him.

As we go out from Southeastern to the places of our lives' service, do we truly believe God loves us?

So often, we focus so much on ideas of our sinfulness and God's justice that we never allow ourselves truly to accept that God loves us. The initial posture of the prayer Jesus taught us was that of a child speaking to a parent, not of a lawbreaker begging a judge. I believe we need to pray that way until we can give the gift of music with the purity and freedom the world needs.    

An open space and a little window through which one might dream

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Big Week, Part 2: Choral Hall!

Toward the end of the week, we celebrated a major achievement for our department and the university: the building and opening of our first facility designed specifically for music. The space is a beautiful room for choral rehearsals and will also house jazz ensemble and string orchestra rehearsals for the next year or so. Another larger rehearsal room for wind ensemble and orchestra is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016.

Just before the public ribbon cutting, we held a brief event for donors in the space during which our dean, two students, and I spoke. Dr. Gordon also led Chamber Singers in Bruckner's "Locus iste" which was a perfect choice for the occasion.

My remarks ended up being about the legacy we have received and what should be the impact of that on the future. I shared those remarks a few days ago here. In the process of preparing those remarks, I found myself contemplating the contributions of the two men in the middle of organization who led us to this special day. Of course none of this could have been done without the vision of the university's administration or the gifts of donors, but as chair, I have special knowledge of the contributions of our former chair and our dean, Drs. Tindall and Collins, contributions which might be overlooked in the excitement of the event.

Dr. Tindall was brought to Southeastern as chair nearly thirty years ago. He built the department just about from scratch and committed his entire career to "building people" in our programs. He did so with humility through the constant change of these decades in American universities and in Christian higher education in particular. It has been his dream for years and years and years to move that solemn, people-building work into facilities worthy of the endeavor, and he has hung in there until this has finally started coming to pass. Without his service, dreams, and sacrifice - a great deal of which took place before the rest of us came to SEU - we would never have reached this milestone.

And from the dean's office, Dr. Collins has cogitated, advocated, and collaborated pretty much non-stop from his first day on the job to make this milestone a very fine one. He has considered every detail of the building and has masterfully consulted with everyone involved from the architect to the builders to the donors so that the facility would be of the highest quality. His passion and effort has been thorough-going and I simply cannot imagine anyone achieving this better than he has.We are blessed to have him spearheading such works in our midst.

Over, around, and through the work of these colleagues, there is a sense that the entire project is something much bigger than any of us, and this great synergy, spanning from our alumni to the impact of our programs on the distant future, seemed evident at the ribbon cutting. Even bigger than our collective imaginings and our best efforts at plans at the University, I dare say I believe we are finding ourselves within a movement of the Spirit. I hope this strengthens the faith of others as it has mine.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Big Week, Part I: Faculty Gala

First Presbyterian, Lakeland
This week was a big week for all of us here in the Department of Music at Southeastern. It started with the first concert of our season, the faculty gala.

This time around, the gala was built around the concept music of the Americas and my colleagues provided works ranging from Canada to the Caribbean. I was particularly pleased by the variety of works spanning opera arias, chamber music (including a work for snare drum and computer), and jazz. A favorite aspect of this concert for me was being introduced to the music of Srul Irving Glick. I am copying the program and a few remarks shared during the gala at the end of this post.

I also enjoyed getting back into thinking about a canon of American keyboard works that could serve as an alternative to the traditional European canon that most of us continue to promulgate. I am not looking to displace that canon, but I am interested in providing a somewhat parallel set of experiences developed on our shores that raises awareness of how things have evolved here.

There are several points that are on my mind today regarding that alternative canon.  

1. It’s lacking in significant Baroque-era works. That should not come as a surprise as we didn’t get the country started quite early enough. Even after Bach and others were done writing in a heavily contrapuntal style in Europe, we were mostly just starting to get a bit of musical infrastructure in place. By the time that was a little bit up and running, early Classical music was on the scene. Some composers had come across the ocean with those new ideas while others already here were operating with older models suggesting a compositional mindset that almost had more in common with Medieval procedures than those of the Baroque or Classical periods.

At that time, Alexander Reinagle was writing in an early classical style informed by what was idiomatic on harpsichord and fortepiano. His dances and variations can provide a sense of airiness similar to what a Handel suite or Mozart variations might contribute to a European-based recital.

2. It seems that the early American repertoire is much more engaged with British material than the mainstream European music that has survived in the standard repertoire. While Scottish songs of Haydn or Beethoven are occasionally performed, the keyboardist playing early American music will be frequently confronted with sets of reels, variations on fiddle tunes, and references to British military triumphs.

3. As one moves toward the repertoire of the 20th century, Afro-Cuban influences become more and more important. Beginning with Gottschalk’s musical souvenirs of Havana and continuing with the crossover of those ideas into ragtime, Latin rhythms become a part of the fundamental vocabulary of music in the United States. In some ways, our music might be a whole lot better integrated than our nation.

Jefferson’s March - Alexander Reinagle (1756-1809)

The Willow Song - Douglas Moore (1893-1969)

Ricordanza - George Rochberg (1918-2005)

Stop Speaking - Andy Akiho (b. 1979) 
Caprice: Sui Moi! - Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Monica’s Waltz - Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)                                                                           
Suite Hebraique no. 6 - Srul Irving Glick (1934-2002)
St. Thomas - Sonny Rollins (b. 1930)


Who is an American? Where is an American? When is an American?

These three increasingly strange sounding questions remind us that the American experience differs significantly depending upon one’s culture, location, and moment in time. The music of this year’s faculty gala has been chosen to move us across such boundaries of geography, history, and ethnicity so as to hear, as it were, America singing.

We begin in the early days of the United States with a march composed for our third president. Then, Dr. Braamse will join me for an aria from the 1950s that is strongly suggestive of folk music, particularly British folk music which shaped the sound of American popular music in the 1800s. Our third work is described by its composer as a “commentary” on the opening passage of a Beethoven cello sonata and leads us to recollect the Germanic roots of American classical music.


More and more, we find ourselves collaborating with machines. And these machines seem to be taking on a life of their own. But it is a life that we gave them. We are about to hear a work that explores that very relationship. A snare drum over there and a “digital storyteller” over here are going to have a conversation. That has always been the ideal of chamber music: a conversation. So the concept of this piece is tried and true, but some of the sounds are new and reflect the age of machines in which we are living.

At yesterday’s rehearsal, I checked the volume level with a decibel meter and I can assure you that what you are about hear will never be louder than 90 decibels and will generally not be much over 80 decibels. That means that the sounds bouncing around the room will not be much louder than a rather noisy car driving down the street. This performance will also rarely be significantly louder than it is at its beginning. I tell you that so can relax and not be worried that it will suddenly get much louder. However, the sounds will continue at a fairly intense level for a while. So those with hearing aids or those with sensitive ears who are sitting directly in front of the amplifier might want to make some little adjustments.

Mr. Blume is doing a great service by performing a work like this right here on our concert series. While this work might seem a bit abstract or odd to some of us, it is representative of the huge repertoire of electro-acoustic music that has been created since the advent of the tape recorder. And, like any work of art, “Stop Speaking” is open to a range of interpretations. So you should feel free to find it off-putting, or witty, or maybe even poignant.


A New Orleans native, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, was the first American pianist to achieve acclaim in Europe. In addition to his time there, he went on numerous tours performing in the United States and in Latin America. His many experiences abroad are expressed in works like the one you just heard which combines a Chopin-like flare for the keyboard with the rhythms Gottschalk heard in the music of Cuba.

Now we turn to another aria from the mid-20th, century this time from Menotti’s The Medium. The character Monica is singing to, and on behalf of, a mute boy named Toby who works as a servant in her home. Monica is expressing their affection for each other. After this aria, Mrs. Gardiner and I will share a beautiful work by the prolific Canadian composer, Srul Glick who is well known for his contributions to concert music and to the Jewish liturgical repertoire.


Our final selection this evening is a great example of sounds of music that journey through time and space to create a sense of identity in our hemisphere. The tune, St. Thomas, is thought to have its origins in an English tune that first appeared in print in the 1770s. Transplanted to the Caribbean, in was transformed into a nursery song. Finally, through the “interpretation” of Sonny Rollins it has become a jazz classic.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Excellence with Anointing"

I'm sharing my remarks from this morning's SEU Choral Hall ribbon cutting below for those who might be interested.

It is my honor and privilege to speak to you today on behalf of the music faculty.

We could not be more grateful or more deeply touched by the fact that our university’s administration and all of you generous donors have made this moment possible.  You should know that scores and scores of alumni, as well as faculty members who came before us, are rejoicing because they dreamed of this day, and they committed to our programs even though they had no hope of benefitting from the exquisite experience of learning and working in a wonderful space like this. 

They left us a legacy of “excellence with anointing.”[1] It is our joy to carry on that tradition much more fully equipped because of your giving. In this room, we will continue to train students for artistic distinction and we will provide them with paths to professional fulfillment.

But we will also challenge them with holy questions -
questions like: “What are you doing with your for music?” . . .
questions like: “Whom are you loving with your music?[2]

So I feel confident in telling you that by building this facility you have invested in students who will make a difference in this world and the next.
Like Miriam in the desert, they will teach their peers what and how to celebrate.[3]

Like Moses on the banks of the Jordan, they will sing out the history that should not be forgotten.[4]

Like Joshua at Jericho, they will play down walls that need to fall. [5]

Like David with Saul, they will calm the souls of the troubled. [6]

And like Paul and Silas in the dungeon, they will worship and God will move.[7]

We know these students, and that is what they’re going to do.

[1] Dr. Danny Tindall
[2] Br. Stefan Waligur
[3] Exodus 15
[4] Deuteronomy 31
[5] Joshua 6
[6] I Samuel 16
[7] Acts 16