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Giving Thanks Always and for Everything

So... how was your year?

As we begin to emerge from our various states of isolation and consider re-entering society, this could be a common question on the lips of many of us, even if it is still asked from behind a mask. This might also be an appropriate question from those who have read my blogs in the past, considering that it has been more than a year since I've posted anything. Usually, when I post, it's because of a new piece, performance, or event about which I'm excited to share. As I mentioned in my last post in April of last year, the pandemic has proved to be a somewhat uninspiring time for me as a composer. But that doesn't mean I haven't kept busy.

In truth, this has been an extremely busy year for me. At St. Peter's, where I have served as Music Director for nearly 20 years, we have learned to make tremendous adjustments for pre-recorded, live-streamed, and limited-capacity celebrations, not only for regular Sundays, but for the major feasts of Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, etc. Our Cantors have really stepped up to the plate in the absence of choral singing, and I, for one, have learned a lot about music-making in a time of pandemic. Primarily, I have come to appreciate even more just how important our liturgical and sacred music is to the lives of our parishioners and so many others. And I have found that I greatly miss working with our wonderful choir. Despite all of the limitations and challenges around being a church musician during this time, it has been a time of real, positive growth.

The same can be said of learning to teach piano on Zoom, and of the decision my wife and I made to homeschool our three children over this past year. Despite the great challenges presented by these situations, we have found success. As difficult as the pandemic has been, there is still much to be grateful for as we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.

I have also been blessed this year with the long-awaited opportunity to begin graduate study. Last August, I was accepted into the MM in Sacred Music program at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, nearly 20 years after completing my undergraduate degree. Westminster has a long history as a distinguished school for church musicians, and, in recent years, it has developed an online program for those like myself who are already working in the field. The online design of the program lends itself well to study during pandemic conditions, and I have relished the opportunity to enrich my work in this way. The professors involved with this program have been excellent, and I am receiving exactly the kind of education I was hoping for. Through the program, I was even given the opportunity just a few months ago to have a fascinating one-on-one conversation, via Zoom, with one of my favorite choral conductors, the great André Thomas.

Screenshot from my interview with Dr. Thomas

Now, having already stated that I've experienced a dearth of compositional inspiration over this past year, I do have one new piece that I would like to highlight with this post. It is a setting of Psalm 139, inspired by one of my wonderful professors at Westminster. I hope to make use of it at St. Peter's in the near future. The refrain expresses gratitude to God for the gift of his Creation, acknowledging that we, ourselves, are gifts of God's creative Spirit. This seems a particularly appropriate sentiment during these times in which we are living.

Writing this new piece seems to have opened up a door of inspiration for me, and I have begun to conceive of new pieces that I plan to write. Hopefully, I will be sharing these with you down the road in blog posts to come.

And so, because St. Paul exhorts us to address one another in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs... giving thanks always and for everything..." (Ephesians 5:19), I'd like to share this new piece with you. Click here to go to the score page for this new piece: Psalm 139: I Thank You. You will find a recording of the entire piece at the bottom of the page. (You can also navigate to it in the "Ordinary Time" section of my Sacred Music page.) I hope that you will find this piece inspiring, as well, and that it will help you to reflect on the important part of God's Creation that you are.

It is profoundly interesting to me to look back on what was such a challenging year for so many of us and feel that the most meaningful response must be gratitude. I can often find it difficult to see my way clearly to true gratitude for the many blessings in my own life. Thankfully, I have my wife, my children, and many others to help guide me when I get lost along that way. I hope that this setting of Psalm 139 might, in turn, help you in some small way to reflect on your own blessings and find your way to gratitude.

For my part, I am grateful for all of you, who are, as the Psalm says, so wonderfully made.


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