Emmanuel, God with us

It was one of those priceless Christmas pageant moments.  There they were, the children of our parish, all decked out in costume from the ankles up (never mind the historically inaccurate footwear), portraying Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and kings. This year, we had several babies in the congregation available for the part of baby Jesus.

It was good that baby Jesus had understudies, because this particular baby Jesus was fussy.  Crying-spit-out-noonie-fussy.  Finally, after it was clear that baby Jesus wasn’t going to settle down, he was discretely whisked away by his mother.  Um, the actor’s mother, that is.

The pageant continued without pause.  Another baby Jesus was tucked into Mary’s arms.  And wouldn’t you know…this baby Jesus got fussy too.  The actors and narrator continued; the kings strode up the aisle of the church as baby Jesus was swapped out – several times.  How many baby Jesuses did we have? Three?  I lost count, but the entire cast received a rousing round of applause at the end.

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Incarnation.  God with us, God in us.  Multiple baby Jesuses?  No problem.  What better illustration that Christ is in all of us, no matter how fussy and cranky we may be? Emmanuel, God with us.

We are all members of the Body of Christ and we carry this Divine Spark.  So does all of humanity, no matter how buried or ignored the spark may be. Can it ever be truly extinguished?

On this day when we Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, I think of the words of a young Jewish girl who has been one of my heroines for most of my life:

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” — Anne Frank

May the love of Christ be with you and yours this Christmas day and every day.

A Christmas gift of music for you:  Rock My Baby Jesus



Gratitude: Beethoven.

On December 17, 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in the Roman Catholic parish of St. Regius in Bonn.  245 years ago today. The rest, as they say, is history, and so much more.

I’ve loved his music for most of my life.  In childhood, I had a bust of Beethoven on my piano (who didn’t?).  I remember when my grandmother came across this picture of Beethoven in front of his house, framed it and gave it to me.  Beethoven house

My cousin, an artist, created a Beethoven teeshirt for me. What I knew of Beethoven as a child fascinated and frightened me – it was said he had a temper (and he certainly had wild hair) – but oh, his music.  OH, his music!!

Part of the delight and wonder of it was that a budding piano student could play what the Great Man wrote. No waiting years and years for the musical payoff. Who hasn’t tackled Fur Elise with a sense of delight and accomplishment when the notes finally flowed smoothly? And who, knowing of his deafness, hasn’t been awed by the sheer fact that he wrote so much glorious, soul stirring music in silence?

Then again, it wasn’t silent inside of his head, and thank God for that.

There are countless articles, books, histories, etc. written about Beethoven.  A wonderful read, published about 15 years ago, is Russell Martin’s Beethoven’s Hair.  This book weaves together three true and fascinating stories: The story of a lock of Beethoven’s hair, snipped by a student after his death and encased in a locket, the story of two men who purchased it in 1994 and their subsequent testing and investigation of the lock, and the story of Beethoven himself.  It’s a riveting read which sheds scientific information on the centuries-long mystery of what caused his deafness.

Beethoven hair book

It’s not exactly a spoiler alert – the news has been around for a while, although I still see articles online that say “no one knows exactly what caused his deafness.”  The beauty of molecular testing on hair is that you don’t just get a picture in time, you get a picture of what was going on in the body over the period of time that the hair grew.  You see what was ingested; poisons, drugs, etc.

Testing revealed massive levels of lead.  It’s probable that Beethoven had somehow ingested large amounts of lead over the decades prior to his death.

Perhaps even more surprising is what was not found:  No evidence of painkillers for his ever-increasing pain.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  How could a soul so much in touch with the most incredible subtleties of expression bear to dull himself so?  I am more in awe of him than ever.

Who else could introduce such stories in so few notes?  And then, he took those notes and gave us all the details, all the joy, the pain, the yearning.  A man in such pain (for many reasons) wrote the most incredibly healing, magnificent music. One of his great lessons is that there is always beauty, no matter what life gives you.  One work that came out of his deafness was his 9th symphony with its magnificent 4th movement.  It’s music that takes a soul straight to heaven.

I cannot play any of his works masterfully (or even close), yet I play them for myself.  It gives me joy to do so, and sometimes it just gives me solace.

Today, and every day, I am grateful for the music and the life of Ludwig van Beethoven.

– – – – – – –

The Guevara lock of hair is permanently housed in the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose University.

Filling in the Gaps

Our church has a small but dedicated choir, but we often  compliments such as “it sounds like the loft is FULL! It sounds like there’s a lot more people singing up there than there is!” It’s a lovely comment, especially as we’re often more of a quartet than a choir.

My friend (and fellow chorister) Margaret recently observed: “I think that God comes in and fills in the empty spaces for us.”


We do sing with intention. We want to give our best to God, to our church family, and to Leon (our choir director who brings out the best in us).  I think Margaret got it just right: God does fill in the spaces and magnifies our efforts. God can enlarge what we do if we allow it. Here’s an example from my own musical life:

On December 27, 2011, I lost my hearing in my left ear.  Unable to find any other explanation for this sudden change (I’m meticulous about hearing protection when performing), my doctors figured it was the result of “a virus.”  Over the next year I went through multiple tests, consultations, and listening to well-meaning folks telling me that it might just be wax in my ears, and why didn’t I just have surgery? I clung to hope of a spontaneous return of hearing (it might happen, my doctor said, we have to give it a year).  I resisted the idea of a hearing aid for a while, and then began to look forward to the one year mark when I could begin the process of being fitted for a hearing aid.

That was not to be.  The sensorineural hearing loss I have does not respond to a hearing aid.  Welcome to life in monaural. I cried a river.

I’ve had to adapt.  In the case of Epiphany’s choir, small is a blessing for me.  I’m able to hear and enjoy the other parts without being distracted or confused.  You can’t sing harmony without listening to what else is going on. While that’s not a problem with two working ears, it’s very tricky with only one. Unison singing can be challenging if we’re not all completely unison.  My fellow choir members have become used to my moving around to find just the right spot to stand in the loft so that I can hear. At least solos are easy.

Recording vocal parts requires adjustment, too.  My music partner Joshua and I recently remixed and re-recorded some demos from our Women at the Well program and released a short CD.  A main objective was to re-record vocals and add vocal harmonies on several of the tracks, and there’s where God filled in the blanks.

Adding the harmonies required overdubbing – me singing different lines over myself.  You can’t do that without hearing everything, and hearing everything with only one ear means the brain is  processing some signals differently.  I can’t exactly describe it, but I do know I had to completely re-learn how to manage this.

Since the only budget for this project was earmarked for CD replication, we were recording at Joshua’s house.  The bathroom was the vocal booth.  Contrary to what you may think, that’s not because of “bathroom acoustics” but rather because it was the quietest room in the house. Since a vocal booth needs to be “dead,” we had a lot of blankets and towels draped everywhere!

It’s a pretty funny picture.  I was standing in a tiny bathroom, blankets draped over the shower curtain rod and piled in the bathtub, a big stuffed teddy bear crammed into the closet-without-a-door, scribbled notation taped to the wall in front of me so I’d remember exactly what to sing (what line am I singing now?) and I’m holding one headphone a couple of inches away from my ear so I can hear where to come in – but not so much as to be confusing….In the middle of all of this, a daddy longlegs spider appeared in the corner to watch.

Our budget also doesn’t allow for autotune, so it had to be perfect.

When I heard the final product, I cried with joy and relief.  I’d feared I’d never be able to do this again, yet there it was, beautiful harmonies and all.

One of the first people to hear the final product was our friend Danny, who plays keyboards and sings backup in a world-touring zydeco band.  Danny knows of my hearing loss, and also understands what’s necessary in overdubbing harmony lines.  How did you do that with just one ear?  he asked.  That’s a miracle.

God stepped in to fill in the blanks inside of my head and ears.  A next-to-nothing budget, Joshua’s considerable production skills and a whole lot of Divine assistance gave us a CD we could be proud of, that we could offer to those who heard our Women at the Well program and wanted to revisit the music again and again.

God fills in the empty spaces wherever we allow God to do so.  My hearing loss makes me realize that if I’m going to keep doing what I love, I need God to fill in those empty spaces.

This morning I was fixing my tea and thinking about Margaret’s comment, our “heavenly choir” and how God fills things out for us.  My eyes fell on a mail order catalog that my husband had left open on the kitchen table.  There was a teeshirt that simply said:

God greater than

God is greater than. Can I get an AMEN? God is greater than anything and will fill in the blank spaces when we allow it.

To learn more about the Women at the Well program, visit www.women-at-the-well.com. For information about the Living Water CD, visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbontherock The CD page has the latest recordings.