Tag Archives: St John UMC Choir

Easter 2017 Memories

Every year, when Easter finally arrives, I visit churches for the joys of communal Easter celebration but vow this is just a personal experience for me.  Usually later, I find my thoughts bending toward sharing the experiences I’ve been a part of. Easter this year is no exception.

My visits took me to two separate churches of different denominations.  The commonality of the joy was expressed in both, but in different ways.

The first visit was to St. John United Methodist Church’s 9 a.m. service. The music was glorious, full of choral expressions and worshiper singing. Most churches tend to start Easter services with the pastor intoning “Christ is risen!” to which all reply “Christ is risen indeed!” repeated three times and ending with “Allelula!” The same was joyfully done this morning.

The choir’s anthem was “Rejoice, He is Alive” by Shafferman, and beautifully sung. St. John is one of the shrinking number of Anchorage churches still maintaining a fine choir. Ably directed and accompanied by a husband and wife team, they are a credit to this church and our community.

Pastor Andy Bartel’s sermon was titled, “What Are You Looking For” and tied to the New Testament scripture for the day of John 20:1-18, the account of the resurrection discovery and Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus when he asked her what she was looking for. Bartel provided a great challenge for today’s Christian.

The service concluded with G.F. Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, led by the choir and participated in by all. I was invited to join the choir as the led out in this appropriate and beautiful ode to joy, and tribute to the Messiah. Wonderful service at this friendly church!

The 2nd service I attended was at First Covenant Church, downtown Anchorage. To me, this church offers its multicultural congregation wonderful evangelical services.  My few visits there have been accentuated by hymnody led by a spirited singing group of six, using acoustic instruments, stepping through hymns in an upbeat fashion. This day their songs included, “Low in the Grave He Lay”, “Amazing Love”, “I Surrender All”, and “The Easter Song”.  An all-church choir came forward to sing that old evangelical song, “He Lives”.

Pastor Max Lopez-Cepero’s sermon was actually a reading of noted author Walter Wangerin, Jr’s “The Ragman”. I considered it to be a remarkably moving tribute to the power of Jesus in changing people’s lives. If you care to read it click this link. http://tinyurl.com/n3uky2g

There was a baptism of a young man as the service was concluding. First Covenant practices full immersion baptism and it was a scene of joy as he was baptized while his family looked on.  All were invited to a coffee and dessert reception as the service concluded.

I was filled with joy and wonder at the power of religion to bring hope, and the celebration of that hope by these two churches this Easter. Although only four weeks has passed since Easter, the memories of it linger in many hearts, including mine.

Blessing can be a beautiful gesture – 8/30/14

Last week’s pictures Erik Hill took of Father Leo Walsh blessing a float plane flooded my mind with the many kinds of blessings we Alaskans are fortunate to have offered on our behalf, or things we consider important in our lives. This week I’ve been thinking about blessings, both those offered by clergy and the kind we bestow to others our lives may touch.

In my contact with churches and clergy recently, I’ve been touched by the blessings I’ve seen given, and saddened by missed blessing opportunities. Some time ago, when meeting with Father Leo Walsh of St. Benedict’s Parish, I asked him about blessings. He said, with a twinkle in his eye, “We Catholics bless everything.” Later, Father Leo offered this reflection.

“A blessing is a way of reminding us that God is present to every aspect of human existence. In the life of the Church we sanctify (​bless​) three things​:​
* people​, such as clergy, married couples, consecrated religious, etc.;
* time, holy hours, holy days, such as Sunday​s, Christmas, Easter (that’s where the word “holiday” comes from);
* places, such as churches, shrines, cemeteries, and homes.​

​“In addition we bless various objects for prayerful devotion such as rosaries, crucifixes, medals of saints, holy water, etc. We also bless various items for daily use such as tools, boats and fishing gear, and of course, aircraft. When blessing an aircraft (or any means of transportation) the priest asks for God’s protection on those who will use it.

“When a new family moves into the parish, I am often asked to bless the house they live in. This makes sense because the Church exists in its most basic form at home in the life of the family. Thus, it makes sense to bless the home as the sacred place where the domestic Church lives out its primary existence.”

 “A most touching blessing story happened a couple of years ago when I blessed Scott Janssen’s dogs before he ran the Iditarod. You may recall that was the year when one of his dogs collapsed and he revived it with mouth to mouth resuscitation. Scott said that there was just something that would not let him give up on that dog. Perhaps the blessing at the start was part of the mix.”

Recently, I’ve spent considerable time with Orthodox Christians in Alaska. As a result, I’ve come to respect their beliefs and traditions. I asked Father Marc Dunaway of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River for his perceptions about blessings. Here’s his response:

 “There are many blessings prayers in Orthodoxy. These are found in our ‘Book of Needs’ or in Greek, ‘Euchologion.’ The idea is that every part of a Christian life — everything, every event, every deed — is to be offered to God and filled with His grace. Special prayers of blessing can be requested by people according to what the people are used to. For example the beekeeper in our parish often asks one of our priests to bless the hives at the beginning of the season. At Transfiguration you saw the blessing of grapes, traditionally done on this day. But all Orthodox especially enjoy the Blessing of Homes following the Feast Day of Epiphany (or Theophany) which is celebrated on January 6. This Feast Day remembers Christ’s Baptism. At this service Water is blessed and then the church building and the people are blessed with it. In the weeks following the priest brings this same water into every home of the Church and the family and the priest say and sing prayers together while they go from room to room sprinkling the holy water.”

I grew up in a home where we followed the example of our parents and said a blessing before each meal, thanking God for the food and asking for his blessing upon it. Many Christian families have fallen away from this habit but it sets a powerful example for our children and is passed from generation to generation. Often, when eating in public, folks are embarrassed by doing so in an open manner, but why?

Pastor Bob Mather of Baxter Road Bible Church traditionally ends his services with the following blessing: “Lord, I want to pray a blessing over every person here, every man, woman and child. I pray Your grace would rest upon them, and that they would feel Your presence in their lives. Give them wisdom so that they can make good decisions and wise choices, keep them safe and bring them safely back to us. And in Your name I pray, amen.” Mather notes if he doesn’t pray this prayer, people tell him they really like this prayer of blessing and want him to continue.

St. John UMC choir has a beautiful tradition at the conclusion of each practice. Each member stands facing the rest of the group and sings: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace, and give you peace; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you, be gracious; the Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.” It’s sung a cappella and gives one shivers. It’s based on Judeo-Christian blessings found in Numbers 6:24-26 (RSV).

Regardless of our individual religious traditions, blessings form an important glue in binding us to God and to one another. Every faith has them. Incorporate them in your life and you will be blessed.

Original ADN Article

Vivaldi’s Gloria – St. John UMC – Sunday 7 p.m. – Don’t Miss It!

Karen Horton, Choir Director and Organist of St. John UMC has prepared an Advent treat for the Anchorage community this coming Sunday, December 9 @ 7 p.m.

The St. John Choir has been practicing the Vivaldi Gloria (RV 589) for months. This baroque religious musical piece is one of the best known and well loved choral/chamber orchestra pieces in the world. Karen is retiring from her music roles at St. John at the end of this month. Come celebrate with the choir as she moves into her last few weeks concluding a successful and inspired tenure with St. John UMC.[img_assist|nid=163013|title=Antonio Vivaldi|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=340|height=490]

Horton’s choir performed this work four years ago which I commented upon in this blog post. Using the terms Musical Fireworks!!!, I was very impressed with this presentation of the Gloria.

The Gloria has the following movements, and is performed in less than an hour.

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Chorus)
Et in terra pax (Chorus)
Laudamus te (Sopranos I and II)
Gratias agimus tibi (Chorus)
Propter magnam gloriam (Chorus)
Domine Deus (Soprano)
Domine, Fili unigenite (Chorus)
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei (Contralto and Chorus)
Qui tollis peccata mundi (Chorus)
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (Contralto)
Quoniam tu solus sanctus (Chorus)
Cum Sancto Spiritu (Chorus)

Click here to hear sound samples of each of these movements.

Also being performed are a number of choral pieces for the Advent season. This is the concert of the season and it’s free! A concert flyer is attached for download, below.

Interview – St. John UMC’s Karen Horton: Uncommon Organist & Outstanding Choir Director

This week we focus on another key Anchorage church musician. Karen Horton has been a mainstay in Anchorage’s musical community. She is in her 20th year of teaching music in the Anchorage School District.

Her first ten years with ASD were spent at Williwaw Elementary, while her second ten years were and remain at Rogers Park Elementary. Countless students have had their musical knowledge and skills, shaped and sharpened by this remarkable woman. [img_assist|nid=162209|title=Karen Horton – Lighter Moment at St. John’s Rodgers Organ|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=252]

Church worship music is currently undergoing a drastic change their leaders hope will halt the mass flight of attendees from their churches. I am intrigued by her insights regarding this phenomena.

Karen’s academic background includes a Bachelor’s in Music Education, Major – Organ from University of Central Arkansas, graduate studies at University of Oklahoma concentrating in organ performance, and a Master’s degree from Louisiana State University with a Masters degree in Vocal Pedagogy. I first became aware of her talents when I went to a Christmas program at St. John UMC where she ably led her talented choir through Vivaldi’s Gloria. What a beautiful concert! It was then I determined to find out more about her wonderful talents.

CT – How many years have you played the organ and led the choir at St. John?
KH – My husband Darrell and I started singing in the choir in 1995. I became St. John’s organist in 1996. In January of 2004, I also became the choir director.

CT – In light of the fact that so many church choirs in Anchorage has disbanded, to what do you attribute the long-term success of St. John’s choir?
KH – We have a feeling of purpose and community, the desire to aid in worship and the knowledge that what we do is for the glory of God. The music is one of the big draws. There is always the challenge to stretch the choir musically and to grow toward a closer relationship to God. We perform many different styles and so there is constant variety. We perform everything from chant to Rutter, from Sacred Harp to Handel, from gospel and spiritual to contemporary and traditional hymns. Besides, we just love to sing!

CT – What do you believe the main function of music to be in worship?
KH – Music reaches people on many different levels. It takes the spoken and written word to a new dimension that touches us both mentally and emotionally. As a choir, we are leaders in worship and music should be selected carefully to enhance the worship experience. Music should also be an avenue for the congregation to participate in worship (the work of the people.) Thus, music for congregational singing should be chosen carefully, to encourage people to reach a profound understanding of God and ourselves and as an opportunity to express praise, adoration, humility, service, hope and dedication.

CT – Today’s church music scene is getting louder, more contemporary, and less theological. What is your interpretation about what’s happening?
KH – The contemporary music I hear on the radio seems to be all about the beat and the driving energy of the percussion. The lyrics tend to be superficial and repetitive. I have not listened to much of the contemporary church music but what I have heard seems to fit this pattern. I haven’t figured out why it needs to be so loud. Often the church, in trying to reach the unchurched, has made the music more simplistic and the driving rhythms and loud instruments “yell” at us so that we are overpowered with sound.

We are given no opportunity or inclination to listen to the quiet inner voice that asks us to question what and who we are and what we can contribute in service to God and the world. What good does it do to say “God loves us” and to say “I love God”, and “God is awesome and wonderful” but not take it to the next level of commitment? There are times when we need to shout “Alleluia” but there are times when we also need to reflect and be still. Faith is more than just feeling good about ourselves and praising God. A “childlike faith” is a great beginning but there is more and our music needs to help us journey to the “more.”

When I select music for the choir, the words are my first concern. I ask myself “What is the message? Are these relevant for worship? Do these help in our faith journey?” In our hectic, stress filled lives we are looking for guidance, support, comfort, strength and peace. Don’t misunderstand me. There is good and bad in all styles of music. (Even Bach wrote some doozies!) If we are using contemporary music as our main style, we should be looking for the good. We should find the theologically meaningful music and encourage and support its use.

CT – What has been your greatest challenge as a music leader for a major Anchorage church?
KH – Church choirs perform the most with the least practice of any musical group I know. We are always striving for perfection but have the Sunday deadline of two anthems every week. Our volunteer choir ranges from the “I love to sing but can’t read music” group to people with graduate degrees in music. It is a constant challenge to select music to help them grow musically and spiritually and to keep all of them engaged and excited about what we are doing.

​There is also the balance of performance and ministry. We strive for perfection (it is after all, our offering to God) but must realize that what we do is an expression of faith and that our goal is to create a worship experience that draws both the choir and the congregation closer to God.

CT – What Biblical theme is your personal favorite as a performance theme?
KH – That’s really a tricky question. I tend to select music based on the liturgical year. I also try to coordinate the theme with the pastor’s sermon topic when I know about it far enough in advance. There is good and bad music of every style and in every theme. Whatever liturgical season where the music is relevant and well done always tends to be my favorite. ​If I have to pick a “theme,” I’d say it is that God is among us and in us and that we have the assurance that no matter our struggles and concerns, joys and celebrations, God is always present.

CT – What is your favorite sacred choral piece?
KH – Requiem by Maurice Duruflé reaches to my innermost being and never fails to touch me when I hear it. “Sing My Soul His Wondrous Love” by Ned Rorem and “Set Me As a Seal” by Rene Claussen are two of my favorite anthems.
*During our interview, Karen animatedly shared her story of having the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing Prélude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain op. 7 (1942) on the organ in a master class for Durufle himself.

CT – What is your favorite sacred organ piece?
KH – The key word here is “sacred.” Of the sacred organ pieces there are two that immediately come to mind. J.S. Bach is the ultimate organ composer for me. His chorale, “Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland” (Savior the the Nations, Come) BWV 659 from the “Eighteen Chorales,” is sublime and is filled with beauty and the mystery of the incarnation. It is unfortunately more than five minutes long (also an Advent piece) so I don’t often have the opportunity to play it for services.

​I seem to be picking two favorites for everything but there is so much good music out there its hard to pick just one! My other favorite to play and hear is “Dieu Parmi Nous” (God Among Us) from the Nativité du Seigneur (the Birth of the Lord) by Olivier Messiaen. I love the symbolism of the descending pedal tones of the toccata showing the descent of Christ to earth. In this piece, Christ doesn’t come quietly but with a mighty sound and there is no missing his birth! And besides, its just plain fun to play!

CT – I understand St. John is going to a more contemporary music format. Do you agree with this approach?
KH – Only one of the three morning services will be using the contemporary music format. The other two will be traditional services. I understand that people worship in different ways and have different needs (which is why I as the choir director always seek to include many different styles within the traditional music format) and hope that people will find the style that best meets their needs. I go back to what I stated earlier about their being good and bad music in all styles. I trust that the planner of this service constantly seeks the “good” and strives to make the music theologically meaningful for the congregation.[img_assist|nid=162210|title=Karen Horton in Familiar Territory|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

Thanks to you Karen for sharing some of your story in this interview. You are an inspiration to me and many others.

Faure’ Requiem @ St. John UMC – Palm Sunday – 4 pm

A Holy Week musical treat is being performed for the Anchorage community on Sunday, March 28, 4 pm. The St. John UMC Sanctuary Choir, conducted by Karen Horton, will be presenting the Faure’ Requiem, at St. John’s beautiful church. An orchestral ensemble of local professional musicians will accompany the choir. This concert is presented in honor of the life of Betty Gartner, a lifelong Methodist, who loved to sing in choirs believing music is integral to worship, touching people in ways words do not. Betty was the mother of St. John’s Sandy Langland, who with her husband Marc, has made this Requiem possible through a generous donation. A reception will follow the program.[img_assist|nid=150871|title=Stained Glass – Sacre Coeur – Paris|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=306|height=490]

A short piece, taking approximately 35 minutes to perform, the Faure’ Requiem is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of the requiems. Faure’ in a 1902 interview commented on his requiem.
“It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience. The music of Gounod has been criticized for its overinclination towards human tenderness. But his nature predisposed him to feel this way: religious emotion took this form inside him. Is it not necessary to accept the artist’s nature? As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”


Trio of Advent Treats Served at St. John UMC

[img_assist|nid=135904|title=St. John United Methodist Sign – O’Malley Road|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=352]Summary
Last Sunday, I started out to visit one or two other churches but missed both services due to one church having a non-functional website, and the other showing just a few cars parked just before the posted 10:30 a.m. service time. Instead, I passed both by and headed for St. John United Methodist Church, a friendly and dependable worship venue. What a treat I had! A beautiful morning service accentuated by special music, caring for each other, meaningful prayers, and a welcoming congregation. Pastor Dave Beckett had an unusual advent sermon, filled with probing questions, lots of hope, and illustrated by short clips from the film, Christmas Vacation. I came back for the evening meeting to discover it was a casual version of the morning service, but with the added treat of a musical group of eight singing, playing guitars, instruments, percussion, lots of wonderful Christmas music. The third surprise was an incredible performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria. A choir of approximately 30 singers was accompanied by an eight piece chamber orchestra and piano under the expert direction of Karen Horton. One never knows what will happen when your day doesn’t start out right.

Warm, Friendly, and a Great Christian Community
Earlier this year I visited St. John United Methodist Church, and wrote about it here. I was impressed with their friendliness, warmth, and sense of Christian community. When my planned visits to the other churches fell through [will be covered in a future blog post] , I wondered where I would visit. St. John immediately popped into mind and I’m glad it did.

I felt the service was intensively personal. From the children’s story and lighting of the advent candles, to the congregational sharing of joys and concerns, it seemed a gathering of an extended family. The joys and concerns were real and one could not help but be touched by their being spoken. When a joy is spoken the pastor says “Thank you, God”, and the people respond “Alleluia”. After a concern the pastor says “God, to your love”, and the people respond “We trust this prayer”. During the 11 a.m. service there was special music by the bell choir, always a treat, and a vocal solo accompanied by violin. During the opening of the word, the reader lights a candle and the congregation sings “Thy word is a lamp unto my feed, and a light unto my path.” St. Johns service connects to real, heartfelt, intensive meaning.
[img_assist|nid=135906|title=Advent Candles – St John UMC|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=247|height=490]

Unusual Advent Message
Pastor Dave Beckett’s message format was one he used in some summer sermons, which unfortunately I missed. He uses a film to illustrate, sometimes in outrageous ways, the point he is making. This Sunday he used Christmas Vacation, a funny Chevy Chase film about the meanings of Christmas. Beckett posed the question “What do you want for Christmas?” quickly clarifying the questions further, “What do you really and truly want to happen in the next several days in order for your to feel Christmas joy?” Yes! I like that! But creating and managing family traditions can be difficult. He noted even he couldn’t imagine what future Mary saw for the Son of God when pregnant: his ministry, miracles, and crucifixion. “Don’t we all need to be reminded of Jesus whose birth in Bethlehem was and continues to be the reason for the season? The challenge for us in seeking this Christmas joy is to have ready and open hearts to receive it when it comes.” Quoting James Noland, Beckett continued “Sometimes we miss the extraordinary because we are blinded by the ordinary.” After the last film clip, Pastor Becket summarized “It is one thing to know what would put us in the Christmas spirit. It is another thing to try to force it to happen. The key is to prepare ourselves for when it surprises us. Be ready. Prepare a place for the Christ child in your heart. Joy is very near. Thanks be to God!”

I know I walked out of St. John walking on air. It wasn’t just one thing, it was the whole package, a real Christmas gift for this writer.

Evening Surprises
I discovered the evening worship service at 6:30 p.m. was a more casual version of the morning service with a more relaxed feel, but the same message. A church musical group of eight individuals provided the backdrop of well played music to accompany congregational singing of advent hymns and music of the church. What a great way to end the day and a perfect solution for those who require an evening service due to commitments during the day. A smaller group, but certainly as warm and welcoming as the earlier services.
[img_assist|nid=135907|title=Angel Detail – St. John UMC Sanctuary|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

Musical Fireworks!!!
During the morning service I was made aware of a sacred concert to be performed at 7:30 p.m. at St. John for which I made immediate plans to attend. The work to be performed was Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria. A choir of 30, accompanied by an eight piece string orchestra and piano directed by Karen Horton performed this moving religious work. There were three solos and one duet, performed by women of the chorus and beautifully sung. I was quite moved by the duet “Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.”. It is a tribute to the entire musical group, and to St. John for performing this masterful work as a Christmas gift to the community. It illustrated the manner of Christian love and sharing I’ve come to associate with this fine church.

Looking for a Meaningful Christmas Eve Service?
St John will be having services at 4:00, 5:30, 7:00, 9:00 and 11:00. The two earlier services are for families with children, the 7:00 p.m. service features the Sanctuary Choir, the 9:00 p.m. service is a candlelight service with the Sanctuary Choir, and the 11:00 p.m. service is a candlelight service, music by the bell choir and offers communion.
[img_assist|nid=135905|title=St. John UMC – Sanctuary Interior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]
Maybe I’ll see you at one of these services. Merry Christmas!