Friday, December 31, 2010

London, Day 1

Here we are in London!

David has been accepted into a Master’s programme at the London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts, London.  He will be starting a Master’s of Research in Information Environments this January 10.  David has been searching far and wide for this programme, which is unique in its approach to a number of diverging, interdisciplinary studies – design, fine art, urban planning, socially engaged art, it’s all in there.  (David explains it better than I do!)

So, after a brief stay-over in Toronto, basically to collect our wits and apply for visas, we have packed up our bags and moved to London, England!  I am sitting in the living room of our friends Sue and Mark’s house in Dulwich, a south-eastern suburb of London.  It is around 9:30pm on New Year’s Eve – Happy New Year, everyone!

We had a very smooth flight that got in at 5:30 this morning.  We were picked up at the airport by a cab service provided by David’s school for international students – why, thank you!  (Did you know they drive on the other side of the road here??)

We got to Sue and Mark’s around eight in the morning, which felt like one in the morning for us – confusing to go to bed first thing in the morning!

Hope you will join us for our adventure!

We went for a little walk around the neighbourhood today – I was pretty excited to see a double-decker bus for the first time!  I’ve always thought it’s interesting to see what groceries look like from different places – here’s our first little trip to Sainsbury’s.

Let me explain; no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Hello faithful blog followers,

I just dusted off my blog, a good seven months after graduating from Perkins School of Theology and moving back to Toronto, too see that my last post was about Comps, which were essentially a year ago. Shame, shame!

David and I are on to a new adventure (about which more presently) and I look forward to blogging about it for your reading pleasure. However! I felt I couldn’t start into our new chapter without closing out on the old one.

So, in the words of the great Inigo Montoya, “Let me sum up.” Here is a blow-by-blow recap of my last few months in Dallas.

December 2010

I had the immense joy of preparing the Seminary Singers in a commission of the Magnificat text from Luke chapter 2 composed by my Dad for mezzo-soprano soloist, choir, and steel pans. I also had the pleasure of conducting the world premiere of it, with my Dad in the “band,” during the 50th anniversary advent carol service at Perkins (hence the commission!) The entire day was wonderful, with the performers singing and playing with gusto, my whole family there getting in on the fun, and an appreciative congregation to receive it. I also got to sing a last-minute solo in a hymn with words by my good (and very talented) buddy, slash Dallas dad, John Thornburg. An amazing evening.

January 2010

As my previous post states, Comps (Comprehensive Exams) were truly gruelling! With a LOT of studying (I spent the First Pres winter choir retreat with my nose in a study binder) and the help of friends and husband, I got through the process unscathed. David and I celebrated the end of the exam day with delivery of our favourite Dallas Chinese food. I passed all parts of the exam on the first try – phew! At that point, I was poised and primed to graduate.

February 2010

On February 21 I “presented” my Practicum service in the Sudie George chapel of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. The Youth Choir, whom I worked with as the intern at First Pres throughout my degree, did a beautiful job singing, playing, reading, and leading the service. My prof Dr. Hawn was on hand to observe and comment on the proceedings. In a juried meeting afterwards, my practicum committee (including parents of my choir members, a young member of the choir, Dr. Hawn and Ken Cooper) had supportive, affirming words for me regarding my call as a church musician. It was a powerful evening and I was very pleased with the worship. Dr. Hawn even took us out for burgers after - what a prof!

The service was called “A Lenten Service of Prayer in Reverence for the Earth,” and incorporated aspects of reflecting and penitence, as appropriate for the liturgical season of Lent, with a particular eye to human stewardship of the earth.

April 2010

With both joy and sorrow we had our last class together as MSM peers toward the end of April. We, of course, made it a time for joyful songs of praise, including a string of musical Psalm settings we each presented to the class.

May 2010

GRADUATION! We did it! After two years of hard work that seemed to simultaneously crawl and go by in a flash, my family (Mom, Dad, Susan, George, David) gathered with me and 2000 of my fellow graduates (that’s the whole cohort, Perkins itself is much smaller!) to celebrate.

I was privileged to be the Standard Bearer for Perkins along with a fellow student – both of us "tied" for the top GPA of the Perkins Graduating Class. The banner is technically called a “Gonfalon” (prompting us MSMs, as we stood in line to process, to try and recall the tune to GONFALON ROYAL) and the two of us led the Perkins class in to their seats on the floor of colossal Moody Coliseum, proudly carrying the banner. By some miracle, I looked right up and found my family in the stands (my eye actually caught sight of my Mom’s red dress first!) and we were able to look at each other as we enjoyed the events of the enormous graduation ceremony, which did not lack for pomp and circumstance. My parents told me after that the procession of the graduates to their seats alone took 45 minutes.

Next in the afternoon was a smaller, more personal graduation in the gorgeous sanctuary of Highland Park United Methodist Church, which is right next to Perkins Campus and David’s and my dorm (it is, like, the largest United Methodist church in Christendom and is nicknamed “the struggling church on the corner” by some!) We enjoyed a beautiful service of worship-cum-diploma granting ceremony, and with much delight went out singing “We Will Go Out with Joy,” cantored by none other than my friend Chelsea Stern. Chelsea and I were delighted to share the honour of the Master of Sacred Music award, which was given during the course of the ceremony. Luckily, we were sitting right next to each other in the choir (sopranos!) and shared a big hug before going down to collect this award, given to “the graduating M.S.M. student who has maintained a high honors level in music studies and performance and who has contributed to the community life of Perkins School of Theology.”

Afterwards, we had a wonderful reception and a chance to say some goodbyes (though we sadly didn’t catch everybody!) I was especially anxious to introduce my parents to my fascinating New Testament prof, Dr. Jamie Clark-Soles. I’m not sure if I’ve talked about her on this blog much (I was too busy studying for her exams!!) but she is super cool. We ended the day with a lovely dinner at Maggiano’s, a restaurant in North Park Mall, with our lovely friends John and Beth Thornburg, and Collyn Hawn.

At church the next morning, the choir of First Pres presented me with a PCUSA hymnal, in which every choir member (in all the choirs of the church, children, adults, youth, bells, even staff!) had marked their favourite hymn. Ken Cooper had very kind words regarding my time at the church – I am so pleased to have known the Coopers and the warm community at FPC Dallas.

After that, David and I crammed our life into a series of UPS boxes, said goodbye to Dallas, and wound up back home! What an amazing and enriching experience. I will always be grateful, deeply grateful, for our two years in Dallas.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Word: Comps.

Hello faithful blogfollowers,

I am writing a quick note from the basement of Bridwell to explain my disappearance. I have been camped out here for the past month preparing for my Perkins School of Theology Master of Sacred Music Graduate Comprehensive Examinations - "affectionately" known as Comps. Four fellow classmates and I have been preparing since before the beginning of Christmas break - cruel timing, no? - for a gauntlet-like series of examinations to determine whether we have, in fact, learned anything over the past two-to-three years. In the case of myself and my friends Chelsea and Andrew (Choral concentration people), we had three separate tasks to complete from Drs. Hawn (hymnology), Anderson (music analysis) and Elrod (choral repertoire / score identification). My organ-oriented peers Megan and Ulston received a similar rundown, but with an organ-related score identification provided by Dr. Larry Palmer, their organ professor.

To cut to the chase, I finally wrote the big exam yesterday morning. Here is a rundown of what was required, from the official instructions we received (you may recall) right around final exam week at the beginning of December:

MSM Graduate Comprehensive Examination


MSM faculty will administer an evaluation that will integrate the major academic fields that constitute the MSM degree (church music history, music theory, the student's applied area—organ or choral conducting, theology, and liturgical studies) and the professional experience of the student with a local mentoring congregation (supervised practicum). The MSM faculty will constitute the student’s comprehensive committee as well as one other faculty member from Meadows chosen in consultation with the student, e.g., Director of Choral Activities or Organ Professor in Meadows or a member of the theory or history faculties.

The MSM Graduate Comprehensive Exam will be administered in two sections:

2) Section Two: Academic Evaluation. This will consist of a two-part written analysis in which the student will bring historical and analytical perspectives to bear on selected works. (**Me again: more on "Section One" later - that has to do with my Practicum Service, which is in February**)

In the first section, the student will be given a score excerpt from a major work studied in his/her curriculum, received a week in advance of the examination. The student will write a 7-10 page double-spaced essay which will integrate points of analysis, performance practice, and history necessary to the preparation and performance of the work. This essay is due to the MSM faculty at the examination period.

(**That was the Dr. Anderson part. I received the middle section of J. S. Bach's motet BWV 225, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied". The middle section is titled "Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet" / "Gott nimm dich ferner unser an", an antiphonal chorale+aria movement. Good times, good times. I'm not supposed to know this, but apparently he liked my essay title - huzzah! The title was: SUBLIME AND MACABRE, INTERWOVEN: J.S. Bach's Musical-Interpretive Approach to a Theology of the Resurrection. Okay, back to the instructions.**)

The second section will be completed during a two-hour examination period. The MSM-choral or -organ track student will receive one unidentified score of a choral or organ work respectively and one unidentified hymn (text and music), on which he or she will produce separate essays. The writing should situate each work in its context (likely era, author of hymn text, composer, genre) and develop a supporting rationale that includes points of analysis and history.

(**We actually got a series of essay questions to prepare on hymnology, and got one essay to actually write on during the exam. Then, my score example was some kind of crazy 20th-century piece - I could tell that much from the extreme chromaticism, and at one point there was a pitched spoken word. Sprechstimme, anybody?**)

Here were the four essay questions we had to be prepared to answer:

Sacred Music Comprehensive Examination

January 2010

The Comprehensive Exam is scheduled for Monday, January 25, 2010 from 10 AM to 12 Noon in the MSM Room (Kirby Hall).

Hymnology Study Questions. One of these questions will be chosen for the exam. Each student will receive a different question upon which to write. A maximum of one hour should be spent on this question. Do not assume that you will receive a question that corresponds to your particular faith tradition. It would be wise to prepare to answer all of the questions. HINT: This is an impossible assignment to do in complete thoroughness. Look at the salient features and organize your thought well. Choose two hymnals that will benefit you the most. (See following note!)

You are entitled to bring one or two hymnals of your choice (no notes or inscriptions may be contained in the hymnals) to this session from which you may refer.

1) Discuss the contributions of the Oxford Movement to hymnody with brief allusions to worship and architecture. Who were the major proponents of the Movement? Briefly discuss six hymns by at least three writers who exemplify this Movement and the significance ofHymns Ancient and Modern as well as the reactionary hymnal The English Hymnal (1906).

2) Discuss the major contributions of Global hymnody since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Include the most prominent sources, authors/composers from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and their impact on North American hymnals. If you were to present an emerging “global hymnody canon” to a hymnal committee, which ten selections would you include on your “must have” list on the basis of global representation, the mission activity of your denomination, immigrant groups in your community, liturgical function, and common usage? Note: Global hymnody for this purpose will be songs that reflect cultures of origin beyond North America (though they may have immigrant communities here) in both text and tune.

3) Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) and Brian Wren (b. 1936) have perhaps made the most significant contributions to English-language hymnody since the 1970s as a part of the “hymnic explosion” to date. Discuss the major themes in their hymns. Compare and contrast their texts, and choose four hymns by each that are representative of their theology, themes, and writing style. HINT: Include use of poetic devices, variety of meters, biblical and theological foci, as well as liturgical possibilities (Christian Year and Sacraments).

4) Choose one major theological concept, e.g., creation, providence, incarnation, passion, pneumatology, ecclesiology, etc., and trace it through hymnody from the 16th century to the present. Cite at least six hymns and discuss the changing theological assumptions through the centuries that each represents. The choice of theological concept is yours.


I was given the Global Hymnody question. It seems that in the end, our kind profs tailored the questions to fit people whose background went along with them. I.e., Megan has a previous Theology degree and got the theological question, Andrew is Episcopalian and got the Oxford Movement question, etc. etc.

So, that's a big hurdle behind me. Overall, I feel quite good about it. Cross your fingers that I passed!!

Oh, and finally:

Here's me studying for Comps in the basement of Bridwell, shielding myself from the insanity with the collected hymns of Fred Pratt Green: