Remembering the musicians who have gone before

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Last week was one of the two weeks of continuing education I spend annually away from the parish office. Professional sacred musicians are usually affiliated with hosts of professional organizations, all of which seem to be known by acronyms: AGO, AAM, ACDA, RSCM, OHS, HMA, CG and LPM, just to name a few from my personal list. With time and money short, each year I make choices about which conferences to attend and which ones will benefit my own ministry and work the most.

For decades now, I have attended the annual conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians (AAM), the professional organization for Episcopal and Anglican musicians. Last week’s conference was held in Tampa, Florida, where we spent a week singing (300 sacred musicians functioning as a congregation can really raise the roof) and worshipping at all hours of the day and evening, listening to organ recitals, listening to choral concerts, hearing premiers of new choral and organ works, attending plenary sessions and workshops and regional meetings and, of course, renewing relationships with friends whom we have not seen in a year or more.

Throughout the years, I have been asked to wear a number of AAM hats in service to the organization, for which I am humbled and grateful. This year, however, a unique opportunity came my way when I was asked to serve as a lector in the Closing Eucharist. As a career parish musician who always has to “play for church,” I am delighted whenever asked to do something in the liturgy that is non-musical. I happily ascended to the lectern to read my lesson, which I had specifically “practiced with care” (as Father Andrew would say… see below). It is always best to not flub, especially in front of 300 colleagues.

The Closing Eucharist of each AAM conference is when the officers of the AAM Board are installed and when the names of those AAM members who have died in the previous year are read out in the Prayers of the People. This year’s list sadly included many names of personal friends and mentors, people who I will miss and think of often: Rich Mays (president of Sonare Recordings and assistant musician of St. John’s, Savannah), Lois Fyfe (president of Lois Fyfe Music in Nashville from where I still order lots of music to this day), Paul Reynolds (longtime parish musician of St. Paul’s, Chattanooga), the Reverend John Andrew (longtime rector of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, NYC), Myles Criss (my predecessor as cathedral musician of Grace Cathedral, Topeka, whose psalm settings I still use), Beal Thomas (one of the legacy parish musicians of Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven) and Neil Robinson (longtime organist of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC, and organ improvisateur and professor of the Manhattan School of Music whom I heard improvise at the organ numerous times).

As members of any local parish remember those who have gone before and who built the church  communities in which we live and work, sacred musicians also stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before and from whom we learned and were inspired.

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