January 13, 2017

 
 

Music Is the Home of the Spirit
Thoughts on Excellence in Artistry in Our Choral Music-Making

Bryan Taylor, SWACDA Music and Worship January 2017

Excellence in choral music-making became apparent for me in 1979 in the Crystal Ball Room at the Tantara Resort in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. I was a junior in high school and was a new member of the Missouri All-State Choir and our conductor was Weston Noble. I had no idea who he was, but after meeting him and singing for him for three days, my life journey, both in music and in thought, had been so indelibly changed.

I heard, for the first time, that amazing “choral” sound that I hoped to recreate throughout my life. The ripple effect that dear Weston began so many years ago continues to move through every hymn, anthem, concert and worship service I prepare for. I understood then, and live with the excitement and hope today, that excellence in artistry creates amazing moments in our lives as performers and for our worshippers and audience members. It also allows our musicians, and us as leaders, the expectation that excellence in preparation and performance is always our goal and desire in offering to God our very best.

Thank you Weston Noble for being my model so many years ago, and for the thousands of singers and directors, audiences, and congregations that you have blessed for instilling this within us.

On December 21, 2016, Weston Noble passed away, a gentle choral giant, and left the world still rippling in waves from his amazing influence. His 94 years were a blessing to so many people. His talks, clinics, institution of teaching at Luther for 50 plus years, those amazing glimmering blue eyes, and contagious and mischievous grin have been a main-stay and life-changer for so many of us who were lucky enough to know him, sing for him, and learn from him.

In 2005, Missouri ACDA brought him to our summer convention, where he led our Adult Church/Community Honor Choir and several sessions for our MCDA members. One of his themes was “Music Is the Home of the Spirit,” a thought he generated from a discussion with a former student who was living overseas, was homesick, and called home to talk with Weston. Through that talk, Weston helped him to understand that wherever you are, music can always be the home of the Spirit. That was the essence of his talk with us…..how important the music can be in our lives. He helped us understand that even in dark and uncomfortable times, when we may be away from the ones we love, music could be our home and security which houses God’s Spirit. His theory and belief in this helped him a few short years later when he traveled to South Korea and suffered a bad fall where he broke his pelvis. He was hospitalized there for six long weeks, the only one there who spoke English, he leaned heavily on this belief and it helped him heal and remain calm in times of doubt and loneliness.

Weston also built a three leveled musical performance model, a pyramid, with these three words in it, from bottom to top, BODY, MIND, SPIRIT. The influence for this model came to him from 1 Thessalonians 5:23: I pray God your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It represents our three levels of commitment in musical performance and consciousness. The most basic element of this hierarchy is Body, moving upward in dedication and focus then connects the Soul, and finally, after moving fully upward we engage the Spirit, thus fulfilling our total being and allowing excellence in artistry to flourish at our fullest possibility. This is where Weston lived, thought, created, offered advice, cheered us on, thus always being that bearer of constant excellence and motivation.

On November 30, 2016, I traveled to Decorah, Iowa to both celebrate Weston’s 94th birthday and to listen to the Luther choir’s practice for their “Christmas at Luther” production. Good friend Ann Howard Jones was also an interim director for the Nordic Choir and I enjoyed seeing her conduct and visit with her. In that rehearsal, I was so moved by all aspects of this production and began to write about the experience in the midst of it all. I asked Weston during my visit earlier that day why mainly the Lutheran colleges perform these large Christmas music programs – Concordia, St. Olaf, Luther, and Wartburg Colleges all invest deeply in this function. He thought and paused a moment…and then said, “I guess it has come down from F. M. Christiansen and his making the faith sing – that combination is hard to stop!” After listening to Luther’s orchestra and choirs rehearse for several minutes, it was apparent that the dedication was deep and full of the SPIRIT on Weston’s chart!

What are we doing to add excellence in artistry to our present places of worship? Can you feel the Spirit as you dream for the future, as you lead the rehearsals and planning for the event, and are you personally worshipping along the way? Perhaps the ripples are coming from you, and somewhere there is a singer out there thanking you for what you have done to change their life, their musical and spiritual path! If our choir, our congregation, our world could capture the Body, Soul, and Spirit that you have experienced in your music, what a wonderful world it would be!

Blessings All, Bryan Taylor

You may contact Bryan Taylor HERE