Sunday, July 29, 2012

A visit to a Southern Baptist church for personal history reasons; and some music pointers


I visited a supposedly “conservative” Baptist church this morning, the Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, VA (it has two other locations in northern VA and a variety of worship service formats).

My reason for doing so was to look up the church whose home health service had provided my mother’s care back in 1999 when she had coronary bypass surgery.  I’ve talked about the significance of this episode of my life on other blogs under my “conflict of interest” discussions.

The church has a complete symphony orchestra, which performed a set of variations on “Nearer My God to Thee: by Hogan.

The main anthem was Jane Marshall’s “My Eternal King” (with organ and chorus, but not orchestra), which I have already discussed here March 4, 2012. 

Back in the 1970s (as I best recall), the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC (often covered here) had a “Bach Orchestra” organized by its minister of music at the time, Alvin T. Lunde. Most of the music it performed in special concerts was baroque or earlier. 

The pastor, Dr. Jim Baucom, gave a totally non-political sermon, explaining how he saw “the Church” as arising out of the relationships among the members who form it, and he even started by saying (after taking a straw hand poll) that he didn’t believe in “organized religion”.  No presidential candidates (or any of their issues) were mentioned, but they both would have done well to hear his message.

I notice something interesting about the hymnal.  Many hymns explicitly showed a transposition up a half-step or a whole-step for a final verse.  It's not a practice that makes musical sense to me.  I didn't see any hymns by Hubert Parry ("I Was Glad"; "Oh, Jerusalem") in the composer index; other denominations have lots of them.  I recalled then another controversy back in the 1960s at First Baptist downtown, when it had a Peabody Conservatory student, William C. Evans, as organist (who actually gave organ lessons, including to me).  Some members then did not like the "modern" music played during offertories and wanted just "hymns".  Okay, maybe some regular hymns could use some polytonality; just not obvious transpositions.    

After the 75-minute service, there was a special luncheon ($6, Japanese chicken), and I was lucky enough to sit with former graduates of my own Washington-Lee High School.  I missed the 50th Anniversary Reunion last October because of an event the same weekend in Williamsburg at William and Mary, so today, I celebrated my own high school “reunion”.  Today’s events made for a very productive field exercise as well as worship.

The experience gave me pause to recall my own experience as a substitute teacher, in a music and band class that I previously discussed here on Oct. 17, 2008.

It seems to me that I did miss a real opportunity to “step up”.  How?  I could have told the class (sixth to eighth graders) of my own “stake” in music, for what it was.  I could have talked about the twelve years of piano, the Wednesday ear training classes held by my first piano teacher, until she suddenly passed away in 1958 (when I was in ninth grade) .  I could have even talked a little about composition – my hand written manuscripts.  I should have gone with what I had, which is really considerable.  I don’t know why I choked.  Or maybe I do.
 Last picture is Baptist World Alliance in Falls Church, VA.  The Columbia Baptist Church is listed online as part of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

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