Wednesday, 18 February 2009

It's been an interesting few days. I'm busy with academic work, and getting to the end of every day not having finished as much as I'd hoped and intended... that's about normal for this stage of the degree, I think.

Want to see something beautiful? Have a look at this video footage of narwhales.

One thing I didn't anticipate, deciding to start blogging here myself rather than just passively lurking, is that suddenly all the prayer requests seem quite a bit more compelling. I haven't replied to all of them but I have prayed in response to all of the ones I've seen. I've not previously been in the habit of keeping a written list of people or situations to pray about, but I think I might like to start one soon. I don't want to miss anyone out. On the other hand, I'm always going to forget someone or something even if I do keep a list, so maybe a simple "and anyone in need of help" tacked onto the end makes more sense.

It's a little odd, because I still don't really know most of you at all and you don't really know me, but even small niceties like online comments build a sort of connection, a sort of bridge between souls if you like, even if it's tenuous. Jan writes I believe love is a prayer, so we all are joining God's prayer when we love, whether we know it or not. I like that view of prayer.

I wonder how this relates to being kind to the stranger, especially when the help required is more material than prayer or kind words. I think we're all a little more likely to give money or food or shelter to someone we know than someone we don't, even if we find a way to do so anonymously. I can't help everyone without becoming an ascetic myself (and even then, it wouldn't be enough) so maybe that sort of community-within-the-world is as good a method as any to decide where to send help, but there are some obvious flaws: the world is a very interconnected place and just because I'm not directly involved in a community (even on a marginal basis) does not mean there is no need for help, no obligation to help.

I've been thinking more about music and liturgy and worship, but in a different context: that of hospital chaplaincy.

When my grandmother was in hospital I used to visit her with my dad. She had Parkinson's disease, and her body gradually became more and more a prison. Sometimes we would sit and talk, or read poetry that she had written or that we knew she loved. Often we would go to the hospital cafeteria and eat together. Always, we would take her wheelchair to an open area of the building that had a piano in it, and I would play for her. Long after she lost the ability to speak or even vocalise in response to conversations, she could sing along with the music.

Music is a very important part of worship for me, and if I were in hospital and facing a crisis, I think it would be in music that I would find the most comfort and solace. Some things just can't be put into words, and I think I would want to sing, or if I couldn't sing, to be sung to. Some things just can't be put into words. But many hospital chaplains may not be musicians, and I imagine that most hospitals, at least in the UK, are lucky if they have a piano at all. Also chaplaincy as I understand it very often means dealing with people from very diverse backgrounds and (I am generalising madly here) musical traditions in worship tend to be less rigidly standardised than, say, spoken prayers: there may be strict guidelines on what sort of music is appropriate in a given tradition, but in my experience there are almost always various different tunes that can be used for different prayer texts. Very often the musical part of a service is the part that is most variable. So to incorporate music effectively into the pastoral care of hospital chaplaincy would require working knowledge of a huge range of traditions and access to several libraries. The Hospital Chaplaincy Gateway has a link to the Oremus Hymnal, which is a wonderful resource, but it has limits. (And then there is another problem: someone hums something at you, you don't recognise it, they don't remember the words or title: how do you search for it? I understand Google is working on some sort of melody-based audio search but this is extremely non-trivial.)

I'm not done thinking about this, but I'm already starting to wonder whether this is something I should pursue as a volunteer activity, when I've finished this academic degree. I don't know whether I'd want to help compile more extensive online resources, or get involved in the practical side of things; I suspect I would learn more from the latter. But for now I really do have to file this under 'neat ideas to explore when I have time'.


Jan said...

I'm glad to know you read my blog. Thank you for quoting me.

I am impressed with your wonderings about music and chaplaincy. Sounds like nudging from the Holy . . . .which entails waiting and listening. I keep being told to wait. . . .so hard to do. But at least you're busy with school.

Song in my Heart said...


Thanks for the comment, I did mean to go and reply to all of the comments I got last weekend but it's difficult for me to keep up during the week.

I can't ever quite tell what is nudging from the Holy and what is a shiny shiny distraction from my actual work. I tend to be a bit of a magpie.

I consider myself fortunate--blessed, even--to have stumbled upon teaching music privately as something that I love to do, am reasonably good at (still so much to learn! but my students teach me most of it if I'm paying attention), and can earn a living doing. Even when I was at my most depressed and also not very well physically I managed to teach (though I don't think I taught as well then as I do now), and it just feels like that's an important part of what I'm for, if I have a purpose at all. One of the hardest things about being a full-time student is that it limits my teaching hours and I have to turn some students away, and sometimes don't have the resources to teach my existing students as well as I'd like to.

Music performance, for me, is closely related to teaching. I find some piece of music, learn it, try to understand why it is beautiful. Then I go and do my best to show someone else why it is beautiful. I don't have the technical ability or the desire to make this my sole career, and it would take away too much time from my teaching if I tried. But in some way performance is also part of what I'm for, I think, and one of the best things about being at music college is that I have been able to learn this.

I'm fuzzy on the details of what vocation actually is and how it works, but if there is anything I feel called to do it is teaching and performing music.

I think the only way I can find out if some sort of chaplaincy-associated volunteer work is another part of this is to wait and listen, as you say, but also eventually to try it. On first examination it seems to be a very different direction than teaching and performing, or to the composition and arranging that also interest me (but which I haven't had enough time to practise to find out if they are as meaningful for me). Thankfully I have plenty to keep busy with while I'm doing the waiting and listening.

Choralgirl said...

There's one resource that may be helpful to you for ferreting out hymns. It's called a Metrical Index, and it appears in the back of most major hymnals. Count the number of "syllables" per phrase of the tune or text and lay them out in a row:

The King of Love my shepherd is (8)
whose goodness faileth never (7)
I nothing lack if I am his (8)
and he is mine forever (7)

So the meter for this one is 8787. The tune associated in my mind with this particular hymn text is ST COLUMBA, which I could find out by looking for 8787 tunes and then looking them up in the hymnal.

Hope this is helpful!

Song in my Heart said...


Thanks for the comment; I have been aware of metrical indices since I was a teenager but tend to only use them when I think, "Ooh, not too sure about that tune, let's see if there's one that I like better that the words will fit."

There are two difficulties that I can see with using a metrical index to narrow down a hymn tune in a hospital chaplaincy setting. The first is that very often people remember a tune without being able to remember the words, and it's a little harder to get the meter off the notes alone (as some syllables get two notes and so on). The second is the huge range of hymnals people may have been using, and the fact that while some common hymns will be in several hymnals, some are a little more obscure. For example, a few of my favourites from childhood are, as far as I can tell, only in one of the hymnals listed on Oremus (which is the most comprehensive online resource I've been able to find).

Another difficulty, of course, is that memory often works a bit strangely. When I finally got hold of a copy of my childhood hymnal and leafed through it I tripped over a hymn I had all but forgotten, but quite enjoy. (And the tune has been stuck in my head all day but I can't remember the words!) I don't see a way around this other than knowing which hymns are common; it should be possible to do some sort of statistical analysis on which are commonly published, given enough data, but data on which are sung most often in churches in a given area will be more difficult! I suppose ideally a hospital chaplain would have some contact with clergy in various parishes that might use that hospital, but it still isn't straightforward.