is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ev'ry Valley

Central Christian Director of  Michael Rintamaa
at the piano (and Dr. Kate Covington on the right :)
I bought a car about a year ago, a 96 Oldsmobile.  It starts, it goes, it stops. That's about all I require from a car, actually...heat and air conditioning are a luxury I will gladly accept, though.  So the car sometimes doesn't want to start. It's finicky, needy, ya know?  Like it's always wanting gasoline, oil, coolant.  Sheesh.  

However, over the past year, I have been finding myself saying/praying, 'Ev'ry valley shall be exalted' before starting the car.  I hope for the best as it turns over, and then perhaps I'll get lucky and the tires will stay inflated another day. I'm a bad car owner. The car's not bad.  It's me, not you, Ciera SL...

So I use this phrase quite often, when expectations fail, and the world seems cold and I feel a little low, this simple coupling of words reminds me the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be, that my Shepherd will supply my need.

The phrase, "ev'ry valley..." that I use as my mantra-prayer-affirmation comes from the movement of Handel's Messiah, Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exalted, which is the third movement of Part One (of Three) of one of the most famous sacred works ever created.  

I'm lucky enough to have heard this tenor air sung by some tremendous guest vocalists with my Chancel Choir over the years.  I always loved the piece, but the true meaning of it was brought to me by a kind gesture from Michael Rintamaa, my choir director and spiritual guru (although he is much too humble to call himself a guru, he has taught me more about the Bible through music than I could have ever learned otherwise).  

Michael was at the organ, and he wasn't playing, I guess the string orchestra was accompanying someone like Dr. Randall Black, and for some reason, 
the organ was situated so that MR

Betty Cecil, Danny Cecil and Kate Covington

(Michael) was sitting right next to me.  I had been going through a tough time in my life, I was going through some trials that seemed insurmountable, some valleys...and at any rate, when Randy finished singing, MR looked over at me, smiled and whispered, "Ev'ry valley...metaphor?  Hmm...maybe?"  I'll never forget that moment; it has remained with me many times when I was facing doubt and fear and guilt -- and I'll never stop using that phrase to bolster my faith when it's  barreling down a gully and heading toward a holler.  I love the entire work of the Messiah, but that one has a special place in my heart now...since I used it daily for inspiration.
Harpsichord accompaniment will be provided by
Dr. Kate Covington (December 4th is our performance)

Sherri Phelps, left, is our splendid mezzo/alto soloist!
So imagine my delight when it was finally revealed unto us (at the annual retreat/clinic) last Friday that my choir is working on Handel's Messiah for our Christmas work!  Although I am not yet certain of which selections we will perform from the voluminous work, I am anxious to learn and ready to pour myself into it, and into all the music of the Season, which means I have to balance out my ukulele time with time at the piano picking out the alto parts to movements like And He Shall Purify, which requires a lot of breath, flute-like articulation, and you have to "be your own tempo police," as MR says.  

The raising of our voices in unison is a powerful aspect to have in your life, and it is good to be shown the way, to give myself over to the tenors, basses, altos, and yes, even sopranos around me ('s an old alto joke that altos are really just sopranos who know how to read music.  only altos think that's funny, though :) -- anyway, it's a great way to be selfless but also responsible at the same time.  
Tom Bragg, Me and my Alto-Ego, Betty Cecil

So why am I yammering on about all of this?  Because I'm happy that small phrase about valleys being exalted carried me through some very tough times, I'm happy we're singing a baroque work that requires a string orchestra, a harpsichord will be part of the event, and I'll go ahead and admit it, I use choir as therapy, and I want the Messiah to absorb all my fears, I want to sing of purification, of lambs and virgins and the exalting of valleys.  So happy Christmas, everyone.  To those who don't like to hear Christmas carols until the week before the Holiday, get yourself some ear plugs, because I am in an Advent state of mind, and there ain't no valley low's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, to me!  Joy to the world!  Silent Night.  Mary, Did You Know?  I'm going to be singing them on the uke, but also, being drawn to the piano to learn my alto parts to Messiah.  

What happens from time to time, if you read here very often, you will realize I sometimes write blogs that have no beginning and likewise, they have no end. Well, this is one of them...sorry about that, but thanks for reading ;-)

The ev'ry valley shall be exalted  text goes like this, and it is taken from a passage from Isaiah:

Ev'ry valley shall be exalted, 
and ev'ry mountain and hill made low; 
the crooked straight; 
and the rough places plain.

There is much more to Messiah, much more for me to learn,  and to paraphrase MR one more time, "to sing with my lips, and believe in my heart; what I believe in my heart, to practice in my life, so that being doers of the Word, and not hearers only, we may receive everlasting Life...through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

Handel's Messiah
McDaniel Memorial Choral Presentation
Sunday morning, December 4, 11am

Strings led by Brice Farrar
Danny Cecil on bass
Kate Covington, harpsichord
Chris Teesdale, timpani
Joseph Van Fleet & Rich Byrd, trumpets
Nancy Clauter and student, oboes

and Sherri Phelps, our mezzo/alto soloist
Here's a cool link to some photos taken last Easter by John Petersen, bass extraordinaire and photographer exemplar...enjoy! --

pray for peace, y'all,

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