Festival Weekend Debriefing

The title could make our weekend of singing practice and concerts sound as though it was a negative experience for us. The opposite is true: it was full and enriching.

Unfortunately, on Monday morning I am hearing words and chords ringing in my ears. My mind is still swirling with the amazing accumulation of the things we were taught. A crash course on choral singing describes it better. Now I want to close that door and walk away feeling the quiet come back. Rest, inside my head, when it comes, will be welcomed. So … this scribbling to sort or keep what I need when we sing. So many conversations, mistakes, crescendos, chords, words, tunings, and goose bumps crammed into three short days. Please, fade out.

Our director, Wendel Nisley is a top-notch teacher. (These were Kristine’s words). We learned voice and singing technique besides enjoying the lyrics in the literary sense and as worship, too. After all that fun we shared in concert our practiced songs in churches in Sparta,WI, Rochester, MN, and Spencer, WI.

For me, it was having one of the important things in my bucket list accomplished. I have been listening to Oasis’ music on CD’s and now on Pandora for a long time. This backwoods gal found it amazing and inspiring to learn that these singers come from all over the US and have learned most of their music at home and spend only a few days out of a year actually singing together.  And I thought that given the chance, I could do that, too. Last year, my first year with Festival, was hard work. This year the songs seemed easier, but the skill training level was more advanced. But yes, progress.

Last year, Mom Graber asked me over and over all weekend, “What is the purpose for your singing?”  Her confusion, due to old age dementia was hard for me to endure. But, I discovered through trying to answer her question that I needed to personally answer it in my own heart as well. Because my family bent this way and that to accommodate this dream of mine, I realized that the purpose of Festival has to be more than just scratching an itch.

After all, we are doing this FOR all of us. We are preserving something important for our church life, specifically our worship time there.   So when a few of us spend a weekend learning how to sing the hymns correctly again and richly, one of our goals is to bring back to our Sunday morning worship a fresh, rejuvenated appreciation that is contagious.

We are preserving hymn appreciation. This comes with age as well. The experiences of life change the boringly familiar of Nearer My God to Thee to deeply treasured and understood truths.  Working together this weekend with learning how to sing well and listen well and worship well, through the hymns, gave me intention again to value those familiar songs.

As a bonus, through the gospel type songs come the sharing of our experiences of trial and victory in song. So Crosby and Gaither both get a place in our repertoire.

We are building a memory bank as we sing these songs every Sunday. For example, we have sung What a Friend We Have in Jesus countless times. It is one of the many songs that everyone knows. We have this song in our bank to savor or sing now for enjoyment around the campfire, at any informal gathering, alone in prison, and even in the night when sleep is gone. Festival weekends are for reminding us of the value of our memory bank and for keeping those songs clean and alive in our rendering as well.

Do we need any other purpose? In a day of defaulting to canned music and instrumental performance for church music rather than personally, confidently, participating in songs and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord at home and at church is a high call and we ought to know how to do it enjoyably and profitably.

There, that’s my purposes, Mom. No doubt, you are finding the best reason yet for Festival in the singing where you are. We get a little glimpse of heaven ourselves when we put our best into singing together every Sunday morning in church.


1 thought on “Festival Weekend Debriefing”

  1. Arla,

    This may have been my favorite post of yours in all the years I have followed your writing.

    I have been a church organist since 1986 when I was in the fifth grade. In a day when so many churches have completely forsaken the old hymns and gospel songs in favor of exclusively using praise choruses, your words were particularly encouraging and edifying. There is so much solid doctrine in the multiple verses of the older hymns. I’m not saying that the new music is all bad, but I remember hearing someone point out that if all the old hymns are repeatedly sung, eventually the whole Bible is covered. You did an excellent job of pointing out how valuable the volume of Christian hymnody really is. Thank you!


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