By way of a continuing education opportunity, I recently attended a regional convention of the American Guild of Organists, held in Charlotte, N.C. In Charlotte, convention participants were bused to various venues, including Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S. C., site of the opening recital by French artist Olivier Latry, and several area churches which generously opened their doors for the opening and closing worship services, evening prayer, recitals, meetings, workshops and meals.
Titled The French Connection, the convention took a French theme in much of the organ music presented. I learned that the theme was chosen because several steering committee members had pursued advanced organ study in France. In fact, one of the seminars, in the context of an interview with Michael Barone, convention host and founder of the radio program Pipedreams, featured the recollections of Fulbright scholars Margaret Mueller, Professor Emerita of Organ at Salem College in North Carolina, and Robert Burns King, retired in 2007 after 45 years of service as Organist-Choirmaster of First Presbyterian Church in Burlington, N.C., about their studies with famous organists in France and Germany in the mid-1900s.
A number of works were commissioned especially for the convention, including a choral piece, Lead Kindly Light, by David Conte (b. 1955). It was sung by the Atlanta Master Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Eric Nelson, as part of their concert at First United Methodist Church, Charlotte. Another was a powerful hymn sung at the closing worship service held at Covenant Presbyterian Church: Hear the City Filled with Singing, with music composed by noted hymnwriter Sally Ann Morris and text by Mary Louise Bringle, Professor at Brevard College, incorporating imagery from the Revelation into a Te Deum- like text, while the tune has the feeling of a French Dance.
Particularly uplifting was the opening worship service at Providence United Methodist Church, where the message was delivered by the Rev. Dr. William Bradley Roberts, Professor of Church Music at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Using Philippians 4:4-8 (Rejoice in the Lord always) as his text, he spoke of the importance of setting aside time for one’s own spiritual nourishment in preparation for providing spiritual nourishment for others. Drawing on the example of French waiters, who are fed first before serving others, he said, “Don’t eat leftovers!” He assured the congregation of church musicians that God wants to nourish, bless, and feed us, and urged us to “think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Following up on this theme at the closing worship service, Dr. Roberts reminded the assembly of the responsibilities of leadership, to “remember who we work for”, and said one’s own transformation overflows to others in a way that can’t be contained.
I couldn’t help thinking that this could be encompassing advice for all of us, as we are in some capacity both leading and serving others: to take time for our own spiritual nourishment and know that God wants to nourish, bless and feed us.