NOTEworthy: Magnificat in D

Magnificat in D

Herbert Brewer

I find the week before First Presbyterian Church’s “Big Music Sunday” (someone help me rebrand that!) to feel the most like Advent out of any Sunday of the season. It is a week filled with anticipation and stress, tangled in a giant web of things to do and print and mark up before the sanctuary is filled with musicians and the air is ringing with song.

The calm before the storm. Except, this year, I didn’t give myself or the choir quite so much calm in this pre-chaos moment. No, instead I chose one of the most difficult works of the Anglican Repertoire. Herbert Brewer’s “Magnificat” is my personal favorite setting of this oft-used text from Mother Mary. It is a piece of wide contrast, with complex rhythms, beautiful overlapping phrases, and an absolutely banging organ part.

In talking about this very difficult piece, I have to admit a personal failing as a director. One of the adages that conductors love to tell other conductors is that they are “process people,” meaning that, no matter how the performance/recital/fill-in-the-blank turns out, they just want to be happy with the process of learning the music helped their ensemble grow.

It’s a beautiful idea. Noble even! An idea worth pursuing.

I am not a process person. Not naturally anyways.

Back to my public confession – after rehearsal one evening, where I had spent a lot of time trying to squeeze every ounce of musical phrasing out of the choir, a choir member mentioned to me that their section was still struggling to find their pitches.

You don’t need to know much about music to know that in the hierarchy of learning music, pitches and rhythms are pretty foundational. Can’t work on musicality if the notes aren’t there.

For me, this was a humbling reminder of the importance of process in my choral rehearsals. If I am on Step 10 in the process, but the choir is on Step 3, pressing and pressing on Step 10 will not help them to move forward, because they need help with Step 3.

Similarly, we sometimes try to rush God with our own personal and spiritual growth.

If you feel that you’re stuck in a rut, perhaps it’s because you keep pressing on Step 10, but God is working on your Step 3.

You want to make the music, but you don’t know your notes, yet.

In general, I believe that the first few steps for most folks is letting go of the pride that makes you feel ready for Step 10.

After all, in Matthew 16:24, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The order there matters.

So trust the process.

He’ll get you where He’s going in His time.

Andy Eaton
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church