Saturday, November 30, 2013

Musical Advent Calendar 2013 - Introduction

The First Sunday (and first day) of Advent in 2013 is Sunday, December 1. Advent is the season of preparation for the birth of Christ ("advent" comes from the Latin verb advenire, "to arrive"). It begins each liturgical year.

I am excited to announce that again this year I will be presenting a musical advent calendar to celebrate this season. Each day from December 1 through December 25, at 5 AM Central Time, I will post the link to a YouTube video of a different Advent- or Christmas-themed song. Note that all the selections intentionally contain text (rather than instrumental-only versions), and all the selected texts are intentionally sacred. I hope you will be able to use these posts in your own devotional time throughout the next few weeks.

I will tag all of the posts under the label "Musical Advent Calendar" so that you may sort those posts from all the rest by either selecting that label from the right sidebar or using this link. If you haven't already, you can subscribe to this blog and get all the new posts delivered directly to your inbox (though on a somewhat delayed schedule) - see the "Follow by Email" box below my picture to the right.

Please share your reactions to each song in the comments section, and share these posts with your friends and family members throughout Advent - and if you use Facebook or Twitter to do so, use the hashtag #musicadventcal.

May the joy of Christ's first coming and the hope of the second fill you this Advent!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Am Thankful

Just a few of the things I am thankful for today and every day... incredibly supportive parents and family. friends here in Chicago and around the world, with whom I share so many good memories, and who constantly, whether intentionally or not, push me toward Christ. jobs, and the opportunity they provide to use my passions, skills, and professional training to serve so many people. church, Calvary Memorial of Oak Park, and its vibrant, gospel-rooted, God-centered congregation. beloved alma mater, Wheaton College, and that I am still part of the campus community.

But mostly, I am thankful for the relentless, limitless, beautiful grace of God.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Articles of the Week - Gettysburg Address

Yesterday, November 19, marked one hundred and fifty years since Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In less time than it takes to boil water, Lincoln delivered remarks that are almost universally considered one of the greatest pieces of oratory.

Here are just a few of the reflections on the Gettysburg Address I came across in my online reading yesterday:

  • John Steele Gordon at the American Enterprise Institute reflected on why Lincoln's assumption people would forget his remarks was so wrong.
  • The Chicago Tribune editorial board contrasted the mixed reactions at the time with the later historical perspective (and also provided the complete text).
  • The editorial board of The New York Times considered the timelessness of the speech.

Did you come across any good reflections, essays, editorial pieces, and the like on the Gettysburg Address? Please share a link in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why the Artist Series?

The Wheaton College Artist Series is now in its seventh decade of presenting professional performing artists on the campus of Wheaton College. Orchestras, dance companies, choral ensembles, chamber groups of all configurations, and soloists have come from all corners of the globe (four different continents) as well as right here in Chicago to present musical and dance works from across the centuries and cultures.

The Artist Series, it may be safely said, is a fixture of the College and of the local community. With any longstanding program, however, it is prudent to occasionally consider its current value to its community.

Here in the midst of its seventh decade, I believe the Wheaton College Artist Series provides tremendous value in support of the overall mission of Wheaton College. Consider the following ways it does so:

First, the Artist Series supports the Conservatory curriculum. The guest artists provide a live example to the music majors of professional musicians doing what they do best. Greater Chicago does not lack opportunities to see live professional musicians, but the convenience of attending such a performance on campus, at a fraction of the cost it would be to see them elsewhere, is an asset that should not be overlooked. Additionally, the breadth of the Series’ offerings means the music majors are exposed to a greater variety of artists – including those they might not spend their own time and money to pursue off campus.

Also, many of the guest artists, in addition to their evening concert, present a master class (sometimes as part of an extended residency), and it would be difficult to overstate the value of those events to music majors. Again, due to the breadth of the Series’ offerings, it is probable that at least once per academic year, there will be a master class of immediate interest and applicability to each music major – and the other master classes expose students to another facet of professional artistry, wholly fitting in our liberal arts environment.

Second, the Artist Series allows several students each year an experiential learning opportunity, one of the hallmarks of a Wheaton education in this era. In addition to the permanent staff, the Artist Series employs a handful of students in key management roles. These positions allow the students to develop their critical thinking, collaboration, communication, planning, and situational analysis skills, as well as have frequent interaction with professional arts administrators (the visiting company’s management). The experience these students gain is invaluable as they pursue their post-Wheaton activities such as graduate school and the workforce.

Third, the Artist Series is a ministry opportunity. At the front of house, the Artist Series allows the College to engage many members of our local community. The servant spirit of the student ushers who provide a warm welcome to the patrons is a powerful witness to the community. On the other side, the stage and production teams, performing their jobs with excellence, integrity, and graciousness toward the performers, are a powerful witness to the artists themselves, most of whom are not (yet) believers. The artists’ interactions with Christians at Wheaton may be brief, but the Holy Spirit may still use that time to draw people unto Christ. And finally, our commitment to presenting the highest achievements of the performing arts is a powerful witness to the world at large that the gospel is not anti-art, but rather, the arts can be a powerful kingdom tool in the work of proclaiming the gospel to all nations, starting at Wheaton.

The Wheaton College Artist Series is tremendously valuable for the Wheaton College community and beyond. I am privileged to have been a part of it for over six years now, in various roles, and I eagerly anticipate what is ahead for this exciting program.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Concert Review: Haitink and Ax (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

Last night I attended my first Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. The program was titled "Haitink and Ax," featuring conductor Bernard Haitink leading the CSO (of which he was principal conductor from 2006-2010) in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27, with Emanuel Ax on piano, and Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 (Romantic). I was joined by my friend Allison Althoff, who, despite living in Chicago for over six years, had never been to a CSO concert. And we had a good one for my first of the season and her first ever!

The first half was the Mozart concerto. It was my first time hearing Ax in performance, though I of course knew him by reputation. I have to admit: the performance was not anything extraordinary, in my opinion. Ax performed with appropriate sensitivity, and the interaction between the solo piano and the smaller orchestra (flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and reduced strings) was pleasing. All that to say, it was a fine performance, but it did not blow me away.

The second half, by contrast, now that did blow me away. When Allison and I returned from the lobby after intermission, there were considerably more musicians on the stage - including the full CSO brass corps. And did they earn their money with this performance! Haitink unleashed the full power of the entire orchestra on the Romantic Symphony, masterfully unfolding each movement's themes and bringing them all together in four spectacular climaxes (I exchanged glances with Allison at the end of just the first movement, and her jaw had dropped), with the soaring conclusion to the final movement drawing the audience almost immediately to its feet in a well-deserved standing ovation. I generally wait until the conductor returns to acknowledge individuals to stand and applaud (you can only rise to your feet once, and I like to save it for one of the soloists or sections), but I stood right away last night.

Bravo, Maestro Haitink and Chicago Symphony Orchestra!

For more thoughts, see the reviews from Lawrence A. Johnson at Chicago Classical Review, Andrew Patner at the Chicago Sun Times, and John Von Rhein at the Chicago Tribune.