SAAT 05.04 lecture
SAAT poster, May 4

Speaking of Church Music

SAAT 05.04 lectureIn coming to Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara (SAAT) for the spring 2018 semester, I came from a music department in a liberal arts college to a church music program in a seminary—different kinds of programs in different kinds of institutions.

And while I love the interconnectedness and cross-disciplinary nature of a liberal arts education, it has also been a gift to spend one semester more narrowly focused on music for the Christian church with students who are all working and studying toward church ministry.

One unexpected result of this semester was the many chances I had to talk about music for the Christian church with students, professors, pastors, musicians, church workers, and others in a variety of contexts. I am thankful for invitations to speak at:

  • Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara, Malang, for students and professors in the church music program, for a public lecture shared with Dr. Michael Hawn, and for the English language student fellowship.
  • Sekolah Tinggi Theologia HKBP, the seminary of the Batak Lutheran church in Siantar, North Sumatra, forstudents studying liturgy and church music and singing in the seminary choir.



These opportunities gave me the chance to lecture on a wide variety of topics, most on church music and some on the relationship between Christianity and culture. Here is a quick summary of topics I got to discuss:

  • Biblical Principles of Christian Worship. Basic principles of Christian worship, drawn from Psalm 145 and Romans 11:31-12:2 and addressed to those who are planning worship, including pastors, worship leaders, and musicians.
  • Foundational Principles of Church Music. An overview of key principles for music in worship that can guide the choice of music in any local church.
  • Singing God’s Whole Story. A consideration of the songs a local church sings, with encouragement and strategies for singing the whole Gospel story.
  • And All God’s People Sang “Amen!” An encouragement to broaden the scope of music sung in a local church, with particular attention to receiving gifts in song from God’s people of all times and all places.
  • What J. S. Bach’s Music Can Teach Us about Church Music Today. Practical, creative, and spiritual recommendations for our church music today growing out of J. S. Bach’s life as a church musician.
  • Music Leaders in Christian Worship. A theological basis for music leadership roles in Christian worship, with particular attention to song in the Christian church.
  • God’s Story in Pop Culture. An encouragement for Christians to explore this question when considering the relationship between Christianity and popular culture: “Where does God’s story show up in pop culture?”

I had a great time discussing these topics with so many different people. Thank you for all those who made these discussions possible and all those who joined them!

SAAT Ministry Center, Jakarta
SAAT Ministry Center, Jakarta

Thinking about “sabbatical”

I recently received an email from a former student and had to laugh when he wished me well on my “sabbatical” (quotation marks his, and hence their presence in this post’s title).

I should confess here that I love to write and am a self-proclaimed grammar nerd. I also have the privilege of teaching Honors English at Trinity Christian College and also of serving as manuscript editor for book reviews for Christian Scholar’s Review. And, finally, my friend and colleague Bethany Keeley-Jonker created, and curated for over a decade, the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.

So I am not one to take quotation marks lightly.

Furthermore, my student’s comment was one of several I’ve heard along these lines. Several times I’ve been describing to someone what I’m doing this semester: coming to Indonesia with my family, teaching full-time at Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara (SAAT). And the reply has been something along the lines of, “That doesn’t sound like a sabbatical.”

All this has had me thinking over the past few weeks. How is this a sabbatical? (Note the absence of quotation marks.) I can tell you that it certainly feels like one. But I’m also going to write here to reflect further on how it actually is.

Before I get into that, perhaps I should think about my understanding of sabbatical. First, I realize it’s a great privilege, one that is not normal for most occupations. Every seventh year, I can apply to re-focus my activities away from teaching and toward another aspect of what I do.

Normally, this is scholarship. On my last sabbatical, for example, I wrote the chapter “Vocal Music” for The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach (edited by Robin A. Leaver) and took a three-week research trip to Berlin that has contributed much to my scholarship since that time.

But for this semester, I proposed, and was granted, a sabbatical to pursue another aspect of my life as a professor: a new context for teaching that built on Trinity’s existing ties with SAAT. I proposed to serve SAAT through my teaching here, but also believed (and am finding to be true) that teaching at SAAT would give me new perspectives on teaching and on life that would shape my own life as a professor.

Another aspect of my understanding of a sabbatical is that it provides rejuvenation. So, yes, I am teaching full time this semester. I’m also coaching chapel music teams at Wesley International School and am finding quite a lot of other ways to be involved both at SAAT and at Wesley, as well as with our local church gathering here, the Malang English Service. And I am enjoying my ongoing scholarship, as well.

So how is this rejuvenation? Here are a few of the ways it is:

  1. Hospitality. My colleagues and students at SAAT are exceedingly generous and have done much to welcome us into their community. We feel this hospitality each day as we are here and can only respond in gratitude.
  2. Change of place, change of routine. Being away from home, away from my own college, away from the familiar, my family and I simply live life differently here. And this is a gift, an invitation to encounter, enjoy, and learn from a new place.
  3. The gifts of a new semester. I am seeking to live in gratitude for the gifts of this semester (and every semester), as I wrote about in my post on February 3–more details there.
  4. My particular course offerings. I am grateful that my teaching includes two courses I’ve taught quite often (Music History: Medieval & Renaissance; Music History: 19th Century to the Present) and two that I don’t normally get to teach (directing two choirs). It’s a good balance of stability and familiarity with variety and new challenges.
  5. Different foci of scholarship. In December, my friend and colleague, Reginald L. Sanders (Kenyon College), and I recently submitted a book manuscript, Compositional Choices and Meaning in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach, a collection of essays by leading Bach scholars that will be published by Lexington later this year. Having concluded that project in my primary research area, I’m excited that my sabbatical offers a chance for some different foci of scholarship. One of these is several speaking opportunities I have in Indonesia, primarily focused on church music. Another is an edition of Christiane Mariane von Ziegler’s writings about music, writing, and women’s rights, on which I’m busy selecting writings, transcribing poetic texts, and crafting translations.
  6. Addition by subtraction. While I do have a full teaching load and am welcoming additional opportunities to serve, I am finding rejuvenation in things I normally do that I am not doing here, including administrative tasks as music department chair and chair for the arts & languages area, serving on committees, attending faculty meetings.
  7. An invitation to new ways of thinking. The opportunity to live and teach in a new culture invites me to think differently about the world, my teaching, students, higher education, etc. And I believe this is the greatest gift of rejuvenation I am receiving: new ways of thinking about and encountering the world and education that will doubtless inform my ongoing vocation as a professor.

So yes, I am really on sabbatical (not “sabbatical”), pursuing a different focus in my life as a professor and one that I believe will strengthen and sustain my teaching, scholarship, and service for years to come.

Blog 3, day 1
Blog 3, pic 2

Receiving the Gifts of a New Semester

First day of school
First day of school

Each semester, I am grateful (while at the same time slightly terrified) for new beginnings: for a particular set of courses, a unique gathering of students, and interesting subject matter, whether new to me or long encountered. And while I understand well how the process works, I am also always rather amazed by the first day of class and the gradual filling of the classroom with the individual students with whom I will share a course. Simply put, each course is a gift.

Joining SAAT for this semester, the nature of my courses as gift is even more pronounced. The academic dean and music professors determined the course offerings and schedule, gifted me with a particular set of courses for my visiting semester, and advised the students who would join together in these courses. I simply received the gift of my course assignments, prepared for them as best I could, and entered into the new semester along with my students.

(A side note. I do not know if my students believe me or not, but I at times employ the language of gift for particular course assignments. I especially do so when I intentionally choose one piece of music for students to dwell with for an extended period of time. When teaching Baroque music history, I give each student their own church cantata by J. S. Bach to engage for most of the semester. This semester in Music History III, Nineteenth Century to the Present, each student will receive first a piece of Romantic music and then one from the twentieth century to encounter for half a semester. I offer these pieces as gifts and hope they are received as such.)

Briefly, here are the particular courses I have been given this semester.

Music History I: Medieval through Early Baroque. In Music History I, six second-year music students and I engage with music from Medieval chant to the seventeenth-century composer Heinrich Schütz. The course is very similar to one I have taught many times at Trinity, Music History I: Medieval and Renaissance, and the course materials are even the same (J. Peter Burkholder’s A History of Western Music and the Norton Anthology of Western Music). The course is challenging for students both because they are new to the academic study of music history and because the Medieval world and its music are so foreign to us.­­­ One gift for all of us early in the semester is teaching and learning how to chant the Psalms. My students this semester are chanting well already after just two class meetings, and are doing so in both English and Bahasa Indonesia!

Music History III: Nineteenth Century to the Present. Music History III likewise lines up with a music history course I have taught many times at Trinity, covering the same time period and likewise using the same course materials, the Burkholder and the Norton Anthology. This semester, I join eleven third- and fourth-year music majors in the course, and we are already working together to try to understand the contexts and music of the Romantic period. One of the gifts of this semester is SAAT’s cohort model, by which students in the music major take most of their courses with each other. That means these particular students know each other well, are comfortable with each other, and are used to learning together with each other. It is also a gift that they have graciously and enthusiastically welcomed me into that learning this semester.

Seminary Choir. In addition to my two music history courses, I am grateful to be directing two choirs at SAAT, while their regular director, Prof. Samuel Tandei, is on leave. The Seminary Choir is a large ensemble (about 80 singers), required for theology students for four years (!) and music students for three years. In this choir, I receive the gift of SAAT’s vision for educating ministers, theologians, and other workers for the Christian church, a vision that recognizes the vital importance of musical training for church workers. I am also grateful for the gift of the students in the choir and their enthusiasm for singing. Our repertory this semester includes Mark Hayes’s “Grace,” Gilbert Martin’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Michael Costello’s “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” and Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria” (mvt. 1).

Vocatus Ensemble (Chamber Singers). The Vocatus Ensemble includes about 20 singers and is composed primarily of music students in their first three years at SAAT. And here the students and the nature of the ensemble are both gifts: the students read music well, sing well, and work diligently, and the fact that it is a small ensemble of trained musicians means that we can push ourselves to learn challenging repertory very well. The pieces for the semester include Philip Moyer’s arrangement of “I Want Jesus To Walk with me,” Alice Parker’s arrangement of “Wondrous Love,” Keith and Kristen Getty’s “Speak, O Lord,” Roy Hopp’s “Many Colors Paint the Rainbow,” and William Byrd’s “Praise Our Lord, All Ye Gentiles.”

The view from my office window--also a gift!
The view from my office window–also a gift!

So these are the gifts of my new semester at SAAT. I have taught for enough years to know that the idea of courses and students as gift is easier in week two than it is in week ten, but I hope this writing reminds me that my courses and my students are always gifts. It is my privilege and duty as a professor to receive and serve them well, with grace and excellence and joy.