Hymn #57: Jesus, Rose of Sharon

I took a little vacation from Hymn-A-Day for several reasons, probably the most important is that I’m preparing a Mozart sonata and the Haydn concerto–about 30 some pages of music to get performance ready (a remote performance rather than our usual in-person event). And, I’m in the process of presenting my physics research to my CalTech professor, that’s consumed a lot of my time lately. And I’m still teaching and learning singing! I will keep the Hymn-A-Day going but I’m trying to figure out how to balance my time and having no choice but to reduce my posting here. It’s such a gift to be able to do such fascinating and engaging stuff during such difficult times. My 86 year old mother is locked down in her house (LA area) and is bored beyond measure. I’m so thankful that even though Barb and I are sheltering in place, not leaving the house, we both are content and keeping very busy–and most of all, still are healthy.

I have two members of my family in the LA area that are sick with coronavirus and two or three more that are sick but not yet confirmed. This thing is nasty with a lot of damage done even with mild symptoms–please everyone, take this seriously and don’t take chances.

Here is a hymn with beautiful lyrics that neither I nor Barb have ever heard before–Jesus, Rose of Sharon. Picturing the gift of Jesus as greater than the beautiful roses of biblical times, it is a prayer and praise for Jesus as Healer (appropriate for our time), calling us to lay down our trophies and accomplishments and worship His grace and purity. It’s a simple hymn but a lovely song, I hope this lifts your heart.

Hymn #41, #42: The Solid Rock, Rock of Ages

When I have a rough few weeks, I crave a strong foundation, an anchor, a hold onto a reality that is solid and strong enough to withstand any trial. You all have had experiences where in a matter of seconds, your whole life is upended–a doctor visit, news of a loss of a loved one, a car accident, losing your job, or–coronavirus and hundreds of thousands dead, and tens of millions of jobs lost.

I need so desperately to know that someone “has my six”–will support me in such times. If I have to go through it alone, I feel like I don’t have the strength and the emotional state gets truly overwhelming. But if I know others also face trials worse than mine yet will choose to stand by me and help, no matter what the outcome, then I can hold on. I used to attend a church where, upon leaving, I would see beautiful stained glass with the words “I will be with thee”. I will be with thee–a Rock to shield me from the great storms of life. May you sense His Presence as a comfort and source of strength.

Hymn #38, #39, #40: As The Deer, Be Exalted, O God, A Shield About Me

When you’ve had serious illness in the past, symptoms cause a fear of re-occurrence. One result is a pretty severe PTSD effect and can generate a state of extreme exhaustion even when the symptoms turn out to be false alarms. I’ve had that happen twice in the last month, so these choruses are a balm for rough times. Somebody ask Tresa to sing Be Exalted, O God some time, you will be in for a treat!

The chorus As The Deer is from Psalm 42:1 but the words create an image that reminds me of that most restorative psalm 23:

Being thankful for this life, be exalted above all else:

I so much have needed a shield about me lately, a lifter of my head…

Hymn #37: My Jesus, I Love Thee

This beautiful hymn is one of my favorites, a picture of love so deep and complete that it transcends the trials and struggles of our daily lives. A love that never wavers, even to the last day of life itself. A love that heals, strengthens, and defines a purpose far greater than anything I could choose. This hymn brings a great image to my mind the vastness of the starry universe, a love just so utterly overwhelming and complete and awe-inspiring. I think on this, and my worries and fears just melt away.

Hymn #36: To God Be The Glory

It doesn’t matter what I’ve done or will do, I can safely guarantee there will never be a hymn “To Bob Be The Glory”. The funny and very ironic thing is, I do so many things in this life acting as if that is what I am trying to do! This hymn is a lesson that only God can claim glory. I can get in the way or I can help further God’s purposes, but striving for my own goals in this life will yield no glory. Respect from others is fleeting if it is there at all, and trying to get it will only annoy others. I need this hymn to remind me of that.

PS: That’s the end of my requests list, so send me some favorites!

Hymn #32: Blessed Assurance

If worrying about coronavirus weren’t enough, I’ve been significantly stressed that in the last year or so, my hearing has rapidly deteriorated. I was born with significant hearing loss, and have worked zealously to protect what hearing I do have. However, I also have Meniere’s syndrome, which causes progressive destruction of hearing as well as other unpleasant symptoms and that has accelerated. Performers and music teachers are totally dependent on their ears, and I am no exception. Now I am looking at a future I can’t comprehend. No, it’s not cancer or coronavirus, real fears faced by healthworkers and first responders, so I have to be careful not to land in a pity party–but it’s still very upsetting that I’m heading toward losing what I love to do.

I spoke with someone who is faced with limited time as well, but she was so calm about it, knowing that’s how life works and being content with what she has done. That way of thinking fits so well with this hymn–blessed assurance of a future that is good. Music is my life’s story, my life’s song–being thankful for what I have been given–and oh what a gift music has been for me.

Hymn #31: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring)

It was ironic that Ken spoke of sloth today, as I was embarrassed that I have not posted for a couple of days–working on this hymn. This is derived from the famous Bach Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and like all classical pieces, and especially Bach, was difficult to learn and took more than one day. I worked on it pretty hard for the last two days, but felt bad I wasn’t keeping up. The great thing about this Hymn-A-Day project is how it drives me to be a better pianist–I listen to what I did, don’t like it, and try again, never really being satisfied.

I teach piano, and all my students come in thinking playing piano is relatively simple, hit the right keys at the right time, how hard can that be. Every single student comes away from my lessons realizing piano is really, really hard to do well and takes a ridiculous amount of practice and work.

I think of our church musicians and think how much work is behind the scenes and hidden from everyone. I thought of that when I heard Chris and Ron this morning, same thing right? Chris makes singing sound like something she was born with. I am a little ashamed to admit that I am taking vocal lessons, and have been for several years, so I immediately recognized a well-trained voice. Everybody sings, right? It’s pretty trivial, right? No. I’ve taken enough lessons to know it is really, really hard to do well, and I will never in my lifetime sing like that.

So, next time you listen to our church musicians, realize there is a truly enormous amount of work and dedication behind the scenes you will never see, and marvel at the example they set (no sloth there!). Thank you, musicians!

Hymn #30: Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

A new hymn for me, a reminder to be thankful especially now: Come, you have prepared ere the winter storms begin (yes, we have–bountiful harvest in the pantry!) and yes the storm has begun. Will it be severe here, or will we avoid the worst of it? No way of knowing, but we definitely are thankful to be safe and prepared so far. Two good friends have been severely sick in March–sicker than they’ve ever been before. I am definitely thankful for no illness yet.

Hymn #29: Great Is Thy Faithfulness

I’ve been very stressed out the last few days by all that is happening. Would it help me to relax a little? “All I have needed, Thy hand hast provided. Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”. It’s time to focus on today, and not worry. I will be thankful for what I have, and not fear for tomorrow.

Hymn #28: Majesty

I can only imagine what it would feel like today if great choral singing, heraldic trumpets, and massive cathedral organ were to announce the coming of a greatly respected leader. We have no equivalent in today’s society–the general attitude is to smirk and denigrate those who try to lead us, successfully or not, through troubled and dangerous times. What would it be like to have God Himself arrive to save us all and lead us to safety. Can you imagine being a musician or singer expressing great joy for such an event? This was a request and I think it’s a great choice. Forget coronavirus for two minutes and transport yourself into a great crowd eagerly awaiting the One.

Hymn #27: Ave Maria

The Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”) Catholic prayer is so beautiful and tranquil–a message of peace and grace in difficult times. Franz Schubert wrote a widely famous and loved adaptation called Hymn to the Virgin which has been used to sing the Ave Maria prayer–many famous singers showcase their talent and skill on this piece, here are two superb renditions:

Andrea Bocelli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwp1CH5R-w4
Renee Fleming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsBt9yZDslA

So, this is really not a Hymn-A-Day item, but rather a full classical piece deserving a lot more study than I give it here. Nevertheless, I worked very hard on it (I’ve not played it before) and I hope it is a special treat for you.

“Hymn” #25: Dark Night of the Soul

Sometimes, in fact much of the time, I like to make my own music rather than playing somebody else’s compositions. I rarely did this for church. But here? Can I do this safely here? It’s dangerous to do for piano performers because there’s no guarantees it will succeed and often people won’t like it for any number of reasons. Will I lose respect if I show you who I am deep inside? Does it matter to anyone who I am? If I get sick and die is anything lost? Am I totally alone inside? This composed improvisation tries to express these thoughts musically…

Hymn #24: The Old Rugged Cross

If I am gone, will anybody remember me for anything? Am I just another piece of flotsam in the river of life? I think men especially struggle with needing to make their mark in life, to gain respect in some way as a purpose in life. But trying to accomplish amazing things and win trophies hoping somebody else will notice is a futile purpose in life, and that’s a lesson I *really* need to learn.

Hymn #22: Take My Life and Let It Be

The coronavirus crisis is very much an existential crisis for me–if my life ends, I worry that it was not the best it could be, causing me to strive very hard at all things I do. Am I a good husband? Am I a good piano teacher? Are my projects and physics research project an effective use of my life? Am I helping others? And on and on and on–but this hymn says to me gently: I don’t need to be trying so hard: give my life to God and let Him direct, and I will no longer need to worry if I did the right things. But where is He? I don’t hear Him.

Maybe I should just relax and try to listen for God–I certainly hear great beauty and significance in this stunningly beautiful hymn.

PS: I’m working hard on the famous Schubert Ave Maria, it’s beautiful and is coming soon I hope!