Musical Notes: Returning to the Sanctuary

Nov 19, 2021 | Beacon, Music, News

The ability humans have to adapt, adjust and create new methods of communication and connection is astounding. During the pandemic this has been made clear. What also has been made clear how important, how vital the human need to connect and communicate is. As we are looking at gathering together again as a congregation in a new way I’ve found myself looking over these past 18 months in a mixture of admiration, astonishment and no small amount of grief. The fact that we’ve been able to maintain weekly services rich with meaning, message and music is a testament to the human spirit, as well as the adaptability hard work and talent of the East Shore staff.

Last month, Catherine Ramsey and Tom Ball joined Reverend Steve and me in the sanctuary to sing the hymns and join me in presenting ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ It has been a challenge to bring a variety of voices into the services; safety has always been our primary concern while presenting on Sunday mornings, and only recently have vaccinations and boosters allowed for some flexibility in this realm. As Tom and I were singing the musical celebration I felt my entire being singing. Not only were we able to create harmony in the sanctuary, but there were several people in the congregation there to hear the singing live as it happened. (Recently, we have had invited about 10 congregants to do a test-run of how to present both live and virtual elements together in the sanctuary and over Zoom.) The difference was astonishing. While I’m grateful to have been able to find a platform over which we were able to present services virtually, there is simply no replacement for the act of singing together under a physical roof, in a building made for such joyous expression. I had a similar experience during the Halloween service, singing ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ with my husband Paul. During both services I found myself smiling and fighting tears at the same time. This reunion of blended voices and in-person attendees felt like water poured on parched, thirsty soil.

The East Shore Mighty Choir has been meeting on Thursdays since September: masked, with extra ventilation, in Spring Hall. We found an immeasurable amount of joy in the mere act of singing together. We had met virtually on Zoom for over a year, and in the process were able to create some virtual videos that we’ve shared at Sunday services (we continue to share the Birthday Song and both sung benedictions in rotation on Sundays.) I will be forever grateful to the dedicated and hardy souls in the choir who were willing to meet, week after week, in an online format that was never designed to function as a rehearsal space. These months, while difficult, were a testament to the power of music, and the deep human need to connect with one another in voice and song. I feel the months we spent meeting virtually helped us bond in a way that has strengthened us as a singing family.

The Mighty Choir has been rehearsing five songs that we will present at 4:00 on Christmas Eve as part of our outdoor, in-person service. There will be canopies and outdoor heaters situated to keep congregants as warm and dry as possible (but we do encourage everyone to dress warmly.) The campus will be festively decorated with lights, inflatable characters, banners, wreaths and trees. We will sing Christmas carols together as a congregation, and enjoy a full service presented by Reverend Steve. We warmly and heartily invite all East Shore members, their families and friends to attend this joyful and meaningful in-person Christmas Eve celebration. There will also be an online-only service broadcast over Zoom from the sanctuary, featuring my friend Brenda David and my husband, Paul Rosenberg. This will be a more solemn service, with the sanctuary alight with dozens of candles and songs chosen to move the soul and warm the heart. This second, virtual service will begin at 7:00 pm, Christmas Eve.

As East Shore plans to reopen its sanctuary doors in January, I am excited by the prospects of the return of live music. At the same time, I am preparing myself to be as nimble as possible, as things will not be simply as they were before. For instance, the choir will be singing while wearing masks. We’ve found it’s not the most comfortable way to sing, but it’s possible, and the safety that masked singing affords is certainly worth the sacrifice of comfort. I have been reaching out to past musical guests, both from within the congregation and the professional performers I’ve brought into services before. I am hoping to present at least a partial East Shore Live season, as we look to see who and what will be available to us in 2022. Above all else, I am looking forward to the joy of being together again, sharing music in our beautiful sanctuary. I feel blessed, fortunate and incredibly enriched by the connections we’ve been able to maintain over these past 18 months. I look forward to forging new connections and creating new musical experiences in the year to come. Thank you all for being part of this grand, difficult journey. Let the new year begin with joy, optimism, and above all, safety and love.

by Eric Lane Barnes, Director of Music