Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why spend time getting organized and planning ahead?

This is actually a multi-level question that can be addressed from a variety of different directions. Interestingly, my daughter -- who now lives on the other side of the country -- and I had a similar idea today about why we plan ahead. In fact, I laughed out loud when I looked at her Facebook status this evening, since earlier in the day I had the almost identical thought:
“The truth about my constant state of preparedness and anti-procrastination is that it stems from true laziness. By taking the time to prepare ahead, then when it comes time I can do ’it‘ (whatever that may be) so much faster and thus sleep later, or leave earlier, or whatever it is I am attempting to be lazy about!”
Juliana is right! I am organized and plan ahead because of a strange sort of laziness. If I plan in advance, I can go into an almost automatic pilot when the time comes to do whatever the task is, with less worry that it will come off well. This has considerable implications for the work I do in church music.
On this wacky liturgical day, the Sunday after Theophany and the beginning of the Triodion, I decided to look ahead and plan the music for the Sundays between now and the end of Lent – the order of service for the next eight Sundays. For me that means creating a WORD doc that will be printed up and copied for each of the music stands. Each week at rehearsal the singers will take that sheet and “clip” their books in the order for Sunday. Assuming I have done my preparation well and made no mistakes, little or nothing will change for those weeks from the work that I did today. Then, on the Sunday itself, the singers will literally be on the same page. Transitions between liturgical actions and music will for the most part be fairly seamless and a certain peace and calm will be present on the kliros and in the nave. OK, I am exaggerating a bit – things do occasionally come up – but the possibility for peace and calm on the kliros is real and tangible.
Short history, for background purposes: Years ago when Anne and I first began working together as a team, we had to spend a ridiculous amount of time sorting and filing music. We have always had a choir of 25 – 40 singers and that means having 8-12 books ready to go for Sunday morning, including our personal conducting copies. We finally realized that it was big pain to take that amount of time each week prepping books and filing music. There had to be a better way!
Thus begun our 25-year journey to the perfect choir book organization!
At St. Lawrence Church in Felton we have several volumes of choir books –for each volume we have one for each music stand and director, each sectionalized with numbered tabs for each section, and choices within sections indicated with letters. We have books for: Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Matins, Nativity/Theophany, Pascha, Weddings, Funerals, Holy Week, Presanctified Liturgies. Perhaps I have forgotten one? Our system has grown and been improved over the years, but the basic system we put into place so many years ago is still intact.
Our Divine Liturgy book, lovingly call “The Big Black Book,” contains all the music for the year, except for the Nativity, Theophany and Paschal seasons. This most-used book has EVERYTHING for Sunday Liturgies for the year, except menaia commemorations that fall irregularly on Sundays. Yes, I mean everything – all troparia and kontakia, all prokeimena, all koinonika, all festal music, including antiphons. By having the sections organized by number and letter our Sunday schedule might say: Great Litany-1B, 1st Antiphon 2C … Trop of Res 9-D, Trop for Feast 10G … Choir members are responsible and able to be on the correct page at the right time, no ambiguity. OK, honestly there are some choir singers who are better at “clipping the books” and turning the pages than others. But in a pinch almost any of them could do it.
So back to my premise about laziness …
Creating the system of organization did take time … hours, days, months, years of time … but now that it is in place, liturgy and prayer is MUCH easier. It is easier to prep, and more peaceful to enact. Rehearsals can also go more smoothly. The singers can easily turn to Cherubikon 17H, page 5. And I can make a schedule for music for 8 weeks in advance and print it up for the choir, knowing that nothing will need to change and it will be understood.
Beautiful singing and worship of the Triune God can happen calmly and peacefully, with the possibility of hearing the angels join us.


  1. I want to and need to learn how to do that!

  2. I'm amazed that you can fit everything into one Liturgy binder. How thick is it? Also, would you post a sample of your planning sheet that you distribute to the choir each week? I am also a fan of the binder system and have different binders for different purposes. We also have Liturgy, Vespers, Matins, Pascha, Funerals, Weddings, one for each of the major feast days, Bridegroom services, one for each Holy Week service, Moliebens, Akathists... as well as 12 volumes for the Menaion, Triodion, Pre-Lent, Pentecostarion - can't think what else in my caffeine-deprived state. I'm curious as to your binder categories as well.