Planning to Be Flexible

by Sarah Hawbecker

My theme for this past year became flexibility. It took me some time to get there. I’m a planner. Any good church musician needs to be. Pre-pandemic, I planned my entire choir year in the summer before rehearsals started. Every anthem, every rehearsal, every worship service was organized around the lectionary, the school breaks, confirmation, and other youth activities. It was a puzzle I enjoyed working on, and it enabled the year to go smoothly. Sure, there were little bumps in the road, and I would make adjustments, but the puzzle pieces all fit. It worked until March 2020, when the puzzle fell apart. Actually, it wasn’t even a puzzle anymore; it was a whole new game. New feelings swarmed: fear, excitement, disinterest, exhaustion, and curiosity, to name just a few.

When I started to learn yoga more than twenty years ago, I couldn’t touch my toes. Years of playing the organ had created nimble fingers, but a stiff body. At first, there were some yoga classes I really enjoyed, but at other times, I was so frustrated. You want me to do what?! The more I used these new-to-me muscles, the more flexibility I gained. Today I am no expert yogi, but if I practice, I maintain the flexibility I want. There is planning involved. I schedule which class (online for now) to attend, I keep my yoga mat handy, and I put on my yoga pants. And I breathe. Breathing is, of course, central to the practice of yoga.

As I’ve now had a year of doing church music without a congregation in the building, I still have to remind myself to breathe, but I have definitely strengthened some previously underused muscles. Just as breathing is the first focus of yoga, I needed to identify my work focus. My main struggle was with how to keep the children and youth music programs going. What is a choir that can’t gather in person? The only answer I have is that a choir is a community, connected through music, that needs to be loved.

So this year, keeping choirs connected to the church and each other has been my top priority, not music. Music is a tool I use, but not the only one. In the fall, each choir family received a bag of simple rhythm instruments, and at Christmas, they received a glockenspiel. In weekly Zoom gatherings, we sing songs (including silly ones), dance, read a Bible story, play a game, and have a devotion and prayer. If technology messes up, I improvise. The older youth share their worries and stresses, but we laugh, too. I send at least two emails each week to stay in touch. If the youth cantor scheduled to lead online worship has to quarantine instead, I make sure they’re okay, reassure them, breathe, and come up with Plan B.

When we return to “normal” rehearsals, rehearsing anthems more intensely, I don’t want to lose these stronger “love muscles.” I will make a plan to exercise them to stay flexible.

Posted on Apr 13, 2021 9:00:00 AM
Filed Under: Music Ministry,

Sarah Hawbecker

Written by Sarah Hawbecker

Sarah J. Hawbecker is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the Eastman School of Music. Since 1996, she has served as Organist and Director of Children's Music at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA, overseeing a program of two children's choirs, three handbell choirs, a summer music camp, and a concert series. She has performed for and presented workshops at regional and national gatherings of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, and of the American Guild of Organists, and has served as adjudicator for several organ competitions.