Tag Archives: Bells

It was the Best of Music, the Worst of Music


Lessons & Carols logo

Logo done by MMU for Lessons & Carols

But, mostly, I think, it was pretty darn good. Surprisingly so, from my point of view.

Last night was “Lessons & Carols,” an annual concert by the Mount Mercy University Choir and Jazz Connection—the MMU vocal music groups—and the Handbell Ensemble, which includes an incompetent boob on the high G and A in the bass clef.

I’m the boob. The boob has had some rough rehearsals this fall—the music has been harder this year, and I’m far from a musical expert. (Actually, I’m right next to some musical experts, I’m just not personally much of one).

But last night, I think, we sounded pretty darn good. Even I didn’t do badly, and that’s a small Christmas miracle, as well as a testament to the angelic patience of our director, Carolyn Sternowski.

It’s also, I think, a testament to the quality of the MMU vocal groups. Being in Stello Hall, a very nice venue, and performing with a great pianist like Tony Nickle and some great voices directed by Dr. Daniel Kleinknecht—well, it puts a bell ringer on his best behavior.

I titled this blog “best and worst” partly because the program included songs that I wrote about last Christmas because they are among my most and least favorite Christmas tunes in “The Horrible Holiday Sounds.”

This concert included some of my favorites. Beca Orvella’s soprano voice practically lifted us all up to heaven as she belted out “O Holy Night.” Among the best.

Opening with a very familiar, but very good, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” set the right mood for the evening. Later, Ben Wood’s tenor voice sounded great on “O Jesus So Gentle.”

And hearing “Mary, Did You Know” is like watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If you’re not a little choked up by that song, you may need to see the doctor to find out if you’ve got “Tin Man” disease and need a heart.

Then, there were other songs. They were sung well, but two of my least favorites were on the program The choir sang “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which remains on my least favorite list for it’s odd portrayal of wind talking to lambs talking to shepherds talking to kings, it’s improbable metaphors (how is a song the size of a sea?) and its non-Biblical conclusion. The king in his palace warm is a bad guy in the Bible.

Stone Drum

A stone drum, © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Then, there is the “Carol of the Drum.” Last year, I called it by its common title “Little Drummer Boy.” I think I named it the worst Christmas song ever.

Well, I’ve reconsidered. It’s probably not the worst Christmas song ever, it’s merely just a bad song. In hindsight, invention of new characters who didn’t appear in the Biblical story isn’t a terrible thing—think “Ben Hur”—but the song still sounds stupid. Bah Rum Pum Hum Bug.

Still, MMU choir, insipid song sung well. Kudos.

Enough complaining—the evening was grand. The effect of the combination of music and readings is a bit of Christmas magic. I’m glad being in bells brought me there, and shame on me for not making time for this concert every year. It’s a great way to get in the holiday frame of mind—pass the eggnog and fruitcake, I’m ready for everything Christmas.

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Are We All The Same?


Katy Sebers

Katy getting ready to graduate. Mount Mercy Times photo by Cindy Petersen.

Terry Waite, a world-famous humanitarian, author and former hostage spoke at Mount Mercy’s graduation ceremony May 23.

Traditionally, graduation speeches are frothy and forgettable. Based on that tradition, Mr. Waite’s speech was an epic fail. I found it both thought provoking and memorable, and parts of it have been rattling round in my brain for days.

More on that later.

Graduation 2010 was special to me in many ways. It was the last graduation for Mount Mercy College, which, by the time it holds another large year-end graduation ceremony, will be dubbed “Mount Mercy University.” Sadly, I think they are keeping the Mustangs team name—when, obviously, MMU could easily be the Fighting Cows.

Katy Sebers, the third of my four daughters, was part of the class of 2010. She began her college career at Morningside College in Sioux City, ended up a wife and mother and student MMC, and changed her major from nursing to education to business.

But, she finished college and bore two children in four years. She’s the fourth of my children to earn a college degree, just two to go. All have finished in four years, or, in the case of Theresa, 3 ½ years.

Congratulations, Katy.

Besides some personal importance, and marking an institutional transition at Mount Mercy, there was a lot that was new for the graduation of 2010. What did I think of it?

  • Hooding ceremony was nicely done. Have to have a step ladder, however, if we insist on short faculty with PhDs hooding tall MBAs.
  • Honors Convocation was shorter than in the past. Thank goodness.
  • Time change to Sunday helped. I know, Sunday should be family day, but the switch boosted attendance at the senior Mass, which had almost always been a non-event in the past, and it created a whole day of hoopla. It (an extra day) meant not all other events had to be crammed in right before graduation. I know the change brings mixed reactions, but looking back? Yeah, it worked.
  • After-party continues to be a premier MMC event. It was windy, which didn’t help, but the picnic on the hill is cherished tradition and I hope MMU continues it. Could not linger as I had in year’s past—had my daughter’s party to attend and a student’s non-party to attend (tried to go a week early, did not realize her party was not on graduation day). Still, my annual consumption of a veggie burger was satisfying, even if Nikayla though I was crazy (she was perfectly willing to share cookies, but not the veggie burger).
  • Brian rocks out at Music Fest. Mickey's husband is behind him on drums. Mount Mercy Times photo by Cindy Petersen.

    Music Fest, about a week before graduation, was a wonderful new idea that I hope takes off. Although the crowd could have been bigger, I really enjoyed it, even as Brian’s music caused my flesh to boil. (Times editor said his rock band would melt faces. It came close).

  • Speaking of music, bells were indeed fun, and we got much more of a response this year. We played more and joined the choir for the alma mater. Should we keep the alma mater? Yes, indeed, it’s a Mount Mercy tradition, like the after-party, that should unite the university that will be to the college that was. And I hope I will be ringing for the class of 2011. Thank you, Carolyn, for your able leadership of the bell choir.
  • Besides Katy, I will miss having as students many members of the class of 2010. Brian, Bob, Mallory and Mickena of course come to mind, as do many others. All of you stay in touch, I will enjoy watching your journey from the hill. There is a danger in naming several students and not naming all others, and I don’t mean to slight any—there are many faces, voices and spirits I will be missing. Seeing the class of 2010 go is bittersweet, but that’s good. If a transition is only sweet, it’s not a sign you’ve been enjoying the trip. This has been a trip that was thrilling.

All in all, the graduation was hoopla done well. The Prez could cut back on his faux speech to conclude graduation, but I still have to give him credit, too—he does ceremonies well. Jennifer gave a nice student speech, which, of course, is only because she had a brilliant speech teacher. His name was “Joe,” by the way.

But the real crux of the event was Terry Waite and his speech. What a refreshingly pleasant, intelligent and thoughtful fellow. Kudos to the powers that be for bringing him to our hill.

Terry Waite speaks to MMC class of 2010. Gazette did not cover, to their shame--it was a great speech. MMC Times photo by Tom Cranston.

In his speech, he noted that there should never be a “war” on terror because wars escalate violence and divide people, and clearer attention to peaceful resolutions and bringing people together is needed. This from a man who was held captive and tortured by people Bush the Shrub would have dubbed “evil doers.”

Waite recalled his helpless feeling when visiting the mother of a British man brutally beheaded in Afghanistan. Then, he said, she spoke words that touched him. She noted that the loss of her son in such a hideous way was incomprehensible and her grief unimaginable. But she, the mother of a man who had been decapitated by his captors, noted that her grief was no greater than the grief of an Afghani mother whose child dies from a bombing attack or other military action by British or American forces.

I’m not a pacifist. But even I can see violence, even if sometimes necessary, is a path that tends to perpetuate itself.

Waite reminded his audience that despite different cultures and religion, we must always remember our shared humanity, even in the face of violence.

And, he said, we must never think that change is impossible—that the problems we face in reconciling with today’s enemies are too big to solve.

Given his life history, those words had a certain resonance and power.

Nikayla and I enjoy Music Fest on May 14. Hayley, the girl with us, is the youngest member of our bell choir (not sure I'm the oldest, Sister Shari might have a few years on me, but I'm close). Mount Mercy Times photo by Cindy Petersen.

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The bells, the bells, the bells …


Bell Poster

The poster I created to promote our Mass on Sunday. Note that the bells shown are G and A. Guess what I play?

Do you like the poster design? I’m kinda proud of it, I did it in a few minutes this week to publicize the Mount Mercy Bell Choir participating in Sunday Mass on Jan. 24. I am not familiar with this particular Bob Dylan song I am quoting, but yes, it is “that” Bob Dylan, the one who should never sing Christmas songs.

Y’all are invited.

After the fact Fr. Nick e-mailed me to let me know that “performance” is not a good verb since music is part of the liturgy and not really entertainment. Point taken, although the posters have already been printed, and he’s a cool guy, was just glad someone did something to try to get people to Mass.

Anyway, I’ve been in the MMC chimes choir since January of last year, and this January we put down our chimes and picked up bells.

It’s been an interesting learning experience. Music is pretty darn complex. It’s taken me a year to memorize that G is my left hand and A is my right hand, and G and A in the bass clef are the only two notes I know (I guess 3, if you count my sharp and flat). I’ve been marking our songs, writing an A or G under each of my notes, and Carolyn, our director, wanted me to try to sight read this January.

It was a disaster. The notes are just too darn fast and small for my middle-aged eyes and brain. Yes, I can “read” notes, as long as it’s only the A and G on the bass clef, but I can’t read as fast as the choir plays. If I have not marked my notes in advance, I quickly get lost (and I’m too prone to getting lost anyway).

Not me.  If I wear a watch (rarely do) it's on my right hand because I'm a southpaw.  And I have an old brown Yamaha, not whatever fancy pants black piano is shown.  This was just an imaged labeled for free use ...

Not me. If I wear a watch (rarely do) it's on my right hand because I'm a southpaw. And I have an old brown Yamaha, not whatever fancy pants black piano is shown. This was just an imaged labeled for free use ...

Anyway, since I inherited my mother’s old out-of-tune piano, I’ve started working on a “How to Play Piano” text book, mostly to learn more notes and how to read them. I’m only on lesson one right how, but promise I will practice more tomorrow night (not tonight, because tonight it’s bowling on an MMC team and then Project Runway—Thursday is our one night of TV and includes The Office, 30 Rock and PR. By the way, I think 30 Rock may be one of the best under-watched shows on TV.)

There are other bell issues I face. My G bell has a “wandering” clapper. The clapper has different settings, a soft setting and two loud settings that you adjust by “clicking” a dial from one setting to another. But my bell clapper, while I’m playing, mind you, will “unclick” and end up between settings, which leads to a horrible “claaaaaang” instead of a nice clear G.

Carolyn, and her husband Bob, both experienced bellers, have tried to figure it out and have contacted the bell maker. Apparently, I’ve caused a new unheard of problem—“Sheller Syndrome?”—that involves a mysteriously mischievous clapper.

Lucky me.

So, how have I enjoyed the year struggling to keep up and trying (but failing) to read music?

Quite a lot, actually. I really like learning weird new things, and this is just a fun group to be part of.

So, even if I have to wait for a pause to correct my G clapper, and even if reading the music is still a bit of a mystery to me, I say if you have the chance to join a bell choir, go for it.

Ring them bells.

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