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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Aspired Life

Last week Paul Manz died. Unless you are hooked into the highly specialized field of Church music, the name nor the man might not mean much to you. But he did mean something to me. In the course of a half-hour, he once taught me what it meant to praise God. Not bad, as I had a whole bunch of other teachers over the years try to teach me that, and they were not as successful. Here's how it went...

We gathered that day for class in the Board Room of the seminary, usually reserved for meetings telling us future pastors how to behave. As we entered, Paul Manz sat at the grand piano in the middle of the room. By this time in his career Dr. Manz was already a famous church musician, composer, and conductor of sacred chorale and organ music, and as Church Musicians go, he was about at the top in Chicago in those days. But most importantly...he was rather vertically challenged.

It was always interesting to be in a conversation with Dr. Manz because for all his energy and passion, he was never the tallest, even though he was often the highest respected, person in the group. So there he was, legs dangling from the piano bench, and inviting us with almost Jim Carrey-like enthusiasm to have a seat around the piano. He began to play one of his compositions, and a few of my classmates who knew the piece started singing along. (It wasn't Bob Dylan or Van Morrision, so I was not privy to the lyrics...not that I ever understand lyrics from Dylan or Morrision!) After a few minutes of explaining music to me, he taught us a hymn, entitled "It Happened on that Fateful Night" set to the tune of "Bourbon." (And yes, that is part of the reason this is one of my favorite hymns, Dr. Manz nonewithstanding.)

What I learned that afternoon about choral music and hymnody changed how I listen to every piece of music, from Morrison and Dylan to the Eagles to Frank Sinatra. Because music is not just about what it does to the listener or the musician, what it means to the writer or the composer, music is about what it aspires to...lifting the troubled soul, celebrating another year in a life, caressing a grieving heart, connecting a melancholic spirit in the presence of God...those are the gifts of music...and I learned that from Dr. Manz.

Thank you, Dr. Manz, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Requiescat in pace.

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