Doxology

You know how sometimes you just find yourself needing random things, and so you make them, and then you release them into the wild on the off chance that other people might need those same random things?

Here’s a 4-part hymn voicing for the venerable Doxology. Share and enjoy.

Free as in Speech

I hold Westboro Baptist Church in the greatest contempt. They are hateful, graceless, and they shame the name of Christ. That said, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld their right to speech, even hateful speech.

The debate over the 1st amendment often gets mired in detours over sexual content and entertainment, over content distributors editing TV and films to increase market share to cries of “censorship” from the content creators.

It’s easy to forget that the original intent of the 1st Amendment was to protect political speech, and especially political speech that is unpopular and confrontational, even hateful. It is a shield that protects not only the speaker, but that protects society from a barren marketplace of ideas, where the monopoly of populism silences all other voices. Whatever else it is, the actions of Westboro are political, ideological expression. They are exactly the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was written to protect.

You may not like the kind of speech that Westboro engages in – I don’t know anyone who does. Even so, we should be proud of a legal and political system that protects their right to freely speak.

And, once we have patted ourselves on the back, we should use every other means possible to shout them down. We should not use the law to silence public speech, but we should absolutely use public speech to shout down horrible ideas.

The politics of Christianity

Sharolyn Borris doesn’t not particularly feel like starting a Facebook war, yet feels compelled to vent her frustration over a quote in this morning’s newspaper directly linking Christians to The Tea Party.  Because if you’re one, you must be the other.  UGH!

Transition

Earlier today, Gretchen and I stood up in front of the church and announced that I would be stepping down from my position as Worship Leader at Christ Community Church.

A Little History

About 9 years ago, I was the worship leader for a small church plant in the Inland Empire. It was not a good experience. The leadership was not supportive, our relationship with the pastor was demeaning, and when we left we shook the dust off our feet. I had no place to go, no obvious means of income, but we had to get gone.

We bounced around for a few months, moved to Burbank, and then out of nowhere I got an email from Doug Scholten, the pastor at CCC. Their worship leader had left with two weeks notice, and Doug was scrambling to find an interim who could hold down the gig for a month or so while they looked for someone to take the position. We met, it went well, and I agreed to cover the gap. Mother’s Day of 2003 was my first Sunday at the church.

As they looked at candidates for the position, they asked me if I was interested. I kept saying no – I wasn’t interested in a church gig, I didn’t want to get back into that mess.

After 6 months, Gretchen and I realized that we did, actually, really want to be there. The people were warm and welcoming, the position was well-defined and well-suited to my abilities. More than that, Doug was the kind of pastor that all church musicians hope for. He respected music and the arts, was willing to try new things, and was able to step back and allow me to do my job. I submitted my resume, and they hired me as the Worship Leader.

Some Highlights

In my first year at CCC, Doug asked me to preach. It was the first time I had been asked to preach anywhere. It was an overwhelming and awe-filling experience, and one that I came to both dread and relish.

We have a seasonal choir at CCC, but most of the choir lit wasn’t appropriate for our group. I started writing and arranging music for our choir, and as I’m sitting here looking at my scores folder, over 8 years I’ve written or arranged 30 pieces of choral music for this choir. There’s nothing quite like the relentless necessity of Christmas and Easter to force you to build a catalog of work!

Good Friday has become a tradition of experiential risk-taking for us. One year we created an immersive environment with 30 laptops projecting photos and videos, and live-blogging stations for people to record their reactions. Last year we booked a string quartet to play a meditative concert of challenging contemporary music. The path from “What if we …” to “Let’s try it!” was well-worn.

A few years ago, we added a Classic service at 8am on Sunday mornings. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea initially, but it has become the perfect way to start the out the Sunday haul. Instead of jumping right in to running charts, setting tech, rehearsing the band, I get to start the day by sitting quietly and playing through two hymns with a small congregation. It’s a brief meditation for me, and has become one of my favorite things.

In the time I’ve been at CCC, we’ve had about 12 students from APU come through and play with the team, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for much longer. It’s been a place where some of the things we talk about in class can be worked out very practically, like a “lab” extension to the lectures.

Both of our children were born and then dedicated at CCC. I love that we gather around and lay hands on new parents, commissioning them to the ministry of parenthood.

The Transition

In the last few years, Gretchen and I have been feeling a strong pull to find a local church. We love many things about CCC, but the drive is 45 minutes on Sunday morning, and an hour and a half during rush hour. The time and distance mean that we can’t be part of the community of Christ Community Church. Our kids can’t be in the children’s choir, Gretchen and I can’t be in small groups or make it out to social functions.

We believe in the mission of the church. We believe that it has the power to change lives and communities. That power, though, is worked out through the relationships within the church, and between the church and those in the community around it. If you’re only present for Sunday morning, if you are forced by time and distance to stand one step removed from the other people in the congregation, then you might be “going” to church, but it is impossible to participate in the transforming power of church. You can’t serve the mission. You can’t be served by the mission.

So, we starting praying and looking for a chance to make the transition to a local church.

The Road Ahead

February 27th will be our last Sunday, after which I will step down from my position as worship leader. March 6th I’ll begin leading a small early morning chapel service at a large church in the Irvine area. It’s a traditional music service, with piano and organ, along with the occasional string quartet and guest soloists. It’s early in the morning, and so I’ll be home in time for us to find a 10:30 service at a local church, where we can attend together as a family.

There are many things we will miss from the last 8 years, but there are also some things we’re looking forward to.

We’re looking forward to sitting together during a worship service.

We’re looking forward to attending a small group or bible study together.

I’m looking forward to being that guy every worship leader dreams of, who walks up after the service and says “Hey, I’d love to sub on the worship team sometime if you need someone to cover keyboards,” and then can actually play!

I’m looking forward to a smaller scope of responsibility, to a simpler service. I’m looking forward to Easter and Christmas being seasons of joy, instead of dread.

The seed that was planted with the hymn service at our church has blossomed. I’m looking forward to playing music from the deep and rich tradition of the church.

I’m looking forward to volunteering for things … or, saying “no” to things!

Leaving Well

There are so few times in Church when we are able to leave well. It seems like most transitions happen because the church is unhappy, or there is conflict with the leadership, or character issues, or because someone leaves for a better gig, or more money, or … anyway, we as a church have a bad history of ending ministries well.

This is a good transition. Hard, but good. We are leaving a healthy ministry behind, we are leaving with the blessing and goodwill of the congregation, and we are leaving for the best of reasons.

This is a good thing.

Happy New Year from the Stecklers!

Hey Roadies, thought I’d spread a little holiday cheer and whip up a little remix for your New Year’s Eve party mix. June was kind enough to add a little translation and of course, the obligatory pics of the kiddos. Enjoy! (If you want to download it, click the little down arrow in the Soundcloud player.)

Auld Lang Syne (Stickmix) by Brian Steckler


Generousity of Spirit … and Legos

My son did something beautiful this Christmas. He gave a simple, pure, thoughtful, costly gift to his cousins.

Josiah loves Legos, because he is alive and a boy and because they are awesome. About a month ago, he also started getting really into rockets. Not sure what triggered it, but they too are awesome. So, he takes his Legos, and stacks them up into big tall towers, and they are rockets, and he flies them around the house.

A few weeks ago, he stacked up 3 big towers of Legos, and asked Gretchen to help him wrap them.

“Why?”

“This one is for my Zacky, this one is for my Jacob, this one is for my Joshua, these are for Christmas.” He wanted to give his Lego rockets away to the three boy cousins we would be seeing over the holidays.

For three weeks, we kept asking him if he still wanted to give them away. We wanted to make sure he understood that giving a gift meant the person gets to keep it, and you don’t have it any more. They were his Legos, he could give them away as presents if he wanted to, but if he did he wouldn’t be able to play with them anymore, they would belong to his three cousins instead. We weren’t trying to talk him out of it, but we did want to make sure he understood what he was doing.

He did, and he was unwavering. He wanted to give them away. So, of course, we let him.

And so, on Christmas Eve, he gave the most precious thing he owns away to his cousins, so that they could have rockets.

The last three months have been rough with him. He drops tantrums like crazy, and there is a defiant streak running through him. But there is also a purity of spirit, a part of him that acts without pretense or calculation. At the end of a hard few months, the gift of Legos was a gift to Gretchen and I too; it was a chance to see our son at his best, and draw renewed strength from that simply act of generosity.

Toxic

Christmas music is in the air, and so what better time to drop the awesome bomb on ya’ll. This is an arrangement I did last year for the Cal State LA master’s program, and I never got around to posting it. The assignment was to take a well-known song, and arrange it in a style totally unrelated to the original. Behold what I hath wrought!

Toxicity

Do You Hear?

What time is it?

Do You Hear?

Awwwww yeah, it’s that time! This is the orchestral interlude to the epic Christmas opener for this year. The sound is straight out of Sibelius, so … be gracious. I’m including the score for those who wish to geek out. The section you hear starts on page 5, bar 48.

XMAS-OPENER_11x17_SCORE

They will build and dwell, they will plant and eat

Our church follows the lectionary (sorta), and the Old Testament reading for this week comes from Isaiah 65. I’m prepping for Sunday, and the words of the passage struck me so powerfully. You should really take 5 minutes to go read the whole thing:

Isaiah 65:11-25

Did you read it? Go read it!

I’m not moving on until you read it.

Done?

OK, good.

In the middle of the passage, verse 21, comes this,

“They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”

I can’t really even put into words why it struck me so powerfully, but I was glad to remember that in coming Kingdom, there is still work, but it is never an act of futility. It is always fitting, always fruitful.

a theory on theory

“Once I begin to inspect, study and analyze the bits and pieces that make up the mechanics of music: the notes, the timbres, the durations, the rhythms, the harmonies, the melodies, the forms – as soon as I try to find out if there are some recurring patterns, or if there are some technical theories that can describe what makes the music sound that way, I’m now in the land of theory and always recognize that these analysis have a different purpose than the simple act of making music.  How I technically think about and describe what’s being played is a different subject from the act of playing.  And it’s only use is to help me more fully understand how to better do what I want to do.  How to play better; perform better; communicate better; be a better musician.”  -Chick Corea

Welcome to the Middle Ages

Happy Birthday to Michael, who hits the big 3-5 today.

I for one am so happy to have such a creative, intellectual, musical, caring and funny partner through life.

Give Mike a shout out today. It may help him resist the slippery slope into the middle age depression.

I love you babe.

Round Midnight

I was tracking some piano last night for a beautiful song that Chad put together, it was late and the lights were down and everyone was asleep, so I took a few minutes afterward to play through one of the greatest jazz ballads every written.

This is what the Steinway sounds like with a pair of Neumann TLM 170s on it.

Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk

Buridan’s Ass

I mean donkey.  I can often see both sides of an issue.  I am often paralyzed by tough issues because I see so clearly multiple perspectives.  Here is an example.

There was an article in our local paper on October 20th about Schwarzenegger eliminating from the state budget a subsidy for child care.  Here is the article if you care to read it.

This is not an original dilemma, but the thought in my mind was two fold.

Thought 1.  Why did the woman pictured have that 3rd child?  Why is she asking the tax payers to help her raise it?  Aren’t subsidies for child care an incentive to have kids that you can’t afford?

Thought 2.  These kids should have the best care that is available to them.  I think my Lord has called me to help take care of the poor.  How dare I have these heartless thoughts about the least of these?  Take care of the poor is the most frequent theme in the whole bible, is thought 1 consistent with being a Christian?

The Tytler Cycle comes to mind when it comes to thought 1.

Is anyone not paralyzed when it comes to tax payers helping the poor?

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Working on the opener for the big APU Celebrate Christmas concert. It’s going to be a big epic choir & orchestra setting of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, building up into a new anthem that I just finished last night. I’m kind of loving this.

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Sing, ye Christmas Choirs
Ring, ye wild bells ring while darkness flees

Sing the Light of Heav’n
Sing of peace o’er all the earth while darkness flees,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

Ring out Christmas bells
Ring out songs of joy for God has come

O Son of Israel
O Zion’s Daughter, sing! our God has come

Brightest of Adam’s wandering sons
Joined with the light of the holy one,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring