The 2018 Mississippi Conference on Church Music & Liturgy: All Generations Shall Call Me Blessèd

The 2018 Mississippi Conference on Church Music & Liturgy: All Generations Shall Call Me Blessèd

As a first-time attendee to the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy, I found the experience to be inspiring, rewarding, and a fantastic period of worship and music-making. Being the newly-appointed choirmaster at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, Mississippi, I was provided with many references to the great learning opportunity this conference would be, but the experience more than surpassed my expectations. From the fantastic selections of music rehearsed and performed to the many offices prayed, we wove a tight fabric of what would become a capstone eucharist at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Jackson on the final day of the conference. What left the most profound impression on me, though, was the gathering of individuals from all over the country at the Gray Center in Canton, Mississippi. Their impact on my work as a church musician will be felt for years to come as I anticipate my participation again next summer.

Jason Abel, organist and choirmaster at Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and Colin Lynch, associate director of music at Trinity Church Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts, served as our rehearsal leaders for the week. Their differing styles and command of ensemble preparation provided me with many tools for use in my choir rehearsals. Spiritually, their treatment of the music as a tool for communication with the soul will leave the greatest impression on me. Jason’s calm demeanor and reverence and Colin’s excitement and energy were exactly what was needed to feed my musical and spiritual well-being as we worked through countless works in preparation for evensong on Thursday night and the eucharist on Sunday morning.

Jason and Colin brought a wealth of musical knowledge to their rehearsals, and as such, we were exposed to works by Praetorius, Britten, Monteverdi, Howells, Parry, and more. This exposure was made greater by the surrounding musicians and the acoustics of the chapel at the Gray Center. The reading sessions led by Jason and Colin cannot go without mention either. The conference attendees were led through dozens of titles from Lois Fyfe Music, and a room was set up with the option to purchase these pieces of music.

The Reverend Rita Teschner Powell, associate rector at Trinity Church Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts, served as our chief clinician in our study of prayer through the ages. Not only did Rita take us on a journey of the offices through the early days of Christianity and Anglicanism, but she led us down a path of reflection regarding prayer in our own lives. Some topics of her lectures included: the history of daily prayer, the history of the prayerbooks, how the 1979 Book of Common Prayer addresses the historical gap, and how history can shape the future. Conference attendees gained a great deal from Rita’s probing questions into how the 1979 BCP might be revised and how we might best make sense of those revisions. Rita encouraged open conversations and led us down the path of questioning how we use daily prayer in our own practice. Ultimately, my greatest takeaway from my time in Rita’s sessions was her statement that a need for God is a need to pray. Her iteration that daily prayer is a part of our heritage as Christians will stick with me far past the days and weeks following this year’s conference.

To say that Conference would occur without the tireless efforts of the people behind the scenes would be a gross error. Conference organizers made sure the conference ran smoothly and that information was disseminated before, during, and after the week’s events. The staff at the Gray Center should be commended for their hospitality and work in making all attendees comfortable.

As mentioned previously, the attendees and clinicians at the 43rd Annual Conference inspired the best part of me as a musician and an Episcopalian. Attendees come from all walks of life, from all parts of Mississippi, and from all parts of the country. There is no doubt that the reputation of this conference reaches far beyond the confines of Canton, Mississippi, and its effects pervade the Church throughout our country. Whether you are a chorister, parishioner, choirmaster, or organist, this conference holds great value to you as a musician, Christian, and person. I am truly grateful for my time spent with the music, liturgy, and people of the Episcopal Church, and my thanks go out to the Diocese of Mississippi and all of those who have made the conference possible.

Taylor Sparks is the choirmaster of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, MS and teaches music at Lawndale Elementary School in Tupelo. He holds degrees from Samford University and William Carey University.