Posted in Music

Accepting Compliments

Today I sang special music in church again — both services — and received the usual shower of applause and compliments afterwards.  To each compliment I gave a warm smile and a thank you, and to the applause I gave a bow of acknowledgement before moving aside to let the order of the service resume.

I enjoy appreciation of my musical talent, but find myself feeling conflicted when receiving those compliments in the context of a worship service, where the focus is not supposed to be on me, not on the performance, but on the worship. In some respects, there was an especial irony today, if taken a certain way: the song I sang was God and God Alone, with the words “Let everything that lives reserve its truest praise for God and God alone.”

I remember back in my Houghton College days that Lee Schaarschmidt, a music ed instrument major, seemed to deflect all praise for his musical performance from himself with an almost signature gesture heavenward (with my usual lack of visual memory, I cannot be certain, but I think it was the forefinger pointed upwards. Others who remember that specific better, feel free to correct me).

I have often contemplated that reaction, and while it may have been the right thing for him, were I to try it, I would only feel that I was bringing more attention to myself by trying to avoid it.

My father encouraged me, and taught me, to accept the praise gracefully, without making any more emphasis. I have found that works well for me.

And since then, I have learned that, just maybe, I didn’t fully understand what is going on when people appreciate a performance in church. Not that I claim to now.

As a performer I give to God as I give to and lead the congregation. The congregation joins in this, and returns by giving in return. They give praise to God, but as God’s love overflows, they also give back to me.  Just as they receive from me, I need to learn to receive from them, to let the giving be a continuous flowing, and not stop it, either by my own aggrandizement, or attempt to avoid the same.

Posted in Houghton College

Houghton College Retrospective #4: College Choir, Freshman Year

Looking up at the World Trade Center

(Clip of the choir’s featured piece during the 1984-85 season, under the direction of Dr. Brown. Go ahead and play while you read the rest. It will probably still be playing after you get done reading.)

It may be surprising to many that I, born and raised in New York State, had never been to New York City before the college choir toured NYC and the surrounding areas while I was a member my Freshman year.

WTC view 01
Seeing Statue of Liberty from World Trade Center

That surprise is to be expected of those who only think of “The City” when talking about New York, and are unaware of the upstate/downstate pull of the New York identity and politics. Nevertheless, it was to New York City, Connecticut, West Point, etc., that we toured that year.

WTC viem 02
Brian Lewis Taking picture from World Trade Center of the Empire State Building

It was year that I also went to the top of the World Trade Center — unaware that it wouldn’t be there in another couple of decades. I remember having that weird sense, looking down through the windows, of falling, that feeling of throwing myself off.

My photo album of the tour is full of pictures of each couple we stayed with. I have fond memories of one of the couples, when I asked to take their picture, of hiding behind her husband, except for her face, because she was in her house robe and was bashful about having her picture taken in it.

I remember part of the tour preparation was finding a roommate that we would usually be paired up with when the hosting church found someone to put us up for the night. There were several other freshman in the choir, but they already had people planned to pair up with.  I was a loner, and so senior Tim Deeks, a double major (psych/music), became my tour roommate. I have memories of being the loner, combined with memories of being greatly befriended.

Street Musicians
NYC street band

I was struck by a sidewalk band I saw, and took a picture of it.  I became more acquainted with such groups this past summer while traveling on my whirlwind tour of Mediterranean Europe.

Macy Barbershop
Barbershop group in Macy’s, NYC

I also took a picture of a Barbershop Quartet singing in Macy’s.

Central Park 01
Me and Samantha sitting in Central Park

And got my first exposure to Central Park.

West Point
View of West Point from the Cadet Chapel

That year we sang at West Point — in the Post Chapel.  Our chief school Rival, Roberts Wesleyan College, was singing in the Cadet Chapel.  The Cadet Chapel was larger.  But we did get to go to the Cadet Chapel afterwards, and see inside.  Dan Fortune, the organ major among us, even got to sit at the chapel organ.  That organ was a marvel. It had more stops that it would seem any organist would know what to do with. Seems that one of the more popular class gifts for graduating classes to donate to West Point was a rank of pipes for the organ.

Radio City - Ruhl
Mark Ruhl sitting in front of Radio City

This was the year of the three ties — purple, gold and flourescent orange. There was a small tie shop, in a very narrow slit of a shop, just across from the World Trade Center (It too is probably not there any more.  You could get 3 narrow ties for $10, and I got a violet-type purple, synthetic almost rubbery-fabric  fluorescent orange and a metallic gold weave. I still have them.

Freshman Room
My side of my Freshman dorm room. I had space left in the choir tour album, and put in a couple of pictures of my dorm room as well.
Posted in Houghton College

Houghton College Retrospective #3: My Start in Writing and Music


When I think of my Houghton experience, music and writing seem to be the two themes that I expressed myself through.

I was a writing major, majoring in fiction: my key writing outlet was The Houghton Star, not the Lanthorn.

I wasn’t a music major, but I sang with the Houghton College choir for 4 years. Both events were significant influences.

How I started both were loaded with accident and coincidence.

During the application process I learned that Houghton had a “good” music program, but not being a music major, I had never compared programs to realize just how good. On the other had, I had always been one of the better musicians in the small schools and churches I had grown up in, so I knew I wanted to continue music in college if possible.

So I checked into auditions for what choirs were available.  There was a College Choir and a Chapel Choir. I had no real clue about the difference, so I asked the person I was talking to, who happened to be Professor Reigles, and decided to sign up for a College Choir audition.

I had no idea that the person I was talking to was the director of the Chapel Choir, and I made the decision to try out for the College Choir. So I probably didn’t make the very best first impression on her.

I didn’t realize until later that the College Choir was the “premiere” choir for the college. I see in my journal that my audition got moved several times before I got in, and then all my stressing over it turned out to be unnecessary, as I made it in the same way I usually make it in — a combination of decent talent and the  fact that fewer guys than women compete for musical spots.

On the writing front, I was a writing major, or wanted to be, but one doesn’t declare a major that early. I did get Professor Leax for POW (good old Principles of Writing), and I knew he was the professor that most writing majors got as their advisor, and I can see in my journal an intention to impress him and get his guidance behind my writing.


But the thing I seemed most focused on was the chance to become a writer/reporter for The Houghton Star. I attended an informational session where I was apparently the only new person present. When I stepped forward (non-too-boldly my journal says), I learned they worked by assignment (sort of like stringers), and they gave me an assignment to write a paragraph about the freshmen intreat that was going to be incorporated into an article on all the retreats. That article was never published.


But they either liked my writing well enough, or just needed enough people to write, that I did get an article in the first edition, and several other articles throughout the year. From what I can tell by reading them now, my writing was okay but not spectacular.


But I did certainly enjoy my bi-line on each article, along with having  my name in the staff box as one of the staff reporters.


As I do a review of my writing, and the editions of the Houghton Star, I see that most of my articles Freshman year were of the “press release” type, rewriting and fleshing out basic informational articles.


I also see that, though I may have been the only freshman to show up at the informational session, Lorry Armold, who would later be one of my competitors for editor of the Star, made it not only in as an editor, but also on the production team. She wrote more, longer, and more in-depth articles than I did Freshman year.


I, on the other hand, checked in for assignments, wrote what was assigned, and expected hard effort to be recognized and rewarded.  I hadn’t figured out the need to network with the editorial staff to vie for better assignments.


As a result, my assignments petered out in the second semester.  That was when I wrote two letters to the editor that got published.  They were letters from someone on the paper staff, that yet had the voice of an outsider.


And that tone, I think, is where I first began to be noticed by the larger Houghton student community. That tone would sharpen, for better or worse, during Sophomore year.