This is one photo that I feel like printing up, framing, and hanging on the wall as a tangible reminder of a remarkable week in Decorah when I experienced just about every human emotion one can feel. I was about to liken it to trying to go on every single ride at Disney World in the space of a single day, except that all of the rides there are – to varying degrees – fun. . . and some of what I experienced this past week was anything but. Maybe it was more like walking through a grocery store and consuming a little bit of everything on those shelves. . . from Kit Kat candy bars (yum!) to the Del Monte canned black olives (yuck!) But the math of that is all wrong because most of the week in Decorah was glorious. So maybe I should just get out of the metaphor business and describe some of what I felt last week. Emotions like:
Giddiness. . . I was so excited to be back in Decorah again. I’d been there for an extremely short visit back in January, which scarcely counted. This would be a whole week there- with plenty of time with Randi & Matt & their kids. . . plus I would get to spend part of the week with Kathy and her dad as well. But there was also . . .
Nervousness. . . because it was my collaboration with the Weston Noble Alumni Choir. Would there be anybody there I knew, aside from Mr. Noble himself? Would people be friendly? And would they like my “Amazing Grace” or would they find it too simple- something more appropriate for a junior high choir or your run-of-the-mill church choir to be singing?
Excitement. . . Walking into Jensen Hall of Music and seeing my fellow singers – recognizing two singers from my day (Mary Beth Petrak and Paul Cleven) – and several other alumni who I know in other ways – and exchanging a long, warm hug with Mr. Noble was just the invigoration I needed after a long trip and a short night’s sleep. And when a couple of choir members noticed my name tag and took a moment to compliment me on the Amazing Grace (everyone had been sent the music and a recording ahead of time) I started to feel like maybe it would go over okay. 🙂
Infatuation. . . I don’t think that’s quite the right word, but I can’t quite come up with an adequate term for how head over heels in love I am with Kaj and Anna and Aidan. They are three of the neatest kids I’ve ever met and each one is an utterly unique person, with their own marvelous gifts. And lest you think I’m guilty of some bias here, Kathy and her dad pretty much share the sentiment. In fact, one of the neatest things about the week was seeing the easy, beautiful rapport which those two had with the young Spencer-Bergs.
Gluttony. . . That’s not an emotion, is it? It’s a sin. But part of what I was really looking forward to was Mabe’s Pizza- and I got to eat it three times over the course of the week. And anyone who sees my 70-pound weigh loss and believes me to be a paragon of self-control and discipline should have watched me chow down Mabe’s Pizza as though it were the first meal I’d eaten in weeks. By the way, I tried to balance out my evening naughtiness by eating most of my lunches at Subway- and I even tried to walk there from the campus. (I didn’t have a car.) But almost without fail, someone would come along in their car who recognized me and insisted on giving me a ride.
Bewilderment. . . I will never ever forget the moment when my sister Randi broke the news to me Monday morning that my brother Steve had gone into the hospital out in Seattle. It was something completely unexpected (at least for me) and left me thunderstruck. Part of what made this such a strange moment is that she took me up to a beautiful, picturesque spot called Pulpit Rock to tell me about Steve, and the contrast between that terrible news and the idyllic beauty around us could not have been more jarring.
Fear . . . Then came the awful news a couple days later that Steve had been moved to intensive care, due to internal bleeding – and I found myself as frightened as I have ever been. I was so relieved that Kathy and her dad were in Decorah by that point, and could help me bear this. I didn’t even realize how shaken I was at all this until I took a moment to confide in a good friend in the alumni choir. (Otherwise, I told no one- I did not want the situation to be a distraction to anyone, including Mr. Noble.) As George Gentes and I stepped out into the hallway, I dissolved into tears and could hardly get the words out. I will always be grateful to George for his warm hug and for saying just the right words at that moment.
Inspiration . . . I think it was my Carthage colleague Charlotte Chell who said it so well in an e-mail to me – that against the backdrop of the troubling news from Seattle, I was so fortunate to be in such a beautiful setting singing wonderful music. And indeed, that was a tremendous blessing as over and over again the week brought one spine-chilling moment after another. Among the most amazing of all- the moment Wednesday afternoon when the choir sang through my “Amazing Grace” arrangement for the first time- sounding SO beautiful – and Mr. Noble with tears streaming down his cheeks at the big climax of “but God who calls me here below will be . . . forever . . . Mine ! ! !”
Wonderment. . . We visited nearby Niagra Cave and that’s worth a whole blog entry in and of itself. . . as is the Bily Clocks Museum in nearby Spillville. These are magnificent hand carved clocks created by two bachelor brothers with the last name Bily, who died in the mid 1960’s having never journeyed father than 35 miles from their home. Truly incredible.
Gratitude. . . The week culminated in a concert Friday night that will reverberate in my soul for a long long long long time. Dad and Sonja and Randi weren’t there because they had flown to Seattle to be with Steve (of course) but Matt & two of the kids and Kathy & her dad were among the audience members there and I so appreciated seeing those loving faces out there. My collaboration with Mr. Noble was celebrated in two special moments – not only the choir singing my “Amazing Grace” arrangement- but also in me singing the baritone solo for John Rutter’s Mass for the Children, which was part of the memorable final concert for Mr. Noble and the Carthage Choir back in May of 2008. (And in a rather comical moment, midway through the concert Mr. Noble introduced the college organist as “Dr. Greg Berg” rather than Dr. Greg Peterson. That was good for a quiet laugh amongst the choir members as well.) But in some ways my favorite moment of the night was when I took the microphone right after “Amazing Grace” and tried to say a few heartfelt (and I hope coherent) words of gratitude for Mr. Noble and all he has done for me and for generations of Luther graduates. When I eventually hear the recording of the concert, I will probably grimace that I didn’t say it better, but it felt good in the moment to at least try. And truth be told, I felt a most profound sort of gratitude that night- not just for Mr. Noble but for all of my teachers over the years: Mrs. Bolson and Mrs. DeWoolf on the piano – Cherie Carl, David Greedy and Richard Grace in voice – and all of the teachers and fellow students who have helped to shape me as a musician and human being – as well as friends and family and church communities who are also such a big part of who I am and what I have experienced. I am blessed far beyond my deserving, and this concert and this whole week in Decorah were a powerful reminder of that.
pictured above: The choir and Mr. Noble listen attentively as I play the introduction to “Amazing Grace.” By the way, the choir member closest to Mr. Noble’s left is his brother, Joseph Noble, who also a superlative choral conductor.