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James Janssen 

piano • organ • fortepiano • harpsichord

conductor • composer • teacher/coach


Via Sequencia...

12 Jun 2020

Twelve weeks and counting

Tuesday marked 12 weeks of remotely working from my kitchen table/COVID-19 home office. And today is 13 weeks since I last visited Jeff at the Handsome Bastard Barber Shoppe. 
30 Apr 2020
Needing my barber after six weeks
Needing my barber after six weeks

Another month down

It’s May Day, and I‘m ready to radio a “may day” to Jeff, my barber. If only just for something to do outside the house! I should be taking the initiative and walking a few miles every day, but instead I’ve worked and worked and worked. All inside at my kitchen table (with the Scotties under the table on their beds). 

My CEO sent all staff an email—all of us are working remotely—reminding us to take care of ourselves and not work without rest, explicitly telling us to take our comp time and PTO as we need it. Well, I NEED IT! Handholding brilliant physicians as they fumble around trying to find that one email that tells them how to logon to a webinar or how to find that bit of info that you’ve given to them in myriad ways over the past weeks is exhausting! 

My husband and I are faring all right... no imminent divorce it seems. We’ve gotten good at stepping out of the way when space seems to be needed. We’re cooking for each other, keeping the dirty dishes out of the sink and in the dishwasher, taking turns walking and feeding the pups... all around well-oiled, if cramped, machine. 

I’ve given up looking forward to the day we go back to semi-normal (?), whatever that will look like. Trying to completely be in the moment so the repetitive nature of this new routine doesn’t weigh me down. Zoom meetings are more than plentiful, but they’re doing a good job at helping me feel less isolated from family, friends, and coworkers. 

I hope you all are coping, too. Send me an email if you wanna Zoom!

11 Apr 2020
Peeps for the Choirlings (a tradition)
Peeps for the Choirlings (a tradition)

An Easter Like No Other

“The three sad days are quickly sped, he rises glorious from the dead.” —The Hymnal 1982, No. 208

If it were any other year like the last sixteen for me, I would have rehearsed this morning with the trumpets for tomorrow‘s festal Eucharist and would now probably be resting up after yesterday’s marathon Good Friday, recharging as much as I could for tonight’s Vigil and tomorrow’s high-energy day with tons of bright and glorious music...and Peeps®!

The more I think of what I’m missing this year with this stay-at-home Holy Week/Easter, the more layers bubble up and add to my grief. The Peeps were the last to rise to the top. For years, Mark and I... uh... I mean... the Easter Bunny has left a package of peeps on each Choirling’s chair before the Easter Vigil. I happen to love Peeps; many don’t, but that’s their loss.

It’s normal to bitch and moan all through Holy Week about how tired we all are and how much we can’t wait for Easter afternoon when we can stuff ourselves with Easter Dinner, then loosen our belts and snore our way through to the evening in our recliners. Mark and I usually spend the day at his sister’s home with a bunch of family, falling asleep in her recliners. I have the embarrassing open-mouthed pictures to prove it. 

For me, this very special time of the year is exactly why I am a church musician. Christmas is wonderful, of course, but the drama of Holy Week, into the Triduum, culminating in the Feast of the Resurrection is what drives me to keep at it year after year, decade after decade. How the narrative starts a week ago with triumph on a donkey’s back, then quickly moves to humble demonstrations of true Christ-like love through washing of feet and sharing a meal to betrayal by a dear friend to pubic torture and lingering death. All hope lost. Three days of sadness. Three days of despair. Three days of seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Feels a lot like what we’re all sharing right now, sitting in our homes, afraid to go to the grocery without masks, gloves, and lots of hand washing. Then, suddenly, we find an empty tomb, and it’s Gloria in excelsis!, bells, lilies, and shouts of joy in perfect fortississimo harmony. 

The church calendar guarantees the celebration of the resurrection. It always comes exactly when it’s prescribed to. It has for over two millennia. That’s just how the story goes. This pandemic, unfortunately, is a story still being written. We don’t know how or when it will end. Our grief is very real, and the love we show to one another will help sustain us all through the uncertainty. I am so thankful that we have a technology infrastructure that we’re connected by that makes it possible for us to be “together but apart.”  

Be patient. Be safe. Be healthy. And please, be kind to one another. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all worried. Let’s get through this nightmare. My prayer on this Holy Saturday, knowing that the Feast of the Resurrection will be upon us in just a few hours, is for all those who are suffering with COVID-19 and those who have lost loved ones to the disease.

Peace and love to all.

”He closed the yawning gates of hell, the bars from heaven’s high portals fell; let hymns of praise his triumphs tell! Alleluia! —The Hymnal 1982, No. 208

Addendum: It’s Easter Day. We had a Zoom service this morning with over 100 attending. I saw families gathered around their devices, single folks alone at home, couples... it was just like looking out into the congregation. It felt wonderful! We sang three favorite hymns. It was almost like being in church. May this crazy time pass us quickly by. Amen!

8 Apr 2020

A Triduum at Home: Some resources for your personal Holy Week observance

“God is love, and where true love is God himself is there.” —The Hymnal 1982, No. 577

The three days of love, betrayal, anguish, grief, and triumph are about to begin. Instead of camping out at the church and being planted on the organ bench for many hours over about 4½ days, I am at home, spending most of my time at my kitchen table, working and keeping connected with family and friends by FaceTime, email, texts, and Facebook. Never in my wildest imagination could I have seen this scenario playing out.

Our choir was to have a two-hour rehearsal this evening to bring everything together for the big weekend. Not having that event on the calendar now—and all the ones that were to follow this week—is discombobulating, to say the least! 

On our St. Matthew’s website, there are some wonderful resources for worship-at-home options for this Holy Week and Easter. I posted on my YouTube our choir’s very beautiful recording of Bob Chilcott’s St John Passion from Good Friday 2018, which you can use during your at-home Good Friday observance or any other time this week that you have time. The full text of the passion can be found here. I hope these resources might help you in your search for meaningful alternatives for observing this solemn and holy time. 

Wishing everyone a blessed Triduum. 

“When I survey the Wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” —Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

3 Apr 2020

Holy Week 2020: My grief is real

“Shelter in place,” said the governor. Okay, a couple weeks then it’ll be back to normal. But no, that didn’t seem like a very realistic expectation. Two weeks became three, then—what is it now?—seven, I think. Seven weeks without being able to live normally, without being able to have lunch with a friend, without being able to gather for anything! And really, it won’t end in seven weeks. It’ll be extended again, don’t you think?

Once the churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago were shut by order of our bishop and the weeks kept being added on, reality began to sink in, reluctantly... no Holy Week or Easter in our beloved buildings this year. WTF?

It’s surreal. It’s unreal. It’s real. My grief is real...

I grew up in a non-denominational, literalist church. The word was preached like it was straight out of God’s mouth, but there was little fire and brimstone. It was a friendly, somewhat subdued, very reverent worship. We sang all the old American hymns (some would call them old-timey), had communion every Sunday, and the preacher’s sermons lasted about 30-40 minutes. If anyone in the congregation shouted out an “Amen!” or raised their hands into the air during prayer, they’d have gotten funny looks. I did hear plenty of homophobic messages, but I’ll save that for another day. 

In that tradition, we only had church on Christmas if the 25th fell on a Sunday. Otherwise, we sang Christmas carols on the Sunday before and sometimes the Sunday after. Never was there a Christmas Eve service. Can you imagine? When it came to Holy Week (which wasn’t even a thing) and Easter, we got the passion story on Palm Sunday and the resurrection on Easter. That was it. 

In college, I experienced my first Great Vigil of Easter at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was nothing like I had ever seen...or heard! The men and boys choir led the music, the pews were packed, the service began at 11:00pm (ended about 1:00am probably), and I was converted. Coming into the dark church and experiencing the Light of Christ in procession with everyone in the place chanting the responses in a great and powerful unison... I was hooked! It only got better from there. 

After a few lessons, collects, and psalms, the shocking first Alleluia was shouted, the lights came up, the lilies were lit up, and I was in total awe. When the choir began to sing the Gloria with all joining in, I thought I would come unglued. I was forever an Episcopalian from that moment forward. 

It wasn’t until the next year that I was first exposed to all that Holy Week offered—Palm Sunday with the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem with palms, great music, and a reading of the ugliness to come later in the week; Tenebrae; Maundy Thursday with the stripping of the altar and vigil at the altar of repose; Good Friday in all its barren solemnity; the Vigil (again); then a joyous and raucous Easter morning. I felt so fulfilled knowing that I’d never have to miss this amazing week of liturgical drama and spectacular (and plentiful) music, which made the mystery of the resurrection so incredibly meaningful to me. I couldn’t imagine another Easter without everything before it. 

And here we find ourselves cooped up at home, experiencing worship by Facebook Live or Zoom. Out of necessity to flatten the curve and potentially save lives of many people we love, we cannot gather and join our voices together in agony and praise this coming week. I’m grieving but know there’s no other way. Our choir had so much planned, and we’d begun earnestly preparing for it weeks ago. One of our longest tenured soloists was to sing the role of Jesus (for the umpteenth time) in Charles Wood’s Passion According to St. Mark as his last hurrah before retiring from singing. I’m sure he’s devastated. I always sing the Exsultet at the Vigil, as our clergy prefer not to sing. On Easter Day, the choir was to sing the Alexander Gretchaninov Missa Festiva and a big chorus from Considering Matthew Shepard. So much beautiful music that has been shelved for at least a year. Yes, we’re disappointed and very sad. But we’re also not running the risk of sharing deadly germs with each other instead of the Peace. 

May we always remember the sacrifice we made in 2020 for the good of our community, our country, our human family as we attempt to keep COVID-19 from completely overwhelming our medical infrastructure. May we somehow manage to get through this with as few deaths as possible, in spite of a complete lack of leadership from the federal government (thank God for many of our states’ leaders). May we look forward to this time in 2021 when we can return to our beloved Holy Week liturgies in our beautiful buildings that we cherish so. 

2 Apr 2020

Entering the third week

Often I imagined how perfect it would be to always work from home. Not having to wake up early and get out of the house in time for the grueling commute would be heaven! Right? Not exactly hell, but it’s not heaven. And after two compulsory weeks of it, I’m ready to jump out of bed at 6 o’clock, get into my Subaru, and join the traffic for 30 miles to the office. For the indefinite future, however, it’s working remotely while cooped up in the house for me, as it is for millions and millions of us across the country and the world. 

My husband and I are settling into a new routine. He spends the day in the dining/music room—our front room—teaching voice lessons via Zoom from his temporary studio comprised of our concert grand piano behind him and his computer set up with webcam, iPad, studio mic, an elaborate array of lighting (so he doesn’t look like a ghoulie lurking in a dark corner), and a complete jumble of wires and connections that will likely take him a year to untangle. I am tucked away in the kitchen, using the small kitchen table as a desk for my Surface Pro, iPad, and Moleskine. The two dogs are usually under the table laying their heads on my feet to keep me in place. Yeah, it’s not all that bad, really. But, listen...Mark and I have spent 30 years together, partly because we really like each other, but also because we don’t sit all day every day just 10 feet apart. Married couples are not supposed to spend this much waking time together! 

When the president announced that we should stay at home till the end of April now, my CEO told us we’d be continuing our current work-from-home routine through May 3. Another full month! Let me see the hands of everyone that thinks it’ll end by then. That’s what I thought. July 4th? Labor Day? 

So, tomorrow is another day in the kitchen, hearing voice lessons through the pocket door, and refilling the ice maker with water to keep up with a constantly depleted supply of ice. Stay healthy and safe, everyone! 

29 Mar 2020
No relation to post, except perhaps to the drink I poured immediately after writing it
No relation to post, except perhaps to the drink I poured immediately after writing it

What’s in a name?

Years ago, before Facebook took over my social media life, I used to be a somewhat regular blogger. I missed it for the longest time, but soon was used to the Facebook way, so my blog Via Sequencia became obsolete and fell by the wayside. I tried over the years to go the Twitter route, but never really managed it. I thought I’d give this a go again, just for me. It’s nice to know there’s a place I can ramble on and on, if I want. So, let’s get ready to ramble....

My dear friend Gregory (aka il Supremo) many years ago bestowed upon me the righteous and glorious moniker, la Sequencia. It has everything to do with my improvising the birthday song in the pedals at the sequence during Mass one Sunday morning for one of our choir members. The name for my defunct blog therefore was easily found. And just to illustrate how little the faithful (in this case I refer only to the choir) pay attention to what they consider “background music,” only the birthday girl and Gregory heard the buried tune, even though I was doing almost nothing to hide it. It’s my burden in life not to be heard. (Cueing pity party—a one and a two and a three...).

My biggest regret since ending the blog is that I didn’t save my posts, meaning that they’re lost to me and the entirety of creation for eternity (my deepest apologies). There were a few gems among the rough that I’d love to glance at again. But as my mantra has become in the past years to “live (and attempt to thrive) in imperfection,” I have for the most part let it go. No sense in wasting energy, eh?

At the peak—just before the rapid decline into blog oblivion—I was pulled aside by a person of authority in my life who had received a complaint from a completely inconsequential person (to me) that had been offended by the general nature of my blog; it had become a topic of conversation. So I was soon told that I should cease and desist. To this I said, “WTF?” I ended up changing the overall feel of my blog, but had a bad taste in my mouth thereafter. Truthfully, it took the wind right out of my sails and I couldn’t find my authentic voice anymore. What I really wanted to say to everybody that would listen was that if they were offended, stop effing reading.

Hopefully, after all the intervening years of talk therapy (there have been many sessions since then), I’ve learned to identify my anger triggers in many ares of my existence and manage them without falling prey to them. Of course, I am a musician, so my art only benefits from my moments of volatility and angst, right? 

So, friends... as we all continue down this road of undetermined length, sheltering in place, physically distancing, and connecting socially (almost) entirely by electronic means, I beg you to be diligent. Do what is right and stay home, if at all possible. Stay healthy and safe! Life is short, so be good to one another. ☮️

Just like a TV, there IS an off switch when I object to its content. I and I alone have the power to not open the gifts that others foist on me.
29 Mar 2020
Welcome to a blog via Sequencia
Welcome to a blog via Sequencia

A new web page

I haven’t had a webpage of my own for quite a few years. With the COVID-19 crisis happening right now, it seems like a decent time to work on creating a new web presence. I’ll blog here from time to time, depending on whether I feel I have anything important to say (unimportant nonsense will stay on Facebook and Twitter). 😁

I look forward to any comments that you’d like to share with me. Please stay safe and healthy. Wash your hands early and often!