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31 July 2009

The Things I've Been Doing

Yes, the laid-back blogging part of me wanted to name this post something like "What I've Been Up To," but then the anal-retentive part of me kicked and screamed about the preposition at the end. While I usually don't care about such grammatical things in most contexts (and often err intentionally for stylistic purposes), committing such an error in the title seemed a bit too egregious for my taste. So eventually, I came up with the one I've got, and I'm sticking to it!

Anyway, I've gotten a lot of questions about what I've been doing this summer, apart from the "obvious if you've read this blog at all in the last three months" trip to China. Well, let me be the first to say that what I'm doing this summer is actually pretty complicated to explain. And that's why I thought it would be perfect to write about here.

Sometime while I was in China, during one of my Skype conversations with my parents, after they had asked all they wanted about how I was doing, I asked how they were doing back home. I recall my father mentioning something about church music. Specifically, the fact that ours basically had none. I didn't know quite what he meant by that until I came back.

I guess a number of circumstances caused our organist to leave, the greatest of which were that her husband's job was moving them away and that she was expecting a child. At one point, she became too pregnant to fit behind the organ console and began to only play the piano. But eventually, she had to leave.

For whatever reason, our church was unable to find a replacement in time, leaving quite the void. Hymns were sung to accompaniment CDs, which often wouldn't have the same number of verses as our hymnals, or wouldn't adhere to some of the stylistic musical traditions our congregation is accustomed to. The doxology was sung a cappella, with similarly mixed results.

When I came back from China, I endured one such service before my father suggested that we get the organ working again. You see, when the organ was refurbished with an all-digital system a number of years ago, a MIDI-based input control was installed. In theory, it would allow any song to be recorded in MIDI format to a floppy disk (yeah, remember those?) which could then be played back at will.

So we looked at the manual, developed an understanding for how this system was intended to work, and then we went to the church one day with some hymn files and tried it out. It worked flawlessly the first time. Yeah... that was easy.

Far easier, at least, then actually learning and rehearsing two or three hymns a week. I've learned hymns before and have performed them in church, but it took me a month to learn a week's hymns. That would not be feasible, while this new option would be.

Within a few weeks, the session decided to hire me for the summer at a substitute organist pay level to create MIDI files for all of the hymns in advance of each week's service. And so you can see why I don't like explaining it to people:

"Well, I'm kind of a church organist, but not really."

Anyway, in addition to that, I've been volunteering about ten hours a week at Saint Vincent Health Center in the Quality Department. Basically, in order to analyze the data that needs to be analyzed in order to work on improving quality of service, someone has to enter the data. Or at least take a large chunk of computer-generated data and manually weed out outliers and points that don't quite match what we're looking for on a particular project.

Occasionally, there is also the opportunity to create a spreadsheet that will actually do something with that data, or in one case actually doing some analysis... but the bottom line is that the volunteer often gets the menial work. And I'm completely fine with that, as my supervisors are always quick to keep me "in the loop" and tell me why I'm doing what it is I'm doing on any given day. And that is wonderful.

Of course, there's also my annual time at Camp Lambec as a counselor for Music Camp, as well as preparing newsletters and everything else involved in that. And lately, the big project has been preparations for moving into my new apartment in Shadyside for the coming school year.

So I really have been quite busy. I'll get back to work now.


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