I returned last week from the annual conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians (AAM) held in Denver. I belong to a number of professional organizations, but AAM is the one that is most near and dear to me; its annual conferences are often a highlight of my summer.

Each year the location of the conference changes. Thus, we get to visit different parts of the country (and once every ten years we meet in England), visit various Episcopal churches and experience moving liturgies with superb music and outstanding preaching. There is nothing quite like the singing at a worship service for AAM, and with daily services to attend (sometimes more than one a day), there are lots of opportunities for us to sing collectively. Everybody sings. Everybody! Without too much effort we can overwhelm an organ, but it’s also delightful to sing with such a large body of people who sing the inner verses in parts, breathe at the punctuations, and are not ashamed to hold their hymnals up and sing out. A deceased past president of AAM once joked that there were only three dynamic (volume) levels for singing at AAM – loud, stun, and kill.

Being that this is the sole professional organization for musicians working in the Episcopal Church, we all pretty much know one another. Of the 200+ who attend the conferences each year, most of us are repeats and look forward to catching up with one another after a busy program year. It’s at these conferences where I most frequently find new ideas for repertoire as well as learn from others’ experiences involving chorister recruiting, service planning, vocal technique, and other professional topics.

But there is nothing as rejuvenating to me as the worship services. It’s rare that I get to just sit in a pew and worship without having to also think of what hymn comes next, what chorister just left to go to the bathroom, when I need to go and get the kids from Children’s Chapel, what to do about the suddenly out of tune pipe, etc. At AAM, these are all someone else’s problems! And, again, everybody sings. Regardless of whether we like or dislike the hymn, we all sing. Whether or not the sermon resonated with us, we all sing. We may or may not like the tempo the organist is playing the hymn, but we all sing. Countless times during these conferences tears form in my eyes and I’m tempted to stop singing and just listen to the wonderful sounds being made. But, I don’t do that – the music isn’t being offered for my enjoyment and I recognize that I have a part to play in the worship experience as well.

Denver was a magnificent place to go. The Episcopal Cathedral there is stunning and its newly refurbished pipe organ now ranks as one of my top five favorite organs anywhere. We visited a number of churches in Denver, and also made our way to Colorado Springs for a day at the Air Force Academy Chapel and at Grace and St. Stephen’s (another stunningly beautiful church where our former clergy resident, The Rev. Nick Myers, is now the associate priest).

In some ways AAM is not just my family but it’s also part of my church. While we all serve in Episcopal parishes, some of the churches are small and some are large. Some are Anglo-Catholic and others are, well, let’s just say very far from Anglo-Catholic! Some are Rite 1, some are Rite 2. Some of the churches represented have experienced schism and fracturing, and others are bursting at the seams. It’s a wonderful cross-section of our faith tradition represented.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference which will be held in Washington DC. On Wednesday, June 18, the conference will meet right here at Christ Church. There will be an Evensong sung by the members of the conference under the direction of Anton Armstrong (of the famed St. Olaf University Choir). I’m not sure how much extra space will be available to those who might want to attend the service, but I will certainly put the word out in advance with the hopes that some of our own parish can come and experience what rejuvenates me every summer.