Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

3 cups (380 grams) bread flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups (247 grams) lightly packed light brown sugar 

2 tsp vanilla

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups (340 grams) semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and eggs. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop dough into 1-2 tbsp balls and chill for 24 hours (this is a must). I freeze them and bake them directly from the freezer, makes for a better cookie! This allows the dough to “marinate” and makes the cookies thicker, chewier, and more flavorful. 

Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350℉, or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Tip: Use this same recipe for White Chocolate Chip and Macadamia Nut Cookies. Just change the chocolate chips to white chocolate chips and add one cup of macadamia nuts

Brownie Recipe

Here is my favorite brownie recipe—enjoy!

Brownies

Ingredients 

½ cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs

¼ teaspoon baking powder

⅓ cup cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoon of espresso powder (I use King Arthur)

½ cup flour

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chocolate chips (I use Godiva)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix oil and sugar until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla; stir just until blended. Mix all dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir dry ingredients into the oil/sugar mixture. I use a sifter to make sure there are no clumps. Add chocolate chips and walnuts.

Pour into greased 9 x 9 square pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until the sides just start to pull away from the pan. Cool completely before cutting.

Note: I double this recipe and use a 9 x 13 pan. If you double it, the cook time will be around 30-40 minutes depending on the oven. Turn the light on and watch it! You don’t want them too done, they will be dry! 

Recipe adapted by Westley Hodges

whodges@westleyhodges.com

Christmas Eve with no paid singers?

Are you a choir director in a church with an all volunteer choir? Is Christmas approaching and you are fearing that your choir of all volunteers and lack of tenors will not be able to produce the sound you know that church needs on Christmas Eve? Well, you may be the problem.

Recently, I was directing the volunteer choir at the Diocese of Chicago’s annual convention and one of the volunteers said,”we could never do this at my church, our choir isn’t big enough.” She also said how much she enjoyed being in this big choir and singing this great music. So, in an act of spontaneous improvisation, I ask them to raise their hand if their choir in their home parish had less than ten people in it. About 90% of the 60+ member choir raised their hands.

Friends, this is the reality of our church. Yes, there are churches with excellent music programs, with paid singers and multiple directors and accompanist—but the reality is clear, most Episcopal Churches have one director/accompanist and a volunteer choir of 10 people or less. And you know what, I am at one of those churches and we have an excellent music program! But, I am very creative! I am blessed with a great volunteer choir of about 7 folks. 3 sopranos, 2 altos, and 2 basses. You read it correctly, no tenors. When possible, I add the tenor part.

So, Christmas is coming and I have so much pressure on me to produce a musical offering that is worthy of Christmas. But, trust me, after 15 years of directing music in the Episcopal Church, I am not afraid of anything. We will not be paying any singers to join the choir for Christmas Eve and I have picked music that makes my choir sparkle. Lau’s “As I went to Bethlehem” makes my choir sound like a choir of 20, and a lot of help from St. James Music Press is giving us the tools to sound amazing! RIP, Mark Schweizer.

To be fair, I did hire two brass players from the Lakeside Pride Symphonic Band. They both will offer a solo during the prelude and I am using St. James Music Press’ Christmas Brass arrangements which make adding brass to Christmas so easy!

If you are in the Evanston/Chicago area, come see for yourself why a volunteer choir can produce a beautiful Christmas Eve service. Our service starts at 9:30pm on December 24, 2019.

Special note: If you are in a choir or direct a choir with paid singers, great! By no means am I saying that is a bad thing, I just think we need to better support churches that can’t afford to pay singers. And, I know at least one person will say “well, you can’t afford to not afford to pay singers.” Well, when a church is in the red, and needs a new roof, I think choices have to be made. Every church is different, and every need is different.

Westley Hodges
Associate of Music Ministries
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Evanston, IL.

Music at the 182nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago

This past weekend, the Diocese of Chicago gathered in Lombard, IL for their 182nd Convention. This convention was a little bitter sweet as it is technically Bishop Jeffery Lee’s last convention as the Bishop of Chicago. The Diocese of Chicago is in full swing of a Bishop Search to find the successor of Bishop Lee—which, will be some pretty big shoes to fill! Our Diocese is an amazing Diocese that is huge, and my prayer is that we get a lot of amazing candidates to fill this very important position in our church.

This year’s convention music was amazing. The Rahabs—the music team for the Diocese of Chicago—lead the 50+ volunteer choir in song throughout the two day convention. Members of the Rahabs are: Dillon Shipman, Lorraine Langer, Beau Surratt, Bradley Linboom, Stephen Buzard, and myself.

Leading the music for convention is always a great joy, but it is very challenging. On Friday morning we assemble for a short morning service, and then the choir rehearsal begins. From 9:45 to noon, we rehearsed all the music for the rest of the convention with the focus on Saturday morning’s Eucharist. Over 50 volunteers arrived to rehearse this year making this the largest volunteer choir we have had in a very long time. We warmed up, learned a few hymns including some Spanish hymns, and moved our focus to the two big pieces we planned for the Eucharist. This year we did Mary McDonald’s Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace, and Keith Hamptons True Light.

The rehearsal went very well and the choir learned everything quickly! True Light brought the house down in the service on Saturday and Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace was absolutely stunningly beautiful.

Lorraine arranged Jubilate Deo and This Little Light of Mine and was able to work with the children. It was such a beautiful sight to see over twenty children singing these joyful arrangements during communion on Saturday morning. The children are our future, and I am grateful that Lorraine is talented with working with children and teaching them choral music.

We ended the service Saturday with a New Orleans arrangement of Just a Closer Walk with Thee. There was joy, clapping, and at the end—unanimous praise.

I view leading music at our church’s yearly convention a huge honor. There is a ton of work that goes into it that no one will ever see, but it is absolutely worth it. Thank you to the Rahabs, all the volunteers that showed up to sing, and the Diocese of Chicago for allowing the Rahabs to continue to lead you in song.

Westley Hodges
Asscoiate of Music Ministries
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, IL

Gender in Music

Choral music has a rich history of gender issues. Years ago women were not allowed to sing in performances and men and boys would play female roles—yet another example when men did everything. In church music men and boys have been used for centuries in choral music and celebrated has countertenor and sopranist. So why have we allowed gender to trickle into our rehearsals and our choir programs?

We are in a time where inclusive language is more important than it has ever been. Our non-binary and trans friends need us to see them and invite them into our spaces. They want to feel just like you and me, they don’t want special treatment. They just want to be seen and heard—just like you and me.

How can we do better in our churches and musical programs? Step one, stop gendering everything! Choral music directors—start using the part names or high voices and low voices instead of men and women. I started doing this years ago, and I admit there was a learning curve for me, but I do it well now. Also, composers have to do better in their notation. Having a section in a composition that says ‘men only’ or ‘women only’ shouldn’t be there. Write ‘low voices only’, ‘high voices only’, ‘soprano/alto only’, or ‘tenor/baritone’ only.

“But, Westley, I don’t have a trans or non-binary person in my choir.”

And?

Move forward with the times and be ready for when that person walks into your ensemble. Also, we have all had a woman sing tenor in our choir, she is no different. She is a tenor, not a man. Language is important folks, and the language we use affects people more than we can imagine.

Join me in on this journey of acceptance?

Westley Hodges
Associate for Music Ministries
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, IL