summer picks

It’s been a while since we’ve last posted, and that’s because we’ve been scouting out a team of contributors who are as wonderful and interesting as you all are.  You’ll be hearing from us quite a bit this summer, but as a brief window into who we are, here’s us, along with what we’re listening to, watching, and reading.

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Hattie R. Buell

Bio: Hattie Buell has grown up immersed in church music, classical music, and that necessary pinch of 80s pop. Buell met her Raines after he came back from Africa, they now are worship arts leaders together at an Anglican church and are involved with two others. Hattie’s training in ethnomusicology is one of her greatest joys in life, as she continues to analyze the music she hears, even when her family tells her to “please stop, you’re making our heads go round like a record”.

Reading List: I no longer feel inspired to read, which is the bleakest thing I have ever said about myself. If you have suggestions, I need them.

Summer Playlist: Rued Langgard, Kíla, Beauty & the Beast soundtrack

Currently Watching: I’m in a total splurge of “Great British Bake Off” until “Stranger Things Vol. II” or “Rick & Morty 3”.

Current Artistic Project: Just finished my embroidery phase, now it’ll probably be bread baking or starting a women’s chorus.

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Andy Decker

Bio: I’m an aspiring filmmaker currently residing in Chicago. My ultimate goal is to attend film school in Ireland and get involved in the Irish film industry. While I’m saving up, I’m operating a film criticism website at cinemainframe.wordpress.com. You can also keep tabs on what I’m watching at my Letterboxd profile.

Reading List: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli, Sorry For Your Troubles by Padraig Ó Tuama, The Myth of Sysiphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus, Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Summer Playlist: “Slowdive” by Slowdive, “Sunbather” by Deafheaven, “Run the Jewels 3” by Run the Jewels, “No Shape” by Perfume Genius, “OK Computer” by Radiohead, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles, “Ujubasajuba” by Kairon; IRSE!

Watchlist: Televison – Fargo, Rick and Morty, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, Silicon Valley
Film – Baby Driver, Detroit, The Shape of Water, Blade Runner 2049, The Square, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mother!

Other Stuff I Love: Soccer (watching and playing), running, board/video games, getting lost in the woods

Current Artistic Project: Currently in the second round of the Screenwriting Challenge 2017, working on a couple of other screenplays and a short story

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Kirsten Ekstrand

Bio: Kirsten has been playing piano since the age of six, but it wasn’t until studying piano in college that she realized her music found its sweetest fulfillment in serving the local church. Now working full-time as the service delivery manager for a Chicago-area IT firm, she pours her free hours into serving as her church pianist, as well as in the women’s and college/20’s ministries.

Reading List: Currently I’m reading Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (my book club is reading a sampling of Pulitzer Prize winners) and Te Deum: The Church and Music by Paul Westermeyer. Once I finish Te Deum, I’m hoping to pick up The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg by Robin A. Leaver in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I’ll probably look for a P. D. James murder mystery for my summer travels, too.

Summer Playlist: I’ve been obsessed with Psalms albums in recent months. Sandra McCracken, Shane & Shane, and Wendell Kimbrough have some wonderful ones. I expect to frequently return to the Hamilton soundtrack as well.

Currently Watching: I’m excited to watch several of last year’s Oscar nominees this summer, including Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, and Hacksaw Ridge. For TV shows, I’ve been enjoying The Newsroom, and my guilty pleasure lately has been The Great British Baking Show.

Other stuff I love: Coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, and Oreos — but not necessarily in that order. On the average weekend, you might find me taking in a performance in the city, enjoying dinner with friends, or sitting at home with a good book and that glass of wine.

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Desirée Hassler

Bio: In addition to singing in the full-time chorus at Lyric Opera of Chicago, soprano Desirée Hassler has sung and covered roles at Lyric in Tannhäuser, Oklahoma!, Manon, Macbeth, Boris Godunov, Show Boat, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. Recent performances include Bach’s B Minor mass with Chicago Bach Project (John Nelson, conductor), Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata with the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra, Ellen in Oklahoma! at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Kondja in The Rose of Stambul with Chicago Folks Operetta, soprano soloist in the Brahms Requiem (Los Angeles, CA), Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 with the Prairie Ensemble, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, as well as Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with the Wichita Symphony.

A California native, Desirée has successfully competed from the regional to International levels at the Bel Canto Competition, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, International Franz Liszt Competition and is the recipient of many distinguished awards. The soprano is musically curious and stylistically flexible, and enjoys performing music from the Renaissance to the 21st century– in recital, concert, opera and performance art mediums. Her voice can be heard on everything from commercial and film soundtracks, to oratorio, opera and operetta and even progressive heavy metal albums.

Hassler graduated in 2011 with a doctorate in Vocal Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she completed a master’s degree in 2003. Dr. Hassler has served on the faculties of Eastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently serves on the voice faculty of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL where she teaches voice and music history courses. Her voice studio is happily comprised of students singing classical, jazz, rock, musical theatre, original compositions and everything in between!

When she’s not doing lip trills or drinking coffee, Desirée is likely gardening or riding bikes with her super-husband Dan and four perfectly quirky children in Oak Park, IL.

Reading list: Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis, Nom Nom Paleo Cookbook, Practical Vocal Acoustics and Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy: Motivating Acoustic Efficiency, Kenneth Bozeman (yeah nerdy singing stuff), various books on Egyptian history and mummification + embalming techniques to my mummy-obsessed 5 year-old, whatever catches my fancy at the library–we can’t always plan these things.

Currently Watching: Ok. Here we go. I’m not a TV person. I’ve tried. And I’ve failed. If I was to be persuaded to sit and watch something it might be a documentary. Or an episode of Parks and Rec or Chef’s Table. But most likely it would feel stressful and I’d walk away and go straight to my hammock. And people wouldn’t understand this when I tell them. But then again, I’m 38 and my life is noisy. Sometimes I just need some shhhhhh.

Other stuff I love (in no particular order): Jesus. Using the summer to grow a huge garden and cook from scratch and can things. Walking in the forest. Bach. Hard work. Quirky eyeglasses. Growing out my hair and chopping it off and growing it out again. One on one time with those close to me. MUSIC. Honesty. Stories of redemption. Hugs. Adventurous ethnic food. A beautifully-curated art exhibit. Delicious coffee, wine and chocolate. Toddler eyelashes. Chicago! I actually love Chicago.

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Allison Keeport

Bio: I am pursuing my Master’s of Music in Vocal Performance at North Park University in Chicago. When I’m not in rehearsal, a practice room, or the library, you’ll probably find me in the kitchen trying out new recipes on friends. I blog here, where all writing flows from a simple premise: art is great. Jesus is supreme.

Reading List: The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene; None Like Him – Jen Wilkin

Summer Playlist: Mainly repertoire for the upcoming semester, I’m also a little bit obsessed with the musical Waitress. Also high on the list: Ellie Holcomb, Andrew Peterson, Jason Mraz, Sara Bareilles, and power ballads from the 80s.

Currently Watching: Trying to watch less these days because my taste is hardly high-brow. Chef’s Table if I’m feeling classy. Parenthood if it’s a lazy night with a glass of Malbec. Probably more stand-up and late-night comedy than is really good for me.

Other stuff I love: Cooking! I have a DVD cooking class that I’m slowing working my way through. Other than that, I make great stuffed shells, my boeuf bourguignon ain’t too shabby, and I’m learning to bake bread from scratch. I’m discovering a love of gardening. I love red wine and dark chocolate and cheese. If you bring me wine with either of those two other things, I will be your best friend for life. I spend lots of time volunteering at my church, Renewal Church of Chicago.

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Rae Paul

Bio: I’m a student and lover of both words and the Word who breathed them first. I currently study theology at Moody Bible Institute, drink coffee like there is no tomorrow, read compulsively from an ever-growing TBR list, and write because the words will not stay in my soul. Take a peek at this for more of my life.

Reading List: I’m currently wading through The Source, by James Michener; savoring Delighting in the Trinity, by Michael Reeves; and waiting for Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

Summer Playlist: Twenty One Pilots’ eponymous album

Currently Watching: Sherlock Season 4

Other stuff I love: I dabble in photography, watch whatever superhero movie my Netflix can find, drive too fast, and occasionally cook an interesting meal. I crave honesty, vivid speech, careful theology, and the sunsets of my beloved Midwest; all of which are best enjoyed with a cup of strong coffee in hand.

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Chris Wheeler

Bio: I’m a Christian, husband, father, writer, and beverage lover.  I grew up in rural Indiana until I left for college, studied in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute, and work there now.  I’m always looking for conversations and I love ideas.  I write poetry, liturgies, and stories here.

Reading List: Lila (Marilynn Robinson), Contagious (Jonah Berger), The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene), The Happiness Industry (William Davies), The Death of Expertise (Tom Nichols), A Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason). I’m also a big fan of graphic novels during the summer, and I read a spectacular one called One Soul (Ray Fawkes) recently.  Also the New 52: Swamp Thing and the Giant Beard That Was Evil.  Not kidding.

Summer Playlist: For the past month or so it’s been Jack Garratt, Dirty Projectors, Benjamin James, Gorillaz, the National, Kishi Bashi, Panic! At the Disco, Infected Mushroom, Solange, Watsky and Vulfpeck, depending on the mood. Just discovered Tank and the Bangas and they’re definitely on my steady soundtrack for the summer.  I will never escape Bon Iver.

Currently Watching: Plowed through the new seasons of House of Cards, OITNB, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently, and my wife and I are enjoying the Great British Baking Show together, but the home run this season was Patriot (Amazon Original). We have this unspoken rule that we should enjoy the shows our kids are watching, so I’m really into Sarah and Duck and the Stinky and Dirty Show.  Recent movies were Moonlight, Wonder Woman, Alien: Covenant, Valhalla Rising.

Other stuff I love:  I’m loving discovering everything in a fresh way with my kids right now.  My job is office management, but it fascinates me to no end, mostly because of my colleagues.  If I could have any meal for the rest of my life minus the clogged arteries, it would a burger, cheese curds, and craft beer.  I love mixology, trying new beers, and brewing/tasting the best coffee I can find.  I like to grill and read and play with LEGOs.  And I will always, unabashedly, love experiencing new artistic stuff.

Current project:  I’ve got a couple, but the primary summer ones are Words for the Church (poetry based on the church year), a book of parenting experiences, and a collection of my dad’s childhood stories.


Anything to add?  Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out.

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