Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

January 14, 2018: “Composing Oneself”

Monthly Theme: Music and Art

Personal Reflection (Rev Denis)

I come from a profoundly unmusical family. There was no music in my house for most of my growing up. The radio was only ever on in the car, where in the glove box lived a few eight tracks of the Carpenters, Neil Diamond, and Ray Charles who sang my parents’ song, I can’t Stop Loving You.

There was so little music in my house, that before blowing out candles, none of us were ever serenaded with Happy Birthday. Except once.

My younger brother, insisted that the rest of us sing to him. After just a few notes, he was cringing, “stop, stop, stop!”

I never asked, but I’m sure this happened to my siblings as well. I was always asked by the music teacher, whatever grade I was in, to not sing. Just move my lips.

We never had to juggle band with hockey … none of us ever played an instrument.

Joe, my husband, is proud to tell you that he is pitch perfect (whatever that means). He plays a few different instruments. 
He loves marching bands and John Philip Souza, a capela music and glee clubs, and fantasizes about turning his study at home into a manifestation of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. I painted the walls the right color for him, but have no idea what to do next.

I’m just not a musical person.

When my aunt lived with us, there was music in the house. She was in her late teens when she moved in, and was more like a big sister. 
She listened to records on her turntable, attached to a little stereo system with black speakers that dominated the room. She would listen as she did her homework and studied for her college courses.

There were two albums she played that I really liked. The both looked like something other than album jackets.

Chicago V, the wood album, had “Dialog (Parts I and II)” and “Saturday in the Park,” the first song I ever fell in love with that told a story.

Chicago VII, the embossed leather album, included “(I’ve Been) Searching So Long,” and “Wishing You Were Here.” The album introduced me to jazz in a way that was accessible. And enjoyable.

The first album I ever bought, was Chicago’s Greatest Hits. I was 12. By the age of 15, I owned all 15 of their albums.

When the original six members were gathered as Chicago Transit Authority by their producer, James William Guercio in the late 1960’s, they were the most talented and well-trained young musicians in the city they were named for. Their music was cerebral, as conceptual as their album covers, exploring genres from classical to jazz, in numbers that flowed together in movements. They had a huge horn section, which was unheard of at the time for a rock and roll act.

They were a democratic outfit, most of the time made up of seven men. Everyone wrote songs, and brought their offerings to the band to work out and refine together.

On those first 15 albums, there was no lead singer who turned out to be the superstar face of the band. The person with the right vocal range and sound would lead, and everyone played a part. They were able to churn out six original albums in as many years that included a whopping 20 hits.

Last year, when Chicago was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, James Pankow, the trombone player who has done all of the brass arrangements, since 1967, said “I’ve been blessed with three things: music, my horn, and the guys in this band.”

Had it happened in Cleveland instead of Brooklyn, I would have been there. And I’m not a musical person. But from Jimmy Pankow and all the rest of the guys in Chicago I learned what people who make music together know. In an ensemble, when one person shines, everyone shines. Conversely, when enough people are working together, and someone isn’t doing well, there are always enough resources to make it work and support that person.

Reading Rev Denis Letourneau Paul

Our reading this morning is from “The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember,” by the Rev. Mister Fred Rogers

Music has given me a way of expressing my feelings and my thoughts, and it has also given me a way of understanding more about life. For example, as you play together in a symphony orchestra, you can appreciate that each musician has something fine to offer.

Each one is different, though, and you each have a different ‘song to sing.’ When you sing together, you make one voice. That’s true of all endeavors not just the musical ones.

Finding ways to harmonize our uniqueness with the uniqueness of others can be the most fun-and the most rewarding-of all.” ~Mister Fred Rogers

Sermon “Composing Oneself” Jared Hammond

I hear it all the time. “I’m not a musical person.” And, to be honest, it breaks my heart. Because in my world, being musical and being human are one and the same. Being musical and being alive are one and the same. When someone says, “I’m not a musical person” I hear “There is a part of the beauty in my soul that I find inaccessible.” And my immediate reaction is to point to those biological rhythms we all share. Your heart beats steady like the turning of the earth, you breathe in and out in tempo like the tides at every shore, and the vast network of neurons and nerves are constantly dancing about your brain and body no more randomly than the migratory patterns of birds. You are one with the universe! You are a musical person!

And yet, something about being a musical person remains inaccessible. Sure, I’m a part of the vast and glorious cosmos and that’s very poetic and all, but that’s not something I’m doing, it’s just a part of who I am. It’s a part of existing, not being. Fair point.

There is something that music can be and that a person can be also. Composed. I can say to you that I am composing music and you know that I am writing fun little symbols or perhaps some words on a piece of paper that can then be read as music. I can say to you that I am composing myself and you know that I am taking a deep breath and preparing my mind, my body, and my soul for the process of standing up here and sharing with you this theory I have about being a musical person.

There are countless ways to divide and categorize things, but I propose that there are four parts of a well composed piece of music that are also parts of a well composed person.

The first of these is silence. A well composed piece of music uses silence to offer importance to the specific parts of the music you do hear. Perhaps there is a solo in the oboe part of a symphony and the entire brass section falls silent because what the composer wants you to hear is found in that one part alone. We use silence here for similar purposes. Just before we share with each other our joys and concerns through the lighting of candles, we engage in silent meditation. We compose ourselves to be attuned to the feelings of those around us. We enter silence to gain empathy for those to whom we listen. We are silent because we want to be certain that we hear what another person is so bravely sharing with us. In some situations in life, that person might actually be sharing something with us out loud. In others, we will listen for the hidden message in the silence of another. The music listed in your order of service for the candle lighting, you may have noticed, was completely silent. That’s not a mistake. 4′ 33″ is exactly that. 4′ 33″ of silence, the idea being that there isn’t silence. Someone’s soul is speaking. Someone else’s soul is listening.

The next two parts are a response to the first. They are melody and harmony.

Following the silence in that hypothetical symphony I mentioned earlier, perhaps the other oboe players join with the soloist to say something similar to that same message the soloist conveyed. That’s the melody. And perhaps that brass section comes back in and plays something that is a little different, but supports what the oboe section is playing. That’s the harmony. Through silence, you have gained an understanding of what the composer intended for you to hear and now it is time for everyone to come to the stage. We do the same thing when we compose ourselves.

We come here every Sunday to support each other, to journey together. Perhaps we share a common concern or a common goal. We have empathy for someone who is like us. That’s the melody. Perhaps we have come together as a larger community in this church, with our friends from MACE. We have empathy for someone who is different than us. That’s the harmony. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which instrument we’re playing or which faith family we represent. We come together to support the people who are like us and those who are not because that’s what makes the symphony of the universe sound so beautiful. The prayer today was called the harmony because we took different parts, call and response. They were different things, but they only truly made sense together. We supported each other through it by offering our own unique voice. The anthem today was called the melody because we all took the same part, no piano this time, just us. We supported each other through it by taking up the same cause, the same tune.

I’ve referenced the last part a few times now, so you probably know what it is. It’s the solo. The solo is what happens when the composer wants to say something important that should not be subject to distraction by something else. The solo is what happens when one person seeks the empathy of others. This may take the form of speaking to a group of people as I’m doing right now. I stood up here with something to say and I said it because I felt is was important to do so. As members of the same universal orchestra you responded with silence because you felt it was important to hear it.

So, if you have ever listened to another person’s words or another person’s heart, you composed yourself with silence and you are a musical person.

If you have ever supported a social justice cause, donated time or money or food to someone you don’t know, or voted for a school levy even though you don’t have kids in the district, you composed yourself with harmony and you are a musical person.

If you have ever attended this church, sat with these people, sang with these people, been joyful or concerned amongst these people, spoke with these people, or listened to these people, and I know you have because you’re doing it right now, you composed yourself with the melody and you are a musical person.

If you have ever asked for help, said no when it was appropriate to take some time to care for yourself, said yes when it was time to get out there and create, or shared any part of your soul, large or small, with another person, you composed yourself with the solo and you are a musical person.

I want you to understand and believe that you are a musical person because I see this beauty in your lives, in everything you do. And when I see beauty in the world, in the universe I want to share it with everyone. That’s what music is. That’s what art is. An attempt to make tangible the idea of sharing feelings with other people.

Music is what empathy sounds like. Art is what empathy looks like. A well-prepared meal is what empathy smells and tastes like, they call it the culinary arts for a reason. This community is what empathy feels like.

If it seems like I’m desperate for you to feel it the way I do, I guess that’s because I am a musical person.