August 29, 2007

Music, Culture, Confessions and Sandals

I had a revelation about music in the life of communities yesterday. I want to write about that but first I need to make a confession.

I am a pastor but I really don't like being called "Pastor." I know there is a time and place for being called pastor. There are touching times when I am so pleased to be able to be pastoral as I pastor to those who need my care. But I am more than a pastor and I like getting to use my gifts in places where they just know me as Karl (often in a teeshirt and sandals.)

One of those teeshirt and sandal places is Rockridge Little School. I guess it is quite a coincidence that the preschool is located at the historic College Avenue Presbyterian Church and I am a Presbyterian Pastor but the school only rents from the church and when I am leading singing with the children I am only Karl. I like it that way. As Karl I am valued by my actions and not by some preconceived idea of what kind of person a pastor is.

With the confession out of the way let me get to the music stuff.

Yesterday I had the chance to lead the wonderful teachers at RLS in a discussion about music at the school. We talked about our own feelings about singing in public and we shared some of our experiences.

In general in seems we all like singing or at least being part of a group that sings. It was also shared that while we loved to sing as kids we were not necessarily encouraged in our attempts at song. As a parent you might try something other than "You can't carry a tune in a bucket" if you want your child to love singing. It was also agreed that we would like RLS to be a "singing" school and I got a deeper appreciation for why this would be a good thing during our discussion.

Two revelations from the day...
1: That our songs are our prayers.
I don't mean this in an organized religion sense. What we talked about was that songs are very close to our hearts and souls. Songs we loved as kids and youth can still have a powerful emotional effect on us today. They can make us cry and make us laugh when we least expect it. And our songs can be a way of expressing our hope and our vision and our collective dream of things being more just. "We are the world" aren't we? It seems right that as we shape the lives of these small ones in our care that we give them songs to take with them that lift up the values that we are seeking to instill in them; Values about friends and family, love and justice, nature and an appreciation of community.

2: That songs/music have been central in building and supporting community in society.
I shared an experience I had in a small township in South Africa when a group of children at an orphanage put on fabulous concert for me. I was taken by the complex parts and harmonies they sang. When I asked how long they had been practicing for the performance I was told most of them had never sung together before. They said this was their music and they all knew how to sing it. One of the teachers shared how her boy friend from Lebanon is so comfortable playing a drum and how all the kids know how to do music in his community. It is part of the culture, it is part of life, it is part of being a community.

This got us thinking about how we have become an audience in our culture and what a loss this is to our communities. I can't help but see what a good job we are doing at exporting this mentality. It is much easier to market ipods than it is folk songs I guess. The profit margin is certainly better.

I think we missing the opportunity to give our children the wonderful gift of music. Not as those that have ipods or watch American Idol but as a community voice where the effect of the music on the heart is more important than its effect on the ear. A community where everyone does music.

I will be sharing song with lots of children this Fall. I will be working with three kindergarten classes at Berkeley Arts magnet, a couple of classes at Rockridge Little School and possibly a first grade class at Rosa Parks. I also have a couple other invitations I am contemplating and of course I will be singing with my grandkids every chance I get.

What a joy, sharing music with kids. I am Blessed.

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