© Kathy Wallcave, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
September 2, 2012

Listen to Audio Version of Whole Service (mp3)

On my refrigerator door is a quote from Leonard Bernstein. It says, "Life without music is unthinkable. Music without life is academic. That is why my contact with music is total embrace." While I'm not sure that I totally embrace music, music is a very important part of my life. I find the wide range of musical genres amazing and today we are going to listen to songs and sing hymns from a variety of genres. I hope you will take full advantage of this time to enjoy yourself singing. A Zimbabwe proverb states: "If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing." Today we will also hear quotes from many sources, including musicians from various musical genres, conductors, religious leaders, writers, and actors. It is interesting how this wide variety of people express similar and different ideas about music. Let's hear either from, or about, this wide range of musical styles and see how we encompass these styles in the hymns we sing together.

Let's begin our journey. Our "Singing the Living Tradition" hymnal contains some hymns that we don't know the era from when they came, or at least I don't. These include some traditional Hebrew tunes found in hymns such as Vine and Fig Tree and Shalom Havayreem. Then we have Hymn #176 Daya Kar Daan Bhakti Ka and #178 Raghupati (which I obviously don't know how to pronounce) which are tunes from India. Again, I am not sure how old the tunes are.

Some of our hymns come from music that was composed during the 1600s, a period known as the Baroque Period. The Baroque Period started the musical form called opera. Here's a quote from Rossini, one of the most successful opera composers of his time: "Give me a laundry list and I'll set it to music." And then there's Ed Gardner: "Opera is when the guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings." These two quotes are humorous; however, when a lone, unmiked voice fills a concert hall, the beauty of opera is revealed.

There is classical music. Let's hear from Henri Frederic Amiel: "Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean; Beethoven the romantic grandeur which belongs to the storms of air and sea. Blessed be they both! Each represents a moment of the ideal life, each does us good. Our love is due to both." I particularly like a hymn whose lyrics reflect the wide variety of inspirational sources that UUs access. The melody is from the composer Johannes Brahms. Please rise in body or spirit and join in singing hymn #309 "Earth Is Our Homeland." We will sing the first 3 verses.

Let's shift gears now: "Country music is three cords and the truth," by Harlan Howard

By Chuck Sigars: "There's no bad day that can't be overcome by listening to a barbershop quartet; this is just truth, plain and simple."

This from rock and roll: "When buying a used car, push the buttons on the radio. If all the stations are rock and roll, there's a good chance the transmission is shot," By Larry Lujack.

Even songs that were not composed as hymns for use in religious settings can inspire and touch our souls. We are lucky to have Peak Rocks to show us how this is possible. I hope you are able to attend their next performance.

Lastly, there is the jazz: As Charlie Parker said, "Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." Just as rock music is used in religious services, musical artists often cross musical genres. Duke Ellington, famous for his jazz performances, composed a hymn that is in our hymnal, which will be performed by Doug and Pat Rodgers, who we are also lucky to have in our congregation: Hymn #202, "Come Sunday" by Duke Ellington.

"There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music," stated George Eliot. An important function of music, however, is to help us deal with the joys and sorrows of life. The blues arose from the slave tradition of singing to help alleviate their suffering, but throughout the centuries, music was used to help burdened souls find relief. Fear and grief find an expression in music. Martin Luther stated: "My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music."

Then there is this quote:

When griping grief the heart doth wound,
and doleful dumps the mind opresses,
then music, with her silver sound,
with speedy help doth lend redress.
   - William Shakespeare

When singing songs of sadness, we acknowledge the universal feelings for sadness, grief, despair and these songs allow us to express those feelings in a beautiful way. Please rise in body and in spirit and join us in singing #97, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and remain standing.

Music can also reflect feelings of happiness and joy. As Confucius said: "Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without." Please join us singing, in my opinion, one of the most joyous hymns we have: #203 "All Creatures of the Earth and Sky,"one verse only.

Regardless of the feeling, tragic or joyful, music helps to express what is often hard to say in words. Music has the advantage over the written word in that the music can overcome language barriers. As Herbie Hancock said: "Music happens to be an art form that transcends language." We have all experienced songs whose lyrics are difficult to understand even though they are in English, but the music carries us along. I am sure you can think of a song like that. "Louie Louie" comes to my mind.

To Gustav Mahler: "If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music."

Adolf Huxley said: "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." The next piece we will sing is actually the chorus from an original solo piece, entitled "When I Breathe In" by Sarah Dan Jones, which was written in 2001 following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, an event that comes close to inexpressible. Ms. Jones wanted us to focus on peace, whether from shared world-wide tragedy or from personal events in our lives. Pat and Doug will lead us in singing hymn #1009 in the teal hymnal Singing the Journey. "Meditation on Breathing," which will be followed by a short period of silence.

Music also helps us connect with one another. Playing or singing in a group also builds connection. Now, maybe some of you prefer singing in the shower, the ultimate in "safe singing" but singing in a choir is even more fun because of the connections created among the members. Brian Eno, a founding member of the rock group Roxy Music and producer of recordings by Talking Heads and U2 stated in an essay about singing: "I believe in singing. I believe in singing together... A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing."

We are doing two of the three activities today so we should have a terrific day today!

Back to Mr. Eno: "...there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don't for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call 'civilizational benefits.' When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because...singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings - to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue."

We are lucky to have our choir, the Peak Performers, in our congregation. They always welcome new members and, based on Brian Eno's words, you will reap benefits.

We now have the opportunity to learn a new hymn from the teal hymnal. Lest this strike terror in your heart, I quote the Rev. Mark Belletini, chair of the hymnbook commission for our gray hymnal: "Someone will ask me Is it a singable song? Why yes darlin' it is a singable song because everything is singable if you take the time to learn it. You don't expect to learn Italian after one lesson do you? You can hardly expect to sing some new song fluently after singing it for the first time. Yet many resist...because they are not singing perfectly. So I say again, let go, let go. Lose your taste for control and constant confidence. Feel the joy of your insecurity slowly coming to terms with a new song as you begin to master it at your own pace." I invite Doug and Pat to come teach us a new song.

Music casts a vast net because there are so many reasons to play, sing, or listen to music. Music casts a vast net because there are so many musical styles that can appeal to people. When you need emotional support, inspiration, solace, or companionship, you might turn to the written word. You might turn to painting or other forms of art. You might turn to dancing, to nature, to physical exertion. Or you may turn to music. Let us make a pact that whatever form we prefer, let us visit it often. Life is short.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said: "Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul, what the water bath is to the body".

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