Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holy Innocents

Once in a blue moon, someone asks if I know any tunes for the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28th). Hymns for the Holy Innocents are scant, partly because the biblical story most likely did not happen, and partly because there are still people around who want to limit the definition of "innocents" to infants killed by kings who feel threatened. Mostly, though, it's just a huge bummer to bring up the topic of lots of dead babies during Christmas week (Darling, can you pass the chocolates?).

I rarely see more than passing reference to the observation of the "Feast" of the Holy Innocents in hymnody, except Coventry Carol, (bye bye lully lullay?) and a verse in the zipper hymn for saints By all your saints still striving, which is so lame I can't bring myself to print it here (#232 in the Hymnal 1982). The gist of it is Rachel should cease her weeping, and God's got a good supply of crowns for all the dead babies who are better off now that they're at peace. Grr.

It's not as if the murdering of innocents isn't still going on by people who feel threatened, so why are we still surprised 2,000 years later, that the powers are still behind it in the most systemic and roguish ways, gunning down unarmed people on their streets and in their homes? How long will it continue? When will we rise up and make it illegal to kill unarmed citizens? I do not know, and most hymns for this day do not lend courage for this context, but rather make me wanna rage and scream about sugarcoating past realities, which of course gives us an out when we'd rather ignore present realities.

Each of us brings the gifts we have to the tasks at hand. My gift is melody, and the task as I have discerned it, is to write and pray the kinds of tunes I do not see or hear in the world or the church and share them in the hope that they might sink in, and we may all draw closer to seeing God in one another. Our lives together and unconditional love are so important that to forget to sing and pray about them from the heart with one another is to stall movement toward the realization of a beloved community. There are great depths to be plumbed before we can find the unity we co-create and cease our projections and judgments of one another. We must learn to communicate: to set aside intentional time in which to do this together in our communities and also in our homes, to invite all the stakeholders to the table, to encourage one another to speak our truths, and to find skillful paths through the knee-jerk reactions of fear, silence, and exclusion. Our lives depend on it. Hatred will not cease until we do it. Our children deserve to know that life is not a tug of war with a win/loss column. It takes showing up, slowing down, and hard work, which when undertaken with honesty, patience, and compassion, creates plenty of love to go around.

I wrote this tune for this text in 1983. The text is by Rosamond E. Herklots, and it's one of her best. If you can't read music, please read the text below (click to enlarge). The tempo is somewhere around 104 beats per minute. If you play it on guitar, see the last measure for a hint, and if you play keyboards, in my head it flows like Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Table Grace - Banquet of Love

I've been meaning to put this up for you all to sing at any table before a meal. Click on the picture to enlarge it. It's meant to be sung in canon, so rope your friends into singing, too. In my head it ends with everyone singing "we come, we come, we come, we come." It works as a walking tune also, so while you're carrying those plum puddings up the walk, it spins around nicely. Take it with you; you'll see what I mean.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Heart Prayer

Only by Following the Way and re-reading my favorite poems can I find my way through the current morasses. Here's a poem by Elizabeth Cunningham from her book Small Bird.

Heart Prayer

You can only pray what's in your heart

so if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

if your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

If you heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

pray the rage, the murder
and the mourning

pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Memory, NPR, and the Rhythm of Communal Prayer

Greetings, earthlings,

It's been a bit over a year since I've dropped by here. I'm back because I have to share part of an email I found from a gig in June of 2012. The note came to me in April, 22 months after the gig, but the memory of the moment is strong. There have been countless stories written, videotaped, and told about the ways in which music aids memory, many brought to us by a constant stream of new discoveries in neuroscience. This week on NPR, two stories about how rhythm works helped me to re-member. The first one - Sound Off: Where the Military's Rhythm Came From, talks about how Willy Duckworth began calling cadences in 1944 as a way of "chanting to build up the spirits of his weary comrades." Just the sound of someone calling a cadence can move us. It was still very much Jim Crow's army in 1944, and the story talks of using cadences that are trying to control your movements to elegantly evade control and maintain your energy. Nice. The second story, Your Brain's got Rhythm and Syncs When You Think is about using rhythm to enable people with Parkinson's disease to recalibrate and show off their smooth dance moves when movement is coupled with music.

Here's a story of the power of memory through the more liminal rhythm of communal prayer:

"I remember vividly from the conference that it was beastly-hot that summer of 2012. The sun was very hot on your skin, but in the shade it wasn’t too bad since we were by the water. We said Noonday prayer, held in the open-air building directly by the water; you led us in the prayers of the people, chanted. It was free form and completely improvisatory. I remember leaning against one of the walls, with the hot air blowing through the structure from the river, listening to the kaleidoscopic sounds of everyone’s prayers, hearing names of loved ones being lifted up, seeing the faces of those around me. Those faces shone with what I was experiencing as we corporately received the sheer sensory overload that I was experiencing.

It was one of the most powerful prayer experiences I’ve yet felt in my 34 years, because this was unrehearsed and totally improvisatory music yet all the same gorgeous music was something that didn't get taught nor rarely experienced, if ever, in my classical musical training. Yet it was so beautiful and perfect in some way; we even spontaneously cadenced without any provocation! Heck, for most of us our eyes were closed!

I’ve yearned for that experience to happen again but haven’t been able to get my folks here to get out of their own way to allow themselves to be moved as we were that day. It is my dream that our parishioners could experience what I’ve just described. I hope that such an experience will change them, open them up and perhaps experience the release that I felt that day.

Thank you for indulging me in my telling you of that experience. As you can tell, it’s as clear to me as if I were right there again."

I've heard from others that they remember this time as if it were yesterday. As do I. I can still see some of the faces. What I cannot remember is the sound of it, although I know it was a huge gift given to us, as we gave to one another. The people gathered, and those we prayed for and remembered during this prayer contributed to an unforgettable experience of connection that cannot be duplicated. There are, however, a billion ways to create similarly beautiful moments together.

May you find a reason to sing today.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Arts Festival: Eco-Sculpture, Mural Painting, Music, Poetry, Pottery and Wonder

Galen was non-verbal and unamused when he came into my group. He separated himself and tried to hide in a pew. All I saw was a lot of blond hair and fingertips. I went over, sat down next to him, asked his name, and told him I had a nephew with the same name. He began to lighten up, but was still dubious. I left him, went back to the circle and began with the shruti box. I almost never start a kids workshop with the shruti box, FYI. At the first sound of it, he sat bolt upright and was completely mesmerized. So taken with it was he that he asked fifty questions and spent most of the Explorer time (20 minutes) with it. I had to remind him to share, and he did, but somehow it always ended up back in his hands. At the end, he came up to me, shoved paper and pen into my hand, and said "I need you to write down the name of that and where I can get one!" little brother. He thanked me and shook my hand in the rhythm of the final rhythm exercise we'd done (be still my beating heart). On the lunch line he found me again and said "Hey, Ana! Look at this!" This pic is our brains on music.

But wait! There's more. As I was heading to the parking lot at the end of the day, wanting nothing but a cup of coffee to help me drive home without falling asleep, Galen came over and put his hand out to shake. When I took it he jumped up and down 15 times (I started counting out loud at nine) like a jumping bean. When he stopped, he said "That's a nice way to greet someone at the gym." Indeed.

Who has a better job than me? Not even God, people. Not. Even. God.