by Daniel Thomas, CGS Musician
Recently I was at home preparing dinner for my family, and since I was feeling a little low-energy, I decided to put some music on to give me some pep.
(A side note: for someone who makes their living in music and the performing arts, I very rarely listen to music for fun or pleasure. That’s not to say I don’t get immense pleasure out of listening to music, but to say that so much of my listening is work-related that I take most of my non-work hours to listen to podcasts or other talk, or nature, or silence. This is a topic for another article.)
So I went to our little smart speaker and asked it to play some ska.
(Another side note: ska, if you’re unfamiliar, is quick-step music, originally developed in Jamaica with elements of jazz, shuffle, and blues in the 1950s and 60s (reggae developed from this and is basically a slower-tempo version of ska). Ska had significant revivals in England in the early 1980s and in the United States in the 1990s, incorporating elements of punk and rock.)
So I’m jumping around the kitchen making tacos when my wife and son come home. Rebecca says to me, “Daddy’s reliving his youth again.” Which was true, since this is music I discovered and loved in high school, even playing in a ska band.
Later on I reflected on this – “reliving my youth.” Why does this music - which, while peppy and replete with horns, harmonies, and social commentary, is pretty simple and not a practical part of my day-to-day life now – why does this music give me the energy and spirit of an 18-year-old? Why does this music uplift me so?
And here (finally) is my point, which is a theme I visit all of the time: the power of music to transport us, to connect us, and to remind us; and the particular power the music of our youth holds over us. Each generation reaches middle age and bemoans the “drivel” they hear on the radio and waxes nostalgic for the “real” music of 20 years previous – which is usually no less (or more) good or bad than the music of today. Just as it’s easier for young minds to learn new languages, those young minds more easily absorb music and connect it to one’s surroundings and experiences. For some reason, as we age it becomes more difficult to make these connections.
I find the same is true in our worship experience – the liturgy, the rituals, the words, and the music. Many people connect best to the experience they had as a student or young adult. I’m no different – although I came of age in a time where contemporary music should have been a prominent place in my worship, my congregational experience was very much rooted in the traditional (particularly the LBW). And so, it has taken me a long time (and much hands-on experience) to feel comfortable with contemporary music in worship – and I’m still learning, and sometimes I’m still struggling.
As we conclude our summer season of worship, I want to thank our musicians, singers, and our congregation for allowing us to bring a contemporary flavor to our services. For some people, this felt comfortable and familiar, and for some people it may have felt uncomfortable. I hope that everyone took the opportunity to appreciate the music, and its power to connect people to the Word. As we move into fall we’ll be exploring some other musical traditions – some familiar, some not – and once again we will have the opportunity to experience how all music can contain transformative power. I look forward to sharing this opportunity with you.