Beyond Preachy Music
Reflections after a Conference
by Dr. George Hermanson
We can't seize an alternative to global climate change -- we can't help bring about a more peaceful and just world -- unless our spirits are alive. Preachy music can't do it. It's too morally earnest. We need music that takes us to the ground of love and hope. Music that is wild and sacred and free. It always works this way. Philosophers might give us the ideas, but music gives us the hope. No sermons necessary.
“It gives joy in your life — soul — gives you a God - reaches in to find soul. “
This June, Suzanne and I went to Claremont, California, for the Seizing an Alternative conference. I had encouraged eighteen other Canadians to join us. As a result, we were able to make commitments to follow up on the issues raised, of which there were many. Because we were a group, we got a wider view than each of us would get by individual concentration in the many workshops available, of which there were an overwhelming number. One of the group, with support, is running in a federal election and focusing on changing our economic reality and addressing climate change, two areas in which the current government is not focusing.
This cooperative approach is keeping with the principles of process/relational theology. Much of what we heard reinforced the troubling ecological situation we find ourselves in and we are under pressure to change the views of our society, to move us to a sustainable society. Many problems are facing us, and lack of knowledge is one. What was discussed was both scary and hopeful. The realism of global climate change was reinforced. The urgency of addressing it was, at times, overwhelming. There were words of hope that inspired the strength to continue working for sustainability. One continuing process is Pando Populus, a web site that keeps the struggle going. Pando Populus is a platform for people who care about big ideas and the Earth. Our aim is to create an ecological civilization.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
You can go explore Pando Populus for on-going information and strategy. But in coming home, I felt that something was missing. When I got off the plane, my grandchildren took me to U2 concert. It was there that I began to feel the missing piece.
Whitehead reminds us of the role of poets and artists and musicians to keep the spirit alive. After feeling the social passion of the music of U2, I was reminded that music can change us and present hard subjects in ways that do not beat us up. Music that is earnest and preachy is often how we experience important issues, but that does not lift the spirits.
U2 used their skill to move us and remind us of the issues involved with creating a compassionate society. It was hopeful because the crowd was full of people like me and like my grandchildren. I noticed families there and that too reminds us of how we shape the world, sharing through music and ideas.
From there I went to the Ottawa Jazz festival. Bruce Cockburn was a mainliner, a Canadian icon of passionate music with the skill to match a social passion for a better world with music and lyrics that call the best out of us. It is not preachy, but clear about the issues and persuasive. His music persuades us to care, which is in keeping with a basic principle of how Love Supreme works.
In the midst of this journey, I came across an interview with Carol Kaye. If you are like me, her name did not jump out, and then I discovered she was the bass player — a studio musician who work with the Beach Boys, jazz, Motown, a thousands of other records. She is asked "Why music?"
"It gives joy in your life - soul - gives you a God - reaches in to find soul. Music helps us feel a person’s joy — positive feeling of music in society changes it. We need the music to pull us out of the crap.”
Her comments reinforced the idea that music and art are persuasive, luring us to love and joy. Of course, some music is trivial, but even such music moves the hearer. Some pop may be slight and it does resonate. At the conference, we had some music that reflected our early social passion, but it did not carry us out of the crap. What was missing was persuasion, hope and joy. We were not sent home singing. My experience with U2 and the jazz festival, however, did ground me in hope.
Christine Jensen offered a piece that celebrated the commitment of young aboriginals who are working for Truth and Reconciliation. A five year study had just been released to move Canadian society toward recognizing the pain of residential schools and a lack of government care. In the music, I could hear our complicity, their passion, and a hope for reconciliation. The music dealt with these tough topics and persuaded us to accept that we could create a more inclusive and compassionate society. At the end of the piece was silence, for we had been in sacred space.
While waiting for a concert, we turned on CBC and heard Apocalypsis live from Toronto's Luminato Festival at Toronto's Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. More than 800 musicians, actors and dancers brought their talents together to bear on Apocalypsis, a music drama by R. Murray Schafer. The only full production of the piece took place in 1980 in London, Ontario. It is two hours long and can be found on the CBC. Schafer's music walks us through the crisis of our time but does not leave us in despair. He compares the experience to being part of a ritual or ceremony:
"You need to get into a different state. I hope we can bring the audience along with us on that journey."
Part 1: St. John's Vision shakes, worries us, for there is realism in the music.
Part 2: Credo moves toward hope.
After silence, Credo, is a reflection on the birth of something new, and a 45-minute slow movement. It ends with the resurrection. The music gives us courage to address the issues we face from inequality to climate change.
In the movie Boy Choir, the choir director reminds the hero of the movie that doing music is a sacred event, connecting the music to the self, those who hear it, and the world. Music is needed for us to create a sustainable world.
The end of the festival brought this home with Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet. Here is a musician who was expelled from South Africa because he had a mixed-race group. He spent years doing his craft in London, then returned to his home. The group of South African musicians took us in the mystery of Love Supreme to affirm our connection to others and to the environment. It was joy and hope. It was a reminder that we are called to harmony, the possibility of the mystery of love, the final ground of any possible world.
So I affirmed the goal of seizing the alternative — it was beauty that grounded me for the tasks at hand.