Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - The Musical Fountain of Youth

Last week, my Facebook feed was inundated with cell phone videos from this year's Stamps-Baxter School of Music. If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'll know that Stamps-Baxter was very influential on my decision to enter ministry.

I've been watching videos like this, of 80-something-year-old Rosa Nell Powell ripping up the piano:

Thank you, Marian, for this video!

Southern Gospel musicians get a lot of flack - some deserved and some not - but there's one thing they do right: they raise their children with music. I saw it every year at the school. Whole families would come, training their children to sing harmony, write and arrange songs, and play instruments.

We would also get the seniors, folks in their 70's, 80's, and 90's who were still singing and playing.

I remember the first time Earl Scruggs visited the school with Little Roy Lewis. Little Roy and the band were tearing it up, and poor Earl was off on the side of the stage. I kept thinking, "Why are they making him sit there like that? How can they just parade him around like a mascot?" Then, someone helped Earl out to a chair in the middle of the stage, and he started to play. I was gobsmacked! All of a sudden, this man came to life, playing energetically with precision and passion. The crowd went nuts. I was amazed...

At that same school, a man named Harold Lane spent his days sitting in the back of the auditorium. In his prime, Harold was a prominent vocalist and song arranger, influencing a generation of music makers. But now, he seemed weak and distant. Ben Speer asked if I would please ask Mr. Lane to arrange one of my songs, to give him something to do. I felt terrible asking this frail man to do anything. One afternoon, I sought him out and made my request. He asked me to repeat the question. I wondered if I was causing him confusion, so I nervously asked again,

"Would you please arrange my song with harmony?
"Why?" he asked, "Don't you know how to write parts?
"No, sir, " I answered. 
"Well then, sit down and I'll teach you." 

He grabbed a piece of chalk, drew a staff on the board, and turned to face me. Remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz when everything turns from black and white to colour? Well, Mr. Lane had turned to colour - bright, vibrant, ready to share his passion for harmony with me. I met with him every chance I could get. When teaching music, he was a man on fire.

When Gerald and I talk about who we want to be as seniors, we never speak about retiring in the traditional sense. We may change how we do it, but we'll always make music. Stopping just isn't an option.

In our travels, we often meet folks like Earl and Mr. Lane, people who have allowed their passion for music making to carry on throughout their lives. As they age, their bodies and sometimes their minds start to fail them. Eyesight fades, limb grow weak, and yet, the music stays alive. They continue to sing, write, and play. If one skill becomes too difficult, they pick up another:
  • Soloists with weaker voices move to the chorus where other voices will support them. 
  • Double bass players who can't stand learn to play electric bass so they can sit to play. 
  • Guitar players with stiff fingers learn to write lyrics and collaborate with other musicians to create melodies.
It's almost as if the music fills the gaps left by aging. 
It energizes them, and propels them forward into living life it all its vibrancy.

I'm reminded of this verse:

Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6 NIV

Music classes in schools have been on the chopping block for years, and that battle will continue as long as people are foolish enough to think that music and art are frivolous. Those of us who teach and practice the art of music making know that it's essential to who we are as individuals and as a society.

It's critical that we introduce music to children when they're young, so that they learn early how to make music and how to weave it into their daily lives. But I believe it's also critical to make music as long as we possibly can.

Perhaps, in making music, we can find a fountain of youth. 

Let's continue to make music, to teach music, and to encourage others in the art and practice of music making. Let's find a place where our lifetime pool of skills, talents, emotions, experiences, and passions can strengthen and inspire us to explore and enjoy life for as long as possible.

And maybe, in that place, we can inspire the next generation to sing, play, write, arrange, and create...
And the circle will begin once more...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

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