Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Notes From My Knapsack 2-11-16

Notes From My Knapsack 2-11-16

Jeff Gill


Sounds Overheard, All Around the Halls



Imagine walking down a classroom corridor, hearing over the modulated hubbub of the hallway the sound of voices raised in song, singly and in groups, in English, yes, but also Italian and French and German and Latin.


You hear pieces and parts more clearly through some doors, safely closed during performance, than you do others; some vocalists are stronger, others softer, occasionally it's an ensemble or group of some sort singing.


On into a different section of the building, or the floor below, and it's instrumentalists at work: woodwind and brass and percussion, strings and keyboards, steel drum groups, clarinet choirs, and orchestral assemblies. Keep moving and you'll hear a fast run of notes, up deliberately then down just as carefully, yet a few steps further on a slow and stately sonata unfurls.


You can come upon a stretch of warm-up rooms with a manic charge of scales or arpeggios in the air, or just see a small mountain of instrument cases piled with coats on top, a formally dressed student sound asleep on the tiles before it, as if exhausted with having climbed or built it.


Stop and sit yourself, whether on a precious empty chair or bold enough to plop onto the floor, and watch them stride briskly by, tuxedos and formals and a wide variety of black tights, sweaters, jackets, scarves, with just enough jolts of color to remind you these are teenagers under the very professional exteriors.


Some look stern, many are laughing, not a few are gazing without focus before them (look out!) as they hum softly and rap a rhythm on their thigh as they walk.


You also see a fair number of parents, often obvious as they walk along with their maturing child, young person, youthful adult; the faces and forms echoing across generations to show you how one looked younger and in what ways the other is likely to age.


There is an event like this every winter that often takes place right here in Granville.


A couple of years ago, it got snowed out, but generally, they plow on. Friday night and Saturday, in late January, the Ohio Music Educators Association holds a Solo and Ensemble "adjudicated event" in this district, and the music programs of Granville Middle and High Schools along with the Music Boosters are delighted to host.


Thousands of singers and players, well over a dozen high schools from across east central Ohio, hundreds of parents, chaperones, and those indispensable band and choir and orchestra teachers all ramble the length of GHS & GMS, and you rarely get to know just what an extended sprawl of a building complex we have until your own child has six different performances on a Saturday between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm.


Your strength will keep up, thanks to the wonders of the Music Boosters' kitchen in the concession area next to the Commons (huzzah for shredded chicken sandwiches!); and the Commons are bustling and electric all the live-long day.


Across the walls, the large sheets of flipchart paper, ruled in magic marker and names and performance levels pre-written – it is ultimately onto these the proctors, students themselves, come to write from the judges' sides (they being music educators themselves, but from outside our area, all skilled and helpful, but somewhat stiff and grim in their adjudicating role).


The latest set of scores is carefully written in, and from the crowd which quickly gathers behind the proctor, there are moans, or cheers, or just a happy laugh.


It is a day like no other for the music students of our community, and for those adults privileged to watch and listen alongside.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the song in your heart at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.



Faith Works 2-6-16

Faith Works 2-6-16

Jeff Gill


How Not To Kid Yourself



Fifteen years ago, on the first of March, I drove over to Bethany College, in West Virginia just north of Wheeling.


The village was the home base for one of the founders of my religious tradition within Christianity, and where he founded a college that helped to spread his beliefs and priorities. Since Alexander Campbell's death in 1866, they have marked an occasion somewhere in the neighborhood of March 4 as "Founders Day."


I was going as a minister, simply to share a brief address and prayer of dedication at a wreath-laying in "God's Acre," the Campbell family cemetery. Founders Day always has a keynote speaker, usually someone of national or even international prominence, and in 2001 it was the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Halberstam.


Which is how, after a fashion, I got to have lunch with him. After the keynote, and before the trip out to the cemetery, we went into the student union and a lunch was laid out, with my role allowing me a place at the head table.


Halberstam was eloquent, passionate, occasionally infuriated, and matching my own height of nearly six and a half feet, imposing even when seated, with a voice that rumbled down into registers that rattled crockery stored in the cellar. Yet the Bethany students seated at our table were quickly made at ease, mostly, as he found out where they were from, what their studies were, and how they felt about the campus and college life.


Then his deep-set eyes swiveled around to the thirty-something clergyman sitting at his right, and Halberstam said to me "So, what about you?"


And I found myself being interviewed, as it were, by an expert. (A Pulitzer Prize winning expert.) He wanted to know more about my work as a pastor of a congregation, and he was curious about the denomination this college represented, at least historically. "They sent me some stuff in the mail, and I glanced through it, but I'd like to hear it from you."


I did my best to tell our frontier Protestant tale, and he sped me along with well-timed questions, in a hurry to get to the present day: what was the church structure like, how did it work, how was it doing in the purposes it existed for? It was clear he didn't consider himself a religious man, and he admitted at one point he knew less about American church history than probably he should, but his knowledge was fairly extensive for all I could tell.


He also fairly quickly got at my unease at the direction of our denomination, not just in numerical decline, but in our overall function and structures. "Have you read my 'The Best and the Brightest'?" he asked.


I could just barely honestly answer "Um, yes" from a years-before quick read (McNamara, Bundy, Rusk, Acheson, arrogance, hubris, quagmire), to which he said "Good; there's a book a friend of mine, Neil Sheehan wrote a few years ago, 'A Bright Shining Lie," read it? (I shook my head no), and I think you'd find it informative and interesting on this same subject." He asked me about what I was saying at the cemetery; his flight from Pittsburgh meant that he wouldn't join us out there, and I gave him my second copy I had in my folder for the ceremony.


"You've got some challenges ahead, that's for sure," Halberstam said in his conversationally prophetic tone; "the best thing I can tell you is this: don't kid yourself."


He took a drink of water, looked back at me, very seriously, and added "The best way you can tell if you're kidding yourself is if you find yourself kidding other people." He stood up, shook my hand, said "It's been good talking to you" and strode off to find the college president.


I've recently re-read both of those books. I'm starting again this week to teach my church tradition's history and polity to seminarians, and I'm thinking about Halberstam's counsel. "Don't kid yourself….(don't) find yourself kidding other people." I have a truly grand and glorious story to tell about my spiritual forbears, the men and women of the Disciples of Christ, but I also know there's a great deal of kidding ourselves going on out there.


There is a place for hope and possibility, and a time for honesty and candor. I pray that I will find the words for both, and am thankful for having met a man who reminded me how to maintain that balance.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about someone who spoke directly to you at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.