Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Grandfather's Weapon

A few weeks ago, I found myself talking to people at a liturgical music workshop about the difference between music in the 1970's and music in 2010's. "I feel sorry for this generation," I said, "because I had Bob Dylan to listen to. I had Peter, Paul and Mary singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And I had prophets like Pete Seeger, who wrote anthems that compelled hundreds of thousands of people to think in different ways. What does this generation have? They have Madonna and Lady Gaga! They have Taylor Swift!"

Now, that might seem a little harsh. Because this generation also has Bono, who continues to work tirelessly through the (Red) program to raise awareness (and millions of dollars) to wipe out the AIDS virus. But there aren't a lot of voices like his out there, at least in the music profession.

This reflection could easily turn into one of those "I remember when..." rants. But I won't take a ride on that cheap trolley. What I do want to comment upon, though, is what happened two weeks ago in St. Louis, among my fellow composers, when on Wednesday morning it was announced that Pete Seeger had passed away. It was as if a collective stomach punch had been delivered to my fellow song writers; speaking for myself, his passing had a profound effect on the day, and served as a way for me to look at the way I do my own work.

For here was a man who sang to end injustice to the poorest of wage earners, and with the same pen, wrote an eloquent summation of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Here was a man who, armed with nothing but a banjo and a twelve-string guitar, sailed a river in New York – a polluted, cancerous highway of rotten water – and by simple witness helped people understand that corporations that ruined our landscapes needed to be held accountable for their travesties.

To be that kind of musician to the very end of his days, to be that prophetic, energetic voice – that is worth aspiring to.

Pete Seeger's weapons were carefully chosen. The strings, wood and skins that comprised his instruments were much less expensive than the weapons many people carry today. But his weapons were much more powerful, for they were built of compassion and perseverance, and they went straight for the heart. Yet he sought not to kill. He sought to find a way to help people live.

Unlike me, Seeger wasn't a church musician. But if you look at the banjo above (thank you, New York Times, for a superb obit on this man!), you'll see the kind of swords into plough shares reference that, yes, is at the heart of the Christian prophetic message. I'd like to think that my own guitar has a hand in that: surrounding hate, and forcing it to surrender.

A guitar can be a mighty weapon. It can touch hearts without a scalpel. It can open people's eyes, sometimes better than an optometrist can. It can hold a politician or a bureaucrat accountable. It can soothe without even the touch of a hand. It can shape vocations and cause people to actually change the directions of their lives.

It's the kind of weapon a grandfather can be proud of.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Woodhurst Rd, Granger, United States

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