They say that music is a window into the soul. Music indeed is one of God’s greatest poetic gifts that offers expression of emotion, especially for those with the gift of song or playing instruments.
Growing up in New Orleans, I was taught an appreciation for jazz music from an early age. If we needed a way to spend a Sunday afternoon after church, my parents would walk us through the antique shops on Royal Street, stopping to clap our hands to the street musicians who entertained us on the sidewalk.
And, since there were no rules back then about taking children into the jazz clubs to hear groups like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play, I sat alongside my parents on a bar stool, tapping my foot as I sipped my Shirley Temple. I thought every child grew up this way.
But one of my favorite places to listen to music was when we would travel two to three times a year north of New Orleans to my maternal grandparents’ home. They lived in a sprawling house around the point of Bayou Desiard in Monroe, La. Each room had windows that looked out onto the expansive bayou whose current slowly moved right to left as ducks floated along and fishermen cast for trout.
Although the setting was picturesque, just enough to soothe the souls of my parents, who had come for rest and renewal, my cousins and I kept the house full of noise and constant motion. We played endless games of hide and seek outside; we swam in those deep and muddy bayou waters, jumping off a dock or dangling from a rope swing tied to a huge cypress tree.
In the late afternoons, after we had tired ourselves out, the grownups would gather, and there would always be music. The formal sitting room gave way to a sunroom (picture a glassed-in porch). Believe it or not, we, the next generation, were allowed to sit and play cards and games on “the back porch” in the late afternoons while the grownups talked.
Perched in the formal sitting room but visible to those of us hanging out on the back porch was my grandmother’s Steinway. Its lid was always propped up, the music rack had sheet music on it, and the flap was never closed (even to our sticky fingers, often covered in the latest sweet treat secretly given to us from the kitchen).
My grandmother believed that if you had something that you valued and loved, it was to be used daily. And the piano was a symbol of that. It beckoned, “Come, come and play me”… come tickle the ivories and make music.
Family and music
So, in the late afternoons, this was tradition. My Turpin family, seeming to have limitless cousins and relatives, would come together and make music. In my child’s mind, everyone played an instrument. Aunts, uncles, and cousins brought guitars, violins, even an upright bass. And as they gathered, they began to laugh, tell stories, and sing … someone would begin to “pick” … until a familiar hymn from the Cokesbury hymnal was in full swing.
And then, then was when my grandfather would pull out his harmonica, close his eyes, and play along. My grandmother or my Uncle Allen would sit at the piano and music flowed like the current of the bayou outside. Two or three women would begin to harmonize in song, and all was right with the world.
Where God is
This 2021 Lenten season, we as a faith community will read scripture, pray, and reflect on the theme, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” Jill will encourage us to seek out where we know that God is in “this place.” We may or may not physically be able to go there, but in our minds we certainly can.
Rev. Keith Dove, our pastoral resident, has created a playlist of music to share, having asked our staff to send in songs that speak to this theme. A favorites that I shared is: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
That song takes me back to those marvelous trips to the bayou, away from the city, away from school and schedules, to my family, a place where I knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that the presence of the Lord was in this place.
May your Lenten season be filled with moments where you seek and find God’s presence.
PS: Hear some great music from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I went to school with the tuba player, Benji Jaffee. His father was one of the band’s founding members.