Storytelling was my intended theme for the 14-week sabbatical but, not surprising since so many stories are put to music, music became a secondary theme. I knew that Ireland would have amazing music, and for the record I was not disappointed. Atlantic Notes in Westport, Trad on the Prom (outside of Galway), and the RTE National Symphony at the Galway International Arts Festival were all amazing. The music on the streets was also fun and pretty good in some instances. But the music did not stop when I boarded the plane at the Shannon Airport.
At the Monastery of St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho my heart was filled by chanting the psalms with the sisters and other guests. On the Feast of the Assumption I was introduced to another setting of Mary’s Magnificat.
On Prince Edward Island I loved the Celtic, Scottish, Acadian, and Canadian melodies. I smile to myself when I remember that I heard “Galway Girl” on two islands in one summer (yes, I know this is actually something of a pop song now). But the real gift of music on P.E.I. was discovering that I share a love for Broadway Musicals with my goddaughter. And we will always remember that we saw “Anne and Gilbert,” the musical, together. It has some catchy tunes, especially “Your Island Through and Through.” And I still love that this Idahoan got to hear a song about potatoes on P.E.I.
Then I went back to my hometown of Custer, South Dakota and got to have a beer with my sixth grade teacher at the Custer Beacon, a new music venue. I was reminded of what a blessing it was to grow up in Custer, a place whose natural beauty drew gifted instructors who stayed. More significant was how many of our teachers lived lives of multiplicity. Some of our teachers spent summers working or volunteering for the park service or forest service. Some worked in the hospitality industry in the summer, yes for extra cash but their experiences filtered into our classrooms nonetheless. And every summer I watched my sixth grade teacher (banjo), the high school band teacher (drums), one of my mom’s Chamber of Commerce board presidents (fiddle), and a cast of other musicians play bluegrass in the Mountain Music Show. I think witnessing our teachers’ multiple gifts and interests gave me and my classmates freedom to live our own lives of multiplicity. I can be a pastor, daughter, movie reviewer, reader, wilderness explorer, singer, and chef. And that multiplicity will be good for me and for whatever community I am living in.
Music also founds its way into my sabbatical through three films I saw this summer. “Rocketman” does a masterful job telling the story of Elton John. Sometimes flashbacks irritate me but they were used so effectively in this film. “Wild Rose” is a fictional story about a Glasgow, Scotland single mom who wants to be a country music star in Nashville. This film’s turns surprised and delighted me and I loved the mother-daughter relationship. “Yesterday” is about a struggling musician who wakes up from a bicycle crash to discover that only he remembers who the Beatles are.
If you have been watching the Ken Burns documentary Country Music, as I have these past two weeks, I wonder what you think music brings to your life and your community. Burns took us on a long and sometimes complicated journey. I do not know what my big take-away is yet, except that I thoroughly enjoyed watching and learning and pondering and I say thanks to Burns for giving us another masterpiece. It will be fun to hear what other people thought and heard as they watched. I will be on the prowl for more music from various genres to feed my soul this coming year.