Behind the Voice

Ken Medema on music,travel,life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


New podcast up and running

Well there is a new podcast up and running on my website:

I have held off putting this one up because of the theme. The theme of this podcast is "On A Journey". Of course the journey theme is so prevalent in stories, songs, books, movies that I have been afraid of over-using it. At long last I decided that this podcast has some really good stuff in it so I now take the risk of putting one more "Journey" bit into the air and hoping that some of you will find that you identify with what I'm singing and saying. Thanks for listening. Please let me know what you think.

Monday, September 14, 2009

He Dreams of Dancing

a reflection on my life long interest in the dance

Anybody who knows my music knows that I have written quite a number of songs about dancing; "She Asked Me to Dance", "Dance in the Crossroads", "Dance in the Dragon's Jaws" and many others. There are several reasons why I am so interested in the dance. One is that I can't do it and really never learned how. Another is that it is such a great metaphor for the spiritual life. I haven't taken the time to sort through all the other reasons why dancing interests me so much but it certainly does. I have put together a little collection of my dancing songs in the latest podcast called "Let's Dance". The podcast goes up on the 15th of September and will be up for a month. If you haven't subscribed to these podcasts before, it's a simple process. These give you a little look into what's behind the songs, the performances, and often the people who have made the songs possible. The podcast begins with an extended version of one of my favorites "She Asked me to Dance". Tune in, subscribe, enjoy, and as Lee Ann Womack sings,"If you have chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance".

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Reflection on Interlude Retreat

If you have ever had a dream come true, then you have some idea of what I am feeling these days. I have said for years it would be wonderful to have a group of my good friends from all over the country in one place laughing, singing, talking, feasting together. Well, that kind of what happened last week at the first ever "Interlude" retreat for church musicians. We spent three amazing days together digging deep into our needs, wants, frustrations, delights, sorrows, longings, and callings. Paula D'Arcy was one amazing facilitator and I am convinced we all left the experience feeling supported, renewed, and more determined than ever to cultivate emotional and spiritual health. I don't know quite what will happen from here, but I do suspect very strongly that the "Interlude" concept will flourish. There will be many more retreats and perhaps several each year all around the country. Whatever happens with "Interlude" I know this: that I am more intent than ever about finding rest, silence, laughter, and time for prayer in all it's many forms. Thanks to Calvin College, to all the participants, to Bev and Dave Vander Molen, and to all of you who supported with your prayers and thoughts.

By the way, the new podcast is up now and it's called "For Somebody Else to Sing" and it features several artists for whom I have written, arranged, and produced. Maybe you will be my next client. Ever think about doing your own CD? Enjoy these late August days. For some of you the Fall is already beginning. For some it will happen big time in September. I hope that your life will have time in it for delight, laughter, silence and of course lots and lots of music, some of it mine.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


reflection on upcoming retreat

In a couple of days, I will be closed up with 18 friends who are all deeply involved in the ministry of music in the church. They are also people who have been at it for a while. Our little retreat called "Interlude" taking place at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, is I believe the first of it's kind. When people get to their rooms, there will be a book in which to journal, delicious chocolate for them to eat, and many other very special welcome gifts. The room where we meet will be alive with flowers and other artistic eye pleasers. Everything will be done in such a way as to make people feel that they are the most important folks in the whole world. I want to thank my co-workers Bev and Dave Vander Molen for their hard work on this project. It strikes me that the little details are so very important and often lost in the rush. Whether we are talking about the details of recording a song, writing a letter, preparing a room, fixing a meal, making people welcome, lighting a concert, arranging a holiday, or filming a moment in history, the little details are so very important. Thanks, friends, for that reminder and may we all pay more attention to the little things- they really do matter. I'll report after the retreat.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thinking About Christmas already in JULY

As I think about Christmas coming around again and the thought that I will have to put together some Christmas concerts, I am always confronted with this question; What will be my focus this year?
One of my favorite Christmas seasons was the one in which my concerts focused around the idea that everybody is pregnant. Jesus came into the world once but God is always doing something wonderful and new in every one of us. We, in the Church then, are Mary and Elizabeth coming together to comfort, strengthen, and support each other during this pregnancy.

This year there must be a new focus. I woke up this very early this morning to get ready to take an early flight. As I got ready to go and drank my first coffee, the idea came bursting into my head. I have been thinking about this for a while now without success and this morning---there it was clear as a bell! I only hope that after several days of reflection it won't sound stupid. I think I would like to organize my Christmas concerts this year around the theme of these three questions.
1. What is this?
2. Why Me?
3. Where to?
I want to play with each of these questions in the weeks ahead. If you have any thoughts that might be helpful here, I would love to hear them.

1. What is this?
Surely the various characters in our Christmas story had to be asking the question, "What is this?" As the story is recounted in the scripture, there is a visit from an angel both to Mary and also to Joseph. This certainly is not in the normal course of things and could lead one to ask the "what is" question. The most awkward timing of this pregnancy with the necessity to make the trip to Bethlehem could engender that same question. The unusual presence of those shepherds, the birth in the manger, everything about this event is beyond the comfort zone, out of the usual, and troubling to say the least. What about Elizabeth pregnant as a very old woman, and her husband being struck dumb for the length of the pregnancy? It's just too strange. How often are we not presented with a great gift that makes us want to ask that same "What is this?" question.

When I think about the gifts I have been given that make me ask that question there are several that come to mind. Of course, the birth of my children always made me wonder what radical and troubling changes will this event make in my life. When I am relieved of my job and have the gift of time to explore what it might be like to go into full time concert work, I have to wonder what this is. When the house I am renting is sold and I am given the gift of the opportunity to live in another place, I ask, "What is this, what does it mean.?" When we are given the gift of a worldwide wake-up call, otherwise known as an economic crisis, we of course ask that same nagging question.

In the days between now and Christmas I want to ask that question over and over again in reference to so many gifts that have come into my life. Some of those gifts seem so very troublesome and way beyond my understanding, but I can't help believing that my task is to try to figure out what they mean and how I am supposed to accept and learn from and become a steward of these gifts. Mary Mary, what will you do with this boy? Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Harod, what will you do with this Christmas present grace has given you?
On my next post, I will play with the next question, "Why Me?" If you have any thoughts about these things, please let me know I would love to incorporate some insights from friends in these Christmas shows.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


A dream come true.

Over the last 30 years or so I have sometimes thought about how wonderful it would be if musicians in the church had a place and a time to come together and just simply talk, play, learn, laugh, in other words all those things we never take time to do. I have always put these thoughts aside as impractical until just this year. Last fall, I spent a week with a few musician friends at a ranch near Houston. During that week, we did all those things that I have dreamed musicians could do together. We talked a lot, we played, we ate, we laughed, we shared ideas, we wept, we experienced early mornings and late nights together and left the gathering refreshed and renewed. Well, as we talked together there arose the idea of a Church Musicians' Mid-Career Retreat; a time of rest, refreshment, renewal, and recommitment to our lives and work.

Wonder of wonders--- it is happening this August. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the place where 20 or so church musicians will gather for the first of what we hope will be many such retreats. We will be blessed with the presence of two facilitators to guide us along the way. Paula D'Arcy is a therapist, contemplative, and fabulous speaker and writer, and Tom Pace is the senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston Texas. These two will help us make our way through the three days of retreat where we hope to lay down our burdens, open our souls find new hope, renew our love for the task we are called to do and find some laughter as we go. If this goes as we hope it will, it will be the prototype of retreats in years to come. I have even dreamed that there would be several of these each year in various places around the country. I would love to see hundreds of church musicians given the opportunity for a few days of rest and renewal in a small intimate setting where one can get beyond casual conversation and musical posturing and into the business of seeing, loving, and helping each other.

I am really excited about this and probably will write about it a few times between now and early August when it will take place. As I write this, the song "Time" from my CD "Sea Change" comes to mind again and again.

"Time to feel a thousand new emotions, time to give myself in deep devotion, time for grief and time for pain and sorrow, time to rise and face my new tomorrow".

That's what I hope will happen for us in retreat and that is what I hope will happen for you sometimes during these days of Summer. Please find a little time to be renewed, to rest, to do nothing, to hear the birds, to feel the wind, to hold somebody longer than you think you need to.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


reflection on a new discovery

In the last few weeks, I have learned again the importance of practice and most especially that kind of practice that can seem the most tedious. I have been concerned for a while now about the voice as it grows older. One of the things that can happen is that the vibrato gets slower and slower and soon you have a voice that people say sounds old and sloppy. I have of late taken to practicing vocal runs of the kind that you hear in the music of Bach and Handel. I hum up and down the scale as fast as I can over and over and over again. It turns out to be a bother to people around me so I have taken to moving to the garage early in the morning to do my practicing of runs.

This is not very interesting stuff, but what I am discovering is that the voice seems to have grown younger. What I mean is that the vibrato is faster than it has been in the last year or so, and the voice is much more agile and flexible. It comes to me all over again the importance of practice- whether that be practicing vocal runs, keyboard scales or Spiritual disciplines. I realize with some sadness that I don't know much at all about the continual practice of Spiritual Disciplines. I think that I like most people believe that if you are aware of the ways in which you want to grow it will just happen. I think the fruits of the Spirit must indeed be practiced and that daily. Those who avail themselves of the help of a Spiritual Director or some kind of regular Spiritual formation know this to be true.

I fear I have been really lazy about this part of my life. It's a bit strange that this realization should come to me through working on my voice, but there you go. I believe I have much to do when it comes to my physical voice but even more to do when it comes to my spirit. I hope I see you running up and down the scales with me.