Ken Medema on music,travel,life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My wife, Jane, has written a piece about music that says everything I would want to say, only she is saying it better. Please read and enjoy.

Music Matters
By Jane Medema, April 2009
My singing voice is below average. I can sing in tune, but, due to some minor vocal cord damage, the quality of sound I make is wobbly and strained and my throat begins to ache. Mind you, I still sing. I have to really. Singing and hearing music for me is like song is for birds; it’s an instinctive calling out to the world or a receiving from it and it is evidence that I am alive.
When I sing with other people, I’m grateful that my weak sound is strengthened and sustained by all of us together. I feel the change when my music becomes our music. Our music often blends not just voices, but hearts and lives, into one shared moment. We can all feel it. Many of us dream that a miracle will happen, and the moment will carry over into how we live and behave together as a variety of hearts and lives that can act as one body. In our religious communities we sing together often, taking for granted the magic: “It is the voice of the church heard in singing together. It is not you that sings”, said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is the church that is singing--and you as a member of the church may share in the song.”

Religious congregations sing together often, usually several times in a regular meeting. We sing together because it is the thing to do, because we believe that an offering of praise requires it. Or we sing because we need to stand and stretch, because we’re restless, because we need to fill time before more significant things happen. We sing because we need to do something, (anything!) that makes people feel less alone, less distracted, less numb, less mute, less invisible. Sometimes we seem only to make noise and mouth easily forgotten words-- words that say trite and shallow things or words that have been so often repeated that we are not curious about them anymore.

Quality matters. Selection matters. The best music for us sings our own lives and sings other’s lives to us. The best music asks for us to be awake and so contributes to our becoming wise, strong, sensitive, playful human beings. Beauty matters; and yes, it is in the eye of the beholder, but we cannot fail to serve beauty personally or corporately without becoming pinched in spirit. The best music embodies and recommends enduring value and therefore attunes us to Goodness. In the experience of it, we are redeemed and created all over again. The best music is holy even if it is quite secular in content --because of the holy work that it does in us.

Singing together carries our memory--mine, yours, and ours. Memory makes us who we are, tells where we come from, and how we see the world. When we make song and sing it, we dress memory in powerful words, in metaphors and stories. We shape it in rhyme and rhythm and pattern so that we will not forget. As we move through the music, we can labor over memory, looking out for where and how it reveals our nature.

Song is soul language. It gives us a way to make love to that which we care about. When we sing together, we are able to express more than words can say. We make new language with the lines of melody and the color of harmonies and the conflict of dissonance so that we with one another what we know by personal experience. The musical style we select reveals tacit cultural agreements and offers subtext to our message.

Our music is a fine tool. It organizes much that we want to learn and recall. It helps us to articulate complex ideas, events, and relationships. We are confronted and informed by it.

Singing together is performance. The sound and meaning we make sings back to us so that we are at once performer and audience. We are wooed by our own art. In the act of performing, we rehearse virtues and strengths and vows until they become not merely performance, but who we are.

When we sing together, there is the chance that we will experience a miracle. There is the chance that, by the time we arrive at the end of our singing, we have become something surprising to ourselves, something lifted out of the common, something both holy and very human.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Singing in the Rain

New Podcast this week

Our new podcast is available today and there are little bits of several songs plus some conversation about the wonderful gift of rain. The whole thing ends with a most interesting musical setting of a story from my childhood. When I was 13, there was one amazing Saturday when all my family were gone and I was left home to practice the piano. Weary of practice, I put on an old bathing suit and ran out into the middle of a fabulous thunder storm. It was one of the most delightful, freeing, life-giving moments I have ever had and I wanted to find a way to describe it. See what you think of the telling of this story. Give me feedback and tell your friends.Go to

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


A reflection on a song and a question

My son was a "Why" kid. From the age of about 2 until about 5 or so, no matter what instruction was given, what food was offered, what plans were made, there was always and forever the question, "Why?" Every answer brought another "Why?" Many of you know that picture so very well. As annoying as it is, we would not ever want our children to stop asking, "Why?",would we?

What happens when they stop asking questions and just go about their lives either accepting or ignoring the world around them? What happens to a culture when it stops asking "Why" and simply accepts or ignores the world around it? How many people are impatient with the "Whys" of this current financial crisis and simply want to race to the solutions?

Just fix it! Don't bug me with reasons. How many people in churches don't really want to know the "Whys" of trying to interpret holy scripture? They just want a quick answer, a principle, a rule. I must admit that I fall into bad habits more often than I would like. I don't take the time for "Whys" when I really should. I tend to want to rush to the answer or solution or practical application. For this, I ask forgiveness. I think perhaps the word why is one of the most important words in any language.

This past weekend, I had a chance to work with some amazing kids and we sang a song called "The Wonder of Why" which is both a children's choral piece and a solo piece on my "Kids' Play" CD. The piece is funny and fun to sing, but it also celebrates the importance of questioning.

I recommend it to you. You can find it as a free download on the website for a couple of weeks in it's children's choir form. Enjoy and keep questioning, it's good for us.