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.



  1. Very true..I personally do not have a solo voice therefore my praises are a joyful noise. But when I sing among my brothers and sisters I feel as though I am enveloped in a beautiful harmony that allows me to enjoy a level of praise that I, alone, could never present.

    I read that "Those who sing pray twice."

  2. Jane, this is BEAUTIFUL!! Can I quote you in a sermon that I am preaching this Sunday? I will give you all the credit -- but what you have said about community being transformed by song is EXACTLY what I am talking about!

    This is great! Thanks!
    Dani Loving Cartwright

  3. My Dad, who is 93 years old, has the most beautiful Bass voice, to this day. Whenever I am with him, I love to hear him sing. When we sing together, it's like being his little girl again (which I hope to always be, even at 58 years old).
    Scripture says to "Make a Joyful Noise." I hope that all of us can experience what God has given us. Our voices may not be perfect, but to Praise and Worship our Lord and Savior with our Tinty, Beautiful, Quiet, Loud, Off-Key voices must be something that He pleasures over. Thank you for what you shared Jane. Blessings to you and Ken. In His love, Susan Grossman Swift

  4. Jane, your words, so beautifully and elegantly crafted have created in my heart the best song I've heard in a long time! Your words and the lovely truth behind them sing and soar. Thank you for the gift.