I love change!
When I speak about change, I am always drawn back to one of my favorite past engagements when I was working for Chautauqua Opera for four seasons. The Opera company was a program of the Chautauqua Institution, an extraordinary nonprofit organization that has been around for more than 135 years in Western New York State.
It was started as a venue to train “Sunday School” teachers during the summer by Methodists, but it quickly became an internationally renowned place to discuss the vital issues of the day through its lecture platform and book club. It became a place of dialogue in which people of all faiths could worship side by side. (It’s where I discovered Unitarian-Universalism.) It was a place for future generations to have fun on a beautiful lake, discuss the latest books, and learn new things. And importantly for me, it became a major center for arts and culture with a professional Ballet Company, Theatre Company, Symphony Orchestra, and yes, an Opera Company in residence along with schools to teach these art forms to children and emerging professionals.
And despite this remarkable history of growth and transformation, there was a common joke heard:
“How many Chautauquans does it take to change a light bulb? Change!
As the joke infers in a sweet way, change is difficult. But to me, change is exciting. It’s an opportunity to learn from our past and see how we can apply these lessons from the past to make our world a more just and better place to live.
How many times have you heard someone say to you: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.” Think about what that statement actually says for a moment.
If we had not reinvented the wheel, we would be driving on wheels made of rock. In fact, history tells us that wheels were not even used for transportation at first. The wheel has been reinvented, changed a million times from its beginnings in Mesopotamia around 3500 BCE. And this process of change and innovation is what is exciting to me.
We have a wonderful opportunity to embrace this change as we begin the journey of discovering a new music director that will bring a fresh new energy to our Sunday services. I love music because of its enormous diversity. A colleague of mine once burned me a CD of twelve different soprano’s interpretations of “Un bel di,” the heart wrenching and beautiful aria from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly from Leontyne Price to Renata Scotto. Each interpretation revealed new interpretive changes in timber, drama and phrasing that were extraordinary. Some I loved and others I did not, but I could appreciate and cherish them all.
I will always admire the great work and legacy that Stephen Grimm leaves us. He is one of a long line of distinguished music directors that have served Neighborhood Church. His embrace of the western classical tradition brought powerful nuance and spiritual fervor that made our Choir and Pasadena Pro Musica soar to glorious heights of excellence. I will always be personally grateful for his concerts of the works by Franz Schubert.
I think about witnessing the beautiful musical call to prayer that I heard at our interfaith dinner. I think about the jazz jam I had the opportunity to be a part. I think about hearing a stirring original song by one of our senior high youth wrote in tribute to her Moms. Each of these experiences helped me grow and nurtured my own spiritual journey in a unique way.
We have an extraordinary search committee that will support Rev. Lissa Gundlach in recruiting a Music Director. It’s not an easy task. They are under a microscope because everyone has an opinion. That’s what makes Unitarian-Universalists, in particular, such a powerful religion. We recognize the “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.” Just as there is no one-way to interpret “Un bel di,” the music at our services cannot be one genre or style or what is considered high-church versus low-church. It is music’s diversity like the “beloved community” that we strive for that will remind us regularly how vital it is to embrace difference and change.
And I leave you with my favorite quote on change courtesy of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”