It is strange the thoughts that occur when you sit in your church listening to a familiar minister preaching the usual Sunday sermon. There is a peace of words which can flow over you, words triggered by the lesson of the day or even a line from one of the hymns, but the peace is palpable and welcome. Sometimes the words of the sermon initiate an idea quite divorced from the subject matter, but engendered by it just the same.
This experience happened to me recently during a sermon on witnessing one’s faith. Our minister was preaching on our responsibility as Christians to bear witness to the faith. It occurred to me that I really wasn’t doing very much in that department, so I began to think about what I can do, and what I could do.
I’m an amateur musician. I play in several community bands and orchestras. And what has this to do with witness? I don’t know, but I conceived the idea of taking our music to the people of the East Side of Vancouver, people whom I believe are possibly the most “music deprived” residents of the city. Since I play in several groups, I thought that I could put together a free concert series at Carnegie Centre with each band playing once.
I contacted Rika Uto, the Community Programmer of the Centre, and she was very enthusiastic. She said,” oh, yes, we have groups come and play, soloists, quartets, how big is your group?” When I answered 35-50 musicians she gasped! We surveyed the “theatre” which was large and high, discussed the logistics of the enterprise, and agreed that I would get the musicians and she would get the audience. The initial band was the West Vancouver Concert Band under the direction of Tak Maeda.
The first major hurdle was to transport 35-50 musicians and their instruments and music stands and music down to an area of town that does pose its safety problems. I approached Lou Rivers to find out if he had any contacts in the service clubs which might consider funding a bus. He’s an Honorary Rotarian! Immediately he put me in touch with the West Vancouver Rotary Club. The day before our gig, we had a bus for our band.
When the bus took us up the alley behind Carnegie Centre, an alley full of garbage, street people in various stages of intoxication, and sad to the extreme, I wondered if this had been a good idea. Without the bus, it would have been a very scary exercise .
But the bus was met by the Carnegie security guard and we were efficiently ushered up the stairs into the theatre. There everything was prepared, and the audience already in place. After a welcome by Rika Uto we launched into Colonel Bogey, our first number. The response was deafening, and I felt the tears coming into my eyes. They loved us!
We played a mixed program for an hour and a half, and at the end the audience leapt to its feet and cheered. We have never had a response like that! We had felt the enthusiasm as we went through the program and I know it stimulated our performance. I have never heard the band play so well.
I don’t know whether this is witness or not, but I know our music deeply touched a lot of people that evening, and maybe that is enough.