By Will Magalio, UUCSH Music Director
I will never forget my first piece that I played when I first arrived at UUCSH in January 2001. The Music Committee asked me to play “It’s Not Easy, Bein’ Green” (yes, that’s right, the song that Kermit the Frog sings). I was raised Roman Catholic, singing very religious hymns and anthems, cantoring and chanting throughout high school and college, so to be asked to play a song made famous by a Muppet threw me for a bit of a loop. But as I presented the song, and several members of our choir sang it, I began to think about the lyrics and how the color green could be replaced by any color, showing the difficulty that people of different races sometimes feel day to day. I then began to think about people of varied differences: race, religious background, sex or sexual orientation, physical abilities, age. This song could apply to ANYONE, to EVERYONE.
I then started to think about the musical line for the song. It’s not even really a melody as much as it is a bunch of thoughts sung out loud rather than spoken. It starts out kind of descending, as if the singers are getting tired, thinking about how difficult it is being who they are. But at the halfway point, the melody takes an upturn and the singers begin to feel more positive about what they are singing and who they are. Eventually, we return to the first melodic idea, and even though it sounds almost exactly the same as when the singer began the song, there is new acceptance in the lyrics and melody. The song is so simple, yet it sends a wonderful message – a sacred message – about being true to yourself and being proud of who and what you are.
That was my first experience of presenting a non-traditional “sacred” piece of music for a congregation. I began to realize that to me, ALL music is sacred. Music is very powerful and can cause every emotion in the spectrum: love, happiness, sadness, despair, fear, anger, humor. It can conjure up memories of a different time, a different place – different people or events. Over the years, I have presented many instrumental pieces during interludes. I have played simple classical pieces, jazz standards, gospel pieces and original compositions. I have even snuck in a few tunes heard in background cues at Walt Disney World, as well as piano arrangements of band/orchestra pieces that I have taught my students in school. All of it has moved somebody in the congregation, and each and every piece moves me when I play it. That makes it sacred. It can have lyrics or not. It can be a full idea with accompaniment, or just a melody. It can be fast or slow, loud or soft. It can be heard softly in the background under a reading or sermon, or it can be strong and pronounced. It can be familiar – like from a movie or musical – or completely unfamiliar. It can sound pleasant or sound dissonant and uncomfortable. As long as there is music in a service, and that music moves one person at that moment, that place has become sacred.
Sacred music exists anywhere and everywhere. I have felt moments of sacred music in the most unusual places. I feel it every time I conduct my orchestra at school in concert. I feel it when I go to see a Broadway musical – whether I am watching Rafiki singing about the “Circle of Life”, or when I hear Mary Poppins sing about “Feeding the Birds”, and even when I hear Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom singing about how he “Wants to be a Producer.” One of the most unusual times I felt sacred music was when I heard the a capella vocal group Rockapella sing the Folger’s coffee jingle (“The best part of waking up….is Folgers in your cup”). They sang it so beautifully that for those 25 seconds, there was sacred music. The original purpose behind the music doesn’t really matter, as long as it moves the listener.
Each Sunday, I present instrumental sacred music during offertory and most preludes. If there is a piece that you would love to hear in service, please talk to me, and I will do my best to accommodate you.
In the meantime, if you want to enjoy a simple sacred music moment in an unusual place, please check out the Kermit the Frog singing his signature tune.
By Will Magalio, UUCSH Music Director