Spirit Quest on the power of music

Spirit Quest

The sound of music has the power to motivate

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

There is one regret, well at least one, that I have in my life and that is that I never became proficient in playing a musical instrument. I had a hopeful beginning when at six years of age I began taking piano lessons from a wonderful blind teacher. It amazed me that, although he could not see my fingers on the keys, he was always aware when I did not use the correct fingering.

Mother and her sister were the musicians in the family. My aunt played the piano in an orchestra while mother much later in life and on another continent played the piano and at times the organ in our little church.

I loved music and was exposed to opera and concerts in our wonderful opera house in Aussig, now Usti nad labem in what was then Czechoslovakia. That exposure was dramatically terminated when in the fall of 1938 we were forced to flee our homeland from the invading German army. For a number of years we were deprived of the sound of music while living in a remote area of Saskatchewan without even a radio.

I recall the day that mother and I left the farm. In town before boarding our train for the east we had lunch with friends. They turned on the radio and we only briefly heard the beginning of the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. Mother gasped and then broke into tears. Unfortunately we had to leave for the station to catch our train.

My appreciation of music is something like what the late meistro Sir Thomas Beecham is said to have accused the British: they don’t understand music but like the sound it makes. I also love the sound, the rhythm and emotions music conveys.

I was absolutely delighted when my daughter Karla became proficient on the clarinet and performed with the band of North Toronto Collegiate. My son Stephen followed in her footsteps in percussion. He achieved the Bachelor of Music degree in performance at University of Toronto. For a time it seemed that this was to be his chosen profession but that changed although he continues to perform with a band.

Music, mother told me early in my life, is a universal language. True, different ethnicities and cultures have different genres of music, but good music comes from the heart.

In my most recent Spirit Quest I referred to Dvorak’s Symphony From the New World, it is undoubtedly one of my favourites. Many of you who have responded and agreed with my taste.

Religious faith without music seems incomplete. I have been highly privileged to have had an excellent choir and a most accommodating organist and choir master at St. James-Bond United Church where I served for 16 years. He was always able to capture the theme of worship and apply it musically. Thus it was that when my father died I discussed the music with Roger the organist and chose the Largo from Dvorak’s symphony: Going Home. But then I had a desire to use as a recessional the marching song of the Sudeten Social Democrats of which my father had been a leader “back home.” I could not find the music so I hummed the tune to him and he quickly picked it up and transcribed it. I suggested that the first verse be played as if by a distant trumpet, the second verse would be enhanced and the third, well, he could pull out all the stops and let the organ roar.

Among those attending the service were some of my father’s compatriots for whom this song was very familiar. At the third verse they rose to their feet and sang the words as they followed the casket out of the church. It was a very moving experience for me and my family. It made me very much aware of the power of music to motivate and to tell the story, to raise the spirits.

Although I am unable to play a musical instrument I did attempt to write alternate lyrics to be sung to familiar hymn tunes. Among them is a refugee hymn I titled Sanctuary. The choir of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Ottawa recorded the hymn to be used in the documentary film “Hitler’s German Foes” which is based on my book Uprooted and Transplanted.

The following are the words of my hymn: Sanctuary

Where is home, the land familiar, where the village known so well, where the mountains and the river, where the forest and the sea, where the city thronged with people? Land of birth remember me.

Long the journey’s search for freedom, hiding, running through the night, seeking 0refuge among strangers, begging help, a place to hide, strangers seeking safer havens , often hated, seldom loved.

Some there are compassionate people, knew their master also fled, from mad Herod’s purge of children, waiting for that storm to pass. Willingly these offer shelter, brothers, sisters, Christ their host.

In God’s realm there are no boundaries, no barbed wires, trenches, walls, where there are no racial ghettos, all are welcome none are lost.

Peace and justice is their charter, fear deported, love enshrined.