My name is Charlyn Bethell and my pronouns are she/her. I gratefully serve as the music director here at First Parish, with my partner, Guy Urban. As a musician, I wear several hats, so to speak—a conductor, an oboist, and an oboe teacher.
I teach oboe lessons at Phillips Andover and this summer, I worked with a student on Zoom because she was home in Singapore. We worked on a piece for solo oboe with many technical and musical challenges. She played it safely within what she thought of as “what she could do”. I asked her to only think of the music the way she wanted it to sound—not based on what her technique would allow. “Get out of your comfort zone and leave your limits behind” I told her. When I next heard the piece— she played it at an audition for orchestra at school, in September, she had made the piece her own. I heard something that was brand new to me. If music could be a metaphor for her life and she could keep imagining rather than limiting herself, she will unlock and realize her potential. And she is playing first oboe in the orchestra.
One of my favorite musicians is Bobby McFerrin. He has embraced change more than any artist I know. He started out as a jazz pianist. After ten years, he began his career as a singer and vocal innovator. He became a conductor during that time. He composed a hit song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. He teaches as he sings. Change has been the norm for him.
Our theme of November is A Path to CHANGE. And so, I ask: why change? It is so much easier not to. Makes me think of a song, “All I want is a room somewhere…..” Ah, the comforts of comfort. It is so great to just hang out without the specter of change. But then in order to stay interested in living, to feel alive, to give purpose to our lives, we need to move a little beyond what is comfortable. And why we talk about that here at church is we can help make that happen together to ease its pain. Here are some ideas about that:
- Finding beauty every day motivates us to seek change while bringing us comfort.
- Our outlook has to be loving, forgiving, generous—toward ourselves, toward others, as we heard Rev. Sophia speak of recently.
- We have to be willing to take the risks we can tolerate.
- Change is so much easier when we collaborate with others; together we are bolder than we are alone.
- We can trust in our own process and accept the support of others along the way.
I invite the choir to come up now.
Going beyond comfort levels while collaborating with others is what the choir has done in preparation for Music Sunday. Singing in another language expands our awareness of diversity. Most singers, except Jean Renard and Maria, have been challenged by singing in German. Yet, here we are about to sing a classic song by Franz Schubert, An Die Musik, in its original language. (many thanks to Jean Renard and Maria for helping us!) An Die Musik is an artist’s Thank you note for what music and art has done to enhance his existence. It is a statement that affirms the wondrous powers of music.
In closing, Beethoven said, “My music will change the world”. He lived in a time when the way to write music was to be creative within the confines of form. And because he had mastered the forms, he could credibly change them. When he did that, he ushered in a whole new way for music to go forward. Taking away the forms set artists free to explore in new ways. And so people in the world started changing. Beethoven changed the music that changed the people that changed world.
I leave you with the challenge to confront your resistance to change. While it may be the hardest thing, the benefits are many. Done once, it is easier to do again. With the support of those you see around you and on Zoom! go outside your comfort level to find your life is free to go in some place you have not imagined. Or to somewhere that you actually HAVE imagined…..that works, too!
Amen and Blessed Be.
Our worship continues with the singing of hymn #311, Let it Be a Dance. Please stand as you are able and willing.
Charlyn’s professional training has followed two paths: as a professional oboist and as a music teacher and conductor. As Music Director at First Parish, she joins these two paths of her musical life, conducting the choir, coordinating guest musicians, and performing on oboe.