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Musical diversity

Eldred Marshall Artist-in-Residence and Associate Director of Music Ministries

While planning the music for the July 7 worship services at First United Methodist Garland, I reflected on Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “The Gift of Diversity” (from our Summer Worship Series on “The Gospel According to Mister Rogers” and what that would entail, musically.

As Pastor Valarie shared, Mister Rogers did not teach “tolerance,” but rather that we embrace the different people around us – all our neighbors. In this, our lives, our expressions, our experiences would be forever enriched.

Interestingly, music does this sort of embrace far more easily than the people who create it.

Hence, I chose to highlight piano pieces that bend the genre in which they reside or thoroughly incorporate musical diversity, opening the musician and the listener to a new musical world.

For the prelude, I chose to make a personal arrangement of Richard Smallwood’s most famous gospel anthem Total Praise, with stylistic embellishments.

Even though the music is rooted in traditional Black Church musical expressions, Mr. Smallwood is a classically-trained pianist and composer who never hesitates to incorporate Western classical tradition in his compositions and improvisations.

In this respect, Mr. Smallwood and I share a common, and unique, musical language.

For the offertory at the 8:30am service, and for the first work in the 10:50am communion service, I chose to play Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2.

Gershwin felt most at home in his era’s popular musical forms: jazz, blues, rag-time, stride, etc. However, he loved classical music and strove to find ways to incorporate what he learned from that genre into his own musical language.

The piano prelude is a bluesy meditation that mixes the best of Romantic-era “absolute music” traditions of Brahms and Rachmaninoff and Tin Pan Alley.

For communion at both services, I played the Forlane movement from the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin.

Firstly, a forlane is a French baroque aristocratic dance, commonly performed during the time of Louis XIV. Ravel maintained traditional baroque forlane characteristics (triple meter; ABACADA+Coda form), but chose to update the musical language to his present day.

Around this time, Ravel befriended George Gershwin and became intimately familiar with American jazz. By incorporating the new music and art forms around him, Ravel embraced the “gift of diversity.”

As a result, we have an entire suite of music that is a special mix of 20th century French impressionism, early American jazz, and 16th century French dance music.

In this acceptance and appreciation of his neighbor’s music, Ravel managed to become the first French exponent of a sub genre called neoclassicism, which would take hold in Western music long after his death.

Be it Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X’s blockbuster 2019 hit song Old Country Road, or the frequent collaborations between southern gospel artists like Bill and Gloria Gaither with the late Andrae Crouch back in the 1970s and 1980s, music has always given us a living example of the fruits of diversity.

May we be inspired to follow its lead – and reap the same rewards.