Sharing the music of the heart brings unity

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 21, 2004

The other night at a Cochrane friend's 50th birthday party the dance band provided an impressive example of how all of us can live together in unity. It was not unlike an evening at Morley.

The Cochrane party was a cozy, homespun kind of event, mostly family and a few coworkers. One thing about this family caught my attention immediately: nearly all of them could sing or drum – or play guitar.

Why, the evening was barely underway when, one by one, some relative or other nonchalantly got up from their table, took out their guitar, and joined the expanding semicircle of players. At one point there were over a dozen up front, all playing in perfect harmony.

What a delight it was to experience them performing as one, and they weren't even an organized band. In fact, some hadn't strummed together for months, I was told.

Their performance reminded me of similar occasions everywhere when musically-minded folks bring out their instruments for jam sessions in homes, coffee shops and pubs.

I've experienced some of the best of this kind of extemporaneous music at the old-fashioned summertime Gospel camp meetings at Morley. There was one especially memorable gathering back in the mid-1970s. . .

It was at the late Peter Wesley's place. Some of the men in the community a half-hour west of Cochrane had erected the 200-seat twin-peaked tent earlier in the day, strung the lights, and wired the audio system. Another team of women had readied the food-service shack and started the bannock baking while the stew simmered.

As the early arrivers were finishing their supper, several local musicians pulled up to the tent, unloaded their guitars and amplifiers from the back of their pickups, and started setting up on the platform inside the tent.

There was Clarence Wesley with his fiddle and steel guitar. At other times during the summer he would be out on the All-Indian Rodeo circuit winning buckles.

His brother Buddy Wesley was there, too. Highly regarded as an instructor in classical and western guitar, he would play lead guitar for the evening.

Rod Mark readied his bass guitar. He had taken time out from his university studies to be here for the evening. In the following years, he would become a teacher, principal and director of education with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

Charlie Mark was on rhythm guitar. He worked days in the community's transportation department. Tonight he was going to play music about travelling to heaven. By the way, Charlie and I share something really neat: we were born on exactly the same day back in 1940.

All four fellows had plenty to keep themselves busy elsewhere. But not this night. Their good friend, Cherokee evangelist Charles Enloe – known throughout the community simply as "Brother Charles" – had arrived, and the four were providing backup for his singing.

Soon I could hear them trying out a few toe-tapping bluegrass melodies in preparation for the evening service. Later that year the four would team up with Brother Charles again, this time to record an LP that I'll treasure all my life: A Vision of Jesus. (I had the privilege of shooting its cover photo.)

Now, just what do musicians like Clarence, Buddy, Rod and Charlie have in common with the birthday-party jammers?

Each knows the songs that well up in their fellow musicians' souls and, surrendering their fingers to invisible notes and being attentive to each other's subtle signals, they play as one.

It's about the unity of community in the spirit of sensitivity and beauty.

This idea was nicely captured in a song written by Bill Backer, Billy Davis, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway and introduced back in 1971 by The New Seekers. The fact that most of you will be able to sing along is in itself proof that our oneness together is not beyond reach:

I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
and keep it company

I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
Oh, peace throughout the land

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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