August 13, 2010: Discordant Notes

Back from Baltimore Yearly Meeting—with a brief visit to New England Yearly Meeting—and eager to “unpack.” To spend so much concentrated time with so many Quakers and make meaning of all I saw and heard will require lots of time, lots of discernment.

Meanwhile—a wind story from BYM: BYM was held at Frostburg State College, in the mountains of western Maryland, so far west that one day, when I’d walked to the very top of its hilly campus, I watched another hill, maybe a couple of miles away, being strip-mined.

Besides hills and classroom buildings and dormitories, Frostburg State also boasts playing fields. Many, many playing fields. A perfect setting for a sports summer camp for kids. So while Quakers from MD, VA and DC were at their yearly gathering, K—12 football players and soccer players were also on campus (noticing what food—and how much—these kids selected at the college’s cafeteria was an eye-opening experience).

But we Quakes and those athletes shared that hilly, breezy campus with another summer camp: a high school marching band from Raleigh, NC. My first meal at the gathering and not knowing anyone, I noticed these kids, clearly not jocks, racially mixed, some a little, well, geeky, and sat with them. They were delightful. So the next morning after breakfast, as the brass section rehearsed under a tent near the cafeteria, I lingered.

Their director (whose much-used voice got more and more gravelly as the week progressed), his bearing and sports garb possibly leading you to believe he was football coach, was measure-by-measure taking these kids through a rough passage.

He instructed the trumpet section to stop playing. “This piece has some unusual chords,” he noted to the others. “How many of you are playing weird, discordant notes?” Several kids raised their hands. “Play loud,” he told them. “Emphasizing those notes are what will make this piece special.”

Now, maybe it was the coffee talking, but his instructions seemed to be a metaphor of how a group, a gathering, a community, a”body” (as BYM and NEYM referred to the people attending their sessions) might function. If the center holds, if the trumpet section carries the tune, if there’s trust and safety and respect and civility, the weird and discordant voices of that group or body make that community special.

From time to time during my stay at Frostburg, the wind would blow in the right direction and I’d hear those same labored-over, difficult, beautiful measures being played. And I’d again ponder that potential metaphor.

Now you can, too.

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