The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.
Coretta Scott King

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I once read that the first rhythmic sound a baby hears is the mother’s heartbeat. We might not immediately consider a heartbeat as musical. However, Webster defines music as “vocal, instrumental or mechanical sounds having rhythm, melody or harmony.”
Probably, the earliest “music” was rhythmical percussion of wood, bones or even rocks. A lithophone is a musical instrument made of rocks that when struck produces different notes. These have been found worldwide with some of the oldest examples dating to prehistory in India or the Vietnamese dàn (instrument) dá (stone).
I don’t make music, but I appreciate it. And I appreciate art and especially sculpture, which I wrote about recently (The Cathedral).
I was a good doctor and I have become a pretty good writer. Expertise in anything should be appreciated. I appreciate a pretty face, but too often we celebrate beauty to the exclusion of substance. The façade of a building does not tell the whole story.
Music has always touched my soul. I even notice (and often I’m distressed by) so-called elevator music. Such “music” is neither musical nor background for me. It often grates on me like fingernails scratching a blackboard.
When Becky designed our smaller retirement home, I only had a few requests. I wanted a bigger closet so that my modest wardrobe would not be spread all over the house. And I wanted a hot tub. But we also installed outdoor speakers in the ceiling of our bathroom, one of which is in the shower. You may find this odd, but I now enjoy stereo music with marvelous acoustics. I swear I can hit a high C in the shower – at least in my imagination.
One of the aspects of Methodism that I always appreciated was its hymnody, integral to the theological message. Methodism evolved in camp meetings during colonial times where singable songs augmented the Christian message. In the 19th century, Fanny Crosby wrote more than 8000 hymns and gospel songs which became “paradigmatic of all revival music.” I don’t do “revivals,” but when I need inspiration I often hum or sing Fanny Crosby hymns.
I like all types of music. The only exception is “Gangsta Rap” which is misogynistic and glorifies criminal behavior. I came of age with 60s Rock ‘n’ roll, Motown, the British invasion and poetry set to melodious rhythm by Simon and Garfunkel. The syncopated rhythm of their song “Cecilia” could move a stone wall. In some ways, their hummable melodies with contemplative lyrics remind me of Fanny Crosby.
My formal education was in the sciences, but my informal education in the humanities began in earnest after my medical training. Although I’ve always been drawn to history, music, art, travel and science, I recently asked Becky if I had a philosophical bent when she married me 47 years ago. Her terse answer came quickly, “No.” Perhaps something awakened a latent tendency. And I guess I’m “still crazy after all these years” (Simon and Garfunkel song). In marriage, you take the good with the quirkiness.
Mike Rowe is known for his Dirty Jobs TV show which celebrates people who make the world function. As you are well aware, I do not hold in high regard the mainstream media, politicos or the elites who fritter in Davos. But I highly respect my plumber who is more valuable than a doctor when water is flowing across your floor. And despite the war on the police, I appreciate the vast majority who are the professionals who keep us safe.
There are other vocations who may not be included among Rowe’s dirty jobs, but make things work such as truckers who transport our food. And I appreciate my neighborhood Kroger grocer as well as the employees who stock the shelves and help me find items when I have been sent to the store on “assignment.”
There are others who are part of my community. I now attend two worship services on Sunday morning after Covid killed my Sunday school class. I love my neighborhood Sevier Heights Church and its gifted senior minister, Tim Miller, who lives up the street from us. It was SHC that expanded my musical education. I’ve come to appreciate contemporary Christian music (not praise bands). If you’re unfamiliar with this genre I recommend you sample The Goodness of God and Way Maker on YouTube.
I’ve always liked Bluegrass, but Mike Kelly’s “Sunday Morning in the South” program at 8 a.m. on Merle 96.7 features Country Gospel and Bluegrass. The program has become part of our Sunday morning community. Becky has never been a music aficionado, but now she reminds me it’s time to tune in as we get ready for Church.
I’ve been blessed to travel extensively in a dozen trips to Europe and on five continents. I mention this only to explain that my wanderlust has been sated. I now “travel” on my devices through the internet’s “windows on the world.” My geographical community is actually a five-mile radius from our home in the UT Hospital area. Part of this neighborhood community is the Szechwan restaurant on Chapman highway. I appreciate the delicious Asian food prepared by the Chu family.
And a final shout out is to the Phone Exchange on Bearden Hill. I’m not a “techy” guy, but I need the technology and the devices which allow “my mind [to wander] where it will go” (lyrics from The Beatles’ song “Fixing A Hole”). We’ve used The Phone Exchange for years and they are fine folks, and offer excellent service, repairs and technical advice.
Mr. Webster offers many definitions of community including a group in a geographical area, or those with common interests, common characteristics, history, politics or policy. My community begins at home, but then extends outward to my neighborhood. However, my community is also my readers, my city and my country. Technology allows me to stay engaged with my family, fellow citizens and the world.
I am blessed to know where I came from, my purpose and where I am going. As Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn goes, ”It is well, it is well with my soul.”