Crossing Boundaries With Music

We had a very special lunchtime recital on April 11th. Nell Sanders, who played with Aaron Craelius that day, had already announced it in the program she sent us: “I believe that music crosses boundaries. My music brings together communities who don’t come together under other contexts, and allows them to find common ground to relate to one another.” She also said that “the power to unite humanity and make peace rests within art forms that break stereotypes and bring diverse communities together.”

Sounds pretty complicated, doesn’t it? But there she was, an energetic young woman playing Cuban congas and West African djembe drums with incredible vigor and spiritual depth. How would she bridge the cultural gap to our (this time) mostly white audience that is used to hearing Baroque or Classic chamber music?

We were surprised when, after the drums, Nell picked up her bass trombone and brought it beautifully in line with the rhythms to which she had just introduced us. Soon there was a lively conversation between the African drums and the European brass instrument. And before we knew it, Aaron Craelius, a classical cellist with training in jazz and other contemporary forms of music, joined in on his cello. Have you ever heard a cello being tuned to a bass trombone, and both played together with congas and djembe drums? It was beautiful, moving and surprising at the same time, as a new and diverse world took shape in front of our ears.

As I listened, I wondered what this music would have to say to our church. Diverse is beautiful. Diverse does not mean that one tradition has to overpower the others. And diverse is something completely new. (I know, in church we all talk about it, but on Sunday morning, we are as segregated as ever.)

Since true diversity is new, it falls under the dictum of anything new. The great French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, ostracized for his teachings by his order and by the Roman Catholic Church, once expressed this reality with these words: “If one tries to break new ground, or to walk in a new path, one walks straight to Calvary.”

This is, of course, a threat and a promise at the same time. The achievement of a truly diverse community in our particular church, but also within our denomination, will not be easy. Yet it carries the promise of salvation.

I was grateful for Nell and Aaron to lead the way with their music.

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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