GRAY: Transcending Age in Music and Faith
Published: Monday, November 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, November 4, 2013 21:11
In the flurry of excitement that has come to Georgetown this fall with the founding of the McCourt School of Public Policy and the arrival of a new mascot, I’d like to take this time to focus on two special events that may have flown under your radar. First, “The Big Band Era” celebrated in the Jazz Ensemble concert Sept. 20, and second, the Oct. 3 inaugural event of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, reflecting on the first months of Pope Francis’ leadership and the Catholic Church’s global engagement.
Listening to the Jazz Ensemble big band concert, I was swept back into the 1930s and 1940s, from my current age of 83 to my early teens, when my folks would take my sister and me to the beautiful Palace Theater in downtown Cleveland to hear the big bands of that era: the Dorsey Brothers, Duke Ellington and Harry James. In the energetic and rousing Georgetown Jazz Ensemble, I felt the years melt away. I was a kid again, caught in the swing and sway of music that cheered our post-Depression years and lightened the burdens of World War II. For that was the popular music that framed energies of your great-grandfathers and grandmothers so that they were given hope that times could be better and that the world was really being made safe for democracy. I was deeply moved by the memories the Jazz Ensemble concert stirred, that miracle of imaginative recovery of emotions that dwell deeply in your bones and in your heart. Music, when played with the excitement of the Jazz Ensemble, bridges the generational gap between an enthusiastic white-haired audience and the youthful musicians. The concert proved to be one of those magic moments when hope and history rhyme, when ages are transcended by a common appreciation for an art form. At this concert, music and memory created a community.
And then came “The Francis Factor: Implications of Pope Francis and Catholic Social Thought for American Public Life.” In a packed Gaston Hall, the tone of the afternoon was caught by one of the panelists, exclaiming, “How long has it been since a gathering of Roman Catholics were smiling with joy as they reviewed their leadership?” The panel discussion and audience participation in a question-and-answer session reflected the warmth and cautious optimism of engaging a pope whose humane openness sparked hope for the future of the Church in the contemporary world. It was a return for me to the exuberance that followed Vatican II and the early years of the implementation of that council. Yes, the event had its sober side, too, as panelists and audience owned the need for the Church to touch its roots of gospel simplicity, transparency and humility to make its social message credible and effective. As I walked out of Gaston, I appreciated how that afternoon we all, young and old and in-between, felt that we were called to a communal vocation as members of the human family, a vocation to peace, justice and reverence for the humanity we shared.
The jazz concert represents to me an important parallel to the life of scholarship, learning and professional excellence that rightly characterizes this university. For at its best, Georgetown is also a hospitable locale where the life of music and art and friendship and faith help identify who we are. Young or old, all of us should share moments that identify not just our chronology, but our spirits. When that happens, Georgetown is a blessing that celebrates those moments and memories when head and heart come together to bind us in hope for the future and gratitude for the past.
Fr. Howard Gray, S.J., is the assistant to the president at Georgetown University. As This Jesuit Sees It ... appears every other Tuesday.