Young musicians at the table


Young musicians at the table
Young musicians bring the energy of diverse cultural backgrounds, languages, traditions and music styles to ELCA Glocal Mission Gatherings. (Photo/Tracy Apps)

By Anne Basye

Music from Africa, Asia and Latin America — “Vocalinist” K.C. Maestro Frazier loves it all.

Baptized and raised at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Chicago, Maestro has been leading public church music since he was just 17 years old.

His lyrical baritone voice and violin have been fixtures in bands that headlined ELCA Youth Gatherings, Multicultural Youth Leadership Events and Global Mission Events. Now a member of the Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Atlanta, he helps lead global music at synod assemblies and ELCA Glocal Mission Gatherings.

Most musicians would do anything to stoke their “brand” and stay at the top of the marquee. Not Maestro. He’s always on the lookout for more talented musicians to join him, and occasionally take his place!

“It’s all about extending the table,” he says.

Gathering musicians one invitation at a time  

Maestro’s “table” is the Glocal Musicians program of the ELCA. The ever-changing group of musicians travels the ELCA, inviting and equipping others to lead music from all corners of the Lutheran world.

Since 2009, more than 90 young musicians – Africans and African Americans, Koreans and Tongans, Hmong and Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and European Americans, people who read music and people who play by ear – have participated in one or more of the program’s annual Musician Training Events.

They have been recruited by personal invitations – and Maestro has invited more musicians than anyone else.

“I’ve brought in a lot of African Americans but I invite musicians regardless of their race,” Maestro explains. “If I feel like they have a contribution to make, I say, ‘Hey, come.’”

Recruiting by invitation has built a very diverse leadership base, says Sunitha Mortha, ELCA director for Mission Formation. “These trainings have become an organic method of art-based leadership development, through which the musicians’ gifts are valued and are put to work to energize the wider church.”

During the four-day training program, musicians experience and practice leading a long list of global hymns and songs. Maestro and other long-time musicians mentor first-timers in skills, such as how to teach songs in new languages and the importance of sharing the story behind the song. After the training, new musicians join the more experienced ones in mission gatherings around the country.

Moving aside to include others

Of the dozen events the Glocal Musicians will be leading this spring and summer, Maestro will play only a handful. Musicians he recruited, like Desiree Wilkins of Seattle, will play the other dates.

“Maestro and I had been friends for 20 years, and he kept asking me to join,” Desiree remembers. “Finally one day I said, lemme see what this is about.”

What she found was transforming. “I fell in love. [Singing global music] opened up to me the true omnipresence of God. I wasn’t worshiping with people who looked like me or thought like me. It opened a whole new world!” Formerly a union organizer, Desiree has begun seminary.  

Why is Maestro so committed to including others, when it means he has to step away from some very enticing opportunities? Maestro says his mom is puzzled, too. “She asked me how I can bring people in when it means that sometimes I can’t go. But if you get something good, you don’t hold it to yourself, you share.”

Life among the Glocal Musicians has been good for Maestro. Global melodies and rhythms have influenced his own music (which combines Asian, African and Latin music, the blues, hip hop beats and rhythms into a style he calls “neoclassical fusion”), and collaborating with many combinations of musicians has taught him how to listen more closely and be more diplomatic.

“Being a Glocal Musician is a constant reminder of finding different ways to love each other,” he says. “The musicians are a family, and we just keep growing and growing. I love that I constantly get to be re-immersed in global forms of music, and I want to share that with others.”

Anne Basye lives and writes in Mount Vernon, Wash.

  • Learn about ELCA Glocal Mission Gatherings and where they are happening in 2014.
  • Watch and listen as the Glocal Mission Gathering musicians perform “Mungo Deh” —  (“We thank you God, we thank you God!”).

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