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The Circle Is; About Life in Community

I’ve had the privilege of being included in a First-Nations-guided talking circle. Though a talking circle is led through the presence and example of an Elder, it doesn’t have the feel or structure of hierarchy. Since all have the ability to speak and to be heard, a talking circle feels like democracy in action. There’s a built-in sense of community.

Being Mennonite, the idea of community is familiar to me. Community isn’t a monochromatic experience, though. It’s interesting how sometimes community feels natural and nurturing, and other times feels imposed or even excluding. I believe that the strongest communities are those that have lots of room for diversity and even maverick perspectives. Very homogeneous communities that are based on conformity to a narrow set of norms may seem strong, but can they really be adaptable to new situations, or even truly recognize the all the factors/individuals that affect/enrich their lives?

I wrote The Circle Is as a way of exploring the attitudes and expectations we bring to community, and also to express some views of what community could be at its best. The metaphor of the circle felt like a good way to hold it together thematically.

Here are the lyrics;

The Circle Is

Some enter the circle like a roundabout,
They come in only looking for a way out.
Others have it spinning like a top
They don’t go anywhere, & they never stop.

Some see the circle as a hurricane,
Where our lives get destroyed by the weather.
Some see the circle as a great big blender
Where everyone gets stirred together.

We see the circle as a safe place,
Where each can look into the eyes of another.

God knows, we’re always walking in lines,
Standing in boxes that go up and down.
Everything is organized
so we can be efficient, So we can get around.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended,
Where healing can take place.
We need a circle – we can serve each other –
A place where the juices of our souls can be replaced.

The circle is a bowl that holds
Nourishment for our souls…
…a turbine on a hill that makes the most
Of the power of the wind that blows.

Some enter the circle like a roundabout –
they come in only looking for a way out.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended, where healing can take place…
Judgement suspended, where healing
can take place.

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More Thanks

So many people to thank.

There are more teachers and mentors who were part of my development in music, and also other supporters.

Thanks to the late Peter Braun, my music teacher and school and church choir director, for teaching me so much about music and performance and for providing me with early opportunities.

Thanks to the late Helen Litz, director and conductor of the Mennonite Children’s Choir.

Thanks to my friend in the Mennonite Children’s Choir, Anita Fannenschmidt, for standing by me literally and figuratively and for nudging me in the ribs when I went off pitch.

Thanks to my voice teachers, Ruth Ens and John Martens.

Thanks to my college choir conductor, William Baerg.

Dale Warkentin, without your encouragement and support in Flin Flon for those couple of years, I may well have faltered.

The late Ted Goosen provided me with an opportunity to use my musical training and abilities at Simonhouse Bible Camp. Apparently they still sing some of my old songs up there.

Thanks to my piano teacher, the very accomplished Judith-Lynn Kehler Siebert, who taught me what it means to practice (though I took a rather long while to catch on).

My mentors, John Ens and Henry Wedel in particular, very much helped me to learn about singing bass, being a choir member, and to take leadership responsibly.

Arlie Langager led a choir at the University of Calgary while she did some graduate work there, and being part of that choir was certainly a highlight for me at that time.

Lisa Rosenberg gave me an opportunity to work on a song supporting the development of clean water infrastructure in Eastern Africa. That was an excellent experience for me in developing a project, and I hope to someday do more of that kind of work.

Thanks to Katherine “Em” for her support and encouragement, especially through social media.

Thanks to Jenn Byrnes and Lori Motherwell for their encouragement too.

Thanks to those in my extended family and on my social media network who encourage me. It does not go unnoticed.

There are so many more of you to thank, for so much. For now, this will have to do. Please be assured, I appreciate you all, though my expression of that can never be adequate.

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Overdue Thank You To Many But Not Enough

Whether or not my unusual music goes anywhere out there, I owe a big thank you to many people for their encouragement and influence. Since I am supremely absent-minded, I will probably offend someone by leaving them out… but consider this a beginning.

My first music composition professor, Linda Schwartz, who is now Dean of Arts and Science at Ambrose University. Thank you for your early guidance and the opportunities you gave me.

Olaf Pyttlik, who asked me to collaborate with him lyrically at one point, but who is so far beyond me. Thank you for your friendship of long ago and for sharing your time with me. Olaf is a music producer and composer with DACAPO studios in Winnipeg, and you may have heard his musical scores for any number of television programs/movies/ballet. He wrote a lot of music for the Ice Age franchise.

Allan Gordon Bell – Professor, University of Calgary. Allan taught me more music theory and composition, and I would have done well to heed more of his advice.

Derek Penney – Derek had a band in Halifax once, and he has written a fair bit of music himself. It would be great to hear it publicly sometime. Derek joined me for a couple of jam sessions, gave me some good advice on some songs and about learning from others, and is a super guy.

Fred Green – Fred is one of those people in the world who is underestimated and deserves a whole lot more appreciation. He jammed with me a lot, was really encouraging, and I consumed too much of his beer and hospitality. He’s a mensch – a really solid, good guy.

Rhonda Janzen – a singer-songwriter herself, Rhonda introduced me to my first studio, Music Center Canada. While I haven’t put out those early recordings for distribution, that was where I got my toe in the water, and the guys at MCC were good to me.

Sean Bruneau – Sean was once upon a time a producer for a TV network, and he told me about the studio I’ve been going to lately, The Beach.

Allie Henderson invited me to play my music for guests at Inn From The Cold one night. I appreciate her encouragement and that opportunity.

Doug Klassen, then pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church, gave me many opportunities to play my music in church (not necessarily the same stuff now out), and has always been super supportive of my musical endeavours.

Char Mikalson has always been super encouraging of me and my music.

Chad and June Miller are always there for me and my family, and have been really supportive of my music as well.

Dave Ginther – invited me to play some of my stuff for a Men’s Group Potluck. That was lots of fun!

Steve Larsen – is a local music producer who recorded some of my early efforts.

Rick Tarnowski is a super bass player who has jammed with me, and we’ll be doing more of that. Also, Darrell Krahn (percussion), Eric Friesen (Lead Guitar). Those three guys have joined me on stage, and we’re looking at more of that.

I’ve enjoyed a number of open mic venues around town. The most consistent one over the years for me has been the Ironwood Bar and Grill, hosted by Kit Johnson and Tim Leacock, who are fine musicians as well.

There was a college music and drama troupe too… Mark Bartel, Patty Neumann Bartel, Matthew Bartel, Jenn Mierau, Christine Siemens Huebert, and Lynnette Sawatzky Regehr.

And of course, my family has contributed to my life and thus to my songwriting. #MyDear1, who is rather publicity shy, plays piano and keyboards and sings, and she improvises all of that really well too. She has rescued me from my own musical (and other) errors on numerous occasions. Also, she writes a bit of music sometimes.

There’s also a guy named Gordie who I jammed with once. There are so many, but like I say, that will have to be a preliminary list. Thank you all!

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