MUSICAL MUSINGS: A Dry-Well Day and Assorted Thoughts on Life

By Scott Rieker

Choir Director, Emerson Choir


The pastor at my grandparents’ church used to speak of having a “dry-well day” when he was having difficulty coming up with a sermon. Then, he’d usually find the most touching message to convey. And, sometimes he’d relate a bunch of disconnected thoughts and leave it to us to connect them. I can’t promise the former from my “dry well,” but the latter should be possible.


My musing has been on something other than music all month. The Keystone Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of oil just north of my home state of Nebraska. I recalled how the company wanted to build another “completely safe” pipeline through the porous soil near my grandparents’ ranch, directly over the largest freshwater aquifer in the world. And how it appeared—because they were wealthy and powerful—that they would be allowed to do so. Bold Nebraska fought to ensure that it wasn’t built.


A former student of mine came out as transgender today. I’m very proud of her. In doing so, she’s had to abandon her entire conservative, religious family and build a family from the friends who still love her. I’ve been observing how people retire into niches that they often craft for themselves or allow others to craft for them. It’s uplifting to watch Diana Alexandra stay true to herself.


April 15th wasn’t tax day this year because it was Emancipation Day. When I saw the homeless folks on the walk to the metro and then heard privileged folks in a restaurant blame society’s ills on the poor, Emancipation Day felt a little hollow.


A dear friend is attempting to navigate the arcane bureaucracy of the state mental health system in Los Angeles. The urgent care office has metal detectors and armed guards. If you advocate for yourself or indicate that the doctor isn’t listening, they press a button and the guard escorts you out—even if you’ve been waiting for six hours.


The Emerson choir is embarking on an adventure: joining choir collaboration with the Studio City Unitarian Universalist Church and learning to sing in French. Like every quest, one slow step leads to another slow step, but the goals are certainly worth it. Beautiful music made in heartfelt collaboration is rarely easy.


Webster Kitchell, Unitarian Universalist theologian and author, wrote, “It’s good to be comfortable and well-fed, but that’s not the heart of being human. Understanding and empathy have nothing to do with riches, power, or cleverness.”


Nick Strimple, composer, conductor, scholar and author, wrote, “When people wish to express their innermost thoughts and dreams, they sing—and when they sing together, it is called choral music.”


What I wouldn’t give for a little more singing and a little less shouting: about the preciousness of the Earth and the life it provides us; about the intrinsic and infinite worth of every single human being; about the importance of medical care as a human right. The heart of being human is being in community: the result of understanding and empathy. When we achieve that, we cannot help but sing together.