MUSICAL MUSINGS: What’s Your Swap Meet?

By Scott Rieker

Choir Director, Emerson Choir


Growing up, we called them “flea markets.” Out here, I hear people speak of “swap meets.” Either way, the concept is the same. People bring things that have become commonplace to them, and—amongst those items—others find unexpected value and interpersonal connection. These two components are what separate a swap meet from a trip to Wal-Mart. A visitor to a swap meet can find value in that item that’s “just perfect for…” or unexpected inspiration in the creations of others: “Hey, we could do the same thing to that old…” Or, the visitor may find neither item nor inspiration, but create real connections with a garrulous woodworker, a taciturn metal artist, a glib picker, or fellow swap-meet-goers. Those connections can make an otherwise “failed” (i.e., nothing was purchased or sold) trip to the swap meet a legitimate success.


Each of us has a number of gifts, talents, and skills. However, to most of us, these often seem unremarkable, since they’re merely another component of who we are. It is only when we encounter an opportunity to “swap” our talents that others can find unexpected value in our gifts and we can find the same in others. In those interpersonal connections, it is often the unexpected that is the most valuable—something we didn’t even know we needed.


By the time you’re reading this, the Emerson choir will be in the midst of our second annual Choir Swap with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City, as well as our first collaboration with First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. It will be fascinating to see what treasures we gain from our collaboration. It could be technique. It could be repertoire. It could be interpersonal relationships built or strengthened. It will probably be something that we cannot even conceive of until we experience it, or even something we don’t recognize until a long time afterward.



The important part is that we participate in the sharing. The “swap” is integral in our growth as musicians and as human persons. As we step outside our normal circle and expand our sphere of experience, we build those connections that will help us in this challenging climate. The social media of today is modeled on this model of discovering unexpected value and valuable interpersonal connections. In our choir swap—our traditional, analog way to find value and build connections through actual interaction—we all become stronger, richer, and more empowered. For the choir, music is the vehicle of that exchange. How about you? What’s your “swap meet”?