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Thoughts from a Musician's Heart


As Christians, we are all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-27. As artists, as with any other calling, our task is to figure out how best to love God and our neighbor with the gifts we have been given, within the context of our profession.

I am the music director of an orchestra, a secular arts institution. Some of the music we play has a sacred text or theme, but other than addressing a particular work and its original use within the worship of the Church it is not appropriate for me to use my position bring my faith directly into the workplace. However, as a Christian I am still called to live out my faith among the people I am serving.

When the lawyer correctly answers Jesus that the most important commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, he then follows up with the question, "But who is my neighbor?" The scripture says that the lawyer asked this in order to justify himself but he nonetheless raises an interesting point, which Jesus answers with the parable. The story is as unexpected today as it was in Jesus's time; we do well to imagine who the Samaritans are in our midst, those who may be despised racially and even theologically but who we are nevertheless called to love and serve. Those to whom we are called to cross the road in order to provide help and healing, or even those from whom we might receive grace unexpectedly.

The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra's Lakota Music Project was born out of a desire to address racial prejudice in the state and region ( In this side-by-side program with orchestral and Lakota and Dakota musicians, we have for 14 years been exploring how to better understand one another through the sharing of something we all love: Music. This program has been performed in various iterations over 50 times, in reservations and cities, free to the public. Several new works have been commissioned which facilitate the traditional and orchestral musicians to play together (

This program has blossomed into other communities within our community. Using the template we created to engage with the Lakota and Dakota, the SDSO developed a larger program called Bridging Cultures in order to engage with the Chinese, South Asian, Persian, Hispanic, and Arab communities in our city and region. There is so much joy in the sharing of music, in learning about each other; you can see it in the faces of those who are experiencing their culture reflected back to them, treated with the same respect and honor afforded our own. These experiences are only beginnings; music opens the door to friendship, and from there comes the opportunity for a deeper sharing of our lives.

I once was in a meeting with a foundation which eventually funded some of our programs. The representative kept pressing me as to my motivation for starting and pursuing these projects. I honestly tried to divert the question as best I could but in the end I could only say, "I want to learn to love my neighbor as myself." Life is messy, and journeying with people who are different from us can be all the more challenging. But it seems to me that Jesus calls us to get out of these comfort zones of ours and to share the love of God with those who are put in our path . . . or who we may encounter along the side of the road.

Lakota Music Project documentary:


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