Landon Y. Jones put in a good word for soccer moms the other day, in an op ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, saluting the legions of parents “who have carried and car-pooled the youth movement in soccer that has finally come to fruition in 2014” with the United States joining the rest of the “soccer crazy world” during the World Cup competition.
While my friend Lanny, a Princeton resident, former editor of People magazine, and author of “Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation,” knows a cultural phenomenon when he sees one, I will leave to others to decide whether all those millions of mom (and dad) hours carting eight-year-olds around the countryside in pursuit of soccer glory are really worth anymore than just letting the kids pick their own teams and play at the neighborhood schoolyard or park.
What I want to do here is put in a small word for the music moms and dads. It’s a small word because music moms and dads don’t usually sacrifice too much. In the beginning, instruments can be rented, not bought (and then left to molder in the basement when the kid loses interest). Music parents don’t have to cart their kids anywhere in the beginning other than to occasional recitals at the neighborhood schools. Beethoven or Gershwin is competition enough for a young musician. And the family and friends get to watch the struggle play out in the comfort of a cozy auditorium at a civilized hour rather than on a rainy Saturday or Sunday morning two or three hours from home.
While I was a frustrated high school athlete (starting in my senior year on the varsity soccer team was my pinnacle), I nevertheless breathed a sigh of relief when each of my kids spurned my efforts to introduce them to organized sports.
Instead my kids threw themselves into music, and I followed them around to Chris’s Jazz Club and the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia, the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark, Carnegie Hall, and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, among others.
When kids are the pied pipers you are seldom led astray but you never know where you are going to end up. Case in a point: a few Sundays ago when my friend Nell Whiting and I headed off to South Jersey to watch both of the boys perform in very different venues.
Our first stop was Voorhees, New Jersey, where my son Frank plays trombone in a gospel music ensemble that provides the instrumental support for the worship services of the Fresh Word Kingdom Assemblies. A quick Internet search told us that Fresh Word was going to be a little different in tone and tempo from Nassau Presbyterian or Princeton United Methodist, where I took my kids for a few obligatory Christmas and Easter appearances.
As the church’s website says, the evangelistic congregation is “uninhibited in its worship.” In addition the Sunday service runs from 9 a.m. until noon (or sometimes later). Since we planned to only stay for the last hour or so, we figured we would just slip in unobtrusively, take some seats in the very back row, and watch the proceedings.
That didn’t happen. We were spotted as newcomers immediately and received a half dozen greetings from ushers and other congregants. There was a lot of excitement in the air, especially because the church was about to close on the purchase of the building in which it had been renting space to worship.
But an equal or greater highlight of the service was the introduction of the children and young adults of the congregation and a recitation of their academic achievements. If a kid improved from a B to an A in math, it was noted. In some cases a grade went in the other direction, and that was noted — a sign to the children, I assumed, that the adults cared enough to hear all the news, not just the good news.
One young adult was invited to the pulpit to be recognized for the completion of her Ph.D. thesis in psychology. The topic: depression in young African-American males.
A young man was introduced and recognized for simply receiving his high school diploma. The man wanted to make a statement — that he had been living in a “dangerous place” and that certain members of the church had helped him get through it — he was grateful. I was reminded of the powerful role churches play in the black community.
Near the end of the service, Wynell Freeman, the pastor — known in the Fresh Word Kingdom Assemblies as the apostle — asked if there were any visitors at the service. Several hundred eyes turned to the two of us in the back row. We raised our hands. The apostle then looked across the room to the musicians’ stand. “You aren’t related to Frank by any chance?” she asked with a big smile. We certainly were. Then she asked how our visit to the church had been. “We feel right at home,” I replied. “Thanks for having us.”
From Voorhees we drove a half hour southeast to Pitman, home to the 1,090-seat Broadway Theater, an elegant former vaudeville theater built in 1926 and then bought at a sheriff’s sale and revived in 2006. Now it hosts road productions of Broadway style shows and musicals. Its original 3/8 Kimball theater pipe organ in still operational.
I only heard about it because of a Sunday matinee performance of a new musical, “Devotedly, Sincerely Yours,” which we had seen last fall in a slightly different form at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia. This time around my older son, Rick, was playing trumpet and doing a little singing and dancing in his role as a member of the World War II military band performing for a USO radio show being transmitted to the troops overseas. We in the audience were essentially the studio audience for the show.
I don’t know the parents of the show’s creator and star, Samantha Joy Pearlman, but they must have their own stories to share about the places they have been as they followed their daughter’s musical pursuits. The show began as Pearlman’s senior thesis project at Wesleyan University (she’s Class of 2011). While researching her thesis, Pearlman found an eight-page letter written by Louise Buckley, a young USO entertainer, describing her experiences entertaining the troops overseas.
“She just poured her heart out about her experience overseas,” Pearlman said in an interview after she transformed the thesis into a musical. “A lot of the text of my show is taken from the letter.”
The Pearlman parents, the parents of those kids saluted at the Fresh Word Kingdom Assemblies, and yours truly — all of us should appreciate the words of Apostle Wynell Freeman after she concluded the ceremonies honoring the young people in Voorhees. “These kids will cause us to walk through doors we never would have entered without them.” Sitting in the back row, not so unobtrusively, I was surely a testament to that.