A few weeks ago, I was sharing with Nordic how it was in the "good old days." (I didn’t actually use those words but in hindsight that was the sentiment). I'm sure there was some eye rolling as I began my story. I told them how when I was a Luther student, prior to cell phones, prior to Netflix, prior to internet in the dorms, prior to social media, and when there was still a landline in each room that flashed a "blinkie" when someone left a message…prior to all those luxuries, there was Thursday night "Must See TV." They laughed when I said it. As I type it now, it reminds me of other slogans that no longer seem relevant in our current state of technology, "Let your fingers do the walking," or "Reach out and touch someone" …boy, even I think that now sounds creepy.
If you were to step on the Luther campus in the mid-1990s at about 7 p.m. on a Thursday, you might have checked your calendar to see if the student body was away on a holiday break. Many buildings were quiet and the likelihood of clubs and organizations meeting at that time was slim. Iconic television shows such as "Mad About You," "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "ER" were scheduled for that night. NBC's brilliant marketing campaign of "Must See TV" encouraged people to tune in at 7 p.m. and stay with the station through the start of the evening news at 10 p.m. Students would find friends with the biggest and best television, or those that spent the money for cable in their rooms, maybe someone had a futon or a love seat crammed in amongst the built-in furniture of the dorms and you hunkered down for an evening of laughter, drama and spirited conversation.
At first hearing of this phenomenon, my singers gave looks of pity. Then the comments began. You HAD to watch it at that time? That sounds inconvenient. You had to pay extra for cable? You sat there all night? Isn't there a way to record it?
All valid comments and in today's world of immediate technology gratification, those do seem like silly obstacles. And for the record, a few students did have VCRs (that's a video cassette recorder for those millennials reading this). Few used them on a Thursday night. It wasn't ever verbalized as such at that time, but that was the night when students (and yes, faculty and staff as well) could celebrate community without intentionally calling it so. Musicians watched, athletes watched, all academic areas watched, professors watched, you watched with your friends, you watched with your floormates, you watched it on a date, and if you happened to be in another dorm studying, you might have even watched with complete strangers. The option to record the shows and watch them later took away many of those opportunities for community. We wanted to be together that night. For after the shows concluded, we talked (not texted or messaged) and we looked forward to doing it again the following week. Friday morning it was possible to sit down in the CAF for breakfast and engage just about anyone about the cliffhangers that occurred the night before.
I brought it up in my rehearsal not to reinforce my age and highlight the "when I was your age" mentality. I did it because I was hoping I could light a fire under my singers to be engaged, to be passionate, to be in the moment AS A COMMUNITY. With the hot button topics of gun control, race relations, political divides and equal rights for folks of all colors, religious backgrounds and sexual identities we need moments that connect us and not divide us.
I'm certainly not suggesting that we have to agree on every issue, but it can't hurt to have moments where it's convenient to connect. Even as the events unfolded in Las Vegas last week (surely a time when we can all mourn the loss of nearly 60 lives), I was saddened to see that the first instinct of many was to divide rather than unite. Absolutely, there are important life-threatening topics to discuss amidst this tragedy but couldn't and shouldn't our first reaction be to care, to love and to unite with one another?
It's insulting to suggest that we look at the horror in Las Vegas and think that our response to it could have been improved had we gathered for Thursday night television. But maybe the divisions that are impossible to avoid in today's political and social culture could be tackled in a more civil way should we have opportunities (even ones as insignificant as gathering together to watch television programs) to connect with one another as humans with faces and words and laughter and not devices, and posts, and memes.
That day in Nordic I tried and will continue to try to get my singers to connect with me and with one another through music and more importantly through the text. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Some folks don't understand the text, others don't believe the text and a few don't hear the text. In a perfect world, I could tell them the emotion of the piece and they would immediately internalize it and engage themselves facially and physically to the music. But as one of my mentors recently reminded me, that only occurs when they trust you. Trust is earned. Trust is valuable. Trust is priceless. Six weeks in as the conductor of this choir, "trust" is a work-in-progress. Trust, I trust, will happen with time together, with our work together, through our performances and despite any disagreements.
I challenge us…ALL of us…those of us that remember "Must See TV" and those that now binge watch entire seasons of shows in one day…can you find ways to prioritize being together just for the sake of being together? Maybe you already do. Maybe it is a standing Monday night dinner with friends. Maybe it is a Tuesday morning group run. Maybe there is even a group that gets together for Thursday night TV. (Please comment below this blog with your "Must See" events. Maybe even invite me! Better yet, maybe invite others.)
As many of my Luther classmates gathered last weekend for Homecoming, I hope they, too, recalled Thursday nights on this campus in the mid-90s. I also hope that 20 years from now, the current classes of Luther students will look back at their experiences and celebrate those "Must See" moments.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Andrew Last serves as the director of choral activities at Luther College, where he conducts the Nordic Choir, teaches conducting and serves as the artistic director for the nationally broadcast Christmas at Luther. Last holds a Bachelor of Arts from Luther College, a Master of Music from Northern Arizona University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.