The New Thought Music Festival— for “Non-mega-churches” to
Unite and Share the New Thought Message
—Rev. Lee McNeil Nash
“I am awake!”
This call-and-response exchange occurs quite regularly during our Sunday services. I implore congregants to wake up to the loving presence of God in our daily lives, a fundamental tenet of our New Thought teachings. And they affirm it. With vigor!
Waking up has a broader application to our spiritual communities as well. When communities awaken to new possibilities, they are energized and revitalized. That’s been my experience as senior minister of the Riverside Community Center for Spiritual Living, located in Inland Southern California east of Los Angeles.
In our case, music provided the spark that set us on fire and keeps us aglow. We were blessed to have an already powerful music program when we launched an annual music festival—featuring such acclaimed New Thought recording artists as Karen Drucker, Faith Rivera, Daniel Nahmod, and Jami Lula—that continues to invigorate our decades-old community.
Al Yankee, a composer and professional musician who has contributed his talents to our Sunday services for over ten years, had a vision for a New Thought Music Festival that ultimately, through much prayer and visioning, debuted in March 2011, and we have embraced ever since.
Our community’s spirit and enthusiasm do not go unnoticed by our visiting artists. They can tell we’re awake. The core members of Liquid Blue, an award-winning dance band that has performed in over one hundred countries and holds the official world record for “The World’s Most Traveled Band,” found something special in Riverside last March, playing an acoustic set for our second festival in front of just under three hundred people, instead of the usual tens of thousands of spectators they are accustomed to. “We do over one hundred shows a year and this one ranked in the top ten for us,” says Scott Stephens, the group’s manager. “The audience was in tune with our socially conscious material, so there was a strong connection between the band and the crowd.”
Daniel Nahmod and Karen Drucker, who also performed at the 2012 festival, were similarly impressed. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Daniel. “Great room, beautiful piano, excellent sound system, and most important, a fantastic energy and enthusiasm in the room.”
Karen presented a workshop with Daniel before the concert. “I had a great time,” she says. “A wonderful audience and Al did a great job with the many details. A very supportive community and it was wonderful to connect with other New Thought artists!”
Singer Faith Rivera, featured at the 2011 concert, says, “I she loved the feeling of community and the excitement in the air. The audience really opened their hearts and ears and helped to co-create such a magical festival!”
Certainly, this adventure called the New Thought Music Festival has been an unqualified success in a most unlikely venue. Like many of our centers, we are relatively small; we often face budgetary challenges as we open our hearts and spirits to ways to fill our sanctuary on Sunday. We have had our share of leaky roofs, cracks in our parking lot, and peeling paint. In short, we are no “mega church” in terms of numbers and budget. However, we certainly are “mega” in terms of gifts and blessings.
The New Thought Music Festival reflects who and what are: a diverse collective of talented people committed to living Science of Mind principles through tireless service. The festival has relied on external talent, but we wouldn’t have seen it through had it not been for those precious human resources who are a part of our very own community—precious human resources that stepped up, starting with Al Yankee.
Al recalls that years ago, as a musician-for-hire, he played for many different spiritual and religious organizations, but never felt a need to subscribe to the teachings being presented. When he started playing for a Religious Science church, however, there was a difference. “Over time I gained an appreciation for how healthy and pragmatic the Science of Mind teachings are,” he says.
Yet, that appreciation came with challenges. Al says he slowly internalized Science of Mind concepts, but was troubled that many of those ideas weren’t being represented musically during the service. Worse yet, some songs actually included references to a God outside of and separate from ourselves. “I would fuss and fume about it, thinking somebody should make some music that is worthy of these great ideas,” he recalls.
It was not until Al heard, at the Riverside Center, a guest speaker’s presentation on the Law of Attraction emphasizing the power of the mind, that he realized he was that “someone.” What Al termed a brilliant turn of the phrase, “mind matters and matter minds,” inspired his first New Thought composition and recording.
Wouldn’t you know it, I was that guest speaker—in a sense Al’s muse (my words not Al’s)—and soon I had a new home as senior minister of the Community Center for Spiritual Living in Riverside. Meanwhile, Al distributed and promoted his “Mind Matters, Matter Minds” CD, including seven hundred giveaways at the annual Asilomar Religious Science conference. It was not an instant hit, yet seeds of the greater vision were being sown.
Al recalls that at Asilomar, he heard many wonderful New Thought musicians who opened his eyes to a larger scene. I encouraged him to visit Michael Beckwith’s Agape International Spiritual Center and other centers where he heard many more wonderful musicians and music. He caught the fire that Ernest Holmes teaches us about and began to write and record more songs. The more he created, the greater the appreciation, positive feedback, and support he received from our Riverside family.
To Al, it seemed it had to be bigger—the message through the music had to get out there in a different way. There had to be a significant forum for those other musicians, many of them fine songwriters and powerful performers who, like Al, were operating from a home base with varying levels of exposure for their excellent work. In the meantime, he kept hearing, “Be the difference.”
Al kept saying, “Somebody should create a festival for this music.” By this time we both recognized who that somebody was. The entire community prayed and visioned together. Shortly thereafter, with the support of our center’s leadership core and staff, Al set about producing and promoting the New Thought Music Festival. We decided to call it a festival because that was the vision of what it was to become. The first thought was that it was only to be a concert.
The first festival, which showcased Faith Rivera, Jami Lula, Sherry Williams, and Al, was a fantastic evening. Our community pulled together to sell tickets, convert our sanctuary into a concert hall, and serve as ushers and parking lot attendants. Everyone in attendance buzzed about it for weeks afterward.
Faith Rivera and other artists see the festival as an opportunity to both entertain and enlighten. “New Thought teachings are all about expanding our hearts, minds, and thoughts to include more and more good into our lives,” she says. “Positive music uses the power of song to share these life-affirming ideas and, even more, gives a heartfelt experience of the oneness, inspiration, love, and the ever-present ‘good’ taught in New Thought.”
Jami Lula also knows the positive music he performs is in alignment with New Thought and ancient wisdom. “I cannot say what other artists try to achieve as songwriters, but I intend to uplift people through the music that moves through me and the life experience that I share through it,” he says. “I honestly believe it comes from within a community to decide to support the arts and music is as a ministry, just as they support the ministry of the leader of the community. We are all striving to inspire a greater awareness of the infinite Spirit of Life, Love, God, whatever you want to call it, in and as our individual lives.”
Karen Drucker praises our New Thought Music Festival as an expression of a broader positive music movement that’s gaining momentum. “I think that people are starting to seek out our music more and more,” she says. “As mainstream artists see that positive music helps people, I believe we will hear more of it in the media.”
Daniel Nahmod firmly believes in the power of the individual with a vision, and has celebrated that in a newsletter he distributes. “For the past year or so, I've featured a ‘thinking small’ organization in each of my newsletters,” he says. “Each such organization is usually the vision of one person, who saw a need — so small that it’s easily overlooked or marginalized — and fills it, to the best of his or her ability. Not trying to heal humanity, or cure cancer, or bring world peace, but just doing what’s right in front of them to do, serving whomever they can, with humility and love. That’s enough. And tha’s inspiring.”
In our “non-mega” Spiritual Center, we caught a vision. The vision said, “Be the difference” and start by recognizing the wonderful human treasures in your own backyard. Al Yankee caught the fire and started a dynamic movement, a movement of music that is inspiring a greater awareness of the infinite Spirit of Life, Love, God, in individual lives and in the lives of the masses. He used his gifts and talents to create that which was not there, and it will grow.
The point of all this is to spread New Thought ideas to an ever-increasing audience. The vehicle we used at the Riverside Center for Spiritual Living happened to be music. Other communities may take a different approach that plays to their strengths, for in every single community there are precious, human treasures within it to carry that “thing” forward.
Of course, New Thought ideas aren’t new, but they are news to many. They are subtle, yet powerful, and can only expand into the marketplace of ideas through repetition in a variety of forms. It all starts by waking up, as individuals and as communities.
The 2012 festival:
The 2013 New Thought Music Festival will take place Saturday, March 9 at the Riverside Community Center for Spiritual Living in Riverside, Calif.