Singing Our Stories, Inspiring Hearts
Sunday, April 7 @ 10am & 6:30 pm
Ken Medema is a close friend and colleague of McFarland UCC’s new pastor Rev. Bryan Sirchio, and Ken’s appearance is a gift he is giving to McFarland UCC in honor of Bryan’s new ministry with this local congregation.
“Ken Medema’s gifts are absolutely stunning. He is a world class pianist and composer and vocalist. But what totally blows people away is Ken’s ability to listen to someone share a personal story or experience, and then to sit down at the piano and ‘sing back’ what he just heard in a spontaneously composed song that sounds like it was worked on for weeks! He’ll make you laugh, cry, and simply be amazed that anyone is capable of doing this. You’ve got to experience him for yourself to understand how unique this is, and how powerfully heart moving and inspiring his artistry can be.” -Rev. Sirchio
From the time he was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1943, Ken has been unable to see with his physical eyes. His sight is limited to distinguishing between light and darkness and seeing fuzzy outlines of major objects. “As a kid I was not widely accepted,” he says, “and I spent a lot of time by myself. Because I have lived with some degree of being different all my life, I have some sympathy for people who have been disenfranchised, whether they have been disabled or politically oppressed or whatever.”
Music early became a major component of Medema’s life. “I started banging on the piano when I was five years old,” he says, “making up crazy little fantasies on my mom’s piano. When I was eight years old my parents got me a wonderful teacher who taught me the classics with Braille music and taught me to play by ear.” His teacher also taught him to improvise. “Every time I learned a piece my teacher would tell me, ‘Now, you improvise in that style.’ So music became a second language.”
After graduating from high school Medema studied music therapy at Michigan State University in Lansing, where he concentrated heavily on performance skills in piano and voice. He worked as a music therapist in Fort Wayne, Indiana, returned to Michigan State for a master’s degree (1969), then worked for four years as a music therapist at Essex County Hospital in New Jersey. It was while employed there that he began writing and performing his own songs.
In 1973, Medema left his work as a therapist and began a career as a performing and recording artist. He recorded albums for Word Records and Shawnee Press; then, in 1985 founded Brier Patch Music. Brier Patch is an independent recording, publishing, and performance-booking company with headquarters in Grandville, Michigan. Brier Patch is named after Brer Rabbit’s home in the legendary Uncle Remus stories. “Brer Rabbit lived in a place not comfortable for anyone else,” Medema says, “and we decided to follow him there.” Brier Patch creates musical expressions that celebrate all aspects of the human experience, with an emphasis on spirituality and such universal concerns as peace, justice, and the environment.
Today, Medema performs in a widely variety of venues, from local congregations to charity fund-raisers, to high school and university campuses, to denominational youth gatherings, to universally televised religious programs, to corporate conventions, to annual assemblies of national organizations.