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Enhancing Temple Services, Engaging Sangha Through Music

Lyrics from “Seek the Light,” written by the Central Valley Music Group from the music video, opened the BCA Music Committee’s "Enhancing Temple Services and Engaging Your Sangha Through Music" workshop program at the National Council Meeting on March 5.


The song and video set a tone of beauty and hope along with the accomplishments identified by the BCA Music Committee. The workshop shared how engaging and how comprehensively music is used in our BCA temples and churches.


The rich history of BCA music is embraced and has never been taken for granted in our temples and churches. Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada had the vision to address music formally within BCA. Rev. Harada and BCA President Dr. Kent Matsuda, identified the need to create a BCA Music Committee to share and unite the power of music as experienced in our temples and churches.


Rev. Harada and Dr. Matsuda requested that the Northwest District organize the BCA Music Committee and asked Dr. Kemi Nakabayashi to lead this music mission.


The "Enhancing Temple Services and Engaging Your Sangha Through Music" workshop began with Nakabayashi and Janette Wong-Sing from Parlier, a member of the New Buddhist Music subcommittee and the National Council Meeting planning committee, greeting the participants and sharing the “Seek the Light” video.


The ministerial advisers, Rinban Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki (Seattle Betsuin), Rev. Yuki Sugahara (Oregon Buddhist Temple), and Rev. Tadao Koyama (Tacoma Buddhist Temple), were acknowledged, and the Music Committee mission statement was then reviewed with the 125 workshop participants.


The Music Committee emphasized that the mission is to promote the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha and to propagate the Jodo Shinshu teachings through music. In addition, the structure of the Music Committee is intended to provide formal collaborations with the Hawaii Music Committee and the equivalent members in Canada.

Nakabayashi identified the Music Committee subcommittees: Sutra, Gagaku, Service Music, New Buddhist Music, Vocal Music, Instrument Music, Music History, Bon Odori/Taiko/Public Music, Technical Support, Copyright/Publications as well as explaining the Music Committee Cabinet formed to address finance and budget matters.


Presenters describing the subcommittee work and cabinet composition were Rev. Kusunoki, Dennis Yamashita (Seattle Betsuin), Donna Sasaki (Tacoma Buddhist Temple), Rene Maruyama (Orange County Buddhist Church), Paul Endo (San Jose Betsuin), Darlene Bagshaw (Buddhist Church of Stockton), Steve Terusaki (Buddhist Church of Oakland), Tyler Moriguchi and Leanne Nishi-Wong (Seattle Betsuin) along with Nakabayashi. A resource document was shared with the workshop participants with more detailed information.


Additional presentations given during the workshop embraced other essential music avenues within BCA inclusive of Temple Services, Dharma School, and Temple Activities.


Temple Services shared common uses of music in our temples and churches. A few ideas were shared: background music before and after services by temple musicians or recorded, gathas performed during service by adult and or youth musicians or recordings, gatha teaching and practice sessions, music formats that engage Sangha members during services, music thematic Dharma talks, readings with music themes referenced from Buddhist scriptures.


For online services, recorded background music with photos can be used for meditation segments. Online services through a virtual format have allowed Dharma School students to have temple performance opportunities in a more private setting.


In-temple occasions have also provided performance opportunities for youth musicians for family services or children’s services. Examples of music themes of Dharma talks and readings with music themes for services were provided on the resource document.


As presented by Darlene Bagshaw for the Instrumental Music subcommittee, an initiative of Bugles Across BCA is planned to identify trumpet players across BCA available for military memorial services if requested.


Dharma School use of music was an essential topic at the workshop. Ideas for Dharma School students’ participation in music included: teaching and singing gathas (particularly related to Buddhist holidays or historical descriptive lyrics), playing background music during activities, creating short videos with music or other ways to engage Dharma School students as part of service music programs, and writing poems or lyrics to set to music.


Temple Activities’ various ideas were identified beyond Bon Odori for how temples and churches use music as activities or events: choirs and instrumental groups (gagaku, ukulele, band, other ensembles) and taiko (adults, teens and children), music workshops, sing-alongs, fundraising concerts, and interfaith music programs.


Koichi Mizushima facilitated a brief tour of the BCA website starting with the music web page (https://www.buddhistchurchesofamerica.org/music).


Nakabayashi pointed out the recent separation of the Chanting and Music webpage from the original launch of the new BCA website in 2020 to offer a separate Chanting webpage with new sutra recordings as well as the music webpage with gatha recordings for free download. Access to the BCA Music YouTube channel and information on gagaku are also highlighted here.


At the bottom of the music web page is a “Contact Us” button. If you have a question or comment regarding the Music Committee or wish to join a music subcommittee, please click on the small box, write your comment or question and it will be appropriately delivered. The Music Committee workshop resource document may also be requested in this fashion.


The BCA Connect Music category was also demonstrated that lists all the articles from the Wheel of Dharma, which had been submitted by the BCA Music Committee for publication. The “Obon Gathering of Joy” web page under the events tab was also shared along with the access through “Obon at Home” to the “Obon Gathering of Joy” YouTube playlist.


Although the BCA Music Committee is less than two years old, it has achieved many accomplishments.


The committee has successfully connected a range of people, coast to coast, to celebrate the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha through the joy of music in our temples and churches and homes.


The committee was grateful for the opportunity to share what we have achieved and also some of our plans. Tyler Moriguchi announced the “Bon Odori Sharing and Obon Open Forum 2022” webinar which has since taken place on March 26. However, the edited video can now be viewed on the BCA Music YouTube channel. Johnny Mori, from the Senshin Buddhist Temple, described the three-part webinar series, “Kinnara Taiko Teaches ‘Ashura’” which has since been presented in April.


Although the Music Committee’s First Year Anniversary Zoom meeting video was not shared during the "Enhancing Temple Services and Engaging Your Sangha Through Music" workshop, the committee encourages people to watch it using the link provided on the resource document. The meeting recording is informative, entertaining, and shares many videos expressing how music was successfully articulated, appreciated, and enjoyed in a variety of temples and churches during the pandemic.


Gratitude is given to everyone who contributed to creating the BCA Music Committee and the workshop participants for providing opportunities for each temple and church to connect, to learn, to share, and to experience music in new and old ways within our greater BCA Sangha.


This article will close with lyrics from the gatha “May Peace Prevail” composed by Takeo Kudo with lyrics by Carrie Kawamoto, commissioned by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii for the 750th Memorial observance of Shinran Shonin.


“Let Peace live as we talk

With kindness in our voice

Embraced in Buddha’s Light

May peace, Tranquility, Prevail Throughout the world…

Let’s talk with everyone

Let’s learn from ev’ryone

Lend help to ev’ryone

That Peace, Tranquility, May spread Throughout the World


Namo Amida Butsu …”







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