“Folk music is a gas,” says Chaplain (Captain) Robert Speer, and therein lies a folksy tale. Chaplain Speer, who likes to be called “Bob”, recently came to Berlin to serve as the Protestant Chaplain at McNair Barracks. With him he brought two guitars, a recorder and a few other musical odds and ends.
Together with his attractive wife Lorraine, the young Episcopalian chaplain has managed to strike a few harmonious chords of communication in this soldier community just by doing what he calls “his own thing.”
“Everyone likes to get together for a good time and a song or two,” he says, “and I find that it is one of the best ways to communicate with other people. After all, that’s what its all about.”
Soldiers who “dig” his sound could hardly agree more. Chaplain Speer and his wife have livened up many an evening at the little white church in the McNair compound, and have even sung up a storm on AFTV’s “Potpourri” and other places around Berlin. The troops like the informal approach, and it gives them an opportunity to talk “straight across the board” about matters close to their hearts.
Music has always been an important part of the folk singing duo’s life. They started out together as high school sweethearts in Great Falls, Montana, where he played oboe and she played violin in the school orchestra. From there it was a mutual admiration society that took them to the University of Montana where they finally traded in the violin and an old lute for their first guitar to play together at informal gatherings and found it was a great way to both relax and communicate at the same time.
The musical bond deepened during Chaplain Speer’s schooling at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. After he was ordained he entered the Army chaplaincy in 1967. Before coming to Berlin he served at Fort Hood, Texas, and then with the 101 Airborne Division in Vietnam
“Every where I’ve Served I’ve found a great receptivity to music,” he says. “Young people today are interested in finding out about themselves and others are hearing some answers in both and new folk songs all over the world. It’s a good way to get people together, and I think it helps immeasurably with the kind of work I’m doing.
Right now, Chaplain Speer and his wife have a wide repertoire covering everything from old English ballads to current tunes by Peter, Paul and Mary Ian and Sylvia and the Clancey Brothers. When they are not using two guitars and singing, Chaplain Speer sometimes adds a few melodious notes on his recorder.
“In the future we want to get more people interested in folk music with informal gatherings and hootenanys,” he says. “We’ve had great luck so far, and I’ve really been impressed with the receptivity here in Berlin to new ways of doing things.”
As Chaplain Speer explains it, folk music is his “bag”. It’s a new language, and one that the soldier understands.
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