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Reginald Jackson prepares to play three national anthems - Argentine, Mexican and American - before the soccer exhibition at the Jack Allen Recreation Complex recently. He will soon travel to Turkey for the third time with a Christian music workshop.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Reginald Jackson prepares to play three national anthems - Argentine, Mexican and American - before the soccer exhibition at the Jack Allen Recreation Complex recently. He will soon travel to Turkey for the third time with a Christian music workshop.

Gospel leads
to Turkey

Decatur native takes music workshop to country where the population is 99 percent Muslim

By Melanie B. Smith
msmith@decaturdaily.com · 340-2468

Decatur native Reginald Jackson has taken gospel music on the road for many years.

Lately, his gospel trail has stretched all the way to a Muslim country.

For the third time, he will be the guest music clinician for a Worship and Arts conference at Incirlik Air Base Chapel in Turkey.

A democracy, Turkey is more than 99 percent Muslim, with Christians and Jews making up only 0.2 percent of its 70 million people, according to World Factbook.

Jackson said he does meet Turkish Muslims in restaurants and shops, but his role has him working with Christians connected with the base. Incirlik is half U.S., half Turkish, he said.

He has worked on each visit with a choir comprising of singers from the four different styles of Christian services held on base, he said. He also puts together an instrumental wind ensemble of volunteers.

Jackson, who lives in Madison, is a musician and teacher with a doctor of music education degree from Florida State University. His specialties include jazz and modern Christian music.

A group of 20 college students from Africa and a worship dance team were part of the conference last year and will return, he said. The college students are some of the brightest from their villages, Jackson said, and participate through Ankara Baptist Church International Ministry.

Many who attend services at the base are unfamiliar with gospel music because they go to Catholic or traditional Protestant worship services, he said.

Jackson said he tries to offer a mix of today's church music, including contemporary gospel, black gospel and praise songs. He teaches songs by Michael W. Smith, John P. Kee and Hezekiah Walker, for example.

"Last year's program was a huge success and a definite morale booster for the community," wrote an Incirlik chaplain, Capt. Crystal Jones, in extending this year's invitation.

Singing at supper

Visits take him outside his comfort zone, Jackson said, but he enjoys entering the culture. He said he loves the native food and music.

A restaurant visit put him on the spot last year. It is customary for restaurants there to have live music, he said. The first year he visited, no one knew he was a musician, but last year his military hosts who speak Turkish introduced him as a performer. Invited on the spur of the moment to sing, Jackson decided the setting wasn't appropriate for gospel music. He drew from his wide-ranging repertoire and came up with a country song he had been teaching a student. He got up and launched into Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind."

"I started singing 'Maybe I didn't love you' and everyone started clapping," he said.

For an encore, Jackson said he sat at a piano and made up a blues song about "my baby done left me." He said the crowd didn't have a clue what he was singing but adored the music.

No hostility

Musician Reginald Jackson said he first went to Turkey in 2005. That invitation, Jackson said, came because of an earlier clinic he led in Hawaii on the recommendation of a friend in the Air Force. The chaplain at the Hawaii base moved on to Turkey and invited Jackson to Incirlik near Andana, 250 miles south of Ankara.

In another region of Turkey last month, assailants killed three workers at a publishing house distributing Bibles, The Associated Press reported. Priests and Christian workers have been killed or attacked in recent months. Pope Benedict XVI made a visit in November and was greeted by nonviolent protests.

Jackson said he has not encountered hostility. He said the people he has met seem to like Americans, and he sees himself as a representative of American culture.

“Although we are Muslim and Christian, when we meet on neutral ground, we have so much in common,” Jackson said.

Visiting in schools during his Turkey visits, Jackson said he discusses the music business, improvises on the keyboard and plays sax and other instruments. Back in North Alabama, Jackson teaches private students and performs full time. He has written a series of keyboard instruction books, recorded numerous CDs and led church music in Decatur.

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