Second, our current line-up of key vocalists have voices and spirits that blend with one another in a sweet way. These voices fit. These singers know how to listen carefully and then intuitively add sound or space to create beauty. They never fret. They avoid stomping all over an other's unique part. And they are so freakin' funny with one another that you can't help but get caught up in their collective joy. Last night, as we worked out forms and harmonies for our concert, they were simultaneously vigilant and fun. What a treasure.
Third, our key instrumentalists also know how to listen carefully for what a song needs and then bring it to life. And these are players from very different backgrounds and styles: some have studied at the conservatory while others took their training playing bars and dives. So to see jazz, folk, rock, blues and classical styles embrace one another as equal musical cousins makes my heart sing.
Fourth, this band is willing to take risks - they want to practice and explore
these risks, to be sure - but they aren't afraid to go out on a musical limb and see what treasures might be discovered. And everyone contributes to this quest, too: there are no wallflowers in this band. So tonight we're putting gentle Celtic styling next to Beck grooves - we're placing a capella Southern Gospel close to Tom Waits and Warren Zevon - and in the middle there will be some Spyro Gyra, bossa nova and deep Americana followed by a healthy dose of John Fogerty and Joni Mitchell.
And one more thing: this band - individually and collectively - knows how to practice authentic Christian hospitality. If you have the chops - and are willing to share them and put in some time - you are always welcome at this party. Let me unpack that one because all three parts - chops, sharing and time - are essential. Not everyone has the same level of skill or ability, right? St. Paul speaks of this when he writes in Romans 12: For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
He says much the same thing in I Corinthians 12: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. That means that not everybody gets to do the same thing just because they want to. There are some good-hearted souls who love to sing, but should not be a soloist. There are some equally faithful individuals whose ability is at a beginner's level and ought not be put into a band with cracker jack professionals because when this happens the whole groove is diminished.
At the same time, however, young and developing musicians need a place of safety and encouragement. So, at tonight's show we will feature a few folk who are young performers with the ability to mature - and they will get a chance to share the stage - and be lifted up - by veterans of staggering ability. This is part of the sharing I'm talking about: my band mates want those who can do it to shine and they make the space for this to happen. But they are also very clear that we must not add anyone to the mix that will drag the whole gig down. There are other venues and opportunities for players of developing skill to share their gifts - and we are intentional about hosting those types of events, too - this performance is different from a talent show. So, if you've got the chops. there is a place for you in this show.
That's another aspect of the sharing that I cherish. There is a trust going on with all of these musicians because they know their peers will not let them fail. In a word, they practice love and hospitality among themselves and with new friends and guests. This is a true gift. I've played with musicians who get all passive-aggressive when a back-up player outshines the star. I've known what it was like to be asked to go on the stage without adequate preparation. It makes you literally sick to your stomach. So that never happens with my mates. They always insist on time for preparation because that gives us all a foundation of trust and comfort when we share our gifts of music. Chaps, time and authentic sharing in hospitality: pretty damn wonderful.
I am looking forward to this gig. It will be sparsely attended tonight because the snow is really coming down now and may be up to 8 inches by 6 pm. And while that is a mere challenge for some folk in the Berkshires- everyone has all wheel drive - it will deter a lot of others. We may have to do the whole gig again at another time (what a shame, right?) in order to raise serious funds for the emergency fuel assistance fund. But for now that is all peripheral: now it is all about the music, the community and the love we share. I encounter a bit of heaven when it all comes together. Maybe you do, too?
photo credits: Dianne De Mott
NOTE: After posting this entry, I came across these words by Walter Brueggemann in a recent interview. They also play a part of what we are doing in this band. Check it out:
Beginning with the Exodus narrative and the Elijah narrative and the Jesus narrative, they are all storied about public transformation that happened by courage of uncredentialed people. These kinds of narratives feed our imagination and give us energy and courage. As the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s understood, singing is a way to keep your nerve. If you think about the Song of Miriam or those dangerous songs (many of which are in the mouths of women) we are invited to join that kind of singing which is a refusal to accept the dominant definitions of reality. Such singing and storytelling is an insistence that there is another way to experience the world and there is another way to act in the world. These are very important models and authorizations for us.
The scripture could just be rules and laws, but it is stories. I am drawn to those stories and songs, like the freedom songs and the protest songs. There is so much meaning in them.
WB: That is right. Many of those old songs, in their old context, really were freedom songs. If you think about Mary’s Magnificat as it announces the themes of the Gospel of Luke is so very revolutionary. They knew that you had to sing it out. And they did. Over time we find ways of repeating their singing.