One voice...

Last night's Wailin' Jennys show was stunning: beautifully performed, tender and emotionally intimate, too. The concert accomplished a variety of musical styles and sounds - Appalachian claw hammer banjo, blues, gospel, folk and Beatlesque pop - that show-cased each person's unique gifts while also regularly blending their sounds into a powerful chorus. To my aesthetic, the Jennys incarnated a spirituality of what it looks (and sounds) like for creative and very different people to bring beauty into the world through collaboration. It is equal parts discovery and discipline, trust and playfulness with a whole lot of practice and humility added to the mix.

The show was opened by an American string band from Boston, Joy Kills Sorrow, who blended a ton of talent with a commitment to pushing the edges of bluegrass/acoustic music. Their MYSPACE page puts it like this: "Welding a vast range of musical experience to a deeply-shared common vision, the kaleidoscopic string band sound of Joy Kills Sorrow does not so much shatter the boundaries of various styles as it disregards them entirely." I was smitten: they had a PERFECT band name for my understanding of the intersection of art/music/theology - they had a blast playing together - they were clearly genre-benders - AND they were young performers not afraid of exploring tradition. You really should check them out: (

Then came the Jennys - and they delivered in spades. Bass player, Heather Masse, opened up with a quiet, contemporary ode to birds - The Bird Song - that was followed by Nicky Mehta's haunting bird song - Arlington - and they were off and running. Their commitment to being honest messengers of beauty and hope amidst the harsh realities of life resonated throughout the show. Take their song, "Avila," which is a little lament and a whole lot of affirmation - it aches and soars at the same time in the assurance that wounds are not the end of our story - and the chorus is one the whole auditorium can share, too.

Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town
Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town

I will not rest
Until this place is full of sunlight
Or at least until the darkness
Is quiet for a while
And we will not wait
For that murder to come calling
The night will simply fall
And the morning will rise

I was particularly moved by Ruth Moody's writing - her squeeze box, banjo and bodhran playing knocked me out, too - as she blended traditional Appalachian sounds with contemporary sensibilities in pursuit of personal and social peace. In my opinion, the majority of hipsters (and aging folkies) in the audience may be alienated from the trappings of modern religion, but they were not at all shy in singing her "hallelujah" chorus. It cut through ALL our pretensions and divisions as the Spirit is want to do:

They closed, as expected, with their anthem to unity - One Voice - but came back for a few encore tunes. Dianne suggested we use "One Voice" (which we're doing in worship tomorrow) as a combined choir/band/congregation song for Pentecost. And after experiencing how this song works through people of all ages, backgrounds and social perspectives, I know she is right.

And then the concert ended with the Jennys stepping away from their microphones to share the Irish song: The Parting Glass. In a hall of 3,000 people - with nothing but the simple majesty of three voices joined in harmony - the old words became new. There were small children and great grandparents - gay and straight - women and men of four generations together for a few hours. In this I give thanks to God for so much of life is about polarization and fear.

Last night, too, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed into law the most punitive and fear-based immigration act in the United States. Roman Catholic Bishop Roger Mahoney - whom I knew back in the old Farm Worker organizing days - called this law a modern expression of Nazism. It will increase racial profiling, encourage social suspicion, empower law enforcement agents to act out some of their worst inclinations and exaggerate the very real problems that the whole Southwest has been facing for generations. It is a coldly calculated act of political manipulation that panders to the confusion of the white population without fixing any of the deeper social/legal problems of the Border.

Last night was the sound of solace - an encounter that nourished our souls and bound us together - so that we might live more gently as an alternative to the hatred. In the best sense of the word, we had church last night and I am grateful...

credits: 1)
2) ; 3)


Katherine E. said…
Wow. Thank you for posting this, RJ. I need music like this in my life. Soul-full.

Your words inspire me as well.
SGF said…
How wonderful to moved to the soul by music, live and diverse, both in its delivery and its reception!
RJ said…
You guys are so welcome: when my soul is touched I want to share. Like the old song says: how can I keep from singing! Blessings.
Black Pete said…
Let the people say, Amen!

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