One month from today: Thanksgiving Eve 2012
As TGE 2012 moves closer - just a month away from today - I keep thinking about what makes this event so special. I've been doing it in one form or another for 30 years. Each year is different, each year is a blessing and each year brings surprises and joys I could never have imagined. At the core of this gig, however, are three truths:
First, there is the sheer musicality of the event. Great musicians - some amateurs, some pros - all committed to beauty and musical integrity. Nobody is getting paid - this is a benefit for emergency fuel in the Berkshires for the winter - so it is ALL about the music. And saying that, I think that means two things, too. It is about being embraced by the sounds and at the same time supporting one another with our gifts. There is NO ego in this ensemble - and we've got nearly 20 performers! No prima donas, no divas, no hot shot ass hole's who are self-obsessed: just 25-30 people who have come to love one another through the music. And can these cats play - in almost any style - it is amazing! The theme of the show comes from Tom Waits' "Come on Up to the House," but the breadth of music is stunning: jazz, rock, folk, country, traditional and contemporary hymnody, a capella Americana, blues as well as a show tune or two. And when people who love one another bring their considerable gifts together for the sake of other, the music becomes transcendent (at least to me.) So, first there is the commitment and delivery of the music that makes this show special.
Second, there is the theology of this event. At the heart of Tom Waits' song is an invitation: come on up to the house. On every level, this show explores that invitation. This is a welcome extended to everyone - young and old, male and female, gay and straight, Christian and Jew and Buddhist and Sufi - where each person is cherished. That is true for the band - everybody plays in the group AND gets to share a few solo slots, too - and the audience is an integral part of the community of music. There are lots of places for group singing - a lost experience in much of privatized America these days. There is also the understanding that what we're doing is for the common good. That gives a bigger context than just playing another gig.. Sure, it is a total gas making beautiful music together with hot and loving musicians. That is a blessing in itself. But to do so for a cause greater than self is exhilarating. There is no other way to describe it but soul food that lifts the spirit into a place that nourishes hope and commitment. It is one of those mountain top times that gives me hope for the necessary but all too demanding descent into the valley.
And third there is the unspoken message of this event: the church CAN be an ally with artists in these strange and demanding times rather than a bastion of resistance. Like the sisters and brothers of OWS make clear, we NEED one another to challenge our culture of greed. We NEED one another to rethink our priorities. We NEED one another to create shelter from the storm. And in an understated way, this event pre-figures some of that as we model cooperation and compassion. True, it takes the form of music but running through each song - and then the totality of the concert - is a trust that a church need not be relegated to the sidelines of social change. We can do this as a true partnership if we're willing to take some risks.
So this is solidarity - not evangelism. This is what the Taize brothers often speak of as "a parable of hope" where the church becomes a festival of possibilities. My congregation used to be known as the bastion of so-called "high" culture - and it was. It was the church of the elite. But given the economic crash of the 1980s our town has changed and not only have many of the elites departed, but on so many levels we can no longer sustain a 1950s operation. Today we are a truly blended congregation where rich and old, gay and straight, old timers and guests mix in a way that seems somehow related to this event. This isn't about sharing just the highlights of a proud past, but embracing the sounds of this moment in time and welcoming everyone in to the house, too. There is a place of Handel's "Messiah" - and I love it. There is also a place for lifting our voices in "We Shall Overcome" and "Come On Up to the House" and a whole lot in between.
Playing music with this ensemble - like doing so back in Tucson - is a “taste of heaven” in the fullest sense of that expression for me. I only hope that everyone else has much fun as I do. Bless you all.