Whenever we plan a public "gig" at church - inviting old friends and new to be a part of the musical mix - there is always fear and trembling. Will people come? Will the set congeal in a way that is not only beautiful and moving, but fun and satisfying for everyone involved? Will the equipment work? Will some one's feelings be hurt by my editorial decisions? And on and on it goes... and truth be told, we won't know any of the answers until after June 2nd when the deal goes down.
For the time being, therefore, I'm setting my anxieties to the side to celebrate what looks like a truly entertaining and fun show. What I had originally thought might be a blues and jazz gig has taken on a rock and soul persona. Where I thought we might be horn rich, I now see that we're flush with killer guitars - and stunning vocalists! And what I once imagined might be a small group of available artists has slowly grown to nearly 20+ that includes three of the young musicians from this year's confirmation group and my very talented brother-in-law making his Berkshire debut.
So, what Frank Zappa once prophesied at the start of "Lumpy Gravy" - 'the way I see it, Barry, this is going to be a very dynamite show!' - is likely to be true: this show is going to be a total gas.
Now putting these gigs together is a unique spiritual discipline for me because they always teach me something about trust and being open to the prompting of the Spirit . Truth be told, none of our shows end up the way I first heard them or conceptualized them in my imagination. I was certain we were going to be playing hard jazz and down and dirty blues. Hell, I thought we'd pull it together for Fat Tuesday. But schedules, health, family commitments, other musical gigs and the liturgical calendar all conspired against my first notion. So now, instead of "All Blues" we'll be playing "Natural Woman" and "Bad Bad World" - and that is just how it should be. Working with who is available to do something creative is a living exercise in "letting go and letting God" because the alternative is deep frustration. What's more, as Meister Eckhart taught, "Reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but start with what is real." Shaping the artistic vision for these kinds of shows regularly invites me to practice the Serenity Prayer: there truly are all types of things that I cannot change.
That's true for my role in conducting rehearsals, too. It seems that I have been invited by the Spirit to call the players into community and share the broad outline of the vision - and then let them take it deeper according to their own gifts. Talk about trust! Most of the time, the wider band only practices once for the whole show; the core band - my partners in Between the Banks from church meet weekly for at least a month shaping close harmonies and song structures - but the whole ensemble usually is only able to meet once before show time. (That is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, May 28th between 6-9 pm.)
Thank God all my musical partners hang up their egos and anxieties at the door and just let it flow when they arrive! But here's the thing, in order for this "go with the flow" groove to happen, some careful groundwork must take place first. Here is what we all need for this to work: a) a clear road map (i.e. set list - which I will still tweak as the practice ripens); b) a working sound system in place and ready to go (nothing is more maddening than having to wait for the sound crew to set up while we try to practice); c) clear assignments re: who is to sing and play on what songs (like a wedding rehearsal, it becomes chaos if you negotiate details at this late stage); d) food and drink (to keep energy up); and e) a commitment to moving the rehearsal moving along in a gentle and respectful way (because OMG can musicians.... wander when we're having fun.) Somebody needs to tell the guitarists not to "noodle" on their instruments in-between songs because that drives the vocalists insane. And, likewise, singers need to be reminded not to chat or carp about anything while still facing their microphone (no coughing or sneezing into the mic either!)
Back in the early days, I knew how to bring people together - and I could help shape a vision for a show - but I was agitated and annoyed with doing all the organizational aspects of pulling it together. "People should just show up, do their part, give their best and get it on!" I used to think. Maybe... but it rarely happens, so if I want something creative and satisfying to come to birth, I have learned to live into the gift of leadership. (Something I find many still resist in music and the wider church to my deep frustration. Dianne recently told me, "You should simply make it part of your spiritual commitment NOT to participate in meetings or musical encounters that you can't share some of your leadership skills." I think she is right.)
These days, like any party - or worship celebration - I know that before the music can become fun and satisfying, some careful preparations are in order. Gertud Mueller-Nelson puts it like this in To Dance with God:
Ritual making and ceremony always requires a leader, someone who is not afraid to recognize his or her talent, insight or ability and who will step forward to use it. Collective ceremonies don't just happen. An embarrassment at stepping forward or a misconception that leadership is the enemy of democracy allows whole communities to remain unconscious and bereft of real richness... Making ceremony requires the vision of one who is willing and ready to take the leadership and to be as conscious as possible. This person takes responsibility, be it for the spontaneous moment, or on a regular basis, to respond to the greater good of the community or family.
Doing this is one of my gifts. I am still learning, of course, to practice it with care and tenderness. But I'm no longer afraid of it nor baffled that I must embrace it with flexibility and openness. There will always be fear and trembling before a show, but I think that's a good thing... and it will only grow within me until Tuesday's full rehearsal. But even then it is just an invitation to surrender and learn to dance with God, yes? What a treat.