Saturday, April 19, 2014

reflections: behind misunderstood...

About 75 people showed up for our presentation of MISUNDERSTOOD - folk from our faith community and many from beyond the usual suspects - and it was a profoundly beautiful experience.  We conceptualized it as an encounter with "song, story, silence and solidarity" - an artistic invitation to the deep spiritual wisdom of Good Friday - that also transcends the limits of religious traditions.  As I said at the outset, "We know what we're hoping for but we won't know if we got there until it is over." I'm pretty sure we made it... as all of the musicians - instrumentalists and vocalists alike - gave their best with a tender love that was palpable.

There are two observations I want to make about this gig that may not be clear to anyone except those who worked on it and saw it evolve over two months of rehearsals:

+ First, while I had a working sense of where I wanted MISUNDERSTOOD to go, the full vision of the evening was not realized until about a week before last night's performance. It was, you see, an exercise in following the prompting of the Holy Spirit while being open to artistic creativity with trust and spontaneity. There is NO way I could have seen how someone's as yet unwritten biblical narrative about the Virgin Mary would jive perfectly with the song we picked to evoke the audience's response. But "You Are So Beautiful" struck precisely the right note of adoration and awe mixed with humility and hope. Same thing happened with the biblical narrative for Mary Magdalene and it's musical twin: "One Moment More." When the singer changed the closing words in our final rehearsal, no one knew how closely they would support and strengthen the arc of the as yet incomplete spoken story. 

This happened over and over again: "Secret Journey" was paired with Peter's lament, "Until the End of the World" followed my narrative about Judas and the close of the Passion Narrative marking Christ's death was followed by the ironic jazz/blues of Mose Allison's "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy!" This band not only listened to the heart of my hopes for MISUNDERDSTOOD - bringing wild and challenging music into the mix - but they also listened to the Spirit who helped us shape both the written/spoken narratives and the essence of the Good Friday story. 

It was chilling - and reassuring - how all of this came to pass.  As our musical director, Carlton Maaia II once told me about playing jazz, "You have to LOVE the process..." because working the process of practice and improvisation on the way to performance often leads to something innovative and mind-blowing. But it won't come unless you love - and WORK - the process.

+ Second, part of "the process" is practice. Rehearsal. Refusing to treat a "church gig" as something that is just "good enough." My bandmates ache for high standards - no sloppy singing, no going through the motions while playing a solo and no taking a pass even when life is hard and work demanding. These cats gave it their ALL - lots of practice, lots of reworking and rethinking each song along with LOTS of direction and correction from me as band leader - because in addition to a performance this was also a collective prayer from each artist.  Think about that: our music and our spoken words were offered to God - and the gathered audience - as an act of devotion.

Small wonder the performers were simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted with MISUNDERSTOOD was over. Today when I went over to the Sanctuary to polish the silver for Easter Sunday, it felt like I had been run over by a truck. I was blessed by what happened - totally engaged and excited by the whole evening - and I was emotional and physical toast! And I know that is true for most of the other musicians, too. This was a work of art with the highest creative standards, AND, and a living prayer shared in community.

I hope to be able to share with you clips from MISUNDERSTOOD in a few days because it was adult Christian formation at its best. What's more, it was a total gas - and I don't want to keep all the fun to myself.  
(pictures: Dianne De Mott, Liz de Caulderon, Leo Mazzeo)

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