Working with some of the best...

Every week I get to work with an incredible musician at church AND a
small collective of creative vocalists and artists committed to truth, beauty and compassion. What a gift! To be sure, there are always headaches to endure and hassles to resolve; if it were otherwise, it wouldn't be church. But in the grand scheme of things, the headaches and hassles pale in comparison to the blessings. I have been ruminating on this truth all week in light of our up-coming music show on Thanksgiving Eve. On Tuesday, we spent an hour working on a new song by one of our gifted guitarists.  Three things struck me about this rehearsal:

1) He trusted all of us to help shape and explore the form of his song. If you know anything about musicians, this level of faith and intimacy is rare. Most of the time we hate for people to mess with our creations. The by-word is more often than not, "Don't change ANY thing!" But here, and this has taken place over six years of working together, the core of a song is presented. Then the composer talks about the sound, groove and specifics he's looking for in it - and we try out various applications until it falls into place. And it always falls into place - sometimes it takes a few weeks - but with this level of trust and creativity, beautiful things start to take shape and form.

2) The core of this song is fascinating - born of faith and deep prayer - and the paradox of trying to live respectfully with others in a rapidly changing world. The first verse has to do with Krystallnacht and a young woman caught up in the energy of the Nazi buzz. The second verse tries to imagine how a young man can give up his life to become a suicide bomber because of his faith. It is a song of Niebuhrian proportions that recognizes both the unintended consequences of our deepest commitments, and, the often complicated conclusions people of faith embrace as we pursue justice and integrity. And its got a back beat and bluesy gospel chorus, too!

3) Everyone brings something to the table in this collective development of a song. Our vocalists ask probing questions about form and intent. Our instrumentalists play with both spontaneous and more structured grooves. And we all roll with the song until it feels natural. That's what my music director at church says is essential to musicality: it must feel natural. This takes time, patience and a playful spirit of trust because sometimes when we start on a song, we have no idea what will really work. It might become a train wreck so we have to get back up, dust off our creative egos off and jump back into the fray. Other times it bubbles up with sweetness but we can't fully recall what we did in the moment, so we have to do it again. It is mysterious work, but of a very joyful type.

Today I am so very grateful for this gift.

credits: 1)  Leo Mazzeo; 2) Darlene Keefe


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