Imagine...

Today is yet another snow day in the Berkshires: it has been snowing for almost 24 hours. By the time it quits late this evening, we will have another ten inches on top of the existing two feet. It is a quiet day -  and perfect for staying indoors. As I anticipated another snow day, I read this quote last night. I have been pondering it with fascination for the past 12 hours. Apparently it was alive in my dreams and throughout my sleep, for when I awoke, I couldn't shake this insight. After describing some of what playing an 11 minute jazz improvisation on the piano felt like as the artist, W.A. Matthieu writes:

Now the piece is over. In the quiet moment before applause, the sense of community is palpable. We've been connected, but not necessarily in the same ways to the same places. If there is anything we can hold onto in music it is perhaps this quiet, infinite instant when we can inhabit our collective body. In myriad ways, energies have been bridged. The waves have done their special work...

I've known this truth - and experience - for at least 50 years. But I've never heard it described with such clarity before: something changes in the world for a moment when music creates that sense of community that usually eludes us. It is simultaneously within us but among us, too; in our bodies, minds, hearts and souls but not in a way that can be owned, controlled or even duplicated. Small wonder music points us towards the ecstatic and spiritual. It is an encounter with the mystical that can transcend race, class, culture, gender and history - at least for a moment. 

One reason this is true, suggests Matthieu, is that our "hungry intellect is searching (everything) for patterns of meaning." Our minds have "a primal need to comprehend - and thus respond to - events. It wants to know that everything is OK. It wants to know how to make things better. It resists randomness because disorder can be dangerous." We may have different languages and vastly conflicting cultures, we may be free or in varying states of bondage, we may have sophistication or an acquired sense of "mother wit," it doesn't seem to matter: all of our minds are on a quest for meaning. 

Like Jung discovered in his charting of the universality of key human symbols within the collective unconscious, so too Matthieu's discerns a commonality whenever music enters our minds::

A composer relies on your mind's hunger. If you are listening with your mental hunger awake, music can lead you on intricately engaging journeys. The composer's (or improviser's) part of the deal is to hold your interest not only with compelling  sequences of events, but also with arresting sounds and unexpected surprises. A successful work of temporal art has to have enough sameness for patterns to emerge, and, enough newness so that you won't get bored.

I recall the first night the Jazz Ambassadors played in Istanbul, Turkey. We had been invited by
the US Consulate to share the stage with a number of Turkish artist on the opening night of the Beyoglu Intercultural Art Festival.  At the foot of Galata Tower and just a short walk to Taksim Square, we played a 50 minute set surrounded by Turks of all walks of life. There were women in full burkas but also miniskirts, men in suits, shorts and everything in-between - and tons of children. And it didn't take long for our band to capture the crowds interest - and then support. Granted, European Istanbul is an ultra hip place - and Beyoglu is without a doubt the hippest neighborhood in the city - and the whole megalopolis shares a long history of celebrating a cosmopolitan sense of culture. Still, I was stunned at how the sounds of American jazz could captivated the crowd. It happened on the Asian side of the city, too so this wasn't simply a European thing. 

Small wonder that I am so drawn to creating music that builds bridges. Not only is my own brain searching for connections and meaning in the morass of a violent and all too chaotic world, but so too are others. Intuitively and organically, we are on a quest born of discovering our links and relationship to one another. My experience suggests that when safe space is created by beauty - when music is allowed to move us from the frenetic to the restful -  that sense of community is palpable - and we all recognize it at least for a moment. 

Is that moment enough? Sometimes it is all that is possible, yes? At the same time, I trust by faith that if more and more links are cultivated - if the quest for community is disciplined rather than random - then peace-making possibilities exist. "You may say I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one." John Lennon was on to something: he knew that he was not the only one. 

Right now I have the privilege of working with a small cadre of musical artists who share part of this vision with me. As we move towards the start of my sabbatical, I hope we can strengthen our common bonds and more clearly articulate this vision. While I am away, one prayer is that my musical colleagues will go deeper, too. Because I have a hunch that upon my return we're going to spend some serious time discerning hos the Spirit may be calling us deeper into this ministry of palpable community. Not everyone, of course, will want or be able to advance the cause of peace-making through music. But I trust some will. Today I give thanks for the quiet, warmth and safety of a snow day's sweet solitude.

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