the potential of performance...

Today - our Sabbath time - is given over to music:  listening, practicing and celebrating. Late this afternoon we'll trek over to Schenectady, NY to take in the Mavis Staples and Joan Osborne "Solid Soul Tour." These women are two of the finest soul sisters making music today. Ms. Staples is still tearing it up at 76 years young (Ms. Osborne is a mere 53) and I can't wait to experience what they will create together. This clip with the incomparable Bonnie Raitt is too kewel for school...

The concert will be a pay off of sorts after spending a few hours saturating myself in the music of Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia/Earth Mass." I've known this work for 30 years - and played parts of it - but now is the time to stand and deliver as there are just three weeks until our benefit concert. Most of the score is not terribly complicated for a bass player - a few intricate runs - but learning the unique world beat and jazz rhythms presents the real challenge. So hi ho, hi ho its off to practice I go

We've been holding choral rehearsals for two months so we're in a good place to refine and deepen that portion of the gig. The soloists will start coming in over the weekend to add another layer of beauty and complexity too and that will kick-up the composition's intensity. This weekend will also bring the instrumentalists together for the first time:  pipe organ, keyboard, bass, cello, oboe, sax, guitar, drums and percussion. Our first session will be a bit of blissful chaos mixed with trusting angst that will carefully come into focus over time much like the composition and completion of "Missa Gaia" itself. This process is akin to an orchestral recreation of the way the Bible opening verses "In the beginning the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep while a wind from God swept over the face of the water. Then God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light. And God saw that the law was good so God separated the light from the darkness." (Genesis 1) The deeper I go into the score and context of this composition, the more clear I become about the unique role music can play in healing the wounds of our soul. In a 1983 review written by Mary W. Kime for the First International Conference on Environmental History, she highlights Winter's commitment to the goals of the now defunct Lindisfarne Association which promoted "the resacralization of the relations between nature and culture." In its day, other cultural intellectuals like Elaine Pagels, E.F. Schumacher, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Jane Hirschfield, David Stendl-Rast and Mary Catherine Bateson were a part of the Association's conversations. 

The founder, William Irwin Thompson, wanted to celebrate not only the historic contribution the Lindisfarne monastery made to the healing and preservation of a compassionate culture, but also to explore the contemporary archetypal potential a small group of people in pursuit of wisdom and tenderness.might bring to the world. Some have spoken of Thompson as an intellectual who shared "mind jazz" with creation. He was innovative, bold and wise beyond his time. 

Anything can deliver us from our lost memory of the soul; science, history, art, or the sunlight on the grass taitami mats in the Zendo. And anything can enslave us: science, history, art, or the militarism of a Zen monastery. But if we are lost in time and suffering racial amnesia, then we need something to startle us into recollection. If history is the sentence of our imprisonment, then history, recoded, can become the password of our release.

Central to the unlocking of our souls from the enslavement to suffering and cultural amnesia is performance.  He was certain that during a performance both an individual's soul - and the soul of the gathered community - was opened to new connections. Enter the Association's poets and musicians - and Winter in particular. Ms. Kime puts it like this in her review of "Missa Gaia" and its significance:

The resacralization of the relations between culture and nature... is, in one sense, music's most worthy, if ambitious, undertaking. Music is our most adequate means of expressing the pattern and order of the universe, the vast unconscious connections which are sensed more easily than spoken. In "Missa Gaia" human musicians use their individual voices and instruments to link themselves to the most primordial cries of nature and to expose the underlying structures of consonance and dissonance, the process of tension and release which exist everywhere in the environment.
Thompson's own writing amplifies Kime's conclusion:

Because we have separated humanity from nature, subject from object, values from analysis, knowledge from myth, and universities from the universe, it is enormously difficult for anyone but a poet or a mystic to understand what is going on in the holistic and mythopoeic thought of Ice Age humanity. The very language we use to discuss the past speaks of tools, hunters, and men, when every statue and painting we discover cries out to us that this Ice Age humanity was a culture of art, the love of animals, and women.

Music - and performance - takes us all deeper. It can be a time of cleansing, healing and holy ground, not mere entertainment. That is why I continue to explore and advocate for the arts as a portal into the sacred. There are already too many pedestrian and utilitarian minds at work in the world - and sadly within the body of Christ, too. The "Missa" is a chance for us to to rest in the beauty, to trust the movement of the Spirit bringing a measure of order from our chaos and then to go into the world tenderly to share blessings. 

So now it is time to get my ass in gear and start practicing...
photo/poster credits: Rebecca Maaia

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