Something unexpected happened this weekend: our recently formed band, Famous Before We're Dead, won the Infinity Music Hall open mic contest. Nine other performers/bands were in the running and the judge selected us for first prize. Talk about being stunned.
To be sure, Hal and I have worked hard at honing our sound: we take the creation of beauty seriously. To share new music in public is always both a gift and a responsibility. It demands practice, concentration, trust as well as vulnerability. It is one thing to strum a few chords on the guitar at a sing-a-long party. That experience can be holy ground for sure, but expectations are low and rarely meant to be savored. It is music for the moment that is pleasant but quickly forgotten.
Sharing original music - or select covers - with others in a performance setting
requires a whole other level of engagement. At its heart, this music seeks to evoke a sense of solidarity. It is an act of claiming common ground in a culture infused with loneliness - so there is nothing casual about it. It is like good worship: thoughtful and well-crafted, saturated with space for spontaneity as well as symbols to carry us deeper. In one of his early masterworks, "A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan challenged us to "know our songs well before we start singing." That means lyrics must be accessible as well as poetic, the melody must touch head and heart, and the groove must hold the promise of refreshment for a group of strangers gathering together with an inchoate hope for renewal. Poet/singer-song writer, Carrie Newcomer, put it well in "Pre-Dawn." The song is always an invitation to trust what is about to be born within.
There is something new framing your life. A barely perceptible, mostly intuited pre-dawn light. What are the birds you hear singing at this moment? What is calling you to the edge of the next growing edge, the next knowing? What is the hope that allows you the breath you need between sighs?
There is no way to soften,
No thin candy shell to cover
To try to do so would be dishonest
And ultimately disrespectful.
Something on the edge of understanding
Is holding me steady,
Or at least
Allowing deep breaths
There is something new framing my life,
A deliberate adherence
To who I most deeply am
And what I most deeply love.
And yes, all of this is happening,
Like the last moments before dawn,
In the barely perceptible,
Mostly intuited light,
Evidenced only by the first fragile songs,
Sung by the most faithful birds,
Who open their throats,
As the shadows fold up,
And the night cries become as distant
As a faraway bell or the Doppler effect
Of a lone passing train,
Like the owls and the bats,
Who glide in and dip low,
Bank the last silent curve,
And finally go home.
Humor is another important ingredient in this type of sharing: an artist can't take him/her self too seriously lest we become heavy-handed or sentimental. At the same time, our offering must have a measure of gravitas. It is a fine line to perform midway between a creative intentionality and an honest vulnerability. All too often we crash down on one side or the other. But such is the sacred challenge of music-making: to leave room in the shared song for new possibilities while making meaningful connections between the human and the holy. The ordinary and extraordinary. The personal and the political.
It has been fun and even uplifting to spend the weekend basking in the promise of our prize. Not only have we been awarded free time in a state of the art recording studio, but the chance to be the featured artists at Infinity sometime this summer and open for a national act, too. The unexpected gift of this prize helps me celebrate what we've been working on since the start of the year. Tomorrow, however, its back to the nitty gritty of rehearsal. I am so ready!
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