Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can I Get An "Amen!!"?

I recently had the great fortune of attending an unusually diverse trifecta of musical performances on consecutive nights. I would have pushed for more, but my menu of musical options was running thin after those three.

The first was my nephew's high school jazz concert. Actually, there were several jazz bands performing that night, from sixth and seventh graders to eighth and ninth graders up to high schoolers.

I was a band geek (saxophone) through school, and I stuck it out for a number of reasons. was an easy A. Two...I was pretty good with the rhythm 'n stuff. And three...I got to play in jazz band. Like about 98 percent of people with ears, I love music, and in jazz band we got to play good music. Sometimes. That was worth it for me.

But seeing the group my nephew plays in...not to mention some of the younger groups below his...makes me think that we didn't know what the hell we were doing back then. Some of the kids these days are just ridiculously talented. I saw a symphony concert of his last year, and came to the same conclusion. The bar is being set higher and higher.

The third concert I saw was my niece's and nephew's elementary spring vocal concert. Their school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, so the grades sang songs from the '50s in its honor. Last year they did a Beatles theme for Paul McCartney's 64th birthday. (get it?) It was definitely grin-inducing this year to see third-graders singing "Rockin' Robin," and fifth-graders singing, "We Go Together" and doing the Hand Jive. (that one's a little more current than the '50s...apparently the students talked their music teacher into letting them get away with that one.)

So we've got high school jazz, and we've got elementary kids singing songs from 40 years or more before they were born. Might as well throw a little Gospel music in the middle, right? Ohhhh yeah.

I came home on that Sunday night after the concert and had to look up the word, “hallelujah,” because I didn’t want to misspell what I was shouting. And I also broke my rule of no more than two punctuation marks together...this one deserved three.

“Hallelujah!!!” I proclaimed.

After seeing a press release blurb in the paper a couple weeks ago about a visit by the United Voices of Praise Gospel Choir of Milwaukee to a nearby church, I had to go and investigate.

I’ve got a rather eclectic mix of musical genres on my DellPod...from Metallica to Neil Diamond to Counting Crows to Green Day. And while I don’t own any, I will bravely state out loud that...good Gospel music rocks!!

As someone who’s wrestled for most of my adult life with the broad canopy of ideas included in the word, “faith,” and what that word means to me, I was a little nervous that if there was a quiz at the door as to what one’s beliefs were, I might be turned away and told to go home and repent.

Luckily for me, this was an exam-free event, and I found a seat in the smallish church up near the front.

As the church filled up, I began to notice that, save for a soon-to-be-teenage boy a couple pews in front of me, I was probably the youngest person in the crowd by at least a couple decades.

Having heard the strong chorus of a Gospel choir in movies and on backing tracks for several well-known popular music groups, I had an idea in my head as to what I might hear that night, and when the 27 choir members walked up the center aisle to take their places on the risers at the front of the church, I was anxious to hear if they could deliver.

The choir’s opening number started out rather slowly and quite mellow, and a thought immediately crept into my head that I’d set my expectations for the evening a bit too high. But about halfway through that first song, the swaying started, the clapping began, and the volume was amped up a couple dozen notches, and a different thought replaced that first one that said, “This is what I signed up for!”

Good, live music is all about passion. And as the group sang, that passion was palpable throughout the church. There wasn’t dancing in the aisles, or audience members jumping out of their seats shouting, “AaaaaMEN!!” But I got the feeling that if something like that would have happened that night, it would have been a perfectly acceptable reaction.

One of the featured soloists in several of the numbers personified what good Gospel music is to me. A reserved, almost timid personality when she was among the rest of the choir, a bit of a transformation took place as soon as she grabbed the microphone and stepped out in front to sing, belting out songs of praise in a gorgeous, powerful voice.

Even in the lobby after the performance, when I stepped over near her to offer a quick three-second compliment and a handshake, she seemed reluctant to acknowledge how much she impressed the crowd.

No matter one’s faith or beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to leave an hour like that and not feel more than a little bit spiritually uplifted, and that a bit of soul cleansing had taken place. It's about the music...and the passion.

— • — • —

OK, so here at the bottom is where I give you a little heads-up as to what's coming tomorrow. (yes, I said "tomorrow"! as in...two entries in two days. hopefully this in-a-row stuff will catch on.) I'm giving you all fair warning that there will be a test tomorrow. A slight tie-in to today's post, because when I think about Gospel music, I think about the backing vocals from the song, "Downfall," by Matchbox 20. And tomorrow's exam will draw from "Downfall." I'll 'splain it better later, but...all you lurkers out there, get ready to become non-lurkers. I wanna read comments. The post will be quite similar to many of the memes you see floating around out there, but this one's got a bit of a unique origin to it. And may require a bit of soul baring. If I'm gonna flash mine, I expect y'all to do the same. (well...I might not bare my complete soul. but I'll probably show a little leg.)

Check back, and have your keyboards at the ready, and your brains in gear.

"If you believe what you like
in the gospels, and reject
what you don't like,
it is not the gospel you believe,
but yourself."
—St. Augustine

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