Whole Tones Half Notes

I didn’t play in a band last weekend. I don’t often anyway. I get invited about every six months to sit in in, well stand in, with the night band at my church. I’m an amateur saxophonist and suspect my role is to add a cool, ‘jazzy’ element to the group’s sound. Music is touted to be the universal language, but sometimes, this time, after a three hour rehearsal, the culture clash was too much for me to overcome and ten minutes before the worship set was set to start I excused my self and in what may have been an Elvisish pique left the building.

I’m tempted to try and justify my exit or at least pin point where the mismatch became an unholy thing. Preparation to praise, for an instrumentalist, means being in tune, sensitive and responsive to the room, to the band, to the music, in the hope of raising the spirit of communion and community. The song choices, and the charts, ought to focus the direction of the sound toward an organized expression of unity. In some of the music world this means a score, notes and measures, key signatures, time bars to indicate form and length. I can read music just well enough to find my part in the easy listening section canon of jazz standards.

The other style of song sheet is printed lyrics with chord symbols placed in approximation to their appearance in the passing along of the melody which is not notated. It is the singer’s responsibility to carry, and present the tune, the idea being the instrumentalist is to play along by ear to support the emotion and meaning of the song. Sounds easier than it is and does work, on occasion. The operating factor is the musicians and singers must be on the same page. This takes time and familiarity with the style, repetition being the breeding ground of understanding the principles at work.

In this instance I was the weak link in the chain of the events and my frustration at finding any sense of the groove was spilling over into my attitude. People were coming into the church for service while the rehearsal, in the middle of the room, was still muddling through yet another chorus substitution. I lost it. My enthusiasm, my focus, my patience, all took a backseat to some sort of personal indignation at being expected to fake it til I make it in the presence of the Most High and the streaming congregation.

A few days later I asked a professional Gospel singing recording artist for his take on my dilemma and he referenced a movement with in church music circles, since the 1980’s, to dumb down musical expectations to allow for a more universal experience, which he took personally to mean using amateurs and volunteers to take the place of paid musicians. He pointed out the great hymns of the church survived because the melodies were notated and worshiping bodies sang them together without following the bouncing ball or lip synching to an overhead screen.

The sound of Spirit is a mystical, and yet practical thing. My awareness of what’s required to make music increases every time I raise my horn. I’m learning to be more discerning in selecting my sounds and situations. I’m not sure if I owe apologies, or explanations, to the members of the band I left hanging, or a disclaimer to the next band I’m scheduled to play with this weekend. There is a musical symbol for the space between sounds. It is called a rest and I could really use one now. Selah.

Will SchmitComment