Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.4- Depths of Spirituality

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Music, once admitted to the soul,
becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.
― Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Last week I started a series of three posts on music and spirituality. I don’t want to get too out in left-field, New Age-y or whatever. That easily happens since spirituality is such a slippery subject, like trying to catch the wind. To attempt to keep my post from the dangers of such a discussion, I found a few quotes on a website (http://www.thescavenger.net/health-personal-development/self-growth/226-spiritual-significance-of-music-92345.html ) that I will use to keep me a little focused. The original quotes are bold; my thoughts on it are in normal type.

Many who study and discuss spirituality believe that we are innately spiritual; it is part of the human make-up and serves the evolutionary purpose of helping us form communities of meaning and support, helping ourselves and others when in times of need, and focusing on the broader picture of our world so that we can work together for mutual benefit. At the same time music and song are found in one form or another in most if not all cultures. Music becomes a way, perhaps, to form the bonds of community and support. It can express who we are by telling our stories in ways easier to remember. It may even serve to help form the neural networks in people of the same culture or offer a way for newcomers to join the culture.

Yes, that’s a heavy paragraph. Let me lighten it. Music can emerge from:
… personal education, environment, and experience. It can be inspiring, practical, and form the foundations for enjoying everyday life. When we listen to the secret language of the song, we only begin to understand that music is from a spiritual source.
The “secret language of song.” A few weeks ago I shared a post on my Facebook page about hymns we should stop singing in churches. The reasons were varied but they were usually because the song was simplistic, contained poor theology, or was just too sickly sweet. It sure hit a nerve. Some people thought I was a heretic (exaggeration, I hope!) or was treading on things that were given directly from the very hand of God. For many, the hymns mentioned contained a “secret language” that made sense to them. The post seemed to be attacking that. Yes, the music may be saccharine, the theology poor, the words silly- but for many of us these songs have come from a spiritual source. They don’t make sense- they make soul.
Spirituality is like a seed planted in the soul; when cherished by the heart, nourished by the mind, and savored by the spirit, it can and will give good fruit in due season. Spirituality is central to our life journey.…Spirituality is pivotal to how we interact with the world around us when pursued with authenticity, integrity, and sincerity.
I can’t but think of John Coltrane when I read that quote. His whole life was a quest to find the seed, nourish it, savor it, and discover its fruit. Following his recovery from addiction he jumped headlong into one of the great spiritual journeys found in music. His music expressed what he found in his soul. Many listeners, which is what this post is about, were at first surprised, turned away, finding the music too far from what they were used to. Others heard a connection that literally struck a familiar internal chord. Their lives began to resonated in tune with it.

I found that in a number of places for myself. One is the immortal Jazz standard, Summertime. It doesn’t matter if it’s Janis Joplin’s soulful wailing (which I was fortunate to have heard in person), Coltrane’s spiritual flights, or Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sweaty southern interpretation (among many)- the song contains the authenticity, integrity, and sincerity of the soul. Blues can often do that- and can bring people of different backgrounds and history together. It is expressing variations on each of our life journeys.
[Spirituality] can be born out of a desire to connect with a deeper meaning and purpose in life. Musician and listener share a spiritual connection in the space between silence and sound.
Why do some key signatures sound happy and others, sad ? Why do we want to get up and dance to some and so in the corner and cry with others? Why do some songs connect us with each others pain, take us to heights of joy, or silence us in awe? It happens when the musician touches us with her sound. It happens when we are open to new things, or in need of an uplift. It happens when we move into sync with what it around us and some level of sound vibration. The spaces of silence lead us to moments of introspection that we may not even know we are having. In those connections we may even find that there is more to our own lives- and the world- than meets the eye.
Sound is spiritual. Every action and word has a sound that resonates and vibrates through life that is positive, negative, or neutral.
But be cautious, is also an important reminder. Did the Rolling Stones singing “Sympathy for the Devil” at Altamonte in 1969 have some spiritual impact that ended in violence and chaos, a beating death, and three accidental deaths? Probably not, but the spiritual tone of anything can be changed by music- for better or worse. Some have condemned heavy metal and death metal, rap, or even good old rock and roll for many bad things.
Deep down in the depths of the human soul we are all searching for significance reflecting a desire to discover something greater than ourselves. Every person has asked the timeless question of the meaning, purpose, and significance of life. Music is used as an expression of the deep desire to discover more.
At some level it does feel like I (and others) have been putting a great deal of baggage on music, making it of great significance. After all, it’s only music, only entertainment.

But it isn’t that. It is far more than something to pass the time. We all saw the outpouring on the death of the rock superstar Prince last year. That was not because he entertained a lot of people- it was because he touched people at important times in their lives. He moved them, inspired them, got them through tough times and helped them celebrate happy times. We resonate with the music that moves us- and music that moves us means we are in tune, in sync with it.

Sometimes it’s the rhythm or the groove; sometimes it’s the chord progressions; sometimes it’s the melody and words moving together. The great music comes from somewhere both deep within us and from the transcendent beyond us. Together they bind us to others and help us find ourselves.

How do we musicians develop our own “spirituality” or soul in order to make music? Next week I will look at it from the point of the musicians.

I have to end this week’s post with a wonderful quote credited to Christian Reformer Martin Luther. Never known as one who minced words, his earthiness was often evident in his statements about others who didn’t agree with him. To Luther, music was divine; but don’t disagree with him. I don’t!

A person who...does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.
[Foreword to Georg Rhau's Collection Symphoniae iucundae, 1538]”
― Martin Luther

Monday, July 17, 2017

Can a Law be Unethical?

Traditionally there are four basic principles of medical ethics:

  • Autonomy
    • The right of the individual to self-determination.
    • Informed consent is basic to health care.
  • Do no harm. (Non-maleficence)
    • Actions should not be the cause of harm.
    • In practice, don't be hasty and do thorough evaluation.
  • Do good. (Beneficence)
    • Actions that promote the well-being of others.
    • Needs of the patient come first.
  • Justice and Respect for Human Rights
    • Fair and equitable distribution of scarce resources
    • Respect for the rights of each as a person.
There can, of course, be conflicts between different of these principles. Ethicists have been discussing and arguing about them for years. Principles of ethics which underlie the discussions can take different approaches and end up with different results. In my work for the past 25+ years I have studied and specialized in ethical issues and concerns, chairing committees, making presentations, being open to discussions. As a result I tend to think in terms of ethics and the riddles and difficulties we can face.

Yes, a law can be unethical. Unethical does not mean illegal. We do not need to go to extremist countries to find laws that were unethical- at best- and inhumane at worst. Laws of segregation in the post-reconstruction South in the United States were not illegal. They were the law. But we know they were certainly unethical in spite of the ways they were justified. Eventually they were seen as "unconstitutional" which made them "illegal." But it took legal interpretations and arguments to get to that point.

I hope someone will take a hard ethical look at the proposed health care reform law in the Senate. Yes, there are conflicting needs and wants. There are questions, for example, about equitable distribution of resources.
  • But will the new law cause harm? 
  • Will it be just and respectful of the life and dignity of individuals? 
  • Will it promote doing what supports the well being of others? 
  • Will it support the autonomy of all patients and their right to medical care?
I could go on, but I fear that the new law will make a difficult arena- medical care- even more difficult and less able to meet the care of the patients- which in the end is always the first and foremost need there is.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hymns That Move Me: Two More Lists

As I said last week, to limit myself to only 10 of my favorite hymns is nothing short of impossible. On the original Top 10 I purposely dd not include any of the great hymns of my Moravian tradition which is rich in music and hymnody. The earliest Moravians, followers of John Hus, published the first hymn book in the 1400s. Later, after emigrating to Germany in the early 1700s, they made music, including brass music, a central art of their life and worship. Sadly most of that music never got very far beyond the Moravian Church for many reasons.

So, I had to make a Top 10 for the Moravian Music, most of which would be at the very top of an all-time Top 10. But no, I had to make it 12 by adding two related honorary Moravian hymns.

(BTW, here's a link to an article a number of years ago in Christianity Today about us and our hymns.) So, here's the list:

Moravian-based Hymns
1. Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord
2. Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice
3. Christian Hearts in Love United
4. Join We All With One Accord (No, not the car!)
5. Jesus Still Lead On
6. Hosanna
7. Morning Star
8. Most Holy Lord and God
9. Angels from the Realms of Glory
10. The Savior’s Blood and Righteousness
Honorary:
O Sacred Head Now Wounded (Passion Chorale)
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing


But once you get me started, it's hard to stop me. I couldn't exclude the great "Gospel-type" songs, some of which are not really hymns but have become part of my spirituality and music. So, yes, here are another 10 which brings my list to 32.

Gospel-type Hymns/Songs

1. This Little Light Of Mine
2. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
3. Precious Lord
4. Just as I Am
5. Blessed Assurance
6. Will the Circle Be Unbroken
7. His Eye is on the Sparrow
8. I’ll Fly Away
9. Beneath the Cross of Jesus
10.Abide With Me

What next? Well, starting next Sunday I will work alphabetically through these three lists, picking one from each list each week to talk about here. It will be a series on "Hymns That Move Me". And by the end, there may even end up being a few more and I will then have my Top 40 Hymns and Gospel Songs. (I guess you can take the old DJ out of the radio studio but you can't get radio habits out of the old DJ.) Maybe I can introduce some of you to some of our Moravian hymnody and spiritual life in the process.

Friday, July 14, 2017

More Musical Stuff

This blew my mind. What a great way of teaching some things about one of the basic tenets on one's faith. The use of images with the words was great. Love it.

I will probably think about this tonight at sundown.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

You Can't Even Trust What You Hear!

No- I'm not talking about politicians today. I'm talking about the actual process of hearing what you're listening to. I realized again this week how difficult it is to say what is really being heard.

I have had hearing aids for nearly eight years. (Years of loud music will do that to you!) They didn't have as many bells and whistles as are available today. So a few weeks ago I went for a hearing test and ended up with a new pair. So the other afternoon I was listening to some music on my computer through my headphones. I started playing around with the sound on the hearing aids.

To quote a phrase- OMG! What a difference! Not to mention that it didn't take a great deal of playing with the relatively simple treble and bass adjustments on the Smartphone App to realize I have absolutely no idea what is the real sound of the music.

Well, that's not quite true. I know all those sounds are obviously there or I wouldn't be able to hear them when I played with the controls. But what freaked me out is that I have been doing videos for years of live performances in bands I play in. In so doing I have often used sound equalization in Final Cut Pro to balance sound, drop background, allow some parts to be clearer, etc. The mind-boggling fact is that what I balanced it for was MY hearing. The result of my balancing may sound muddy to someone and a squeaky treble to someone else.

Crazy.

The hearing aid guy told me there are ways to make sure that things sound right (like, maybe, stop fooling with them? Nah. Won't happen.) But for now I will go back to playing with my new toys uh, hearing aids. I will let you know what I end up finding out.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.3- Spirituality of Music

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Music is the language of the spirit.
It opens the secret of life
bringing peace,
abolishing strife.
- Kahlil Gibran

We are in the last few weeks before this year’s Shell Lake Arts Center Trumpet Workshop. In late August I will start blogging about the themes and ideas that grow out of that, applying them to my practice and growth as a musician along with their applications to daily life. But before that, as we continue in the early part of this third year of The Tuning Slide, I want to take several weeks on some other topics that may also show up during the year ahead.

This week is the first of three posts taking a look at music from an angle that I have found more than important to me personally: Music as spiritual expression. There are as many different ways that this happens as there are listeners. Each of us also responds differently to a particular music or piece of music in different ways at different times. Our spiritual readiness and openness shifts as we grow and have other experiences.

The posts this week and next will look at the general topic of music and spirituality. The third post in three weeks will take a look at music as spiritual from the perspective of the musician. This whole idea of music and the spiritual may be one of the most basic links between life and music. What we experience in music may very well have an impact on how we live every day life in a deeper and more profound way than almost anything else we can talk about.

Since describing “spiritual” can be a whole lot like nailing Jello to a tree, I will start with a quick definition of what I mean when I talk about it. It has three parts:

a. Awareness of power and existence greater than one's self.
b. There is meaning, purpose, and direction in this greater scheme of things.
c. Positive, healthy connections with other people as part of a greater community.

We each may have different ways we describe these three parts of spirituality, but I would guess that most can agree with them, even if some may hesitate to use the word “spiritual.” I don’t want to get into a discussion of religious vs. spiritual or any of the other side issues that could bog us down.

I know many who use the word spiritual to describe the way some musicians play. Perhaps more than any other single individual, spiritual is often attached to John Coltrane. Or there may that moment in a song or solo that makes one get goosebumps or a chill up one’s spine. We then say that this is a spiritual moment. Whatever that may mean. But the three things I mentioned above can often be used to describe our experiences. Somehow we know that a piece of music makes us aware there is something greater than us, that there seems to be some sort of meaning or purpose there, and that we can connect with that as well as others.

It may be intuitive and beyond immediate description, but that is a spiritual experience.

As I was doing some research I came across a website (http://www.thescavenger.net/health-personal-development/self-growth/226-spiritual-significance-of-music-92345.html ) that had a good outline post on the topic. The quotes below are all mefrom that site. As I often do, I give you the quotes in bold and then I will riff on them as a way of thinking about music and the spiritual.

Music resonates within the human spirit. At the heart of humanity is a song of the soul. The spiritual significance of music can transcend communities, cultures, and creeds.

Quantum (and other branches of) physics have taught us that at the very center of all that is, our world vibrates. Some have found an early vibration of the original microwave background sound. Others have looked at the way the atoms and molecules vibrate in each of us. It isn’t too far-fetched to think that each of us has our own “vibration” that is unique since no one else has the exactly similar mix of atoms and elements. That may be a semi-scientific (or, to some, pseudo-scientific) answer to why music, sound vibrations in harmony, can be spiritual. It does seem to be at the heart of who we are.

Some of that may simply be repetition and communal connections (more on that below.) It may be the way a certain song, type of music, or musical progression brings back experiences that have moved us or touched us at some deep level. A particular lyrical passage may bring emotions to the front. Put those lyrics in a piece of music and it vibrates in harmony with us. Does it cause something in us to move in tandem with the music?

Music continues to inspire spiritual expression as sound reflects and affects faith and values. Beliefs and perceptions will transcend the very nature of music and lyrics.

Music, in some form, familiar or unusual can be found in most, if not all religious and spiritual movements. It may be as simple as the ringing of a gong to initiate or end a period of meditation or as complex as a Bach cantata. Or, on the other extreme, it may be the reaction against music in some historic traditions. But even in those there is an awareness that music can have an impact on the spiritual for better or worse.

In my particular religious tradition we have a history of brass choirs. A few weeks ago our concert band played a number that included one section that was directed for the brass to play together as a choir. I found myself responding to that passage from a deep, and even spiritual, place. That transcended the particular piece and took me to a good and peaceful place.

Amazing Grace, as an example, transcends even religion. Many non-believers respond in some deep way to its particular strains, even without the words. The number of instrumental variations of that hymn, its use in many settings- secular and spiritual- show that there is something deeply embedded in the Western traditions. Here’s a link to John Raymond and Real Feels doing a remarkable arrangement of Amazing Grace. Spiritual? At least in my book.



Which leads to the next point…

Our spirituality is an essential part of who we are, and it forms the framework of our world. Community, culture, and creed all offer insights into the connection between music and spirituality.

What is is that is deep within us? Why does music do this? Why do so many of us as musicians report feelings and emotional interactions with our music? Without getting out into some weird left-field ideas, I don’t think it is too far out to think that it is the vibrations of music in harmony that does it. We have common history and it can make a huge difference in what we respond to. Which brings us to one of the elements of that definition I started with:

Music cultivates community, as sound creates communication and unity…. Sound creates a spiritual connection between music-maker and music-lover.

I would add, a connection between music-lovers as well. That is community. They feed each other and give a common gathering place in the music itself. In my highly visual imagination I see the strands of music flowing from the musicians to the audience, around them, bringing them into the power of what the music is about. Not all of that could be called spiritual, of course. Certain music can send people into places that are not healthy. More on that next week as we go deeper to get in touch with spiritual.

With that introduction, let me ask you a few questions:
  • How would you define the spiritual in music?
  • When has it happened to you?
  • How do you know it was spiritual?
Add your thoughts in the comments on this post. I really want to hear from you and bring this virtual community into the dialogue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A special note:

The copies of the 2nd Edition of The Tuning Slide book for the students at this year's Shell Lake Arts Center Trumpet Workshop have been ordered. They will again be free to the students! In order to help me defray the cost I have a Go Fund Me page where those who would like to can make a donation. Here is the link:

Go Fund Me for Tuning Slide books for students

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hymns That Move Me: Favorites are Personal

A few weeks ago I shared a post on Facebook of hymns that the author felt we should get away from singing. Some of it was due to emotionality, some to bad theology. Some of you (and you know who you are!) responded quite strongly. Well, here are my Top 10 favorite hymns. Yes some were on that other list. But, and NOT including several that are unique to my Moravian tradition, these are my favorites.

1. Amazing Grace – John Newton, England (1779)
2. Praise To the Lord The Almighty – Joachim Neander, Germany (1665)
3. Be Thou My Vision – Dallán Forgaill, Ireland (6th Century)
4. It is Well With My Soul– Horacio Spafford, written in the Atlantic Ocean (1873)
5. How Great Thou Art – Carl Gustav Boberg, Sweden (1885)
6. What Wondrous Love- American folk hymn, anonymous (1811)
7. When I Survey The Wondrous Cross – Isaac Watts, England (1707)
8. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Robert Robison, England (1757)
9. Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand- Henry Alford (1867)
10. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling- Charles Wesley (1747)
Limiting to ten is hard after 40+ years in the ministry! So, I started a couple other lists. The second is my list of Moravian-based hymns and the third is Gospel-type hymns. (You knew I couldn't stick with just 10!) I will post them next week.

Well, that got me thinking about a series of posts, probably weekly, looking at my favorites, perhaps one from each list each week. Hymns are so essential to my expressions of faith and spirit that I just get inspired thinking about hymns, let alone singing. So, probably in two weeks I will begin the hymn posts. It will probably be on Sundays. Of course.

Watch for them.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Saint Day for an Addict Who Kept Showing Up


He was an opium addict who couldn’t receive the sacraments. But he’s a martyr and a saint.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was an opium addict. He died an addict. But he didn't die from his addiction. He died a martyr. He was a respected doctor who treated himself with opium and then got hooked. He went to confession, but couldn't stay clean. He kept trying but was eventually forbidden from taking the sacrament since he obviously wasn't serious or he would have been able to remain sober. (No one knew of the disease in those days. It was a shameful, moral failing.)

When the Boxer rebellion occurred in 1900 he ended up imprisoned with his family as many other Christians were. He begged his executioner to allow him to be killed last so none of his family would die alone. And yes, he was finally released from his addiction.

On the website Aleteia, Meg Hunter-Kilmer wrote:
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang is a beautiful witness to the grace of God constantly at work in the most hidden ways, to God’s ability to make great saints of the most unlikely among us, and to the grace poured out on those who remain faithful when it seems even the Church herself is driving them away.

On July 9, the feast of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, let’s ask his intercession for all addicts and for all those who are unable to receive the sacraments, that they may have the courage to be faithful to the Church and that they may always grow in their love for and trust in the Lord.



Saturday, July 08, 2017

More Than Just the Words

I was in a conversation on music the other evening. It centered around the thought that some have said that Bob Dylan is the greatest musician from Minnesota. (Present company excluded, of course.) Prince was either tied with Dylan or a close second. Admittedly there are not a lot of famous musicians of any genre who hail from Minnesota and to compare Dylan and Prince to others is also unfair.  But that's not the point of this post.

A couple of the people I was talking with (musicians themselves) were appalled that Dylan and Prince would be considered the greatest Minnesota musicians. Prince's revolution in music and multi-instrument talent was good, but, meh, they didn't like him. No problem with that. Differences in taste are understandable.

But neither of them cared for Bob Dylan, either. To a dyed-in-the-wool Dylan fan that is nothing short of heresy. They were willing to give him being a good songwriter/poet, but musician? Double "meh!" "You can't understand what he's even singing."

As I have said here before about Dylan, it isn't just the words themselves, it is also about how he sings and phrases the words. Even odd and make-no-sense lyrics are part of the music. Dylan uses words and his voice as instruments in and of themselves. The poetry can flow with the music and vice versa, even when you wonder about what it is about being out on "Highway 61." I have to admit that he is not as good at that today as he was in earlier decades, but you can still hear the power of the vocal and verbal instrument in his newer stuff.

Today I was listening to my iPod and "Highway 61 Revisited" came on the shuffle. As I paid attention to it with the discussion the other day on my mind, I noticed even more about the use of the vocals. I realized that it reminded me of a great deal of what Louis Armstrong did with the trumpet and jazz music 100 years ago. Armstrong added extra notes, sliding into or out of the melody, playing with the rhythm in ways that no one else had ever done. In that he invented a whole new way of playing music. Jazz and popular music was forever changed.

Bob Dylan is to vocal folk and rock music what Armstrong was to jazz. He was doing things with his voice that no one was doing. (The Beatles can't be ignored in this process, but the cross-fertilization of Dylan and the Beatles is well documented.) Part of it was admittedly because Dylan was not a great singer like the other pop performers or folk artists. He slid around the notes, he mumbled some words, he added odd harmonies. Often the music itself was relatively simple- it was the combination of simple styles that made the complexity adding to the words. Sometimes it was by mistake, like Al Kooper's iconic organ on "Like a Rolling Stone." It always worked. (Listen to the chorus of that song as well to see Dylan's use of melody and harmony.)

So, for my money, Dylan ranks right up there with Satchmo in the pantheon of music revolutionaries. (Miles Davis, the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane are in that group, too.) Here are two examples. First, the greatest first step into jazz ever made with Armstrong's "West End Blues." As radical as Dylan with an electric guitar. The opening cadenza? Unique! The grace notes and style- music never before created.




Then one of Dylan's early songs. It has all the form of folk music. It's just Dylan and his guitar and harmonica. Hear the vocals; hear the words. See how they all fit together. "Don't Think Twice It's All Right."


Friday, July 07, 2017

Overheard in the News: Draining Swamps

32% believe Donald Trump has made the swamp worse,
24% believe he is draining it, and
35% believe he has done nothing to change the political culture.
-Politico

Yes, that was the popular campaign promise. That awful swamp of politics we call Washington, DC, was going to be drained of its toxic elements.

It seems only his unshakeable base of about one-fourth of the population believes he has been able to do that.

Some even think he may be the swamp monster himself. His recent flurry of toxic tweets may have made it even worse.

I took a very brief look at a few of the "drain the swamp" ads from last year still on You Tube. In light of what we have seen in the past five months, they look even more chilling than they did at the time. I would say that any time Trump attacks someone with a particular "sin" it may be that he is trying to get attention away from himself.

That is a swamp of a whole new toxicity.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • Noun: an area of low-lying, uncultivated ground where water collects; a bog or marsh.
            • synonyms: marsh, bog, muskeg, quagmire, mire, morass, fen; quicksand, bayou
  • Verb: overwhelm or flood with water.
            • synonyms: flood, inundate, deluge, immerse
 Yes, maybe we have been swamped by a deluge of Trump.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Sadness, Concern, Dread - and Patriotism

I have always loved the Fourth of July. Like many of my childhood friends, and my  generation, I am the son of a World War II veteran. We were raised with a deep, almost genetically-based patriotism. It was not a political statement at that time, or at least I didn't see it that way. It was an awareness of how lucky we were to be born in this nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal." Patriotism meant loving our country for what it has given us- and more importantly- what we could do for our country.

That was a long time ago now. Half a century and more. But the Fourth of July- Independence Day- has never lost it's shine and excitement for me. Even in the midst of the Vietnam-era divisions, many of us remained deeply committed to the patriotic ways, although it soon became a political statement and not a healthy way of life. It became a point of contention as if to seek for greater exercise of freedom- the very fundamental of our country- was unpatriotic. But the flag leading the parade, a Sousa march, Fourth of July fireworks continued to make me feel a sense of hope.

Over the last several years I have had the added joy of being able to play in our local Fourth of July concert. To stand with the trumpets and play the closing section of "Stars and Stripes Forever" is a musical moment of patriotic joy; to play the Army field march takes me back to learning if from my Dad and I think of his service and sacrifice; the noise of firecrackers and the crowd having fun is what it is all about.

Last year, however, I had a moment in the middle of the concert that caught my attention. It was, of course, in the midst of the presidential election campaign. Donald Trump was ready to be nominated. I had the thought, "What if he wins? Is this our last truly free celebration of our independence?" I pushed it away, not out of denial, but of the hope and trust in our American way to do the right thing.

Trump did win. So far we have not lost our American way. I think we are still free. But the signs are not as hopeful as they were a year ago.

  • We know that the Russians in some way or another have worked at hacking our election- the very foundation of our democratic process. (I still do not believe there was actual, active collusion between the Russians and Trump. I am not so sure of some of his campaign staff, however.)
  • Fake news through social media and perhaps even the Russians has brought a division and an ongoing and escalating attack on the integrity of our freedom of the press- another basic foundation. 
  • The President himself continues to take strange and seemingly irrational actions against anyone who may disagree with him. 
  • Last week a commission has requested all voter data from all 50 states, including information that may not be public, potentially threatening the rights of privacy of our electoral process.
As a result of all this ongoing chaos in our national politics I almost started crying in the midst of the "Armed Forces Salute" the other night at a concert rehearsal. That's where we start with the Caissons Song. As I was thinking of Dad, sadness and even dread started to well up. What I am seeing in the things going on appears to be as great a threat to who we are as a nation than anything since the Civil War. Some of the very basic elements of American freedom and democracy are being challenged in the name of security. The advances in science we have enjoyed are being called questioned. Care for the poor and the elderly are being attacked.

Underneath those is the even deeper question that got Trump elected in the first place- the increasing losses of a healthy middle class. Instead of working on these together and developing new and creative plans for making a difference, we are expanding and exploiting the differences in the name of political gain. Add to that the just as deep issue of racism and the rise of white supremacy taking advantage of the divisions- and we have a difficult time to be living in.

This is not the country I grew up in. These are not the ways of greatness. They leave me with a sense of dread that I have written about here before. The courts have shown some ability to slow down some of the more troubling aspects. People have taken to the streets in mostly peaceful protests, interrupted only by, as usual, a small handful of those who are there only to make trouble.

There is not much I can do about any of this in action. I can write these words; I can talk to friends who may not agree with me and make sure I listen to them as much as I hope they will listen to me. I can, in my actions on a daily basis show that I am one who wants things to be different.

In the end I have to maintain my personal hope in the institutions and history that have allowed us to get to this 241st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The great American Experiment of freedom is still a work in progress. I pray that it continues to be alive and filled with hope. I cannot- and must not give up on that hope.

THAT is what patriotism is all about.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

When in the Course....

Since NPR got hate tweets as a result of tweeting this radical document yesterday, I thought I would add to the publicity. Here is our founding document:

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous
Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

The Tuning Slide: 3.2- Music and Freedom

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

From folk songs to patriotic anthems, jazz to rock and roll, popular music has long expressed what it means to be American. … As a product of various traditions, talents, and techniques coming together in harmonious but also contentious ways, popular music is truly the soundtrack of the American experience.
-National Museum of American History (Smithsonian)

Music is rebellious. It is the expression of people’s greatest desires.

It can also be overbearing and reactionary; enslaving and a weapon.

Music has power. Great power. To play music is to participate in that power.

Music can be freedom.
Freedom:
1. The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
2. The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.
synonyms: liberty, liberation, release, deliverance,
Music lifted religious movements through chants, hymns, or Bach chorales. It gave slaves a moment of their own after relentless hours in the fields. Music has been the sound of revolt as portrayed in the musical, Les Miserables. It carries the voice of generations seeing injustice and speaking out through people like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Tupac, or Eminem.

Freedom is not something to take for granted as we so often do. It is too easily revoked, sometimes for seemingly good reasons. When that does happen, music has been and will be there to stand against such reversals of freedom.

I reflect on this every year as we celebrate the Fourth of July. So for today’s Tuning Slide on the day after Independence Day, just some thoughts to reflect on- music and freedom.

The expression of freedom that is Jazz improvisation mirrors
the ethos of the best parts of society.
-Paul Kreibich

[First, from the website, Jazz in America an outline in a lesson plan for teaching about Jazz.}
Jazz is really the best music to represent America because:

a. It is partly planned and partly spontaneous; that is, as the musicians perform a pre-determined tune, they have the opportunity to create their own interpretations within that tune in response to the other musicians' performances and whatever else may occur "in the moment" -- this is called improvisation and is the defining element of jazz.

b. In everything from regular conversation, to basketball, to everyday life, Americans are constantly improvising.

c. Improvisation is the key element of jazz.

There is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble: individual freedom but with responsibility to the group. In other words, individual musicians have the freedom to express themselves on their instrument as long as they maintain their responsibility to the other musicians by adhering to the overall framework and structure of the tune.
Jazz in America (http://www.jazzinamerica.org/LessonPlan/5/1/242)
The genius of our country is improvisation; Jazz reflects that.
It's our great contribution to the arts.
-Ken Burns

[More thoughts from another lesson on the Jazz in America website.]
Each player has the freedom to play whatever he/she wants. But, at the same time, each player wants to play something that will not only please himself/herself, but make the whole group sound better as well, enhancing the overall sound. Musicians work together on this, supporting each other while not compromising their own artistic individuality.

Jazz musicians realize that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Each individual part is enhanced by the group, i.e., each individual player gets better and comes up with more musical ideas because of the others in the group. They need each other to accomplish their individual and collective goals. The music is better because each player is different; it brings something new to the music.
Jazz In America (http://www.jazzinamerica.org/LessonPlan/5/1/248)
Music is freedom and being free is the closest I've ever felt to being spiritual.
- Ben Harper

Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, music’s revolutionary potential was part of my own personal soundtrack. From the folk protest songs to rock anthems, Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” to Punk Rock’s anti-establishment cries, music’s power to inspire and motivate has been seen as part of these moves toward freedom. In Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Communist China, Western music, protest music, songs of freedom were often banned setting up even more of an interest in them. Nothing like telling a group or a whole country they can’t listen to something. It only enhances its power.

So whether it is listening or playing or improvising, let’s keep music alive- and revolutionary.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

A Hoedown for the Fourth

In keeping with my thoughts from yesterday, here is my new video for 2017's Independence Day. Let's just have a great summer hoedown and have fun for the Fourth. Let bells ring and fireworks light up the night!



Monday, July 03, 2017

Ever Wonder?

Just a quick snarky comment:

Ever wonder how or why a piece of music about the Russian victory over the French in 1812 became a standard for fireworks in the United States?

Just asking.



Note: I played this way back in college when our band (Lehigh) and the Yale Band did a concert at Carnegie Hall. Yes, we used a real, though small, cannon. Now our concert band does it every 4th of July with fireworks for the cannon.

Bells and Bonfires; Games and Sports

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
-John Adams
Solemnize: To perform or celebrate

It does not mean: to make dull and boring.

John Adams had it right about Independence Day. It is not a day of somberness and overwhelming gravity. It is a day to celebrate. To remind ourselves of the joy of freedom. It is a day for fun and games, not boredom inducing speeches. It is a day to give gratitude that we live in such a country where freedom was given new definitions.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.
-John F. Kennedy
A couple years ago I put together a short video simply to show fireworks. It is the John Adams' way!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A Poem for Consideration


George III:
I am the King. I tell, I am not TOLD. I am the VERB, sir, not the OBJECT.
(from The Madness of King George, 1994)

“The Seed of Madness”

King George was
            The VERB.
King George was
A word of action who tells but
Is not to be TOLD.
King George was the one who acts, not the
OBJECT to be acted upon.

In such does the seed of madness sprout.
            The coat splits under a pressure that he cannot resist.
He is powerless to stem the forces that will spiral
            DOWN to the roots of the ego to be fed
                                    an unending torrent of need
and then to spring to the surface and
            UP in the illusory warmth of denial.

           

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Declining Level of "Presidential"

Tweeting is a very poor way to communicate with the nation. It becomes even less so when it is mainly used as a way of being mean, nasty, and generally way of attacking your opponents in ways that resemble bullying.

After a recent mean and extremely nasty tweet the responses from many were notable at attempts at being some level of nice. "That tweet was below presidential level," is a pleasant way of saying that was not what we expect our president to do.

My impression is that the level of "presidential" in the current White House started low and has only continued to go downhill. I wonder if it has as much to do with his personal attitude that if you disagree with him you are not worth considering? As things have continued to build against him and things don't fall into place as he would like, he escalates.

It does not appear that things will change.

I am deeply saddened.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.1- Getting Ready for Year 3

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say
a hearty yes to your adventure.

—Joseph Campbell

Well, we are now officially ready to kick off the third year of the Tuning Slide. Technically, that won’t happen until after the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop from July 30 - August 4. But it is time to get back into regular new posts after a series of reruns from last year.

Since the last post of the 2nd year those many weeks ago I have been finishing the editing of the new edition of The Tuning Slide book. It is done and will again be given to all students at this year’s Shell Lake Workshop. If any of you want to help make that happen, here is a link to my Go Fund Me page (https://www.gofundme.com/2du5rbtw) to support that effort. The book, which includes both the first and second years of the blog posts, will also be available on Amazon as either a hard-copy or an ebook. Watch for that information.

But let’s move on.

I have also been busy playing trumpet, reading, practicing, attending Shell Lake’s Adult Big Band Camp, and planning the new year of these posts. I am constantly amazed at how learning never ends and in even the basics, we can always learn something new. Kind of as a teaser of thinks to come, here are some thoughts to kick off the new blog year.

What I’ve learned so far this spring and summer
1) Learning the names and the feel of the scales
- It started when I was working on Clarke #3. As you probably know Clarke’s exercises start at the bottom of the scale at the low F#/Gb. Well, I started a little higher than that one day, probably at the lower Ab scale. I was working my way up the scale as Clarke sets them up. Suddenly I stopped. I looked at the notes on the page and said to myself, “Let’s skip that. I can’t play all those flats.” It was really intimidating to see 5 flats in front of me. “That’s too hard,” I added. Then I stopped.

- Oh, that’s right, it’s just the Db scale.

So I played it. No sweat. After all, that was why I have worked on scales every day for months. It was no longer an excessive number of flats that I had to think about. It was now simply the Db major scale.

- That is how the “Inner Game” works. It utilizes Self 1 and Self 2 together! Self 1 reacted. Self 2 simply said- I know that. Self 1 remembered to trust Self 2 and off they went, together, into making music!

2) The Effect on the whole body and vice versa
- Big Band Workshop involved a lot of making music! Hours of music from Friday afternoon into Sunday noon. Sure there were breaks, but unlike Trumpet Workshop there was not a lot of lecture and information breaks. We had a limited time to get a number of songs ready. So off we went to work. I wrote on Facebook after he weekend.

- My lips are angry at me and my body won’t talk to me. (All that standing during rehearsals and the concert!)

It only got worse. I had little to no recuperation time- band rehearsal on Monday evening, a big, intense concert on Tuesday, another intense rehearsal on Wednesday. On top of it all the excitement and activity of the weekend and concert prep drained a lot of energy. I was physically and emotionally exhausted on top of the angry embouchure.

- The whole body is involved in making music. I don’t think it matters what instrument you play. There is a lot that we put into it and a lot that happens. For those of us who are not at the highly-trained full-time musician level, that can cause us trouble. We have to learn to take good care of body, mind, and soul in order to make good music.

3) Trusting your colleagues on the bandstand
- Many of know of my ongoing wrestling match with performance anxiety when I have a solo. Well, you will be happy to know that in the concert back home last week I played a solo part without panic! I did one, too, at the weekend workshop, but this one was part of a trumpet opening to one of the pieces as three of us played a surround-sound antiphonal entrance.

- The reason it went as it did was thanks in part to one of my colleagues who gave me feedback at rehearsal the week before. He made a suggestion to make the part flow more smoothly and in-tune. He expressed positive comments about what I was doing. He let me know I could do it.

- We are in this together. When we sit on that bandstand, whether with 50 others in a concert band or five in a quintet, we must all be aware of and supportive of each other. If we know our colleagues “have our back” so to speak, we will relax and move forward.

So, with that in mind, here are some of the places I’m thinking about going this year. This is based on my editing together of the first two years and reliving the experiences of my personal move into a more advanced musician. I see this year as doing three things built on the basics from the Trumpet Workshops of the past two summers as well as this year. We will maintain those basics and then move in three directions:

Depth
For that we will dig more deeply into things like:
- The Inner Game and how it helps us improve.
- Listening as a musical (and spiritual) activity.
- And the road to Carnegie Hall or your own local auditorium-Practice, Practice, Practice.

Breadth
I will also look at expanding the width- the breadth- of being a musician. For this I will look at:
- Spirituality as part of music’s essential character.
- Making sure we work the physical and mental aspects together. Mindfulness, exercise, attitude will make such a difference in who we are and what we do.
- The reason we can expand and learn is the chemistry, structure, and character of our brain and the many ways we can utilize it for growth. The neuroscience is exciting- and revolutionary.

Height
All of these lead us to go higher in our level of playing and musicianship. Some of the things I am exploring are:
- Stretching one’s limits. How do we push ourselves and what does it take to keep us motivated?
- The importance of focus in this is critical. It is easy to get lackadaisical. How do I keep from being a sloppy player?
- Sharing with others is what we do. New heights of working together to make music and to help others grow along with us is one of those great side-effects of music.
Overall- I’m even more excited about this year. Lots of things will be added to this list and lots of music will be discussed. Through it all, don’t forget to have fun. Making music is to participate in a wonderful, mysterious, and even magical experience.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Overheard in the News: The Middle Class

Was watching the bottom line on the TV at the workout center as I was doing my leg presses. Saw an interview happening with Juan Williams, one of their political commentators. The info on the screen said:

How the Democrats lost the middle class.
Sadly, as a lifelong Democrat, I had to shake my head in dismay at the truth of the statement. Yes, the Democratic Party has lost the support of the middle class. Democrats have become so adept at pulling defeat from the jaws of victory, that I fear at times for a two-party system. (Exaggeration, of course, for effect! But perhaps only a slight exaggeration.)

What the GOP has managed to do in the meantime is get their message so wonderfully wrapped in supporting the middle class that they look like the saving grace for those who are in the middle.  They can spin their policies like a top and come out looking great. Even when most of the evidence points in other directions. They continue to repeat promises that they turn around and forget to do.

And the Dems continue to think they know how to get through this. The leadership often looks and sounds as unreliable as the GOP. Everyone sounds like a politician saving their own skin- or their party's ideology.

In reality neither party at this moment in history is doing anything that truly helps the middle class. What they both ignore is that if we did pay appropriate and caring attention to the needs of the middle class there would be an improvement in the economy, the national morale, and the outlook for the future.
  • That will not be accomplished by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy in some trickle-down fantasy. That is taking money from the middle and lower classes. 
  • Neither will that be accomplished by greater focus on only the poor, taking money from the middle class. What made America great was the middle and lower classes working together to produce a society, a culture, and an economy for all. 
 Until we start thinking in those terms on a more regular basis, we will get nowhere important or significant and only continue to run in circles.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thinking....

Much to my own amazement, I have been having a difficult time writing about anything outside the two major issues I have been working on.

The first has been the ongoing development of The Tuning Slide blog and book containing the first two years of posts. My mind has been heavily involved in getting the book finished and ready for people to order it from Amazon. That will happen after July 1 when both the hard-copy and eBook will go live. I am also doing the Go Fund Me page again this year to give copies of the book to the students at the Shell Lake Arts Center Trumpet Workshop starting July 30. (Go Fund Me Link.) (I will post a link here when it is live on Amazon.)

The other project occupying my mind is a presentation I hope to do in the fall about addictions and treatment. Right now I am in the research and brainstorming stage about how deep I want to go and what needs to be set aside for lack of time. I will probably start blogging some of it here in the next month or so if I can keep the sorting going.

I continue to play lots of music with lots of practicing. I have started working out again (Yay!!!) and have lost weight to the tune of about 5% since May 1. (Double YAY!!!) As usual my photography has declined from what it was while in Alabama for the winter, although I hope to get some time out in the "wilds".

Other stuff- like working, since after all I am only "semi-retired" still- has also been involving my life and time. In short, I'm having fun. I have had a difficult time writing and reflecting on what is happening politically. Even after my winter series of posts on The Dark Night and Bonhoeffer, I am still facing difficulty in putting my thoughts into words. I am generally feeling very discouraged by all sides in the current political nightmare we are facing. Maybe one of these days I will take some time to write. But I guess I'm still not ready. It is just too painful.

I am hoping to get back on track here soon. Videos, reflections, memories, etc. are still around. Need to get back to them.

To close out, here is a video from the Shell Lake Arts Center Adult Big Band Workshop from a couple weekends ago. It contains my 12-bar solo, so I must post it!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Tuning Slide: Keep Tapping Your Feet

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.
-Leonard Bernstein

A few weeks before writing this post I was listening to one of the jazz programs on Sirius XM channel 67, Real Jazz. Award-winning bassist Christian McBride was hosting his talk and music program The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian. Talking to the audience at the beginning of the show he encouraged them to be involved in the show. The gist of what he said was that too often we think jazz is something that only scholars and music specialists listen to with some kind of academic distance or in some indescribable mystical trance. (My words and interpretation!) This is “party music” he said. It is not dull and dead. It is alive- and has been alive for over 100 years now.
  • You don’t have to be able to discern all the ins-and-outs of the music.
    • You just let the groove grab you where you are.
  • You don’t have to know the chords and structure of the music.
    • You just let the melody move you with is rhythm
  • You don’t have to be a musician to know that this can be sung and played and enjoyed.
    • You just celebrate those who make the music.
  • You don’t have to be able to put into words what the music does to you.
    • You just have to let it do it.
I hope that is what I leave you with after these posts on jazz. Jazz is remarkable music. It is simple and complex. It is the blues and jumping dance music. It is chordless or as strictly structured as any other music can be. It can turn a Broadway-standard song or old country song into a new musical invention. It is freedom expressed without words; resistance without slogans; revolution without arms.

I recently had the pleasure and honor of being part of the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire jazz festival. I had the opportunity to listen to a number of amazing high school big bands compete for recognition. High school students stood up and played improvised solos for the judges. Some schools had as many as three or more bands competing at different levels. These students get up and show up at school at 7:00 in the morning or stay after school to rehearse. They do it for the love of the music! It shows. It also shows that the music is still growing and still making people dance, even in the intimacy of their own soul.

That’s what Christian McBride was talking about. In general, we make music so that on some level we can dance. Jazz is as close to perfecting that as any other music. It can be a dirge-like dance of the blues or the second-line dance as the Dixieland band leaves the cemetery. It can be a ballad dance of love or the soul-dance of having been touched by a musician who has shared their spirituality through their horn. It can be the driving rhythm of Latin culture, the cool movement of the west coast, the funk of the urban culture, or … take you pick. It goes on and on and hasn’t stopped for a moment. The best of jazz encompasses all of these and much more. I see and hear jazz in the best of bluegrass (which is, of course, the jazz of country music), the roots of rock and soul, even in the music now called “Americana” and folk.

We are a nation of jazz musicians seeking to make melody and harmony with a groove and rhythm. In the earlier post on the “bandstand” being a sacred place I talked about the importance of the big band (i.e. jazz) music in the 1930s and ’40s. Many gave it its own place in keeping us strong in the midst of World War II. After the war it went into “hiding.” It is our music- who we are and who we can be. That is why Len Weinstock on the website Red Hot Jazz (http://www.redhotjazz.com/index.htm) said:
Millions await its return. Believe me, we need it badly!
After fifty years of listening and ten of playing jazz, I am only now beginning to understand what it means for me.
These ten posts come nowhere near even scratching the surface. There will be more in the next year.
There is more to learn, more to experience, more to hear-
and more dances to be danced.

Keep on listening- and tapping your feet.
- Count Basie