Wednesday, March 11, 2009

saving the world

Come and be Love’s willing slave,
for Love’s slavery will save you.
Forsake the slavery of this world
and take up Love’s sweet service.

O Love, O quail in the free fields of spring,
wildly sing songs of joy.

Thursday, 11 march, 09, Adelaide, Australia

I had a kind of powerful unitive experience last night. I left the brothers’ residence where I am staying and walked the three blocks down to the beach around 8 o’clock. I was looking out at what seemed to be to me the end of the world, the south coast of Australia, here where the Indian Ocean is about to become the Pacific, next stop Antarctica. The sun was setting into the water in front of me and a full yellow moon was rising up behind me. I got kind of a shiver and was just about to send a text message to my friends in La Selva Beach (in spite of the fact that it would have been 2 AM their time) to share the experience with them, when all of the sudden my rational mind kicked in and said, “Hey, wait a minute: the sun doesn’t set in the south!” Later I looked it up; Adelaide is on a west-facing beach. I was actually looking back and Perth. Oh well. It was still pretty.

Speaking of which, the last day there was really a fine way to end. After my poor performance at John XXIII the week before, I was feeling a little gun shy about facing high school students again. But as it turned out, it went well. The first class was a group of about 30 “Year Sevens,” so about 12 years old. They were very interactive from the get-go. I started out by singing “Circle Song” for them and when I got to the part at the end when I was singing the line “…only music keeps us here” over and over again in 4 while playing the arpeggiated guitar part in 6, they first started swaying and then started singing the line along with me, which I encouraged. So while they kept that up and I could sing the vocalise of the top of it like an instrumental part. It was very cool. Then when I did “Shine On Me” with them, again when I was doing the free vocalise over the interludes between verses, they started singing along again with that too! At the end I said, “Just sing whatever you want,” and we all just sort of scatted together. I also slipped “The Jammy Song” in on them, which seemed to appreciate, now that I am finally in a country again that understands the word “jammy.” During the question and answer period, one of the kids asked a great question. He said, “Is monk like a kung-fu monk?” Some of the kids giggled a little, but I answered him with a straight face, that yes, as a matter of fact it is like a kung-fu monk. I think when lived well it is more like a kung-fu monk than it is like a parish priest, which is what people usually think.

The next class to come in was a group of Year Tens, so about 15-16 year olds. They were an elective group so had signed up to come to this session. I noticed off to my left in the room after they had gathered a group of guys that I assumed to be the “jocks,” I figured either footballers or cricketers. As it turns out, they were mostly Maori boys from New Zealand who had come to this school specifically for their rugby program. And the teacher who was my host, Chris, had stopped them before they came in to assure himself that they really wanted to be there and weren’t just getting out of class. As it turns out they were about the most attentive, especially, Chris said, since music is such a big part of their lives as islanders. I spoke more than sang in that period, and the kids were really attentive and polite.

That night then I did my last event in Perth, which was (finally!) a concert. Knowing it was going to be the last thing of the week, I was really looking forward to it and kept saying that I felt like I had to do all the other stuff all week to earn the right to do a concert. (All things being equal, I think that is what I do best and certainly what I enjoy doing the most.) It was held in the chapel at Christ Church Anglican Grammar School. It was a pretty modern building with a very nice acoustic and a comfortable stool (not to be under-rated!), and I was as comfortable as could be. I told the folks at the beginning that I usually put a list together of songs I should sing but this time I was just going to sing whatever I felt like, and I did. It felt like an evening among friends. I even sang “The Great Mother,” and pulled off “Alhamdullilah” again. I’ve been working on a new song that is based on a Balinese gamelan melody with a Buddhist text called “Lovingkindness,” and was even tempted to try to pull that off but I had forgotten to bring the words with me.

I tell people sometimes that because of something about the way I was introduced to music as a child––both the folk and rock scene of the ‘60s––I really believe that you can change the world with a song. And something of that has carried over into the music that I have don and written for liturgy as well because obviously that should apply double for sacred music of any kind. I’ve never thought of myself as an entertainer and even have kind of resented it when someone suggests I am or should be. There’s a place for diversion obviously, but there is too much at stake and certainly being an entertainer would not have been a weighty enough reason to move away from the monastery. It was more––another phrase I use often––a sense of urgency. There’s always a tendency when dealing with young people to put on a dog-and-pony show and try to match up to “the world” in entertaining them, just as there is always the tendency in liturgical music, as well as religion in general, to provide a palliative rather than prophecy. I just don’t want to go there.

A friend and fellow musician sent something along that I loved. It was the welcome address given to entering freshmen at the Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division. These three paragraphs particularly could and should be any musician’s creed:
If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet...
Dostoevsky would agree.

Don and Meath brought me to the airport and we sat and had a cuppa before I left, and we all felt as if the week had been a real success. I am very grateful especially to them and to Sue and Gerard and John from the Meditation Community for all their work in putting it together and giving me such a postive introduction to Australia.