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Friday, July 25, 2008

Random thoughts from "Touch Me, I'm going to scream"

For those of you who are not music nuts and are not interested in my random thoughts about life from music and are sick and tired of me discussing the Paste articles I'm currently reading, this is not your lucky day! Do not attempt to buy a lottery ticket today!

For everybody else, here's the scoop. Last night I was reading the July issue of Paste. I was impressed with an article entitled, "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream", by Jay Sweet about a band called My Morning Jacket.
Sweet had several aha moments in this article. If you are short on time you may want to skip this post as I discuss this article at great length. I do tend to ramble, you know.

Sweet was challenged by My Morning Jacket to try to categorize them after their latest album, and this article is his attempt to say that they cannot be categorized by current genres as they continually push the limits and include a variety of music in their albums. I was reading along without much interest last night while I was simultaneously watching a bio about ABBA. I made it to the second paragraph before I started hunting my pen and making notes. Most of these quotes generated more questions for me than answers. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

"We live in fractured times. Never before in our history have we shared fewer unifying commonalities. Niche is king , and being friends on Facebook or texting each other - sometimes from across the room - passes for human interaction. Some of us find ourselves aching for connection, perhaps to even share some generally accepted cultural touchstones. From the earliest primitive drum circles and fireside chants to The Beatles and Gnarls Barkley, music has been a vehicle for this connection. But as music becomes a more solitary endeavor, experienced on computers in our cubicles, on headphones and in cars, something is lost." OUCH!! Who wastes tons of time on facebook? But, I spent a long while pondering this truth and its application to the church. People are disconnected, they are aching for connection, music was a past vehicle for connection - think back to tribes gathered around the fire, banging on the drum and telling stories. Is this not the role and importance of music in worship? To unite us as people and connect us with God? How can we capitalize on this need?

Now, the next quote that spoke to me - an aha about musical chemistry in a band - I'm not crazy after all. I've seen the way some of you look at me when I try to explain about the energy that exists between some musicians! "I tell ya, it's really magical to be playing with these guys," drummer Patrick Hallahan says. "Something about the energy - we don't mean to create it, and I don't know what the hell it is, but it's so human you can feel it." My question is - why do I have this energy with some musicians and not others? How do we create this energy with a worship band to push to higher levels of musical performance? Can the energy be generated or does it simply exist or not exist?

Then there's the lyrics in My Morning Jacket's new song, "If you touch me well, I just think I'll scream, cuz it's been so long since someone challenged me and made me think about the way things are, made me think about the way they could be." No Kidding! We get up, go to work, come home, bathe the kids, go to bed, get up, go to work.... With very little time for thinking or contemplating the big questions in life.

Here's another quote that really applies to my blog about "sit and soak", "You can only get comfortable for so long before you become stagnant." This is definitely true in music. I have to be pushed past the limits of what I am able to do in order for true musical growth to occur. Growing musically is rarely comfortable and safe. It tends to be risky and unsettling. "Once music stops being surprising to you, or stops being weird enough and becomes obvious, then it loses its purpose. If the music doesn't have the tension-and-release or doesn't have a common thread of connectivity, then it's ultimately disposable."

The other interesting thing that I've noticed now about several bands is the talk of going on retreats to the middle of nowhere together. Just hanging out. "It's important, as a band, that we all feel vested in each other," Koster says as he watches a zookeeper play with a cougar. "So if Jim's mind is opened up to some new music, or Tommy discovers some new tone, then organically it will find its way into all our playing. We are still developing our friendship, which is important for a band." Maybe we should make a bigger effort as worship bands to hang out - maybe that helps create that unexplainable musical energy that makes good music great?

So there are my thoughts on this article - questions mostly. How can we apply the things that are working for secular bands into the worship world to improve our playing and performance?

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