The Aim of the Art

My very first paying Vocal Director job was for Governor Mifflin High School’s production of Babes in Arms in 1994. Ironically, the male lead made state swimming and left the production a week before it opened, so it was also the first time I, as a high school graduate, stepped into a role in a rival high school show out of desperation. And, yes, there was a second time too. As a Music Director, over 21 years, I have worked largely in three distinct environments: professional theatrical, scholastic education, and worship. Each has its challenges, its strengths and weaknesses, its headaches and heartbreaks. I was asked recently by a member of our congregation (at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg) who has seen me work in a different setting ‘how I tailor my style to the environment,’ since their experience of me there was different from at UU. The answer is really a question of the aim of the art being collaborated upon. And while those aims are always the same, their positions of prominence shift.

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The UUFF Adult Choir from this past February

When one music directs in a professional theatre setting, there is usually a very limited window at the beginning of the process where the Music Director gets to be ‘in charge’ and teach the music. The director and the choreographer are anxiously awaiting their turn to take over and teach their material, sometimes patiently, frequently not so much. Music direction is treated (by many, not all) as a necessary nuisance, something to get through quickly so we can get the actors up on their feet and start teaching them the show. Once that period ends touch ups are rare, at the discretion of the director, and often done on the fly. The need is real because most musical theatre performers can barely read music, but the music and its upkeep are often subject to the constraints of time, money, and ego. There is barely enough time to teach the music, let alone terminology, support, context, or what have you. And your investment in people (at least initially) is minimal. Management wants a short rehearsal period and the best product so that ticket sales and reviews are good. The health, well being, and education of the singers are very low priorities. Do they know their music? Do they sound good? Moving on.

Educational music, both choral and theatrical, is mostly about the repetitive learning process, and the gradual team and spirit building that is required to inspire young people to pursue the arts either as a vocation or avocation. In school choral music, one is often working on the same pieces for months, MONTHS!, leading up to the big holiday or spring concert. The music must be challenging, but not too challenging; it must hold their interest and give the student a sense of musical accomplishment. It must also build a pride in belonging to the organization. Marching and jazz bands are still best at this. Product is important, but what really matters is nurturing a lifelong love for music, learning, and belonging. Students will join the choir to find their place, but they’ll only stay if you inspire them to be their best selves. And at most, you have them for four years, so you teach them to believe in themselves, to love music and the arts, and hope that they’ll remember you fondly.

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Someone’s never far from the action!

Worship music directing, especially at UU, (given that it is a non-textual faith, and stresses principles over dogma or creed) involves a synthesis of both the aforementioned environments, but it’s also much more than that.  In a worship setting like ours, the lyrics, the context in which the song is being sung, and the degree to which a choir member can invest in the song’s message becomes pivotal to success. Singers are neither students nor employees; they are peers of both the congregation and the Music Director. Their love of singing either has a long history, or is something that they are exploring after a long absence, a career change, retirement, or a courageous moment to join the choir. These singers are sharing their gifts out of love of singing, love of their community, and love of their faith tradition. As a music director, these are often the people you get to know the best, sing with you the longest, and share many of the deepest experiences. A show singer comes and goes in weeks (unless you can rehire multiple times), a student a few years; a church singer has an open-ended relationship with the Music Director to stay as long as the singing is fun and fulfilling.  For many of these singers, it is the sharing and the community building that creates the best choir experiences. The product is important, but what really matters is the sense of joy and family shared. This same approach applies to our hand bell and youth choir programs.

To sum it all up, in professional theatre the product comes first, no question. In education, the process and the sense of belonging to something special comes first. In our worship setting, our relationships – to text, to community, to our faith traditions – take precedence. While always striving for the best musical experience, the foci change and, as Music Director, it’s my job to adapt my demeanor, expectations, and repertoire to give each choir (or other musical organization) the best experience possible.  The environment really does determine the aim of the art.

Peace and Almond Milk,

Jason

Note: This post is reprinted from an article I wrote recently for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg March Newsletter. Additions to this post have been added in parentheses for clarity.

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Members of the UUFF Hand chime ensemble, before we expanded and added bells!

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Monday’s New Haiku

Here’s another installment in my ongoing series of haiku updates. True Haiku for You continues to be sold on Amazon, my new children’s book, Daddy Doesn’t Purr is in process, and for those who read my last post, Warp Speed opens this Friday in New York. Life is good. Enjoy and namaste.

Have the decency
To respect yourself as much
As you do others.

The killing must cease.
Religion is no reason
To kill anyone.

Will we ever learn?
Love given is love gotten.
The same goes for hate.

When the chips are down
Hardnosed hard work pays off more
Than anything else.

The march is uphill.
But what’s the alternative,
Waiting ‘round to die?

 When you fall in love
Fall fully and recklessly.
Throw caution away.

Learn the rules then know
Your greatest hopes of success
Come in breaking them.

An affirmation:
I have a beautiful soul
Filled with potential.

Are you successful?
How do you measure your worth:
Money, friendships, fame?

 Don’t regret your past.
Nothing was avoidable.
You did what you did.

Some new haiku to chew on

I’m not very good at consistency, but when I get the odd chance I do like to post. Here are my ten most recent haiku. Summer’s here. Maybe just maybe I’ll get to post again soon. Enjoy!

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Focus attention

  On that which you desire and

It shall become yours.

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Believe and receive.

Know all possibilities.

Are born within you.

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Yes, I can do it.

Absolutely anything

If I just believe.

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There will be sadness.

But there will also be joy.

Life just works that way.

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Shut up and listen!

God may be speaking to you,

But you keep talking!

 

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Have you awakened

To the possibilities

Of your existence?

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Sculptor meet Stone Block.

You are your own work of art.

Shape your heart’s desire.

3248

Without discipline

There will be no lasting change.

It must lead the way.

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You’re too serious.

Don’t forget to laugh each day.

It lightens the soul.

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It’s no mystery.

Eat right, exercise, and laugh,

And you’ll be healthy.

Haiku for a Sunday Evening

Didn’t mean to take the week off from writing, but the week just got carried away with itself. So here’s a bunch of haiku to put me back in the saddle. Enjoy!

A world of pure light,
Where all act honorably;
I’d like to see that.

Be inspiration.
Let those who know you draw strength
From your example.

No dream is too big.
You’re only limited by
Your expectations.

Spirit energy,
Positive or negative,
Is easily spread.

Karma is a bitch.
What you give out to the world
Will come back to you.

No words can describe
The beauty of a flower
Or the smell of death.

Some people won’t learn.
They’ve fashioned themselves blinders
That they won’t take off.

Are you living life
The best way you know how or
Just slouching through it?

Another day dawns;
A new chance for hope and change.
How will you use it?

I would like minions;
Little imps that mill about,
Doing my bidding.

Some Haiku for the Week

Happy that the creative juices keep flowing. Enjoy!

Aspire to greatness.
You can’t know what you can do
Without the attempt.

Stand up for yourself,
Your rights and aspirations.
You’re a worthy cause.

The white light of truth
Will eventually fall
On any told lie.

Don’t beat the bunnies!
Let them frolic on the hill,
Cheerfully fluffy.

God, please forgive me.
Return me to sanity.
Let love fill my heart.

You are not unique
In your ability to
Mistake and misjudge.

Grey nondescript day:
Above your clouds lies sunshine
And a blue outlook.

Love is the answer.
Regardless of the question
This statement applies.

All thoughts have power.
They can strengthen or weaken,
Create or destroy.

Befriend your shadow.
Rather than your enemy,
Let it be a guide.

Haiku: A fresh batch

A fresh batch of haiku from my recent scribblings. Enjoy!

Don’t make your troubles
Ev’ryone else’s concerns.
Deal with them yourself.

Six billion people
Are waiting to be your friend;
To know and love you.

We are what we are.
There’s no need to deny it
Or be ashamed.

To whom shall we turn
When we work against ourselves,
To save us from us?

Have we forgotten,
Waking within this body,
More than we could know?

The journey inward
To ponder one’s existence
Is what it’s all about.

Imagine azure,
Surrounded by amethyst
On a golden field.

The dragon’s sleeping,
But he could be awakened
At any moment.

Pure bliss upon bliss:
A casual day lakeside,
Peaceful and serene.

We are light-bearers,
Fallen to a darkened Earth
To illuminate.

The Thomas Jefferson Hour: Jefferson and Jesus

The following is a list of notes culled from a listening of the Thomas Jefferson Hour by Clay Jenkinson. It is my hope to make these notes a series on my blog in which I distill all the relevant information that Mr. Jenkinson provides into a studyable format.

 Notes from Episode 831

1. Jefferson’s daily routine:

                A. Get up before the Light.

                B. Bathe his feet in cool water.

                C. Write 3 to 5 Letters.

                D. Take a Stroll before Breakfast.

                E. Read.

                F. Take a horseback riding survey of his land.

                G. Get his hands in the soil.

                H. Garden in the evening.

                I. Spend time with his daughter Martha.

2. Much of this episode is devoted to a discussion of an article that appeared on www.ethicsdaily.com entitled ”Who Do We Follow, Jesus or Jefferson?”

3. Jefferson was not a Christian in the classical sense.

4. Jesus was a man according to the historian Josephus.

5. Jesus was a profound ethicist.

6. Jesus moved culture away from tribalism and towards individualism.

7. Jefferson believed that if we followed the Sermon on the Mount we would all be better off.

8. What Jefferson would call the beliefs of the cult of Jesus bears little resemblance to the   historical man.

9. Jesus would have opposed unbridled capitalism.

10. Jesus was a political revolutionary.

11. According to Jefferson’s reading of Jesus teachings, saved are the victims of capitalism.

12. The Book of Acts supports that Jesus was a communitarian.

13. Question: How do practicing Americans reconcile democracy with Jesus teaching?

14. From 350 A.D. onward Jesus teachings became corrupted.

15. The Christian church does not represent the views of Jesus.

16. The Gospels do not harmonize.

17. Jefferson was a Jesusite.

18. Jesus’ ethics were perfect.

19. We do not follow the code of Jesus.

20. The goal of good government is to treat us all as equal even if we’re not.

21. Jefferson does not believe in heaven, hell, grace, or sin.

22. Jefferson believes in: civility, the citizenship of farmers, and a blind system.

23. He believes in a minimalist government which acts as a referee.

24. America is a nation with a secular government that allows for religious freedom.

25. “We are a nation of Christians, but we are not a Christian nation.” – Clay Jenkinson

26. The word “subjects” in the Declaration of Independence was changed to “citizens.”

27. Alexander Hamilton spoke for five hours at the 1787 Constitutional convention and called for both the president and senators to serve for life.

28. The validity of a hereditary monarchy for the presidency, an argument put forth by Alexander Hamilton, was challenged by Jefferson by suggesting that we first tested theory by having a hereditary chair of mathematics at a university.

29. George Washington died in 1799.

30. There were no term limits on the presidency until after FDR.

31. Jefferson was not a Pauline Christian.

32. Approximately 300,000,000 Americans are Christians.

33. God is never mentioned in the Constitution.

34. 1786: The Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty is enacted.

35. The Book of Acts was written by Luke.

36. Alexander de Tocqueville said that Americans were the most religious people alive.

37. Thomas Jefferson was born at the height of the Enlightenment.

38. Jefferson thought that within fifty years of his life time all Americans would be Unitarian.