Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sing a New Song (Part One)

Well, this is something that I did not expect for the sabbatical: to be brought to the place of inarticulate joy, and for that joy to linger for about five days.

Bobby McFerrin
The setting was a three-day seminar with Bobby McFerrin, the imaginative vocalist and musical mystic. Many will dismiss him as the guy who sang, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." What they don't know is that he invented that song in the studio after serious reflection on Scripture, singing all the parts, and scoring a number one hit in the process. And when he hit it big, he turned his back on the "star machine" of American Idolatry, singing only where and when he sensed it could make a positive difference.

Bobby reports a moment about thirty-five years ago when he heard a Voice that declared, "You are a singer!" When he pursued the Voice, his own voice grew stronger, his imagination found an outlet, and many, many people were positively affected. When he sang, they did, indeed, become happy.

As he developed solo concerts (literally, him with a microphone and nothing else!), he had this notion of pulling people out of the concert seats and bringing them onstage. Spontaneously he would sing a short musical phrase, repeat it, and motion for them to sing it too. When they did, he sang something over top -- and then motioned to another group to sing that -- while he improvised yet a third melodic chunk over it all.

So imagine this: 150 people in a circle three or four deep, arranged by vocal parts, all singing spontaneous songs like this. That was the essence of my weekend at a conference center on the Hudson. Wordless vocals, mostly, lingering for eight or ten minutes. I have rarely been part of such experiences of sheer euphoria. By the end of the first evening's three-hour singing session, my cup was full. Really full. It was a deeply spiritual experience of the power of music.

Here's a clip of how it looks:

Here is another clip:


Bobby brought an all-star faculty of four other vocalists with him. We spent time together, we split into smaller groups. It was all good. There were all kinds of people there - music teachers, vocalists, conventional  religious people like me, and a significant number of folks who were harmed or victimized by some form of religion. That in itself was fascinating.

When we sang together, differences did not matter. All of us reached above them. The songs consisted of of sounds and syllables, sung with deep passion, filled with intoxicating rhythm. I reflected in my journal:

     This is a non-sectarian bunch,
     but they know the power unleashed in music-making
     The songs swell and rise;
     a hundred-fifty tongues are loosed,
     three hundred feet are moving.
     Every heart strangely moved, a few budged.
     Smiles radiate the room,
     while the Spirit inhabits the tones and rhythms.
     Even if She is unnamed by many, Spirit is here
     with Bright Wings fluttering.

Most of the crowd was there for a full week, but that was too pricey for me and I have other things to do. The forty or so of us who departed on the third day were circled and blessed by the rest.

At the very conclusion, a group member approached me with a hug. She said, "I know you're a minister and I'm an atheist. I have to say this is the most spiritual event I have ever known. When we sing, it's all about love - a love greater and more inviting than anything I have ever known. It fills us and we reach beyond everything else to take and share it."

No insult intended, but I don't think she is an atheist at all.

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