Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sing a New Song (Part Two)

BC and Bobby McFerrin
So what is Bobby McFerrin like? I have fielded the question a few times since the weekend.

Here is one story from Tony Levin, famous bassist and rock star, who attended the weekend seminar as a fellow participant:

I was playing a gig with Peter Gabriel somewhere in Europe, and Bobby showed up. Somebody wanted him to sit in - and Bobby was game - but Peter wasn't very excited about it. So I pulled him aside and said, "Peter, I think you ought to do it." He gave in and Bobby jumped up on stage. He sang harmony along Peter, matching him phrase for phrase, note for note, making a great song sound better. The crowd went nuts. Then he jumped off stage and disappeared. Peter couldn't stop talking about it.

The man has that kind of talent. First time I heard him, he sang creatively with Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock at a huge jazz festival. A few years later, I watched him bring down the house down with "Itsy Bitsy Spider" at a middle school in Bethlehem, PA. Just last year, I took daughter Meg to hear him in concert and her jaw fell open by the third or fourth note.

So on last Saturday morning, we found ourselves walking together on a garden path. He asked my name, and what I did. When he heard I was a minister, he stopped cold, looked me in the eye, and said, "What is your favorite book of the Bible? I mean, other than the Psalms." He was serious and said he was working through the Gospel of Matthew slowly, memorizing the verses that resonated with his soul.

He is a quiet man, confessing that he thought about the monastic life as a kid. "Wanted nothing more than to pray, be quiet, and reflect on Scripture." When he is not on the road, he attends an Episcopalian church near his farmhouse.

But put him in front of a crowd, give him a microphone, and the eyes twinkle. It is like a light switch clicks on.

When "Don't Worry" hit number one, the phone rang one day. It was Warren Beatty, pushing him to join the cast of his Dick Tracy film, joining Paul Sorvino, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman - and to sing a song on camera to Madonna. Bobby looked at a Polaroid picture of him returning from a recent tour, worn out and homesick for his family, and said, "No way. I gotta stay home with the people I love." He took a sabbatical after his tune hit the top of the charts because he just wasn't interested in the Star Machine.

In a group conversation, he spoke to us of the healing power of music. After a ninety-minute solo concert, his favorite compliment comes from the person who says, "I feel so good, so much better than when I came tonight." In fact, he says his prayer before every concert is, "Lord, let the music help somebody who came with a burden, let the music heal and lift them"

I will savor the joy from the weekend that he evoked in me and so many others. Maybe I will be granted the opportunity to share it with others.

And I am convinced that if the Christian church in North America could sing like this - joyfully, honestly, inclusively, healthily - it could flourish again.

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