Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hand Me My Quill.

A couple of weeks ago, Father Jeff Hamblin announced to Christ Church of Bay Ridge, that I have been appointed "Composer in Residence." A friend of mine said he pictured me in a monk's robe, walking the campus, scroll and quill in hand, gazing off into the distance. (It's an honorary position that means I write songs and we sing them, but I love the title. It'll look great in my next Playbill bio.)

Knowing all this, some of my Baptist friends have asked me if I've turned Episcopal. My secular friends asked me if I'm turning into Pat Robertson. IOW, have suddenly got religion? Am I a pious monk wondering the campus? Or am I the same lovable heretic I've always been?

Given how strongly I rebelled against my Baptist upbringing -- sorry mom and dad -- I was actually stunned when, just after writing the songs that became The Last Session, I was invited to sing in a church, after 25 years of staying as far away from them as I physically could.

All I could do was look at them and say, as humbly as possible, "I don't know if I even believe in God anymore, but here is my story." And then I would play my songs, and somehow, we all connected.

That's what matters to me because I believe in music. Meaning, whoever wants me to come sing for them, the answer is yes. Whoever wants to sing my songs, the answer is yes.

I've been singing in theaters, clubs and churches. I'm honored to know that Fr. Hamblin wants me to write -- or should I say "compose" -- for the congregation. The good part is that we can do this -- and then I can post the sheet music online at Watchfire. They'll be congregation-tested!

But, getting back to Christ Church, Bay Ridge, I'm getting the best kind of education, both in music and in the history of Christianity. Father Jeff really loves the traditional rituals. He knows the name, and can sing you, just about every song in the hymnal -- most of them I've never heard of. Mark Janas is one of the best musicians and musical directors, and composers in New York.

And so many different kinds of applications. For instance, this past week, we held an Easter service on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. Each one had a different theme pertaining to the timeline of the Last Supper on through the crucifixion and resurrection.

The most interesting one, for me, was Saturday night. All the church lights were off. By candlelight, we sang and chanted stuff like "The Litany of the Saints" where names of old dead saints are raised followed by "pray for us." It was so haunting and weird and, yet, kinda beautiful. I felt transported back to a day and time when people lamented.  (Does anyone lament anymore? That might be an interesting subject to explore).

And then there's a knock at the back -- or was it three knocks? -- and the cross, draped in black makes its way up the aisle, slowly being disrobed until the naked cross stood revealed. Fr. Jeff said to all, in the sermon, "Remember, He rose in the night!"

It was so theatrical!

One good thing, for me, is that the scripture readings for ALL the churches are posted online, a year in advance. So, I can look ahead and write songs that relate to the lessons.

But I'm seeing now that it's not just about matching sermon subject matter. It's about learning all the complex traditions.

Sunday morning was spectacular. We have a horn section. Plus, we had a bass and drums over by the piano for when Jake and I sang "My Rising Up" with that sensational choir behind us.

Having been physically pulled from the grave a few times, I do relate to the concept of rebirth. For me, it's something we probably all should do on a regular basis. Plus, giving yourself a mental rebirth and permission to start over and try again? It's free. And it's all in the mind.

Being a Composer in Residence means I know these things.

P.S. I've been told that New World Waking might be soon performed as a Sunday morning worship service in a prominent church. It wasn't my idea, but who am I to stop people when they're finally doing something sane? It's about time for us to do it again here in New York, too. 

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