Redefinitions

How many of you have said with some certainty, when you’ve heard rap music, “that’s not music!”? The Pulitzer Prize committee recently thought otherwise when it awarded rapper Kendrick Lamar its award for music. Maybe you had the same thought when you first learned about John Cage’s 4’33. Or maybe you’ve been to an exhibit at, say, London’s Tate Modern, and wondered “how can that be art?”Tate Modern, rocks Who heard about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature last year and said, “HUH?”?

We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course, but don’t these examples give you at least a moment’s pause in weighing the actual worth of your opinions? Doesn’t the idea that your mind might be just a few sizes too small ricochet around your brain when you see that something you don’t value has been honored or appreciated in ways you don’t understand? You don’t wonder if maybe you just might be wrong?  That maybe you need to stay open to new definitions of art and music?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a new definition for church might be, and some of my ideas would cause a lot of you to say “HUH?” As I think about redefining church for myself, I’m really only clear so far about what it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be boring, nor a place where drama and intellectual curiosity are feared as too showy or esoteric. For me, it can’t be a place of complacency, where people lie about others or to themselves, or a place where good enough and lackluster are equivalent. There is more than enough mediocrity and hypocrisy in our lives already.  There are plenty of forms of entertainment in our lives too, without needing our spirituality to also be entertaining.

I’m starting to see some of the ways that we might redefine church, including those things that people have long described as their experiences of what is sacred outside of church – nature, service to those in need, neighborliness, artistic expression. I don’t think I’m saying anything revelatory when I suggest that traditional church often fails and needs to be reimagined, even as it attempts to honor the very human needs for community and ritual.

No answers, just questions right now. I recently experienced church in a way that colored outside the lines. It was a concert of music and spoken word that illuminated some of those who have, historically, been side-lined in the creation of art – women and African-Americans. I know people on that Friday night were hearing and thinking about things that they hadn’t before, and I suspect their hearts were opened to a more loving way of seeing the world. That feels like church to me.

Peace,
Sonya

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much for which we can be grateful.

 

Tiny House, Big View

Today’s post is by guest blogger Sophia Vastek.  She last wrote about composer John Cage. This week, a heart-opening summer experience…

I spent four weeks in upstate New York this summer, participating in a month-long, multi-disciplinary workshop with architects, engineers, visual artists, writers, photographers, and filmmakers called Arts, Letters & Numbers. [ALN] I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when my partner and I agreed to help build a music program into this existing workshop.  It was often grueling, collaborative work – intimate but also lonely.  But I ended up learning so much about what it means to create and build.

While we were there, one of the visiting artists – Bart Drost – built a tiny house (see the picture below).  He spent only a couple days building, and once finished, he invited every participant to come into his new space one by one and spend some time inside.  We weren’t told what we were going to do there.  I arrived at my scheduled time, admittedly a little apprehensive.  Some of the participants had been spending whole days inside this house…. He took me inside and sat me down at the desk, which occupied most of the floor space of the house. On the desk was a stack of paper and writing/drawing tools.  He gave me the simple task of drawing something that related to this idea: “A time when your outside was different from your inside.”  And then, with a huge smile, he told me, “everyone can draw!”

I spent about 3 hours inside his house, alone, thinking about that idea. Starting figuratively, moving towards the abstract. I ended up creating a small installation with string and cut paper, and when I was finished, I showed him my work.  He asked me what it meant, and I described the time after my father had died when I felt that I couldn’t grieve in public. My insides were quite different from my outside.  We had a beautiful conversation as I shared this most intimate story.  All in his tiny house.  

He did that with about 25 people. Imagine the stories he must have heard.

Once everyone had finished their time in his house, he put the art on display inside (anonymously) and opened it to the public.  The house was a witness to each of our stories.  And memorialized and celebrated them.  

He taught me so much through that experience.  That we need time alone, to sit quietly and meditate on our stories.  That we need time to manifest those stories. That we need time to create.  And most importantly, he taught me that everyone can create when given the right space.

At its heart, Arts Letters & Numbers is about creating a space where everyone is safe.  We all need spaces like these – places where people aren’t afraid to sing out loud, where people can cry publicly and without shame, where people can hold each other when they need to be held, where people can dance without fear of who’s watching, where people can create art without fear of the “critique”.  I realized as I was leaving that I am beyond privileged to have been a part of such an environment. And ultimately, I learned that I need to work hard to carry this forth – to create these kinds of spaces in my daily life in the “real world” for myself and for others.  

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Where I’ll be:

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical.

Friday, September 9 at 7:30 p.m., Let’s Dance! Music for Two Pianos (no actual dancing is involved). Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton play music of Manual Infante, Witold Lutoslawski, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Rachmaninoff.  We are raising money for The House of Ruth, an organization that helps women and children coming out of domestic violence and homelessness.  I will match your gifts to support their good work.Contact me directly if you would like to receive an invitation.

October 5 – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 6:00 p.m., I will playing on a program with Furia Flamenco and Guillermo Christie

Also in October, I will be playing for the High Holy Days (a first for me) of the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.