Read an Excerpt
Better Get It In Your Soul
What Liturgists Can Learn from Jazz
By Reid Hamilton, Stephen Rush
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2008 Reid Hamilton and Stephen Rush
All rights reserved.
Jazz Liturgy 101
There is one consistent reaction we have seen to the Jazz Mass at Canterbury House: a feeling of inclusion. Worshippers, old and new, often comment that this liturgy was "fun," but just as often they tell us that it was meaningful, deep, or emotionally moving. Years of work developing a lively and cohesive liturgy has resulted in a service that engages the participants, as well as a community that is willing to open itself up to the many possibilities offered in what we call "Jazz Liturgy."
When a Jazz group performs a composition, they are likely to have something called a chart. A Jazz chart contains the tune, suggestions for chords based on a historical understanding of the composition, and guides for form or soloing. The musicians know the tune well. They know the tradition of performance associated with that composition. They are proficient players or singers. They will start to play along familiar lines, but very soon, they will relax into a collective feeling (usually called "Swing") and let their own mood, the mood of the whole band, and the response of the audience take them into "uncharted" territory. There, they will let the music do what it does so well—through its variations in melody, key, tone, rhythm, and dynamic, to challenge, comfort, teach, inspire, evoke, lull, or awaken. Most of all, they will be willing to extend themselves and take risks. If the groove is right, then musicians and hearers will begin to breathe and move together, and will become keenly aware of a common language that has arisen spontaneously among them.
The Jazz Mass at Canterbury House is an extension of this musical approach. Ideally, a worshipping congregation is much like the Jazz group we have described above. When they engage in a service, they are likely to have something called an Order of Service or a bulletin. It contains the scriptural passages for the day, suggested prayer forms, and guides for congregational response. The participants know the structure of the service well, and the traditions associated with their worship. As they open the service along familiar lines, they soon will relax into a collective attitude of praise and prayer, opening a space for the Spirit to do what she does so well. They, too, should be feeling invited to extend themselves and take risks. They will be moving and breathing together and be aware of their own common, spontaneous language.
We call our service at Canterbury House the "Jazz Mass," not because all of the music is Jazz. A typical service will also include folk, rock, country, electronic music, or even traditional hymns. Silence is a key "sound" in the Jazz Mass. It's called a Jazz Mass because the entire service is open to spontaneity and improvisation. The Jazz Mass is a principle of worship, not a style of music.
Most experienced priests can call to mind, without a prayer book, the typical elements of a Eucharistic service: from opening sentences through the Great Thanksgiving and its own attendant parts, to the blessing and dismissal. This, if you will, is your chart. Priests, musicians, and congregations have all memorized much material that is typical of these various parts. In addition, we have access to all manner of variations on them, drawing on a variety of liturgical resources and traditions (see Chapter Nine: Sources and Appendix B: Musical Resources for Liturgy for just a few of these resources).
Liturgists work creatively with music and words, with space, light, and shadow, and with acoustics, vestments, candles, and incense in a way that can be likened to instrumentalists playing a Jazz chart. If we are willing to trust our knowledge and experience, and rely also on our knowledge of our community, its gifts, and issues, then we can be "Jazz Liturgists."
Freedom of expression within a structure or form is the basis of most artistic ideas. Consider, for example, poetical forms such as the sonnet or the villanelle, visual forms such as the icon or the triptych, or musical forms such as the sonata or the symphony. Liturgy, any liturgy, is precisely that; it is a form or structure within which we express our worship. Our worship of God is a response both to God and to the circumstances of our world. We may be celebrating a birth, giving thanks for a harvest, or mourning a death. We may be in an attitude of joy, or praise, or fear, or loss, or ecstasy. How then, given the form, shall we express ourselves most completely in response to God and our situation? Further, how can we respond to God in such a way that we include the myriad expressions of our spirituality, giving the most clear and diverse voice to our hopes, fears, and prayers?
At Canterbury House our environment is academia. We have natural points of celebration in the academic year—the beginning of the semester, semester breaks, exam periods, graduation. We are working with a fairly narrow category of ages, so we can anticipate some specific issues, such as separation from home, experimentation with sex, drugs, or alcohol, freedom, limits, success and failure in academics and relationships, and a deep interest in politics and current events.
In the context of campus ministry, we have noticed that the traditional Episcopal liturgical calendar often works against us. Students come to school in the fall, deep in ordinary time. They disappear from campus just as Christmas comes around. Holy Week often falls during exam time. In order to respond better to the rhythm of our community, we have adapted the sanctoral cycle, the celebrations of lesser feasts and fasts, to the academic calendar. At Canterbury House our liturgical practice is to celebrate the lives of saints relevant to academic or social interests: for example, Aquinas, Hildegard, or Martin Luther King Jr. We do this without neglecting the seasonal liturgy. We observe Advent with anticipation and Lent with discipline. Readings for our services may include the lessons appropriate to the saints, together with news items, poetry, contemporary or historical literature, or scriptures from other religious traditions. We make a particular effort to compose our liturgies as a unified whole, thoroughly integrating music, readings, preaching, and prayer.
Any community can do this. The important questions are: What is our community? urban? suburban? rural? What is the rhythm of life here? Do people leave town in the summer? Do the children play soccer on Sunday morning? What are our resources, musical and otherwise? Do we have African drummers? Gospel musicians? a local Rock band? What are the demographics of the congregation? How do they differ from the demographics of our city or town? Why? The deeper the thinking and knowledge applied to these questions, the more relevant and engaging the liturgy will be.
Much of this book deals with the elements of liturgical style. We have a bias toward diverse or eclectic musical elements in the liturgy. We have assembled a database (see Appendix B: Musical Resources for Liturgy) that includes most of the music used at Canterbury House over the last decade. This music was chosen by means of diligent and prayerful study of the readings from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (New York: Church Publishing, 2006), as well as the Revised Common Lectionary. Using music from sources beyond the traditional hymnody found in standard church hymnals, we have listened to the voices of the many folk around the world who have expressed God's love through song. These songs have soul. They are full of worshipful intentionality, often have a rich national flavor, and are, at their core, excellent compositions. We routinely do music from Latin America, Africa, and the black Gospel tradition, as well as music from the Taizé community in France and the music of the modern master of hymnody, John Bell. We believe that diversity in music and liturgy opens up the structure and content of worship to include the downtrodden, the weak, the poor, and the disenfranchised. Diversity in worship music is an expression of an underlying ethic at Canterbury House of social justice and of God's love for all human beings.
Reid has been a church musician all his life and a priest for ten years. Stephen has been a liturgical musician (working exclusively with campus ministries) for sixteen years and has taught music as a university professor for twenty-three years. We are assuming in this book that liturgy is a collaborative process, planned jointly by the priest or pastor and the musician, as well as others, and executed by a willing, prayerful, and intelligent congregation. Indeed this is how willing, prayerful, and intelligent congregations are built. Our collaboration is based on respect and an acknowledged need for each other's input, spiritual perspective, and openness in the process of making liturgy that works. The word "liturgy" is derived from the Greek word leitourgia, meaning "work of the people." Priests and musicians seeking a meaningful liturgical experience for their congregations are encouraged to start first with their relationship to each other—nurturing respect, love, sharing, and a common language to discuss their faith.
Planning and Celebrating Jazz Liturgy—Harmolodics and Homiletics
harm-o-lod-ics [hahrm-oh-lod-iks] noun. The art of music improvisation espoused and developed by saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman.
hom-i-let-ics [hom-uh-let-iks] noun. The art of preaching.
So-called "Traditional Jazz" was usually structured in a simple and elegant way. The musicians in a small group used a chart. The chart contained a musical composition, usually written by one of the performers in the band. Just as often, the chart would be a variation on a pre-existent composition: the classic example perhaps is Charlie Parker's "Bird of Paradise," a stunning variation on Hammerstein and Kern's "All the Things You Are." The principle of playing from a chart is germane to thematic liturgical planning. The chart contains all the harmonic and melodic information for the improvisation, as well as the "head" or precomposed material for the composition. The chart also readily implies the rhythmic feel or groove of the composition. The chart is informed more by tradition than notation, however, as is the case with the relationship between rubrics in written liturgy and the local customary of actual worship in a community.
A community that gathers regularly for worship will inevitably develop a standard liturgical structure, intentionally or otherwise. In the Episcopal church, Holy Eucharist Rite II is one such liturgical structure. In the Book of Common Prayer one will find other structures, such as the Celebration of Baptism, Compline, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. Every worshiping community, of whatever denomination or religion, has its own expected liturgy, whether written or according to custom. Liturgies are developed and informed by tradition, cultural preference, identity, and, of course, theological disposition.
Jazz musicians are intrigued as well by very basic but important musical structures. The Blues, for example, is one such structure. There are many others, of course. Song forms were often borrowed or interpolated from popular Tin Pan Alley tunes and Broadway songs (such as "All of Me" or "My Funny Valentine"). Another familiar structure is referred to as "Rhythm Changes," a standard progression of "blowing changes" for virtuosic improvisational work in a fixed structure (as in "The Theme" by Miles Davis, or "Oleo" by Sonny Rollins). The tiny and economical notation for these structures is the Jazz chart, from which the band can infer the entire composition. The Jazz chart is an innovative and convenient way to get everyone on the same page.
Worshiping communities, too, develop their own "tiny and economical notation," such as rubrics in prayer books or directions (sometimes very obscure or coded) in worship bulletins. No question, our service leaflets, bulletins, and prayer books provide exactly the same function as the Jazz chart. Years of tradition, cultural tastes, identities, and local preferences bleed from these bound-paper icons every week in churches all over the world. Compare, for example, the clear stylistic differences between an evangelical church in Managua, Nicaragua, and, say, Riverside, California, or Dayton, Ohio. An even more stark difference might be found by comparing so-called "white" and "black" churches in the Detroit area. Many of the hymns are exactly the same, but given quite different treatments based on the congregation's cultural context. Nevertheless, the goal is the same: a way for people to encounter the holy and the sublime (not that different from the Jazz musician's goal), as well as a way for a group of people who have chosen to gather together to combine their energies into one collective expression of faith.
As we have said, Jazz liturgy does not depend exclusively on Jazz music. It does, however, depend on musical variety and especially diversity. One can do Jazz liturgy in any context, from synagogue to glass cathedral, using any idiom, from Gregorian chant to electronica. The difference between Jazz liturgy and "what we normally do" is the commitment of the whole congregation, and especially the liturgical planning team, to think always about "who is not there and why." Challenge, extend, experiment, improvise.
How is the liturgical chart conceived? How is it realized? Can/should it change from week to week? What can clergy, musicians, and congregation do with the basic structure of the service to vary it so that they add meaning, emotion, self-expression, local color, and, ultimately, beauty?
This is the riff portion of liturgical planning. A "riff," in Jazz terminology, is a phrase that extrapolates from the structure in an ornamental way. Duke Ellington and Count Basie, for example, rehearsed riffs on the tour bus as the band traveled around the country, giving the musicians material for improvisation as well as for compositional development. If Jazz were merely the reproduction of the basic structures (e.g., blues, song forms, rhythm changes) discussed briefly above, Jazz would have died a quick and deserved death in the early 1920s. Instead, Jazz took these basic structures and intelligently extrapolated myriad possibilities for invention in melody, harmony, rhythm, and tone, crafting a distinctively American art form unparalleled in human history. The blending of diverse musical influences, technical and theoretical virtuosity, and traditional formal structures resulted in Jazz.
Jazz is a unique blend of diverse cultural heritages from Africa, Latin America, and, to a lesser extent, Europe. It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss the many cultural diasporas leading to the creation of Jazz, but interested readers may want to explore the topic on their own in greater depth (you can start with the discography included in Appendix B: Musical Resources for Liturgy). The tremendous diversity in the cultural/musical origins of Jazz underscores an important theme for liturgical innovation: that the church is the voice of the many, not the few.
At Canterbury House we attempt weekly to draw out the many voices of praise from around the world (see Chapter Seven: The Theology of Singing and an Exploration of Style). Central to our approach is that God is neither white nor black, male nor female, but rather both person and idea, beyond category. We present music from around the world and give voice to vital religious musical traditions from the entire planet. This takes research, study, musical technique, varied resources (books and musicians), and the enthusiasm of open-minded clergy and congregation.
Missing any one of these components leads to a disingenuous attempt to "perform a diverse church service" for its own sake. We often hear clergy and congregations say, "We need more diverse music." Merely adding a song from an African-American hymnal, or even putting an African-American hymnal in the pew racks, is not sufficient. Such an approach is insulting to people around the world who worship God with sincerity, deep faith, and musical virtuosity.
Finally, a look at contemporary Jazz improvisation techniques helps us to explore liturgy on an even deeper and more creative level. In the late 1950s, Ornette Coleman burst onto the Jazz scene with a principle of free Jazz that propelled Jazz into its modern age. Coleman felt that the musicians playing from a chart should be free to explore any and all of the (ultimately unlimited) tonal areas, rhythmic structures, and melodic possibilities therein, in an act of collective as well as solo improvisation. All of the harmonic and melodic material is implied by the chart—hence Coleman's term for the principle: "Harmolodics." But in Harmolodic music there is no strict or set notion of rhythm, melody, or even of musical key. Potentially, of course, this could result in chaos. With sophisticated Jazz musicians, however, it results, instead, in a completely different approach to improvisation, to wit, a sublime and complex web of ideas, personalities, and dialogue.
Excerpted from Better Get It In Your Soul by Reid Hamilton. Copyright © 2008 by Reid Hamilton and Stephen Rush. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.