Sunday, October 29, 2017

Music in My Soul?

Recently a good friend, who also loves Bluegrass and the Steep Canyon Rangers, sent me this clip from NPR Tiny Desk.  I have purchased the Steep Canyon Rangers new album (featured above), and can't stop listening to it.

For some time now, I have wondered to myself, why I find some forms of Bluegrass so appealing, so heartwarming, and so strangely familiar.  Music from home, if you will.  I am beginning now to wonder if this affection may be something in my DNA.  Is that possible?  Can you love a style of music because perhaps one, or two, or three or more generations past, someone in your lineage also listened to and lived with and maybe also loved this music.  At this season of life, I'm beginning to think this might be so for me.

Perhaps this has a lot to do with my own lineage, my DNA, and perhaps something of well.... my soul.  Over the past decade or so, I have been slowly gathering information about my family heritage in online and some personal travel research.

As it turns out, I am very American - with both sides of my family extending many generations back.  Pictured at right is my great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Norris, who was born on December 4, 1850, in Winston, Mississippi; he married Elizabeth Martha Morrison on December 17, 1878, in Panola, Texas. They had nine children in 18 years. He died on December 21, 1929, in Frankston, Texas, at the age of 79, and was buried there.

I like to imagine Andrew and Liz heading to the County Fair, or perhaps a Saturday night social in Frankston, more than 100 years ago.  They would sit on the edge of the barn and listen to the local band play music quite similar to the Steep Canyon Rangers play today.

Is there music in our souls?  Can something we hear today ignite a small spark within us from many generations before?  Maybe it's so.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

"I Fall" - Tony Silvestri - Lyrics, Eric Whitacre - Scoring

It was supposed to just be a night at a concert. 

But we left feeling as if we had witnessed someone’s heart being broken, and then, very slowly, healed.  It was excruciating and yet hauntingly beautiful.  And it all happened in choral song at Disney Hall. 

A number of years ago there was a lovely young lady who was part of our church college department whose name was Julie.  Julie met a young man named Tony Silvestri, and soon became Julie Silvestri.  Two young lives brought together in a wedding in the church sanctuary.  Soon, along came two beautiful children, Thomas and Emma.  It was a lovely life.

And then, to Julie came cancer.  After a rugged and difficult struggle, it took her life.  Tony and the children were on their own, left with their faith and friends to sustain them.  Our family watched this all happen, and if I am honest, this loss is on the top of my list of questions in life.  Why God?  Why did this death happen, to such good, and warm, and loving people?

Back to the night at the concert.  Several weeks ago we were at Disney Hall to enjoy the Los Angeles Master Chorale and choral composer Eric Whitacre.  There was to be a new piece performed that night, entitled “I Fall”.  What we did not expect was when Mr. Whitacre took the stage with the Chorale that evening – our friend Tony Silvestri would walk on with him.  We were floored, here was our friend, who has suffered such loss, standing on the stage at Disney Hall. 

Tony was there that night as over the past decade he has become a recognized choral composer.  And over that same time period he has formed a deepening friendship with Mr. Whitacre, as they have worked on various choral pieces together.  Tony took center stage, was handed a microphone, and told the audience of his journey of love and loss with Julie.  He said, “Now, after 10 years, I am finally able to write lyrics about this loss.  These lyrics are about the night Julie passed away, in the Emergency Room.  This work has been the deepest writing I have ever done.”

And then, “I Fall” was performed.  I cannot recall a time in all my years where we have quietly wept through an entire choral piece.  The music and words were profoundly piercing and yet strangely and wonderfully redeeming, altogether in a way I cannot begin to articulate. 

The lyrics, Tony later shared with me:

Listening to your labored breath,
Your struggle ends as mine begins.
You rise, I fall. 

Fading, yet already gone;
What calls you I cannot provide.
You rise, I fall. 

Broken, with a heavy hand
I reach to you, and close your eyes. 
You rise, I fall. 

Psalm 77 says to us, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.  My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

Julie rose, indeed.  And Tony fell.  

And yet, with time something beautiful, and mysterious, and redeeming has emerged, in song.  And in Tony’s life.  Redemption is slowly having its way.  With us all.  May we be open enough, with time, to recognize it happening.
Below, a short excerpt of Eric Whitacre and Tony Silvestri’s “I Fall”.  This piece is proposed as a part of series, to be recorded in London in the coming months.  Stay tuned.

Solo Deo Gloria

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wait. Lent.

On the church calendar, it is Lent, a time of waiting.

But our worlds leave no time for waiting.  We have that big meeting on Tuesday with a client, that business trip to plan, the schlepping of the kids to school each day, that needy relative or friend who demands our time.  And the shopping, when will we find time for that?  We don’t have time to wait; we are too darned busy for that.
But wait.  What is the ending of the season of Lent?  A lowly, mysterious, confusing Jewish man betrayed.  Confused followers, some denying they even knew him.  A brutal death, and after moments of silent pause, an empty grave/cave - the single point in history in which the cosmos were cleaved in two.  Easter Sunday. 
This was a moment and a day that changed history.  Forever.  This odd man, this Jesus, commanded us to love our enemies, be ridiculously generous with our money and possessions, live lives of deep integrity, and plead for us to seek justice for all. He called his ragtag little bunch of followers to go to the cold places, the broken places, the dark corners of the world, the ragged edges; not just to proclaim good news — but to be, to live out into history, the good news of God’s love.
Recently, the LA Times published an article about the completely uncommon desert bloom of flowers, brought on by the record rains of this year.  I recently traveled through the Mojave as well, and was struck by a color I have never seen before.  Green! It's literally everywhere  in the desert. 
And yet, as we all know, this green is temporary, it will not last.  It is ephemerel - “of, for, or during the day, living or lasting but for a day, short-lived, temporary”.  

Summer will come, the green will fade, the flowers will wither.  We hear much of this language in the Scriptures as well.
Wait.  We who have chosen to follow this Jesus, we are not ephemeral people.  We are part of something ancient and timeless, that leads slowly to eternity.  And there are big peices to this deep tradition to which we all belong….
We Strive to live with Fearless compassion
In the third century, plagues ravaged the Roman Empire. Imagine the panic as a killer disease — probably smallpox — raged from person to person. While others banished the sick in fear for their own lives, Christians distinguished themselves in ways people had never seen before, described by Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria: “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ … drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
This impulse to put other people’s need ahead of our own, to sacrifice greatly for others, is the mark of a believer who embraces the words of John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  This is earthchanging.  
Wait.  We are part of a movement of timeless, fearless compassion.
We long to Love without labels
Imagine living in an era when people were rigidly ranked by race, gender, economic status, and even slave or free. This was the world Jesus entered — and shattered. He and His followers offered equality for all people created in God’s image. The early Christians preached that through the saving grace of Jesus, everyone is loved and forgiven, regardless of status. Galatians 3:26-28 expressed their new identity: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Amazing news for those on the bottom of society’s totem pole!
Today, our culture persists in affixing labels to people, dehumanizing entire groups and making them less worthy of our mercy and compassion. Some of those groups might be illegal immigrants, refugees, or Muslims, or even teenagers.  As Christ followers, we must learn to reject labels and look at people as God does, as valued and beloved beyond comprehension.
Friends, wait.  We are part of a clan of believers descending through history.  Hand to shoulder, this strange clan trys to extend deep friendship and real, tangible support to those who suffer under negative stereotypes.
These things, this Fearless Compassion, this Loving without Labels, these are what we try to do....
Our worlds leave little time for waiting.

Wait.  It’s Lent, friends.

We are not ephemeral people.  We are the people of God, we are part of something ancient, and timeless, and beautiful.  


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Good Night, Dear Heart

Good night, dear heart.

These words seemed to sound familiar to me.....

There are two stories of sadness associated with these words, which resulted many years after their writing, in the sublime beauty of a choral piece.  These are words that originated out of great loss on two separate occasions.  Another illustration that from great loss, with time, can come great beauty and hope for us all.

Good Night, Dear Heart, by composed by Dan Forrest:

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