Thursday, August 30, 2007

Free Slam photos

Gregg Brekke took some wonderful photos at the Free Slam event we held on August 26th. It was jointly sponsored by Tanze and Nexus Church, and sprang from Bekka and Randy's gifts and visions. Gonna try to do another very soon. The full slideshow can be seen here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ken Medema in Concert

Sunday afternoon Deb and I traveled to "inner city" Indianapolis to participate in a Ken Medema concert. I use the word "participate", although we were just a part of the audience. But there is no way to attend a Medema concert without becoming a participant.

Where to begin...I've been a huge fan/follower of Ken's music and approach to performance since my college days in the mid 1970s. It had been probably 8 years since we last attended a concert - he doesn't tend to get close to our area often (hopefully something we can remedy). Ken has always moved mostly in church-related spheres, yet he has transcended the narrow categories that most musicians of that "genre" fall into. Deb asked me the week before why I was so drawn to his music, when I tend to not give a lot of room to corporate "spiritual" talk. (I believe spiritual experiences and opinions are so subjective that most attempts to normalize people around them tend to divide rather than unite.) I retorted that Ken's compositions rarely mention God in overt ways - they tend to talk more about relationships, community, dreams, heroes, pain, healing, work, and play - very tangible, relevant things in my opinion. About 3/4 of the way through the concert, I leaned over and pointed out to her that he had only mentioned Jesus once, in a song retelling the biblical story of Zaccheus. He has composed e a number of songs that retell similar stories, but they don't tend to be my favorites from his reporitoire. And they always pull a new dimension/perspective from those stories. You don't have to say Jesus/God over and over ad nauseum in order to speak to and call out the image of God that is in all of us.

Musically Ken is a phenomenon. He has been blind since birth - I believe only seeing some shapes and degrees of light/dark. Yet he moves on stage between the piano, synthesizers, and drum machines like he has eyes in the back of his head and on the ends of his fingers. His keyboard performances are virtuoso level technically, and he constantly merges varied musical styles into his compositions - jumping from classical to modern jazz to rock to world music motifs within the same song. On Sunday I especially enjoyed hearing how some familiar songs - especially "Color Outside the Lines" and "Bound Together" - had morphed over time to include new stylistic and lyrical aspects. I could go on and on about the musicianship at work here - suffice it to say I'm glad Ken lets us all into the musical ideas that are in his head.

A special treat on Sunday was to hear his road manager, sound engineer, and visual navigator (she has a seeing-ey dog t-shirt that says "Don't bother me, I'm working...) Beverly Vander Molen perform on the 60-rank pipe organ that had been installed at Broadway United Methodist Church just a few years back. They played together on "We'll Walk No Longer" which does some great rhythmic morphing throughout it's course. Wish we could have spent a little more time around Broadway church as well - a very unique mix of high-church architecture and community focus - at least those were my impressions.

Speaking to the audience experience, Ken makes eye/heart contact through body language, vocal nuances, and constant attempts to encourage the audience to participate in his songs - singing along, completing sentences, and many other seemingly spontaneous actions. His academic training was in music therapy, and this element has continued to fuel his compositions and performances. No where is this more evident than during the segments where he invites members of the audience to tell personal stories and he responds with instant compositions. This past Sunday the two standout compositions were in response to an elderly woman talking about her work for the past 15 years with HIV/AIDS patients and a man sharing experience of he and his partner adopting a young girl with a horrific past. Both of these songs were "final quality", rather than just doodling. Many songs on his recordings start out as responses to stories, speeches, and events. (Ken will write/record personal songs upon request - for any occasion, person, subject - see details here.)

To my knowledge no one else does what Ken Medema does. That's a real shame - I wish it could be cloned or bottled so that communities all over could experience the dynamics and interactivity on a consistent basis. Short of that, he certainly provides a model and approach that many of us can learn from as we explore how to relate to ourselves and each other within our families, communities, churches, and world.

Deb and I were able to spend some time with Ken and Beverly back in July while he worked on his new recording project in Louisville. I'm listening some of those tracks as I post, and can't wait for the release in September. I'll post more about that release when it becomes official - let's just say it's as great as I would hope/expect from this musical phenomenon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Great music this weekend

Saturday night we are going to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at Fraze Pavilion in Dayton. They are definitely one of the most innovative groups in music - and have been since I first started listening to them back in the 80s. Their current incarnation marries banjo acrobatics, "Roland Kirk-esq" sax stylings, and the innovative musical hijinks of the Wooten Brothers rhythm section.

Sunday we are heading to Indianapolis to experience a Ken Medema concert. He is one of my musical idols, and we use a lot of his material at our church. In addition to being a formidable pianist/producer/arranger, he has an amazing ability to listen to stories and immediately improvise really good songs about the story. He's frequently asked to do this to summaries/solidify speeches by fairly well known folks - Desmond Tutu, Lynn Redgrave, Jim Wallis, and Brian McLaren among others. I've known Ken since my college days in the 70s, and he's gotten better with time. Deb and I spent a few days with him in Louisville back in July, enjoying watching his next recording come to life. It should be released soon.

More comments and hopefully pictures after the weekend.

More Wendell Berry books

After reading Jayber Crow, I ordered more Wendell Berry books in the Port William series. So those will start showing up in the current list at the right. I opted to order used copies of the hardback versions (through Amazon merchants) where possible, since hardbacks are so much better in quality and longevity, as well as being easier to read leisurely. Jayber Crow was such an earthy tale, it almost felt as if I should search the highways and byways for old book stores (which probably don't exist anymore) rather than ordering copies via the Internet.

I plan to read the collection of novels and short stories in chronological order when possible. That Distant Land is a collection of 23 short stories and contains the beginnings of the saga, circa 1888. And I've been spending a little time at this web site, which is a hub for online information about Berry.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Free Slam

Click on the image for more details. (And doesn't Jeff do great work!)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Desert Island Lists

When I first started blogging, and restarted blogging a few weeks back, the most important task was to attend to my music and book lists. Making sure these lists are available was more important than actual blog entries - kind of like when I make sure the stereo is set up first in a new residence - then I can get on with the work at hand.

I've always loved the notion of "desert island" lists, even though it's unlikely that I'll be appearing in Castaway any time soon. But for some reason I am drawn to books and music that I know have more to offer than one reading or a few listenings will yield. When I was writing computer games for a living, an industry/consumer publication (I don't recall which one) asked some game developers what one game they would want if stranded on a desert island. One developer said "Visual C++", which was the programming language and tool most widely used at that time for developing new games. I thought it was a profound answer. I'll take the one thing that is renewable, able to be looked at freshly each day - the one that has enough raw material for a lifetime.

So perhaps I'll take the opportunity to occasionally write about items on my list. In fact, why not start now. I'll pick an easy one from the book list - Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. This is probably the most entertaining book I have ever read. It was sheer fun from start to finish - sort of a combination of computer hacking and swashbuckling adventure spanning a 60 year timespan. The computer episodes were detailed enough to seem authentic and challenging if you are a true tech lover like I am. And the adventure segments were highly imaginative, yet totally believable. I still carry strong images of two particular themes/scenes- a daring Japanese POW escape from a Pacific island via tunnel, and a running thread where a familiarity with pipe organ mechanics leads to mastery of various computing and decoding devices. The book is over 900 pages long, and I nearly read it in one long sitting!

Currently Reading - Jayber Crow, Part 2

I finished this beautiful book a few days ago. It still creeps into my thoughts and actions, calling me to slow down and not be so dependent on external stimuli for wellbeing and survival. I will be reflecting on this one for a long time. And I'll be searching for more books by Wendell Berry. It will probably make it to the desert island list shortly.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Currently Reading - Jayber Crow

I've heard the name Wendell Berry referenced in numerous places over the past few years - primarily in conversations and writings dealing with sustainable practices and the connection with spirituality. But I had not read any of his works other than portions of online essays, until I ran across Jayber Crow on my local library shelf.

The full title is "Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written By Himself" - whew. This is one of the most lovingly written books I have read. No other words describe the prose here. Every page - nearly every paragraph - is quotable, as Jayber describes life in the Kentucky River valley. When reading fiction, I'm usually drawn to mystery and intrigue, with complex twists and turns. This book is the opposite, but I don't want to put it down. I'm only halfway through, so will post more when completed. But I had to point it out. From researching more on Berry's writings, it appears he has written seven other books based on the Port William community, and uses it as a prototype for what works and what doesn't in societies we build and evolve. Growing up in a small southern town as I did, many of the characters come alive with faces from my childhood. But the images go beyond nostalgia, into a realm of evaluating those things in my life that have worked and have not, even as Jayber looks back over his life span. This is just a beautiful book

Here are a few phrases from the section I'm currently reading:

The local foul-mouthed church janitor talking about his proper wife...

the madam goes around committing virtue left and right
When describing a late-night encounter where he stoically and wordlessly sat with a grief-stricken father who was dealing with the loss of his son in WW2:
After a while, though the grief did not go away from us, it grew quiet. What had seemed a storm wailing through the entire darkness seemed to come in at the last and lie down.
I feel that I could find worthwhile quotes in this book as easily as the old game where one opens a book (phone book, bible, whatever) to a random page and points their finger at a random spot. It is rich in wisdom and humor, and transcends the local community to provide universal ideas.