June 7, 2020
“Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
To the Members and Friends of the Swampscott Church of Spiritualism:
One of the most beautiful parts of our services, for me, has always been the ability to listen to the music that is played by Leo, Tony, Diane, and of course Karl. The ability to sit back, close my eyes, and experience the beautiful symphony of sound is so striking and soulful. What I appreciate most about music is the universality of it all. I may not know all the words. I may not experience what the musician is feeling. And, I may not understand how to play the notes; but, ultimately, I feel something. I guess it’s safe to say that musicians touch our spirit because music speaks to the humanity within all of us.
Often, when I watch our musicians play together, I am moved. When I think about this experience we are so often afforded, my thoughts go to the short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” by prolific writer and poet, James Baldwin. In this particular story, the unknown narrator has a rocky relationship with his brother, Sonny. The narrator doesn’t understand the differences between he and his brother. Many years later, the narrator visits a small jazz club where Sonny and his band play. While listening to the music, the narrator shares:
“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it…but the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air…And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”
These words, to me, are so powerful for many reasons. While the narrator is at first ignorant to the music, when he begins to relate, he notices several things: 1) sometimes people aren’t “really” listening, 2) the voice of the music rises from a deeper place: sometimes filled with anger; sometimes filled with love, and 3) when we “really” listen, the pain and love of the musician is shared by us all in moments of symphony and “triumph.”
While the narrator didn’t quite understand his brother growing up, when he listens to the band play together, the relationship between them strengthens through and beyond the music. When Creole, one of the band members steps forward and begins to play, the narrator says:
“He hit something in all of them (the band), he hit something in me, myself…Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”
“Then they all gathered around Sonny…Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back…I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, and what burning we had yet to make it ours…Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did…I heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through…”
I’d like to thank all of the musicians in my life. Thank you for allowing me to listen. Thank you for helping each of us to understand your voice, your anguish, your tears; Thank you for helping each of us to hear your dreams, your hopes, and your love. Now, I hope that we can all be like the narrator from Baldwin’s story – I hope we have the ability to listen and perhaps understand something extending far beyond music – something very human; something very universal.
With faith we hear and listen to the same song,