Joy Desires Eternity

This weekend, the Nashville Symphony is playing Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G minor (a nice piece, but overplayed), Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 in D minor, and a contemporary piece by Lukas Foss, Time Cycle for Soprano and Orchestra. I love Rachmaninoff’s piano piece Prelude in C# minor, but this was my first time hearing any of his symphonies, or at least hearing them when I was paying attention. Considering the fact that he wrote his first symphony at the age of twenty-three, it is a pretty incredible piece of music. It took him eighteen months to get the first performance which ended up being a complete disaster, due to lack of rehearsal time and even allegations that the conductor was inebriated during the performance, and so was never performed again in his lifetime, a real shame. About five minutes into the first movement, there’s a really cool thing that happens with the second violins and cellos playing in unison, and then the first violins and violas coming in together four bars later and a fourth higher, with woodwinds doubling the strings another four bars later. And the fourth movement is fun throughout, with a great ending. I’d recommend checking it out sometime.

The Lukas Foss piece, Time Cycle for Soprano and Orchestra, was based on four texts, the last being an excerpt from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra that he translated. It was my favorite of the four movements, and the text reminded me of the best line in the new U2 single, Get On Your Boots: “Laughter is eternity if joy is real.”

O Man, take heed!
What speaks the deep midnight!
“I slept, I slept –
“From deep dream I awoke:
“The world is deep,
“And deeper than the day.
“Deep is its woe –
“Joy deeper than heartache.
“Woe speaks begone!
“But joy desires eternity.
“Desires deep, deep eternity.”

Andy Osenga, Futureman, Over the Rhine, and Stevie Wonder

This past week was a good week for live music.

On Sunday, Andy Osenga and I drove out to a concert just outside of Nashville, a fundraiser for Blood:Water Mission that featured Andy and a couple other guys playing “in the round.”
Tuesday evening, after Handbell Choir practice, I headed over to the 12 South Taproom – featuring 22 beers on tap – for another show from Eclectica, a band that’s a side project for my friend Roy Wooten (or Futureman, drummer for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones), electric violinist Tracy Silverman, and bassist Kyle Whalum (Steve Forrest filled in for him for this gig). This was the second time I’ve seen them play, so I picked up a copy of their album this time – officially due out April 1st – and have really been enjoying it. Here’s the EPK they created for Streaming Video Soul.

On Thursday evening, I headed over to Mercy Lounge for a concert put together by Vanderbilt Divinity School, The Enduring Chill: Remembering Flannery O’Connor. There were four artists, all inspired in some way by O’Connor, with readings from her writings in between sets. This was the third or fourth time I’ve seen Over the Rhine in concert, and probably the best show I’ve seen from them. At one point in the evening, the person responsible for putting together the concert mentioned a few movie directors and songwriters who owed a lot to her writing, artists like U2 and Nick Cave, and directors like Jim Jarmusch and the Cohn Brothers. I really need to get around to finishing up Wise Blood, O’Connor’s first novel.

A while back, I worked with Grammy-nominated arranger Don Hart, doing the music prep for a concert full of songs from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life that Don had arranged for full orchestra. One of the featured soloists from that night, Abby Burke, performed four of those arrangements, along with three other charts Don had written, with the Paducah, KY Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening. Since Peducah is only about a two and a half hour drive from Nashville, Don and I drove up for the concert. It was nice to hear those charts again, and Abby is an incredible vocalist, with a four-octave range. But I do have to say, nothing matches hearing those arrangements played by Orchestra Nashville at the $125 million dollar Schermerhorn Symphony Center, standing on the side of the stage during rehearsal only thirty minutes after printing out the last of the charts.

Better than Comedy Central

Okay, maybe not better than Comedy Central, but pretty close to the same level. The only thing missing is a laugh track, but it’s easy enough to overdub your own. What am I talking about? Sermons from the Conference on Baptist Fundamentalism, held every year in Wisconsin. It features, in liberal doses, what I like to call “Fundamentalist logic.” This sermon, besides giving a really bizarre take on the history of Liberation Theology – including a defense of North American corporations paying less than a living wage rate to their employees in Third World countries – includes this hilarious statement about the evil Billy Graham: “Billy Graham attended Bob Jones University. Not for very long, but he attended. He said that growing up, he liked fast women and fast cars, and Bob Jones wouldn’t let him have either, so he left after one semester.” Yeah. Try to write satire after spending a day listening to their sermons, and you’d be accused of plagiarism.
But why laugh? Because if you can’t laugh at it, what are you left with?

Listening to sermons like those listed above makes me even more grateful for the writings of people like my friend Matthew Paul Turner. Matthew wrote an essay recently on fear to read for his church, building on what he wrote in Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess (my review here.) Here’s the video.

“Writing is a test of sense.”

I was having lunch with my friend Andy last week, and the conversation turned to blogging. Andy’s blog was one of the first blogs that I read, but his postings are not as frequent these days. And I always intend to blog much more than I do, but I find myself not willing to post something, especially of a philosophical / theological nature, until I have sorted out the argument in my own mind and am able to see – to the best of my ability from where I stand at the moment of writing it – the positives and negatives of my argument. Later that day, I came across a Wendell Berry quote that David Dark posted on his facebook page that succinctly distills the conversation Andy and I had. (I tracked down the source of the quote to this interview in the Sun Magazine, Digging In.)

“I did make up my mind at some time that instead of trying to serve my purposes by rhetorical artifice or personal attacks, I would try to make as much sense as I could. If your cause doesn’t make sense, why defend it? Writing is a test of sense. It’s an exposure of your ideas to your own scrutiny, and then to the scrutiny of other people.”

Further digging for quotes from Berry on writing turned up this excerpt from his essay The Joy of Sales Resistance, availible in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community.

I am well aware that you cannot give your thoughts to someone who will not take them, and I am prepared for that. I would like to be agreed with, of course, but the rules of publication require me to be willing also to be disagreed with, to be ignored, and even to be disliked. Those who are moved by this book to disagreement or dislike will take discomfort, I hope, from hearing that some of my readers treat me kindly.

Kindness from readers is something that no essayist (and no writer of any other kind) has a right to expect. The kindness I have received from readers I count as the only profit from my work that is entirely net. I am always grateful for it and often am deeply moved by it.

But kindness is not—is never—the same as complete agreement. An essayist not only has no right to expect complete agreement but has a certain responsibility to ward it off. If you tell me, dear reader, that you agree with me completely, then I must suspect one or both of us of dishonesty. I must reserve the right, after all, to disagree with myself.

But however much I may change my mind, I will never agree with those saleswomen and salesmen who suggest that if I will only do as they say, all will be fine. All, dear reader, is not going to be fine. Even if we all agreed with all the saints and prophets, all would not be fine. For we would still be mortal, partial, suffering poor creatures, not very intelligent and never the authors of our best hope.