Monday, September 14, 2015

The Magic of Surprise

Sometimes there is an intersection of magic and surprise. Those are times when you get more than you can imagine. A few Sundays ago was just such a time.
Agnes was going to play at a local church on the first Sunday in August with two services, each with communion. I decided to sign up as a volunteer musician on that Sunday because I figured attendance would probably be at its lowest point for the year with people on vacations. Thus, less pressure.

In the process of planning the morning, Partner and I talked about his role. Yes, he is the Sacred Schleper of the harps – especially in moving Agnes to and from the house to a venue. But, he also helps me by walking the space while I tune and warm-up. Harps are not the loudest instrument and I don’t have sound equipment. He gives me feedback on how the sound carries and what I need to do to accommodate this.

When we arrived, Partner unloaded and placed Agnes in her spot. I started tuning and practicing. Partner walked around the church. Later partner told me that the sound guy saw what he was doing and said there was no bad seat in the house and pointed to the rafters and the sound system.

While tuning, Sound Guy quietly set up one single mic beside the harp. He assured me that this was a very good mic. I saw him, but had no concept of what this would mean in the service. Canned harp, I thought, referring to a tinny kind of sound I dread. 

After the first service, Sound Guy came over to Partner and myself after people dispersed.

He had another sound person play back one of the songs I’d played over the sound system in the church.  My reaction was to try to keep talking and deny that it was the song Agnes was playing.
The music sang throughout the church.

The first song he played, I had a pause where I wavered in my playing. He quickly signaled to the other person to change to the next song. It was clear that he was trying to get me to listen in an encouraging way.

I paused and laughed saying that this wasn’t me, it was the magic of the sound system in this space. He patiently leaned in and subtly suggested that wasn’t entirely true.

It was so hard to take this in.

I am used to the sound of Agnes in my ear with the vibrations ringing through my fingers, chest and legs from her powerful voice. This is why Partner is so vital to sounding out new spaces for me. I have no perspective.

Sound Guy shared a bit about his background. Without giving away who he is, let’s just say I now think of him as Super Stealth Sound Guy. He has worked in the music industry for decades. But the thing that got to Partner and me the that Sunday was this man’s huge heart as a person dedicated to children with disabilities. There was a whole-heartedness to his very being. 

Did music help enable or support that in some small way?

He seemed to enjoy the harp. He said he treats the harp like the human voice because of its sound qualities.

After both church services, lots of people came up and said that that the church has its praise band, the organ and choirs, but the harp brought something quieter and more calming. There was so much encouragement from everyone. I was surprised when people clapped after I played in the church in both services . (Those irreverent church-goers.)

Afterwards, I got a cd from the Sound Guy of the tracks that I played in both services. It was shocking.

My playing wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t awful either. I am trained to listen critically to my music. In the midst of playing, I experience mistakes as huge in the context of the piece. It takes a lot of mental energy to play the music, anticipate the problem spots, recover from the oops, and keep playing. However, listening to the cd helped right-size the errors, and show me where I had recovered. In the scope of the whole piece, everything was just fine.

I found myself thinking of this experience as something akin to the Aboriginal peoples’ experiences of the shock of seeing oneself in a photograph for the first time. What is this? This isn’t me, as I pinch myself. Yet, this is me in a certain sense of space and time captured by a particular medium.

When I was a violin student in the 1970’s, my teacher loaned me his reel-to-reel tape recorder for demo tapes for competitions and auditions. One feature it had was  an “echo-plex”  function so that the sound could range from rather dead/flat to sounding like it was being played in a hall to a ridiculous echoing that distorted the music altogether.

I find myself struggling with the technology of sound capturing and containing – beautiful, but non-the-less, manipulating sound. The truth is that there are very important recording artists I would never have heard and who have enriched my life.

Sound Guy literally was a master sound guy.  My shy self has been playing harp because of its sonorous, vibratory qualities; and, I have viewed playing as an act of prayer that is lifted up to the heaven and penetrates hearts. Mostly, it is an act of impermanence. Now what? It has been captured and beautifully.

I forgot that the very healing qualities of the harp might extend beyond my small ideas of healing.

May I not lose sight of the potential in all life. May my life be (and yours) be filled with creativity and beauty as a gift of life. What we do with it matters. May that vitality, bliss, be made manifest until it echoes out in infinity. What magic!

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