Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Too Hot to Handel. . .

Paula and I went to a jazz and gospel rendition of Handel's Messiah last week. It was quite an experience hearing "unto us a child is born" with scat and swing! The first half was truly remarkable even though we had the sense they were just warming up.

The second half was a disappointment, however, as the arrangements made us think that whoever did them was clearly not a believer. "We all like sheep" was done in a very upbeat jazzy, party style tempo.

The remarkable thing about jazz, blues and gospel is the range of emotion AND content that it can support. This has been a part of my own great appreciation for living in an African American community and learning so much from the culture and tradition. I am still a presbyterian at heart and being in a black Baptist church constantly challenges my own sense of emotion about various messages. (can ya feel it??!!)

So while I likely often appear to be a frozen chosen one amidst a sea of openly celebratory faces, I love the way the message of Christ and His gospel is made viscerally relevant. We should be emotional about God's goodness, His provision, and His glory! Jazz, gospel and the blues has the ability to support this important content and make it live.

But. . . in Too Hot To Handel the song of mourning (we all like sheep have gone astray. . . each of us has turned to our own way) upbeat jazz was just the wrong form. A song of lament could have been carried by either gospel or blues in a way that delivered a crushing sense of truth to this. The repentant and sorrowful voice should have replaced the party-boy that we heard at the show.

Still, it was such a great intersection of Western culture and African American tradition that I was glad we went.