I’ve discovered some things about how I go about making the work I make. Reminds of a quote from Art and Fear (which I quote all the time) which simply says that our work is to learn how to work on our work. If nothing else after 50 years, I’m getting hints about what that means.
Part of my job these days is to function as a worship leader, which in practical terms means creating a musical atmosphere that allows people to enter into a state of engaged thought and feeling about the nature of God and His presence in the world. Their world. Our faith is that in this engaged state, God does indeed come and reach out to us in experience, in thought, and in feeling. (Whether His reaching out is primarily mental, physical, or combination is a chief area of debate.) He communicates, heals, listens, convicts…there are any number of verbs to describe the action of God among those of faith during worship (again, when the word is used these days, most often musical worship is what is being described.)
How best to go about such a task? It’s a fascinating question, really. In this post, I’m not as interested in the right answer to that question as I am in reflecting on what my trying to answer the question has taught me about the way I go about making art.
Whenever I walk into a creative situation, I generally come without a clear picture of what I’m after. My sense of direction and vision tends to be more general, more intuitive. It’s not that I don’t know what I want, because when I find it, I know that’s it. But, most often, I see the materials at hand, and begin to explore the various possibilities. If the materials at hand include talents other artists are bringing, I am highly dependent on them for creative input and energy. What this kind of process requires is time. Lots of it. Problem is, in the making of music in the world of worship, time is one thing you just don’t have. If you are leading, players look to you for immediate direction and feedback, given the multiple choices they have about how to approach any one piece of music. Producing 6 (six) 3-4 minute songs in a two-hour rehearsal means you have 20 minutes per song, which is 2-3 times through, with a bit of talk in-between. Woe to you if there are equipment issues, personnel no-shows, or various other breakdowns (which are guaranteed, by the way.) And next week, it will 6 (six) more.
What I’m learning is that my sort of intuitive exploration style of coming at things doesn’t work very well in this arena. It would not be hard for me to spend an hour or more per song, in order to really get to the art of it, to draw out the creative possibilities, to make sure everyone is doing the best work they can, secure in their roles. (And that’s if everyone is there, excited to be doing what they are doing, which is not always the case.) Truth is, it just doesn’t work that way.
I think of my way of working as a bit vagabond-like…the word scavenger comes to mind. Taking what’s at hand, making what beauty seems to be suggesting. For better or worse, that’s at the core of my process, whether I’m writing a book or script or sermon, acting a role, directing a play or video, or creating music for a Sunday. In a whirlwind world of 3-point clarity where “making it stick” is all about draining ambiguity and nuance in order to get the millions to “get it” and get it now–and by the way, what we’re talking about them “getting” is God Himself…well, my process seems a bit out of step.
Back to making…