Considering our cozy 4 1/2 square miles, there are a lot of churches in Oak Park, the Chicago suburb where I’ve spent the last 17 years. No judgment intended, but there is quite a potpourri of paths to salvation right outside most of our doors. Though I was raised Catholic, I enjoy Unity Temple these days. Always searching for some sort of gateway to my inner self, what my grammar school teachers might have called the Holy Spirit or the soul, I was curious about the latest: The Church of Beethoven.
No doctrine, no preaching, no holy books…the Church of Beethoven is a simple concept. In an intimate (meaning smallish) setting let an audience (or “congregation” to extend the metaphor) experience the emotional/spiritual intent of a classical composer through a live small group or solo performance. The musical selections are complimented with poetry readings. The Church of Beethoven happens once a month on a Sunday at the Open Door Theatre. It is the intimacy of the setting that makes the performance “more”…being able to see the musician’s hands and face, hear him/her breathe, see when a single note touches a nerve in the heart of the performer.
Ah, the wonder of a live performance. For those impressed with attending concerts at large venues, Chicago’s Symphony Center for example, consider the small club or theatre, your local coffee house. Sit close and listen without distraction…shut the cell phone off for 45 minutes.
On the same weekend that I attended the Church of Beethoven, I also enjoyed a very special jazz performance at Buzz After Hours (an occasional event at a small coffee house, The Buzz Café). Sitting at a table not four feet from the quartet, I could hear the saxophone’s keys close; could hear the keyboardist hum his improvised line as he played it; see the eye contact between musicians cueing each other; see the smiles of mutual respect as solos found their climaxes; could hear the drummer take breaths on off beats.
I had invited one of my best friends, Larry Janowski, to join me at Buzz After Hours. He is a Franciscan friar. A classical music lover with only a novice’s exposure to jazz performance, this is how Larry responded to the “magic” between the musicians and the music during that night of jazz:
The whole session was like a prayer for me. What I mean by “a prayer” is not the “talking to God” idea, but I guess what I really mean is contemplation, or what we sometimes call the prayer of union. It’s the deepest kind of spiritual experience in which there is no longer any separation between the person and God. In such a moment there are no words. There are no feelings. There is only Being. All is one. I got a glimpse of that kind of experience last night.
To me, this is to experience art. Deeper, artistic inspiration is divine, however you might define divine. In this sense, artists are messengers and prophets. Stand close, listen deeply, watch every move…and if you’re lucky, you’ll be inspired yourself.
Of course, the magic doesn’t happen with every performance, but if you’re not there, you may miss a transcendent moment. Go to local performances, small gallery openings, poetry readings. Think of it as praying.