And the Harlem Jazz Festival
In Appreciation of Brandee Younger
"I'm all for doing what you feel, without feeling external pressure If you can take all of your influences and portray it in your music, then you are doing the right thing."
-- Brandee Younger
-- Brandee Younger
"Hi, I'm Brandee Younger. I'm a harpist based here in New York City. The Bible mentioned harpists and trumpets, and those are like the heavenly instruments. But, you know, sometimes we cannot be so gentle. You'll have to ask God why it's my chosen instrument. I'm just doing here what I'm supposed to do. Church was my introduction to music. I don't think my church background -- I'm Baptist -- really reflects in my playing like I would want it to...I'm all for doing what you feel, without feeling external pressure. If you can take all of your influences and portray it in your music, then I think you are doing the right thing.".."
Thanks to Brandee Younger for her interview in preparation for 2013 the Harlem Arts Festival. And for that matter thanks to the Harlem Arts Festival: a free annual festival presenting music, dance, theater, and visual artists based in or inspired by Harlem. If you live near New York, please go and tell us about it.
And thanks also to National Public Radio Music and the field recording that Brandee did for NPR at The Evolution Store in New York City.
Listen for a while. You'll get hooked on jazz harp.
Why stop? Thanks also to the Evolution Store. Can you imagine a store that specializes in the outcomes and beauty of evolution? Now you can. How do jazz and evolution go together? Easy. There's something primal about the story of evolution that parallels the funkiness of hip-hop and the beauty of the jazz harp.
At least that's how we process theologians see things. We think that evolution is creative and adventurous story, filled the beauty and terror, like jazz. And we think that the story itself as an undetermined score, like jazz. Evolution is a process of creative experimentation, filled with trial and error, the results of which are naturally selected.
For us, the story includes God. We don't think of God as all-powerful, but we do think of God as all-loving and pretty darned creative, too. We see God as principle of novelty at work in the universe and on our small planet, as a lure toward life in many forms.
A lure toward diversity, too. The many forms of life and the many kinds of people are illustrative of, not exceptions to, the role of God in the world. Thus we find ourselves disagreeing with just one comment that Brandee Younger makes in the interview for the Harlem Arts Festival.
Yes, we see a whole lot of church in what Brandee does. We see her willingness to take multiple influences form the past and bring them together in fresh ways as quite similar to the willingness of Jesus to take influences from his own life and perform them in fresh ways.
We call that willingness creative transformation, and there is one theologian among us -- John B. Cobb, Jr. - who speaks of the universal Christ as the spirit of creative transformation.
You'll find the idea articulated in a book called Christ in a Pluralistic Age. If you are not a self-identified Christian, don't worry. What John Cobb means by Christ was revealed in Jesus, but by no means limited to Christianity.
All of this may has implications for how we lives, whether we are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or "spiritual but not religious. We need to take delight in diversity and celebrate the beauty.
Yes, God may call us to have roots in the best of the past, in classical music for example, as illustrated in the training of Brandee Younger. It is good to enjoy the familiar.
But God calls us to have wings: that is, to enjoy the freedom of combining things in fresh ways which are surprising, even for God. Combining the harp and jazz, or the harp and hip hop, or the harp and life.
Indeed, we process theologians see something deeply spiritual in Brandee's willingness to be true to her calling, to follow the lure of God toward beauty: toward intense forms of harmony and harmonious forms of intensity. For us process theologians different people have different callings.
But the calling to be a musician is extremely special, because it is a call to help communicate to others what feelings sound like. Music is what feelings sound like.
It is obvious to Brandee and also to all who sponsor the Harlem Arts Festival that people need to better understand what other people sound like, so that they -- we -- can get along better in life, so that we can empathize with others. The world needs a whole lot more empathy, and empathy is part of what art is all about.
Even empathy with God. Yes, we think God has feelings, too. For us God is the very soul of the universe. Sometimes the soul feels pain, sometimes, pleasure, sometimes balance, and sometimes imbalance. Always love, but isn't love a little imbalanced, too; especially when dealing with tragedy, or injustice?
And doesn't love also enjoy, sometimes, just having a hell of a good time, enjoying the sheer plurality and beauty of human creativity, one note at a time. Or one chord. A harpsichord for example.
It is said that David eased Saul's soul with the playing of a harp. Isn't there just a little ease in Brandee Younger in all of us? Doesn't it make you feel at home in a wideness that includes diversity both human and ecological? Doesn't it make you want to dance, or draw, or put on a mask, or play? Or go to The Evolution Store? Same here.