Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nelson Boschman on CHRISTMAS PRESENCE: Jazz, Collaboration, Community

Jazz pianist Nelson Boschman visited the theatre department's Integration Forum at Trinity Western yesterday. As well as playing jazz - that most collaborative of art forms - Nelson is working to establish Artisan, a small fellowship in downtown Vancouver. So he's done lots of thinking about community. Here's part of what he shared Friday...

‘Interdependence’ is a great word, a rich word. It’s very close to another word I really like, which is ‘collaboration’. When you break it down, it becomes even richer – collaboration = to ‘co-labor’, to ‘work together’. Isn’t it something when collaboration is truly happening? I trust all of us have had at least some experience when everyone within a group or team is just humming along like a well-oiled machine.

The setting in which I have had my deepest encounters in interdependent collaboration is with Pacific Theatre here in Vancouver. For a number of years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of some shows – often at Christmas time – in which singers, instrumentalists and dramatic readers come together, bringing their songs and readings. We rehearse for a few hours, have sushi together, and then hit the stage with a two-act performance. The artistic director likes to call it ‘the unslickest Christmas show in town’. But there’s something truly magical about it.

The morning after one of those occasions, I journaled some of my reflections…

“It was like church; or rather, what I wish church was more like. It reminded me of a family gathering – a potluck meal, where everyone brings something, the head chef puts it all together, and the (capital ‘G’) Guest of Honor graces us with His presence in the midst of it all. It’s loose and improvisatory, but not carelessly thrown together.

“There is attention to pairing food and drink, as with song or story to theme, but not in an obsessive, or worse, restrictive way. There is not much preparation on the day of the meal itself, but rather the preparedness happens through the years of practice that have taken place long before we gather together to feast our senses.

“There is a certain order to things, but the predominant feeling is not one of confinement, but spaciousness. It’s like a story, in which, as Henri Nouwen put it, there is “room for us to walk around and find our place.” There is excellence, but not elitism. And there are no show-offy, one-uppy attitudes. It’s about contributing something as individuals that will only nourish people when combined and offered as a collective whole.

“There is profound meaning, but not intellectual imperialism. There is beauty, but it is characterized by simplicity, not ornamental superficiality. And perhaps above all, there is trust. We trust one another to bring our absolute best to the table. We trust that at the times we feel we’re contributing less than our best – for whatever reason – we will be accepted and welcomed anyway. We trust that the stories and songs we bring will help others pay attention to the Divine Presence in the same way they have helped us do likewise.

“And we trust that when it is over, God will have done far more than we can prepare for, ask, or imagine. Soli deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).”

‘Interdependence’ is counter-cultural. No doubt about it. It flies in the face of our culture’s obsession with ‘independence’. But I hope you will agree with me when I say that collaboration is infinitely more beautiful than our individualistic ‘solo efforts’.

As Canadian jazz piano great Oscar Peterson said, ‘It’s the group sound that’s important, even when you’re playing a solo.’

These photos are from August 2007, at the CD launch of one of Nelson's jazz recordings. If you want to hear what you're seeing, book tickets for Christmas Presence In The Valley, a jazz/gospel/soul edition featuring Nelson Boschman piano, Kenton Wiens drums, Steve Klassen trumpet, Brian Thiessen jazz guitar, Becca Robertson bass, and vocalists Crystal Hicks, Tom Pickett, Anna Vandas and Michael Hart. December 19: Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, 32315 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford.

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