Sunday, February 10, 2002

Okay, so it's been requested that I explain the Wedge thing. As Wedge himself pointed out in the comments to the previous post, fantasy names are far more in keeping with his personality. The reason I refrained from using the obvious choice is that I decided as long as I was going to arbitrarily flip on the "code name" toggle (which names fool none of you, I'm sure), I might as well choose names that are meaningful to me. So where does Wedge come from? Wedge Antilles, naturally, the only man to survive both Death Star runs and the leader of Rogue Squadron for most of its existence. Wedge is both the consummate wingman and the consummate squadron leader, a man whose compassion for his fellow Rogues inspires their loyalty at the same time while remaining incredibly intense - "hard core," you might say. This is why Wedge is Wedge. If stringent objections remain I will switch to the obvious choice, as the code name thing won't be fun if it honestly bugs him.

I just got back from the studio, where we recorded "Let Me Show You The Way." I think it will sound very good when we're through with the mixing and so forth, which naturally is good. I intend to be there next time the core goes mixing. Why? Not like I'll ever need to know how to mix tracks myself, right? Not like anybody's ever suggested that my mad musical skillz are needed. I'll tell you why: I wish that Testimony had the kind of leadership that commanded my loyalty, but it doesn't. So what's the proper response to that? Support core even more. My presence at these mixing sessions, so long as it remains tolerated, will be a show of support. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

JTT brought up a recurring theme in Testimony on the way over to the studio: the idea that performing excellence and worship excellence are in practice mutually exclusive (that is, the more you have of the one the less you'll tend to have of the other). I know that I'm in the minority here (or anyway the minority of people who express that opinion) but I really don't think it's true that practically speaking the two counterbalance each other. To a certain extent of course I'm forced to think that, because if performance art can't be shown to glorify the Father then there's really no justification for making performing such a big part of my life (or American culture). Acknowledging that, though, here's how it seems to me:

When I was in the Players, the Director always stressed that you go on stage for the people who come in out of the night to see you. You don't know where those people are coming from, or what they're going through in their lives, but for the two hours that they're watching you it doesn't matter. Your performance will lift them out of their troubles and give them the gift of a light heart from curtain to curtain, and probably a little after, too. In short, even secular performance art exists to bless//love on the audience. All of our hard work was devoted to making those two hours the best gift we could give to our audience. Of course some people were in it for personal glory, but those were not the people who reflected the spirit or values of the Company.

So what about this spectrum with performance at one end and worship at the other? Well, I admit that a performance is not worship in the sense that we usually use the term. When I perform I am not doing the same thing as I am on Sunday mornings when I raise my hands to the ceiling and loose my voice to exalt the Lord. Frankly I don't think Testimony has any business doing that. In identifying ourselves as part of the Stanford a cappella community (and by performing at the a cappella fests during Admit Weekend and Orientation we very clearly place ourselves on a level with the other a cappella groups) we advertise to people that we are going to entertain them. I doubt very strongly that anybody comes to a Testimony concert looking for answers to spiritual questions; if I had a spiritual question I'd go to someone I trusted, or a pastor, or a fellowship, or any place where people dialogue. Certainly not a concert. I would argue that people come to our shows for two reasons, and two reasons only: either out of loyalty to their friends, or because they expect to have a good time (or both). They did not come for a worship service, where they get to sing with the band on stage and be led in songs praising the Father. Frankly, I think it would be rude if we got up there and pretended like we were just going to worship God and if people wanted to watch, great. But that's hardly the only meaning of worship! Isn't it worship when we do things for the sake of loving other people (let's not even bother to talk about whatever evangelical aspects Testimony has or doesn't have!)? Or if not worship, is that not still a worthy pursuit for believers?

How does that tie into justifying professionalism? Two ways off the top of my head. One, the essence of professionalism is reliability. If you deliver a reliably good performance you offer a reliably good gift to your audience night after night, instead of making the quality of their gift dependent upon which night they happen to see your performance, or whatever personal crises are going on in your life the night you perform. Two, the professional heart is one that keeps in mind why it performs and doesn't let itself get caught up in personal gain. I'm using "professional" here as an ideal; obviously there are performers who get paid ("professionals") who don't at all embody these ideals. But who's the real performer? Those petty selfish people who think art is for them or the kind of person I just described?

This is why I want Testimony to be professional. Because in my view it is the professional performer who is actively seeking to submit his art to the service of the kingdom. I realize that most if not all members of Testimony would agree with my second point above, even if they haven't been trained to think of that as part of what it means to be professional. I wonder how many of my fellows understand why I believe it is an act of worship to seek reliability in our performances, and that is embodied in my first point.

This issue of mutual exclusivity kept coming up over the course of the day. I had a nice snuggle time with Kale in the studio, which definitely recharged me - even I get slowly drained after too much time recording, and I don't even spend most of my time doing anything related to recording itself; I generally spend most of the day (as I did today) doing Greek. That put three Testimony couples in the room (well, Kale and I don't count really, but we were snuggling, so we count for purposes of establishing an atmosphere). It occurred to me at the time that that probably made certain people feel uncomfortable (I'm not quite sure but the Wizard comes to mind as a possibility) ... but nobody said anything. So presumably they meant that as an act of love to let those of us who need our touches to get them. What are we supposed to do in that situation? Say "no, that's okay, we don't really need to snuggle" at the same time as everyone else is saying "no, really, go ahead?" I mean, somebody's got to give eventually, right?

Likewise on the way home, when Kale and I at various times started singing "Let Me Show You The Way." Rose requested that we not sing that, and actually requested that we all sing something else. I believe this is part of her recording studio cool-down ritual, her way of getting the song we just recorded out of her head so she doesn't get sick of it and can still appreciate it later. Except nobody else in the car seemed to be in the mood to sing something else. And I'm pretty sure both Kale and I felt like after recording the song we needed to actually sing it to get some closure. Singing a song a cappella for so long doesn't really count as singing the song itself. So again, we're left with a peculiar situation: either she can be nice to us and let us sing the song, or we can be nice to her and not sing the song. If Rose had offered to let us sing the song, who'd have the better claim? She didn't, so naturally we ended up not singing the song. Funny question to think about, though.

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