It Takes Two to Make Good Music!
by Major Chick Yuill –
I recently heard that the trumpet playing Wynton Marsalis would be giving a free concert to launch his latest CD. For a jazz-loving Scotsman, this was an opportunity definitely not to be missed. And that’s why a couple of Saturday’s ago I had a foretaste of heaven on the third floor of Borders bookstore in Santa Monica.
The store was full when we arrived, and I resigned myself to listening to Marsalis while looking at the backs of the people in front of me. But my wife knows how I love to be at the center of things, so she left me there while she went off to check out the situation. A few minutes later she was back and whispered, “Just follow me.” Margaret then led me round the audience and behind the musicians where she had found me a space right beside the pianist and just about eight or nine feet from Marsalis himself.
Have you ever stood that close to a great rhythm section? It’s electrifying! The beat is rock solid and seemingly relentless but still flexible and flowing. And have you ever watched a great trumpet player do his stuff? I don’t have enough adjectives. Effortless but intense; one moment so quiet you almost strain to hear, the next, strident and defiant so that you almost want to stand aside in case you get run over; the music has an inner logic that is obvious when you hear it, yet it takes you in directions you never thought possible.
But there was another bonus for me. Standing as I was behind the band, I could see the audience. They were definitely not casual listeners who just happened to be in the store that day. These were devotees of the jazz art, aficionados no less. And in their own way they contributed as much to the event as Marsalis and his fellow musicians.
You need to understand that a jazz concert is something very different from an evening of classical music. The audience doesn’t just listen; it responds, participates, encourages. So every time Marsalis did something good with the music, they roared their appreciation. And every time they did that, he took it a little further, making music that you wouldn’t believe if you hadn’t heard it. It was a superb demonstration of performer and audience making music, creating an artistic event together. And it was a perfect example of the synergy released by a gifted musician and a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable listeners.
The following day we were at the TAB for the Sunday morning service. As is customary, I could sense the enthusiasm and expectancy build up before the service began, and as Margaret and I greeted members of the congregation, they offered their usual encouraging words. “You gonna preach us a good one this morning, pastor?” someone asked me. It occurred to me that the conditions for a good sermon are not all that different from a good jazz concert. You need a preacher who lives to preach the word and a congregation who long to hear the word. One feeds off the other.
I wouldn’t dare go to the TAB unprepared. There are people who come to meet with God and to hear his message for their lives. That means I need to spend the week listening and I need to spend a reasonable proportion of a Sunday morning service telling it like it is. If I ever preach in a way that comes near to being worthy of the eternal verities of Scripture, the congregation deserve far more credit than I do. Their demand for biblical truth, clearly expounded and applied in a manner that is relevant, is the thing that makes good preaching possible.
I give two words of warning and one word of prophetic encouragement:
Woe to the preacher who does not care passionately about preaching and who does not prepare meticulously for the message; let him not be surprised if the congregation is restless or even rebellious.
And woe to the congregation who will pressurize their pastor to fill the service with anything and everything to the exclusion of the delivery of God’s word. Let them not be surprised if they are bored when it comes time for the sermon.
But let it be known that when a preacher who has heard from God and a congregation who hunger for the bread of life come together, there will be heavenly music beyond anything even Wynton Marsalis ever produced!