Season after Pentecost, 2023
There is a surprising passage in recently published book Slow Church that ties together improvisation, Tina Fey, N. T. Wright, the Rev. Sam Wells and the Church, which is just marvelous.
Readers of the Blog at Sinden.org know that we are somewhat preoccupied with the notion of improvisation from a musical perspective, yet we concede that actors also improvise.
Musicians and actors alike can surely relate to the Slow Church authors' statement about improvisation "one can never tell the turns it will take or where it will end up".
Also useful for musicians are Tina Fey's rules for improvisation in her memoir Bossypants, paraphrased by the authors.
The authors then couple this to N. T. Wright's history of creation as a drama in five acts (from his Scripture and the Authority of God).
The five acts are
"The implications," write the authors of Slow Church, "are profound, if for no other reason that it undermines our cultural impulse to be consumers and spectators rather than faithful participants in the unwritten fifth act of God's play."
Then follows a characteristically obtuse quotation from Wright about continuity with previous acts, but also that "such continuity also implies discontinuity, a moment where genuinely new things can and do happen."
I have to say that I am particularly drawn to this idea of implied discontinuity. And I think this may be the kernel of what makes good art. If something is totally expected it isn't art, it's muzak.
Rant Especially for Organists: Just think of the endless heap of vapid hymn preludes with which organists and -- sadly -- congregations are familiar. You know the type. They're published by Augsburg Fortress or someone like that. They don't say anything. They don't innovate. Full of parallel sixths. Most organists could improvise something more interesting. They're just background noise for the liturgy. Background noise with a comfortable, recognizable tune. Is this art? Is this the best we can do? Is this really worthy of our worship? Okay, rant over.
After this, we must concede the usefulness of seeing improvisation from a theatrical perspective. The authors quote Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by the Rev. Sam Wells.
Improvisation in the theatre is a practice through which actors develop trust in themselves and one another in order that they may conduct unscripted dramas without fear.
The Church as "a community of trust"; "learning to improvise the scriptural plotline".
We are the actors – and musicians, for music always has a role in good drama – creating the Fifth Act: The Church.
No wonder that
Apple ad line from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society resonates with us.
". . . that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."
"What will your verse be?"
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