About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making It Up (Music Service)

This morning, I led a music service at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The service was based around musical improvisation as a form of communication, and I also drew parallels between musical improvisation and Unitarian Universalism. The service was well received, and I owe a debt of thanks to the musicians who helped me out: Thomas Vinton, Yahya Rahmaan, and Steve Weikle.

This was my script for the service. You lose some of the "oomph" without the music, but I hope you still find the words meaningful.

MAKING IT UP (MUSIC SERVICE)
July 22, 2012

Tom Godfrey (worship leader, guitar)
Thomas Vinton (piano)
Steve Weikle (woodwinds)
Yahya Rahman (drums)
Susan Burnore (worship associate)

WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS (Susan Burnore)

PRELUDE (The Musicians)
Flippin’ Giddy (by Tom Godfrey) [an original composition]

CHALICE LIGHTING (Susan Burnore and Tom Godfrey)
The words for this morning’s chalice lighting come from Ella Fitzgerald. “Forgive me if I don’t have the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

OPENING WORDS (Tom Godfrey)
I don’t know what’s going to happen this morning. I mean, I have some words printed out, but the heart of this service is musical improvisation. I really don’t know what these other guys are going to play. I don’t know what I’M going to play. We’re just making this up!

OPENING HYMN (The Congregation)
#1003 Where to We Come From?

  • Start as regular hymn.
  • Group will then start to improvise as we phase out the hymn and have congregation sit.
  • We’ll bring in the congregation at the end, singing whichever part they want.

CANDLES OF COMMUNITY (Susan Burnore)

OFFERTORY (The Musicians)
Cutesy Blues (by Tom Godfrey)

REFLECTION (Tom Godfrey)
I love improvising. I used to be afraid to improvise. Actually, sometimes I’m still afraid to improvise, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you’ve ever been to a jam session, you know that sometimes improvisation is magical, and sometimes…it isn’t. To me, improvisation is a little like stepping off a cliff and trusting that a bridge will appear. I started out as a classical trombone player, where I was trained to play everything “exactly right.” The few times I was forced to improvise, I tended to shut down. I was so used to playing whatever I saw on the page that I didn’t know what to do if I actually had to come up with something on my own.

Back in the ‘90s, I was a trombone player in an Air Force band. It was a good job, but I developed a muscle tear in my upper lip and lost the ability to play trombone. Musically and socially, I shut down for nearly 10 years. I worked as a music copyist, but I couldn’t play the trombone, and I didn’t sing in public. A few years ago, my ex, Katherine, got tired of hearing me talking about wanting to learn to play the guitar all the time, so she bought me one. It was the best gift I’ve ever received. Playing a new instrument reignited my passion for music. Despite my classical background, I gravitated toward jazz guitar, and I eventually started learning to improvise. And I loved it! That’s not to say that I was good at it right away. I was terrible. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid to be terrible. I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. I just wanted to explore.

Now, I don’t believe in fate. I only believe in coincidence. Still, it’s an interesting coincidence that I started becoming more of a musical explorer around the same time I discovered Unitarian Universalism, which encourages spiritual exploration.

This morning, we’ll be exploring musical improvisation as a way of communicating, and I’ll even draw some similarities between improvisation and Unitarian Universalism. Lucky for you, I’m a musician and not much of a talker. I’ll just make a few points and then, like Ella said, “Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

MUSIC FOR ALL AGES (Tom Godfrey and Thomas Vinton) [This took the place of the usual children's story.]
The Blues
Does anybody know what it means to have the blues? If I say that I have the blues, it means I’m feeling a little sad. The blues is also a kind of music. It started back when we had slavery in this country. Many of the slaves had to work very hard in the fields, and they sang work songs that helped make the day go a little faster. Over time, these work songs changed into what we call the blues. Lots of times, blues songs tell a sad story. Sometimes they’ll tell a happy story, too, but usually it’s sad stories. The funny thing about singing the blues is that it can make you happy. It might seem strange that singing a sad song can make you happy. If something makes you sad or angry and you hold it inside, your bad feelings can grow and grow, but if you let them out and let someone know how you’re feeling, you can suddenly feel better. I think that singing a blues song can make you happy because singing is a way of letting the sadness out.

This morning, we’re going to sing your sad stories. Think of something that makes you sad…or happy. I’ll give you an example. You may not believe it, but I used to have a full head of hair. “I woke up this morning, all my hair went away. Woke up this morning, all my hair went away. I’m so sad and lonely, had to put my comb away.”

Now it’s your turn. What makes you sad? Mad? Happy? What’s fun? What’s boring? [We will take whatever the children give us, and Thomas Vinton will use it to improvise a blues song.] [This was one of the highlights of the service.]

MAKING IT UP (Tom Godfrey)
I think of musical improvisation as a conversation. Just as with any other worthwhile conversation, you need a common language, a willingness to listen, and some rules of engagement. A common language, a willingness to listen, and rules of engagement. Once these three things are in place, the conversation can go anywhere. In a musical conversation, there are certain rules, or at least conventions. Depending on what instruments we play, we each have a sense of what role we’ll be playing within the group. This particular bunch of musicians doesn’t play together on a regular basis. I play with Thomas and Yahya, and I’ve played with Steve, but Thomas and Yayha don’t play with Steve, and the four of us have all played together exactly one time. Despite that, there are certain assumptions or expectations that we have of each other. Let’s take the blues, for example, something we just did with the kids. The blues is such a fundamental part of American popular music that almost every musician can play a basic blues. So let’s say a rock player, a country picker, and a jazzer walk into a bar. (No, this is not a joke.) If you have them all sit down and just say, let’s play a blues in G, chances are they’re going to be able to come up with something.
[MUSICIANS PLAY ALL BLUES]

Aside from the blues, there are other musical conventions in the jazz world that we call standards. A jazz standard is simply a song that most jazz musicians know. The beauty of a jazz standard is that even though everyone has the same basic information in the form of chords and melody, we are all free to interpret the information in our own way. For example.
[MUSICIANS PLAY FLY ME TO THE MOON, swing. FLY ME TO THE MOON as a Waltz.]

Again, we are all free to interpret the information in our own way. There’s a religious parallel. People can interpret the same religious texts in radically different ways depending on what they already bring to the table or how they were raised. One Christian may use the Bible to justify a war. Another Christian may be inspired by the same book to love his neighbor, and may even extend his definition of a “neighbor” to include people from all over the world. One Muslim may use the Koran as a guide for living a peaceful, harmonious life, and another may use the same book to justify a suicide bombing. That’s about as heavy as I’m going to get today. I’m just a musician. You can reflect on religious parallels while we interpret “Fly Me to the Moon” a third way.
[MUSICIANS PLAY FLY ME TO THE MOON as a Bossa Nova]

Wynton Marsalis might be a closet UU. He said, “As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing.” Does that theme sound familiar? “You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing.”

This church has offered a class called Building Your Own Theology. Well, we’re going to build our own song. I have no idea what’s going to happen here, but whatever we play, it’ll be the result of listening to each other’s ideas, trusting each other, and building on what we hear. I’ll start off with a riff. Yahya will have to put a beat to it, while Thomas and Steve will have to figure out what key it’s in, and we’ll take it from there. We’ll step off the cliff and trust that a bridge will appear.
[MUSICIANS PLAY FREE IMPROVISATION]

We have our most meaningful musical conversations when we can establish common ground, when we listen to each other, when we work to understand each other’s ideas, and when we trust. As UUs, we have our most meaningful conversations when we can establish common ground, when we listen to each other, when we work to understand each other’s ideas, and when we trust.

Please rise in body and spirit as we sing…

CLOSING HYMN
#346 Come, Sing a Song with Me

POSTLUDE
Come, Sing a Song with Me (continues as an instrumental jam) [The postlude usually functions as exit music. We continued jamming over this hymn, letting the congregation know they were free to go to the lobby or stay and enjoy the jam. About half left and half stayed. One couple even started dancing!]

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