a most serious matter facing General Convention
I face a great dilimma at General Convention this year, and I hope via this blog to conduct a churchwide conversation to assist discernment.
As some of you know, at last GC I borrowed a travel electric guitar and performed a composition with original lyrics. The song's title was "I Will Survive (General Convention)." I am told that it was most inspiring. I can only thank our Creator and the angels for working through me to encourage the saints in this way.
I have been asked to do at least one other such song at this convention. Thus far, contenders include:
- "(You Say You Want a) Resolution"
- "Changes" (to the tune of David Bowie's great song; this one would have to be about TEC structure)
- "Episcopalians" (to the tune of Bowie's "Young Americans")
- "The Ones Who Sold the Church" (to the Bowie/Nirvana tune -- I think this one's probably too edgy)
- "Smells Like [something -- Sweet Incense?]" (I'm clearly on a Nirvana kick)
- "Tridium" (to the tune of Nirvana's "Lithium")
- "500 Miles" (the Proclaimers' song on the Shrek soundtrack -- a tribute to how much we have to walk at GC)
My instrument this year is a "mandobird" -- an electric mandolin designed like a Gibson Firebird guitar:
... and the mandolin is a particularly appropriate instrument for when I sing the Indigo Girls "Ozilline" as a tribute to Miss Lydia Wilkins of Pasadena, CA, who died two months' short of her 107th birthday in 2010 -- and who I can say from personal witness looked WAY better in my black leather motorcycle jacket than I did. My love to the whole Tatum-Harris clan.
But for the General Convention song(s), do any of the above stand out? Any other suggestions? I can easily make the mandobird sound like an electric guitar with effects, so the possibilities are staggering. Since I've only played mandolin for a few weeks, though, it probably should be too musically complex. (I told my committee chairs that our music for worship could not, unfortunately, include St. Patrick's Breastplate.)
Larry Mullen, Jr. @ Gillette Stadium, 09-24-09
For a high-res version or permission to use, email me.
getting the most out of rock concerts
For a high-res version or permission to use any photos, as ever, just email me.
A Facebook friend asked me if I had any hints about getting the most out of the U2 concert he's going to with his daughter. My reply was a little long for a Facebook comment and I thought others might have similar questions, so I thought I'd answer here. I don't think there are special rules for getting the most out of a U2 concert as opposed to other bands, so here are my ten commandments for maximal enjoyment of rock concerts:
1) BRING EARPLUGS. This is VERY important. Rock concerts, whether in s stadium or a small club, are always, in my experience, loud enough to damage hearing. EVERY exposure to high volumes like that damages your hearing at least a little bit. There are all kinds of other experiences in daily life (e.g., boarding an airplane outdoors on an airfield where other jets are taking off) that damage your hearing too, and for which you won't have earplugs. All of these pile on as you age, so if you go to a concert without earplugs or if you choose not to use them once you're there, make sure the inevitable if small permanent hearing loss is worth it to you.
Not all earplugs are created equal, though. I use these:
These are re-useable earplugs that block out all unsafe frequencies relatively evenly, so you can still hear music well but won't damage your hearing. As a bonus, they actually make it easier to hear speech amidst loud noise in the environment, so it's easier to conduct conversations with someone in a loud bar or concert.
Whatever you do, though, do NOT take a child to a rock concert without earplugs. S/he may find the concert physically painful and s/he WILL permanently lose some hearing otherwise.
2) Try to get to know the artist's newest material AND greatest hits catalog. If you're seeing a currently recording artist, the concert is promoting sales of the new album, and in most cases you can expect a lot of material from it. I appreciate live material more if I know the recorded version, in which case I'll find myself saying things like, "Cool -- I wouldn't have thought this would work so well acoustic," "This song really feels different as a crowd singalong," or, in the case of U2's 360 tour, "WOW -- I can't believe they're doing 'I'll Go Crazy ...' this way live." Incidentally, I think "I'll Go Crazy ..." on U2's current tour should involve pulling someone out of the crowd to play cowbell. :) But I digress.
3) Know the venue's/band's rules, and be kind to security personnel. I've seen a number of people have to choose at the gate whether to miss a good chunk of the concert (or even the whole thing) or abandon a beloved or expensive bag/camera/etc. Make the security folks' jobs as easy as possible by having bags (if allowed) open for search when you reach the front of the line, and you'll get through more quickly. Don't argue with a security offer if s/he tells you something isn't allowed; it'll hold everybody up (you most of all), and it's highly unlikely that you'll change his/her mind in front of the crowd. If you're asked to discard something you know IS allowed and that you've got your heart set on bringing in (e.g., a handheld recorder for a band that allows recording bootlegs), then leave the line and go in by a different one if possible. And if it's an item allowed by the band but not by the venue (e.g., recording equipment or cameras), call the venue well before the concert (as in the previous week) to ask about it, get the name of the person who says it's OK, or, for small items, know that you might have to conceal it in a spot you won't be patted down. And understand that security personnel are there mostly for YOUR security. They get paid rotten wages and get a lot of grief from crowds (and sometimes artists as well). Be good to them, and they'll be good to you.
4) For a stadium or arena show and if the venue's rules allow, bring water and nutritious snacks. Many venues won't allow outside food/beverages, so don't bring a water bottle or tin of caviar you wouldn't be willing to discard. Many venues won't let you bring in a water bottle unless you discard the cap, as a full water bottle can cause injury if thrown (and some people are jerks who will actually do that, even to the artist). I recommend bringing one of those landfill-clogging store-bought bottles of water, so you won't be upset if you have to discard it entirely, asking security personnel when you arrive whether it must be sealed or you must discard the cap, and then doing what they say (at least removing and pocketing the cap if you don't want to discard it and are supposed to). At the concert, food and water will be ridiculously overpriced and you'll have to wait in long lines for it, and it's miserable to be dying of thirst (hydration is particularly important if you're yelling, singing along, and/or spending hours in the sun) or for nutritious food when you've got at least a couple of hours of music and an hour of sitting in traffic to go. Definitely leave water and food in your car too, if you're driving.
4) Do unto your fellow fans as you'd want them to do unto you. Don't cut in line. Do be friendly; talk with people in line, and if you've brought snacks and such, offer to share them if practical. Don't hold up children, people, signs, and such that block their view -- or at least not checking with them first and, if it's going to be for a while, checking with them periodically to make sure it's still OK. If there's something you'd like them to do (e.g., help you get a setlist, hold your place while you step away for a few minutes, tolerate something that will obstruct their view, trade places), say 'please' and ask if there's anything you can do in return. And if someone's being a jerk, don't immediately do likewise; tell them what's bothering you (e.g., "you're landing on my foot when you jump up and down and it hurts a lot") and ask them very nicely to stop or be more careful. Understand that people WILL yell, sing along, stand up, dance, and whatnot; it's a concert, and you probably won't get a perfect bootleg or photo unless you can plug into the sound board or get media credentials. If you're taking pictures or recording the sound, reconcile yourself to the fact that you're recording the experience of the concert from where you are, and it's not a studio.
5) Do unto artists and crew members as you'd want them to do unto you if you were in their shoes. Flashbulbs can be annoying and distracting, and they make concert photos worse, not better. Screaming stuff during quiet passages in songs can be annoying and distracting, and doesn't communicate love for the music (it suggests the opposite). Know that crew members love to be appreciated (by name especially), and have work to do other than fetching you setlists and picks. Do NOT throw flags, stuffed animals, and whatnot on stage or at artists. If they see it and it's something they want and can safely accept, hold up, or whatnot, they'll beckon it up. Crew members who are happy distribute more goodies. Crew members who can do their jobs with minimal distraction provide concerts without sound problems. Artists who are happy with the audience are more likely to stay on longer, perform better, and interact more with the crowd. Make sure your demonstrations of fandom demonstrate respect for these people's work.
6) If you're not allergic to "spoilers" and you do have some choice as to where you sit/stand, ask people who have seen earlier shows on the tour if anything special and choreographed happens in the show. Then you can choose reserved seats or, for a general admission show, choose a spot with a good view of special moments. Places where equipment will have to be set up during a show will usually be marked with gaffer's tape. Places where band members will spend lots of time on a stage or b-stage will often have a set list or lyrics to a song taped down there ahead of time. Techs will often sound check equipment in spots on stage where performers will be. And places where artists will go into the audience or pull folks out of the audience will often have a small step or ladder set up near the rail in that spot.
If you want to be close to this:
If you wanted to be in front of the snare for "Love and Peace Or Else" ...
If you wanted to be serenaded with an acoustic version of "Walk On," you'd just look for the lyrics you can see taped to the edge of the b-stage in the photo below:
7) Dress in layers, look at the weather forecast, and don't wear anything you'd particularly be upset to get a beer spilled on. I am horribly unfashionable at outdoor rock concerts. I tend to wear clothes I'd go kayaking in (well, kayaking on a quiet river with no Eskimo rolls anticipated). I hate being cold, participating in an impromptu wet t-shirt contest if it rains, or standing around in soggy socks if someone spills a beer on my feet. Athletic shirts and fleeces that aren't bulky and wick moisture are comfy. And if you're going or meeting up with others, it can be nice to wear something bright or distinctive, or at least a brightly-colored banadana or something you can wave overhead. Remember that it's a lot warmer in a big crowd than at a dinner party in the same space. And don't count on bringing in an umbrella; lots of venues don't allow them and some of those don't have any place where you can check them for the show.
8) If driving to a stadium or arena show, park as close as you're allowed to an exit, and back into the space if allowed. You'll get out of the parking lot much faster. Or, if you don't need the sleep, have some folding chairs and a cooler with some classy food and beverages (I like sparkling water with a bit of juice) in the trunk, and just hang out and relax after the concert until traffic disperses.
9) Perhaps most importantly: roll with whatever's going on. Fuming at traffic will not get you there or home faster. Fuming at other people's misbehavior almost never makes them stop (at least, in my experience talking nicely with them will work if anything will). Enjoy surprises, and, while making requests is fine, accept the what the artist plays as an expression of what the artist wanted to share with you. Be happy for the folks who get a moment on stage, and don't spend the whole show trying to compete to be one of them.
10) Thou shalt have fun! That's what it's all about: celebrating the music together. Rock and roll is chaotic, and it's ALL -- the crowd, the flubs, the favorites, and the surprises -- part of the show.
U2 @ Gilette Stadium, Foxborough, MA 09-21-09
I was also directly in front of Edge on September 21 for U2's first night at Gillette Stadum in Foxborough, MA, on this tour. I think I'll post more about it later, but wanted to get some photos up now. You can see lots more photos here, but for now, here's a preview:
the Hancock UCC U2charist - televised!
As y'all know, on Tuesday evening I played lead guitar and did the vocals alongside drummer Elisa Lucozzi and bassist Roseanne Hebert at Hancock UCC in Lexington for a U2charist with entirely live music.
I didn't know until shortly before the start of the prelude, though, that the service was to be televised (on local cable) and recorded to DVD. *Gulp!* And on my first public outing as a lead guitarist too -- which I was trying to do while also doing lead vocals!
There were some additional challenges as well. Various technical issues meant that I didn't have a vocal monitor as such; we were using our monitors as a P.A. system to project the vocals and drums into the congregation. Even my guitar amps were angled primarily for the congregation to hear; the direct sound out from the amp hit me at about knee level. Guitar cut out during "Sunday Bloody Sunday." My microphone cut out during "Walk On." I missed a chord or two, I'm pretty sure.
In other words, it was rock and roll! I reminded the perfectionist part of me that U2 themselves often have things go awry, and sometimes (e.g., Bono's unplanned and very lengthy plunge into the audience during "Bad" at the original Live Aid concert at Wembley) the Spirit's worked powerfully through it.
I'm still not entirely sure I'm going to watch the DVD. I'd rather judge the evening by what I saw of the congregation's experience of it than by a recording. And by what I saw in the congregation, it was a very, very good night. A packed house pledged their voices to the ONE campaign and gave generously to Oxfam for relief of extreme poverty, and by the end of the evening, I don't think there was a single person in the congregation who wasn't on their feet and singing their heart out.
I'll be posting more about the experience and what I learned from it (yes, I've been doing U2charists for almost five years now, and I'm still learning!) at the U2charist resources page.
good evening and a familiar tune
Pat Michaels, who does the music for chapel at EDS, had a brilliant idea this year: an evening of sung arrangements of Psalm 23. They ranged from Haitian (in Creole, thanks to a cantor who knew it; the rest of us bumbled along as best we could on the refrain) to Bobby McFerrin to Anglican chant to African American spiritual.
And there was one arrangement of Psalm 23 by Howard Goodall. It's one you can hear on this CD, but you can also hear it every time the opening credits of an episode of The Vicar of Dibley. I love that psalm arrangement, which was actually written as the theme song for the series. It's got a wonderful center section you don't hear from the Dibley opening credits, and the whole thing is just gorgeous -- simple and beautiful.
And I sang the soprano solo. It's just three brief passages, none in a particularly high or low range, but I was still a bit nervous -- I really wanted to do it justice, and I wasn't feeling in full voice. People tell me it was good.
I've only recently begun to sing things like this -- or like "Great Day," with its high b-flat I blogged about last week. I came to seminary thinking that I was an alto -- on the low side of alto at that -- and an alto whose voice was suitable for rock, blues, punk, and maybe a bit of folk (people compared me to Michelle Shocked and Amy Ray a lot). I thought my vocal range at best was pretty much the same as Bono's.
Singing in the EDS chapel choir, and with the encouragement of its director, I discovered that I'm actually a soprano. And with more encouragement, I started to find out that I could sing things not accompanied by an electric guitar, and sing them in public, and people wouldn't run screaming from the room. He encouraged me to take voice lessons, and I did, from an amazing teacher, for a few months.
I still have no real idea of what I sound like when I'm singing anything usually sung by people with classical training. I've heard recordings of my singing rock and folk and whatnot, though I have generally gone to great lengths to avoid hearing recordings of my gigs. But I haven't been recorded singing in chapel, or singing since I've had voice lessons. I've though of recording myself, but my building is just too noisy for it, EDS housing policy prohibits music rehearsal without the explicit consent of all neighbors, and maybe I just haven't had the courage.
So I know what it feels like when I sing that way. I know how my face, head, and body feel when I'm singing the way my voice teacher said was using the resonant spaces that I didn't know I had before I started singing at seminary. But I don't know what it sounds like.
I should try to find a way to hear it sometime. I do love singing!
U2charist (with all live music!) @ Hancock UCC, March 4
I'll be singing and playing guitar alongside Elisa Lucozzi, drummer extraodinaire, at a U2charist at Hancock (Massachusetts) UCC on the evening of March 4th. If you're in the area and would like to experience a U2charist with live music -- or to see how you can do a U2charist with entirely live music when you've only got two musicians -- please save the date! We're planning a session in the early evening at which anyone who wants to come to the service but isn't familiar with U2's music can learn songs we'll be singing, then have a break for my voice and Elisa's hands to recover, and then the service will start. I'll announce the exact times soon.
Blessings, and I hope to see some SarahLaughed.net readers there!
For more info on the U2charist, check out the U2charist resources page.
lived to tell
Well, I can say definitively now that I have sung a high b-flat in public and lived to tell the tale. Furthermore, I can say that none of the hearers were driven to madness or violence by the experience.
Actually, folks seemed to think it was quite good, and while at first I suspected that everyone was just being nice, I discovered over the course of the reception after the lecture that quite a few of them were telling people who are NOT me that it was good. I hadn't noticed when I was singing that the (totally fabulous) voice teacher from whom I took lessons this summer was in the audience, but when I sat down afterward I saw her a couple of rows in front of me -- and I was immediately mortified. I'm not a perfectionist, as people who know me know very well, but for some reason music brings out the perfectionist in me. I hear anything even remotely out of tune like nails on a chalkboard, and I'd know I'd slid into some notes. And my tone ... I just had no idea what that was like -- somewhere between yowling cat and quite good, but I didn't really know where. So it was a great relief when my voice teacher said convincingly that it was good, and also when my partner -- who always tells the truth about such things (she has said things like, "well, that wasn't your best sermon" or "you seemed really nervous") -- said that it sounded good, and she was sitting all the way in the back (as was my voice teacher, come to think of it).
I do think I could have done better with more voice lessons. I miss the lessons, and hope to be able to get back to them someday.
But hey -- I stuck my neck out and sang something I wasn't totally sure I could do in front of a big group of people, and I'm kinda proud of having done that much. Maybe that's more important in some ways than exactly what it sounded like. Maybe that's why people refer to time in seminary as important formation.
And the important formation continues tomorrow in a different vein -- I'm working for much of the day as an instructor-in-training for IMPACT Boston, leading pieces of a workshop for teenager. Similar experiences, in some ways: singing and IMPACT are both about discovering the power of stance and voice and using one's whole body.
Tomorrow evening EDS is hosting the Absolom Jones lecture. As I blogged a while ago, EDS tried something new this year at the annual lecture in honor of lecture: they added music (namely, a piece I'd written in honor of Jonathan Daniels and designed for congregational singing called "No Greater Love"). It worked well enough that EDS decided to add music for the Absolom Jones lecture, which is tonight.
Tonight, the music is a spiritual called "Great Day," in an arrangement for a choir and soprano soloist. Last time I heard the piece performed, the soloist was the absolutely amazing voice teacher who gave me lessons over the summer. I had to give them up the voice lessons, alas -- just didn't have the money -- but she did wonders for my tone and range in speaking as well as singing. I'd entered EDS thinking of myself as an alto, and the (also wonderful) choirmaster here after listening to me for a while suggested that I try soprano, which I've sung ever since. And in voice lessons, I even managed to sing a high b-flat once.
Well, the solo for "Great Day" has at its climax a nice, long (whole note with fermata) high b-flat. I haven't practiced it other than driving in my car and in two rehearsals we've had for the song, lest by singing it in my apartment I cause our neighbors' dogs to go mad and attack their owners or something -- at that pitch, and at this point in my vocal training (and lack thereof), I either have to sing at full volume or no air escapes my throat, and while my immediate neighbors graciously said they had no problem with my practicing the part at home, I just couldn't bring myself to inflict that on them. So I'm a little nervous. Can you tell?
But it was pretty much OK in rehearsal this morning, I've got one more rehearsal this evening, and I think I will be able to sing the part without sounding like a dying cat. PeaceBang deserves more than a series of UU Blogging awards (she's deservedly up for quite a few -- vote for her!); she deserves a medal for her counsel to "snarf your sinus troubles away," which prompted my honey and me to get ourselves neti pots, which let one clean one's sinuses and nose with a saline solution. It's amazing how much more those spaces in a singer's head provide resonance when they're not plagued by winter dryness and filled with crud. And it's certainly more healthy to use a neti pot to clear things out from a cold or allergies than it is to take drugs or use sprays that dry out nasal passages. So hurrah for PeaceBang, and hurrah for neti pots!
So, gentle readers, please send good vibes or anything else you might think would benefit a singer at 7:00 p.m., when I will face that high b-flat, and I hope I'll sing it in a way that honors Absolom Jones and EDS's guests for the occasion.
I had a fun surprise last night -- an invitation to preview the new movie U2 3D. Spoiler alert: I'll be telling you how it ends. On the other hand, that might not be so important for a concert film.
U2 fans will absolutely LOVE this movie. I have stood at the feet of all four band members at various points (yes, including Larry -- I was in the very front row on the floor and directly in front of his mini-kit for "Love and Peace Or Else" when I saw U2 in DC). U2 fans know that if you're lucky enough to get tickets for the floor at a U2 concert, you're going to have to make some decisions. In front of Bono, Edge, or Adam, all of whom roam the stage, but have a particular spot to which they keep returning? If you're lucky enough to get into the 'heart' or 'ellipse' that forms a B-stage, are you going to try to be in the very front, knowing that you'll be closer to the band more of the time (being close enough to shout requests -- which they do take sometimes -- or converse a little is VERY fun), but might not be able to see them at all when they roam out on the B-stage?
In U2 in 3D, you don't have to decide; the camera roams. If you want to know the condition of Bono's roots (I'd advise him to lay off the hair dye and stick with his current crew cut) or Edge's pores (best skin in the band, I think), you'll be in heaven. The drawback, of course, is that you don't get to choose on whom you'll focus at a given moment; the director chooses for you. And the director isn't a guitarist, I'll wager; when the camera shows The Edge, there's usually light behind him or something about the angle that prevents you from seeing what he's actually playing. But that's the complaint of a guitar geek, and more often than not, I thought the director's visual choices were solid ones.
The musical choices I would have made differently. For starters, the film in 90 minutes long -- much shorter than a U2 concert. There's no "City of Blinding Lights," which opened most shows on the tour, and that I thought nearly recaptured the exuberance of 80's shows opening with "I Will Follow." "Mysterious Ways" got cut, I believe, as did "Elevation." And one of the most fun things about the Vertigo tour was how many old and seldom-played songs came out again to play -- I particularly loved being there for performances of "The Ocean" and "Cry/The Electric Co.," and I would have loved the chance to see U2 perform "Gloria" and "40" again in the film. But the technical demands and expense of the 3D technology made a longer movie impractical, as I understand it, and the bottom line is that this movie is a blast.
I admit I was wary of the 3D technology; the last time I think I saw something in 3D was from the children's magazine Dynamite, with cheesy glasses, one lens red and one blue, that you tore out of the magazine. The technology is MUCH better than that, as you'd expect, and the 3D contributed to the experience in ways I wouldn't have expected. There were a couple of 3D moments that felt a bit gratuitous -- I don't think I needed to have the neck of Adam's bass zoom out at my face quite as often as I found myself, and watching a 65-foot Bono reach out his hand toward me made me feel a bit like Fay Wray in King Kong, about to be carried up the Empire State Building by a gigantic rock star. And it's annoying enough in an actual concert when someone climbs up on another person's shoulders in front of you; I was even more annoyed in the few (and, thankfully, fleeting) moments when the 3D technology was used to replicate that experience in the film. But the 3D helped to convey the scale and energy of the arena in zooming shots over the crowd, and there's something about it that helped also to convey the chemistry between the band members -- how they communicate and joke around with one another during songs. And the technology was used to great effect during "The Fly," when the words and slogans that flash across screens in concerts drop down or zoom out at you in layers.
The best part of the technology, though, in my experience was the sound. The total surround sound of the IMAX theater made watching the movie feel like being at a concert, but with MUCH higher-fidelity music. The treble is crisp, so Larry's cymbals and even the subtle 'chink' sound of The Edge's trademark guitar picks (dimpled Herdim picks played with the flat end down, creating a percussive sound) came across with astonishing clarity. The bass rumbled impressively, and was brought forward in the mix particularly when the camera was on Adam, and it was the kind of rich bass you feel in your sternum. It felt loud in the ways you want a rock concert to feel loud, but with far fewer decibels; all but the most sensitive should be able to leave the earplugs at home (something that, as a musician, I NEVER do for a concert, and especially when I'm up front in an arena or stadium).
And the performances in U2 3D are classic U2 -- occasionally dramatic to the point of being maudlin or bludgeoning a metaphor, but earnest and moving. Bono's voice isn't what it used to be, but he knows how to use what he's got. The Edge's bluesy solo on "Bullet the Blue Sky" remains one of my favorites of his career. The rhythm section is tight (and Larry fans will rejoice to see lots of his bulging biceps). And this movie is about the music -- Bono doesn't preach more than a couple of sentences at a time between songs, and, interestingly enough, the ONE/Make Poverty History campaign aren't even fleetingly mentioned.
It's possible that politics (even politics with as diverse support as the Millennium Development Goals attract) were minimized in the film to maximize the opportunity posed by U2 3D to win new fans -- people who like U2 when they hear them on the radio, but who would never shell out the money and go through the traffic, crowds, and hassles of a live show. I doubt the film will do much of that. U2 is such a huge band that they're hard to avoid, and I think they've won most of the fans they'll have. That's an awful lot of fans, of course, and now fans of multiple generations (a LOT of parents bring children to U2 concerts, and in many cases, the kids know all the words too). I kind of missed those fans at the movie last night; the preview crowd was a very small one, and it looked to me mostly like executive types (grey hair, arriving in a suit and taking off their tie as they settled into their seats). The cheering and singing along was, I think, all from people in Buenos Ares, where U2 3D was filmed.
But folks, this is as close you'll get to the experience of a U2 concert without going to one -- or until U2's next tour. And that's more than good enough for the fans. U2 3D is a movie I'd be tempted to see again.