I never enjoyed myself so much in an orchestra hall than I did in early December when both the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra and the Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra shared the stage. In one sense they did not play together; each ensemble played their pieces separately (at least before intermission when I had to leave). They did play together in another sense, however, because they were playful with each other.
The symphony orchestra would play a classical piece, and then the jazz orchestra played the same piece but with a jazz arrangement. The conductors, Nobu Yasuda for the symphony and Bruce Hering for the jazz, teased each other throughout about the flaws in the other’s performance. After conducting Beethoven’s Fifth, Nobu warned Bruce, “Beethoven was German. What he wrote was very clear. Da da da daaaa. There is no room for swing!” Bruce noted that the symphony played Beethoven quite well, except for the part when everything just fell apart. “Thank heaven for the oboe player who kept playing when everyone else stopped!” Later, Nobu noted that Mozart wrote perfectly — just the right amount of notes. Then, after the jazz orchestra played Mozart to a Latin beat full of improvisation, he came out from side stage shaking a notepad and blowing a police whistle and proceeded to give Bruce a ticket for using “too many notes.”
It was a joyful and inspiring performance. On stage were opposites. While the jazz orchestra was playing, the players themselves and the audience with them were bobbing their heads and tapping their feet, while the symphony musicians, almost all, sat stoically still with their bows or instruments propped neatly on their thighs. When it was the symphony’s turn to play, the jazz musicians kept bobbing their heads, tapping their feet and smiling. The music and the personalities were clearly different. Yet, these two ensembles enjoyed the stage together and the concert was better because of their difference. There was, as we like to say in the Church world, “unity in diversity.”
I left the performance feeling light as air. I think it was because it offered sweet relief from the tension I often feel when considering all the conflict in our society. Questions of economic justice, immigration, sexual ethics, guns and many other life issues seems to divide the body politic in half with increasing hostility on both sides. After hearing that concert, something deep inside me had gained hope that people could be different and think differently and still get along.
I so often think of President Reagan’s practice of having his political enemies over to the White House for drinks in the evening because “There are no enemies after six o’clock.” I would love for that spirit to increase in my heart and in our world. People who belong to churches know that we promote moral principles with political implications. There are lines we cannot cross, but there are also bridges to be built. Can we find a way to fight hard for what we believe is right, while still at the end of the day be at peace with those who opposed us during the day? It takes a mature soul to see the common precious and vulnerable humanity in people who made us angry two hours earlier, and yet it is true that we are simply people with different backgrounds, all needing love and all trying to do what is right.
One of the most beautiful parts of Sunday worship for me in my church is when it comes time to share Communion. Churches, you may have heard, can be places of conflict and division. There can be everything from intense doctrinal disputes to even more hard feelings over who left the dirty dishes in the common area. And all pastors know that any suggestions of change will make some people angry. Monday will come and we will engage the challenges of being different, but on Sundays, at Communion time, when all come to share of the one bread and one cup, none of that matters. What matters is that we all need God and God is reaching down to feed us. That’s why I leave church feeling light as air.
The Rev. Tom Krieg is pastor at St. James the Greater Catholic Church, Eau Claire.