The following is, I guess, a “humble brag.” I apologize in advance.
I’ve been told that I’m a virtuoso on the guitar. I generally play by myself, and occasionally — when not dodging bullets, bombs, slings and arrows — with a few others. Generally for crowds of three or four or seven. I can play in any ensemble, comprised of just about any combination of instruments, and have a great time, and also contribute to the betterment of the music.
Some have told me I’m the best guitarist they’ve ever heard, at which point I tell them they haven’t heard Tommy Emmanuel, or Stochelo Rosenberg, or Joscho Stephan, or Frank Vignola, or Vinny Raniolo, or Frank Varela, or my recently deceased, and much, much lamented friend Greg Dobrov. Or Martin Tallstrom, or Lawson Rollins, or any of countless others. All of whom are, or were, much better than I. The point. I’m, pretty good. I know a thing or two about the guitar and music.
I know classical music encyclopedically — from a spectator’s point of view — and have the well-worn CD’s to prove the point. I know music. I know, and play, jazz, classical, pop, Russian folk, Italian folk, flamenco, gypsy jazz, Irish folk and a bunch of other genres I can’t even call to mind at this moment. The point: I know so much about music that I feel as though I have a good grasp of how little I know about music. (I’d be thoroughly thrilled to be proven wrong on this score!)
And I still can’t get past performances like this one (Oh, Happy Day!) and this one (Hallelujah) and this one (Amen). One sees the affluent crowd and imagines that maybe, just maybe, the great performances by these non-classical performers are giving them some real, unvarnished truth. Nothing sophisticated. Nothing complex. Just wall-to-wall-to-wall-to-wall energy and fun, and… These singers are the Harlem Gospel Choir, and they’re singing their praises and thanks to Jesus Christ.
If at 1:55 in this one, you’re not knocked to your knees by the glorious bass of this spectacular singer, then you need to check yourself for human-ness. Are you possibly an oyster? Not possible. An oyster would be up and shouting, “Amen!” in his little oyster bed, at the top of his little oyster lungs.
One imagines that the wealthy, comfortable, well-groomed crowds in the videos, the ones utterly transported by the music and the singers, are also getting a teentsy, weentsy bit of a hint that maybe the singers’ enthusiasm and talent are actually devoted to The One who came to save us all from our sins, and to show us the way to everlasting life and eternal happiness. Maybe they too will find themselves transported to the better place to which He calls us… as the singers are. Maybe, in other words, there’s something big, mind-bending and soul-refreshing, life-lifting and heart-healing there, behind all this sheer, unrestrained joy that pervades every second of these worship songs.
If you watch the video (reminder: this one) — and if you allow yourself a few moments into it, you will — you’ll see a bunch of dignified, yuppie-looking, or upper-middle class, middle-management types and executives, people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a baseball cap on backward, or voting Republican, acting like giddy schoolkids as they sing at the tops of their lungs old Negro Christian spirituals and hymns that normally raise the roofs in Southern black churches.
At 2:40: “Glory halleluja, sing! All the praises to You, Lord! Praise You in the evening! … Amen, amen, amen!” But, it’s not just the words… it’s how they’re flung joyously and raucously, to the heavens.
Then at 3:10 the mind-blowingly spectacular bass comes back in, only this time in the background. At 3:45, a beautiful woman’s voice decalcifies your spinal column, and she finishes it all, and you, off at 4:10 with a note that will cause you to question all that you previously believed.
Okay, okay, okay… I might have indulged in just a tiny bit of hyperbole, but I love this stuff!!!
It’s not sophisticated, or complex, or overly nuanced, or particularly refined. It’s more raucous, visceral, throaty, celebratory… more “belting.”
I’ve played it over and over and over again — loud — from beginning to end. And it’s possibly even more fun to watch than to listen to! There are many, many, many thoroughly LOL-producing moments as you watch what seems like a thoroughly stuffed-shirt-wine-and-cheese crowd shed its inhibitions, as a shaggy dogs sheds water.
You do know how a shaggy dog sheds water, don’t you?
This is living! Amen! And Hallelujah!