It’s my great honor to be a part of Spark & Echo Arts’ 2015 Artist in Residence program. I love who they are, what they have done and what they are doing. I have been very fortunate to have been associated in many ways with them over the past few years. They are passionate, supportive and honest people – allowing their artists to stretch their wings to explore scripture from a truly personal and unique standpoint wherever the artist’s spiritual perspective might be. I’ve grown tremendously in my faith and my artistry from being a part of their program, and am grateful.
When approached by S&E to work as an artist in residence this year I was excited at the possibilities of it. After some thought, I realized it was great opportunity to approach two different projects that have been ruminating in the back of my head over the past few years:
The first being a musical exploration of how the the book of John utilizes “light”.
The second would be compiling a band of high level jazz musicians within New York City that also claim Christianity as their faith grounding. With this group, the idea would be approaching music that is based upon faith ideas or scripture from a similar faith standpoint (while even within that standpoint, our personal views and thoughts of Christianity might be diverse).
My Faith Search
As I’ve grown in my own faith over the past year, I’ve realized the depth, diversity and difference within the current “Christian” world. While some see differences as threatening or challenging, I have actually approached this positively and have been quite interested in it. Just as our world and people are extremely diverse in many ways, so is the faith of Christianity. Spanning from an extreme liberal approach to an extreme conservative, people view the “holy scriptures” in such unique and different ways – while keeping Christ as the center of it in both camps. The different approaches, creeds and thoughts have in many ways inspired me to search within and connect with God in my personal journey. While I believe in Christ, and have seen how He has positively changed my life, I have been convicted to open myself up to searching out who and what Christ really is to the world and myself. I’ve found it to be a bit more complicated than just reciting a prayer, believing a creed or faithfully accepting scripture alone. I’ve found myself on a personal and real faith search – a place where I believe we all should be; continually growing and searching in our faith in discovering who God is. I have a sense that his year and this project will be a pivotal moment in that search for me.
I have found one of the best ways for me to personally explore and grow in my faith comes through music composition. I find the time to be, in a sense, my prayer and meditation time allowing me to a way to personally explore what scripture is saying uniquely, which to me is more productive and personal than just reading and processing it within. One major method teachers use to test comprehension is having a student teach another student the concept (yes, I do have a music education degree!). When I must express it through my musical writing, I feel it’s similar to the way a student might learn through teaching another student a concept. I find myself having to sift through the deeper concepts, allowing the scripture to ruminate within and making real world decisions about it. I usually come out the other end inspired, thoughtful and greatly changed.
The phrase “The Light in the Darkness” has always stuck out to me in the book of John, taken specifically from John 1:5 (The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.) Over the past few years I’ve been considering the idea of a “musical study” of how the book of John uses light as a theme throughout. After S&E approached me for the residency, I knew the time had come. I’ve chosen the following scriptures to focus on:
Light is used in different ways throughout these specific scriptures. Many of them controversially interpreted depending on “which side of the fence” one theologically stands. Either way, the light almost always speaks of Jesus, his power and his greatness. I look forward to studying, searching and exploring these scriptures. My overall plan is to produce an hour-long composition/suite to be performed live and potentially professionally recorded.
Search Party (The Band)
For nearly two years now I’ve had a vision in the back of my mind of initiating a band of not only fantastic jazz musicians, but ones who also claim Christianity as being their faith foundation. As you can imagine from my faith search description above, I want honest, diverse and truthfully searching musicians. My definition of “Christian” has no specific theological necessity, just that the members claim to be a “Christian” (whatever that might mean to the individual is personal, as I’ve found it means different things to different people). From there though, we can at least be coming from a similar foundation and point. The plan for the group is to approach music that is based on faith and upon scripture, and to grow both in our faith and personally together. The definition of a Search Party is “A group of people organized to look for someone or something that is lost.” This is my definition of Search Party as it relates to this band: “A group of like minded musicians, searching for a deeper faith understanding within the music and personally.” I’m not searching for a specific goal, but for specific growth – both musically and faithfully, through the vehicle I am so familiar with: music. I’m very excited and truly honored to have tentatively secured the Search Party Band to include the following musicians (all of them being some of the top in their musical field): pianist, Jon Cowherd; bassist, Ike Sturm; Drummer, Jaimeo Brown and vocalist, Ashley Daneman.
The End Product
While I hope to maintain and continue this band as one of my ongoing projects, for the residency specifically, my plan is to write a full composition/suite of music (around an hour at length) based upon the chosen scriptures. My plan is to debut this at a musical venue within New York City around November/December 2015 (location to be announced) and potentially record the music professional
ly around the same time, if the funding and opportunity becomes available. In addition to the performance, I do hope to couple it with an open discussion/talk about my process and what I have taken from my “Search” through the process. It will be open and geared to the public and for all faiths, not just Christians.
See Benje’s previous work with us here.