Ora labora

The church musician part of me has been in overdrive this week, gearing up for Advent, which starts Sunday. I’d be the first to admit I’m a fairly unlikely church musician, all the more so since what I get less of a charge out of the spiritual effects of music than its more complicated, fallible human side. I’ve rationalized this into a virtue: my job (I tell myself) is to make sure the music is performed as well as it possibly can be—if I take care of the nuts-and-bolts end of the music, it provides the opportunity for the spiritual end to happen on its own. (I wouldn’t claim any advantage for this approach; I’ve seen music directors who do the exact opposite, and it works just fine.)

An unfortunate combination of insomnia and the necessity of a lot of driving this week led me to throw a few gospel CDs in to the car; they do a good job of keeping me awake, and having some lady shout at me that Jesus died for my sins tends to make instances of road rage too ironic to perpetuate. Anyway, as of this week, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is now my favorite gospel singer ever. Here she is doing what she did best.

Why does this little detail move me so much? It’s a reminder that Tharpe was a pro first and foremost, and that in order to get at the spiritual aspect of music, there’s an awful lot of worldly work that has to be done first. That’s the work I love. Is it going to save my soul? Probably not. But if I can ever make it look as effortless as Sister Rosetta, it might save somebody else’s.


  1. Wasn’t the first clip you posted featured briefly in the Jeunet flick Amelie, in one of the montages that Amelie gives to her fragile neighbor?

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