What is Vespers?
Trinity Vespers is a new take on an old service. Vespers was an evening service that was part of the traditional daily offices (or services) of the church. With Trinity Vespers, we let the music take the lead for our reflecting and worship; supported by prayer, scripture and a brief reflection. You might even join in a jazzy congregational hymn!
Our 2012 to 2018 seasons were Jazz Vespers. Our 2018/2019 season has seen us change our name to Trinity Vespers to allow a wider variety of groups to join in.
Variations on Jazz Vespers have been developed elsewhere, including: New York, Toronto, Vancouver; and more recently in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Example of other Jazz services:
St Andrew’s Wesley United Church in Vancouver, Canada:
Why Jazz in a Church?
Jazz is a musical tradition with strong roots in the church. In fact, jazz began to emerge in America about the same time that Pentecostalism broke out in the church. In both movements, there was an excitement, an enthusiasm, a Spirit-filled passion. Tradition was infused with the power of improvisation. The Spirit blew the breath of life, and people started to move – and to dance in the rhythm of life.
Another way to regard jazz is not only as performance art, but as a spiritual music, a religious music. It is music that originates in a person’s faith. Creative musicians make something for the benefit of people around them, and for the beauty of God. This is a way to understand a lot of the music that has been made in jazz history. There are musicians like Mary Lou Williams, or Dave Brubeck, or Duke Ellington, who composed large numbers of works with religious intent as a way of honouring God and lifting the spirits of people.
Jazz in the church is a conversation –
between musicians and the music;
between the musicians themselves; and
between the music and the hearer.
God is always part of that conversation which may be challenging or comforting, but in the setting of faith and among the people of God, it will never be completed.
Anyone can participate in making jazz. Even the most casual observer makes music when tapping or clapping spontaneously along with the beat.
Jazz is this infectious. It blurs the lines of listener and player, and draws everyone deeper into its contours. Jazz sounds like God because jazz reflects God’s way of blurring lines. It draws people closer to God and to one another.
Improvisation captures an always-growing faith. Jazz has many entry points. Entering into the music at any time and in whatever way is a vision for life together in community.
“Seven Joys of Jazz”
A further reflection on Jazz Spirituality by Rev’d Bill Carter, a Presbyterian minister and jazz musician in the USA …
Jazz bounces to a contagious rhythm. You get swept up in the liberating power of swing. It’s hard to define this, but you can always feel it. Even if the music is quiet, especially if the music is lively, there is a life-giving power to the rhythm.
Jazz harmonies are rich. They curl your tongue and straighten your spine. They resonate in honest people. Through a judicious use of dissonance and resolution, jazz chords offer hospitable space for the Spirit’s work within us and among us. The right chord can sink you into reflection or nudge your heart to new insight.
Jazz offers soul-full prayer. Maybe the tune gives voice to our pain or maybe it releases us in joy. Whatever else it does, jazz brings all of us before all of God. No human hurt or passion needs to be hidden. All is offered up to heaven as honest prayer. Just as in ancient Israel, the musicians become our priests.
Jazz calls us to the inevitability of praise. When all is said and done, everything is going to turn out well. It’s just like the book of Psalms. If you walk through the Psalms, you find a voice for all of human experience, but by the time you get to the very last page, everything ends up praising God. In the last Psalm, Psalm 150, thirteen times in six verses, there is the verb “hallel,” as in “Hallelujah!” That is our end. That is our destination. You hear it in jazz.
Jazz is a communal art form. The poet writes in isolation. The painter brushes alone. The sculptor shapes when no one else is around. But jazz is made in public. It forges a new community. It brings together companions who engage in dialogue. That’s what a solo is: a continuing dialogue on a tune. The musicians listen carefully to one another. They blend their individual voices in community.
With jazz, the Holy Spirit becomes an event. That’s how the theologian Karl Barth describes the spiritual life. Something happens in us: some truth is confirmed, some brokenness is mended. The only way we can describe it is that the creativity of God starts doing something creative in us. We are healed, we are released. Somehow in the moment, in the passion and excitement of the moment, God is here. Right here.
In jazz, there is the ever-present possibility of something new. An old tune is played in a fresh way. A new melody is improvised over top of the existing memory. The music surges forward, leading us into a fresh future. It offers us possibilities where we only knew of dead-ends. Call this, if you will, the resurrection power. New life breaks forth from the imagination of God. Creative musicians offer this newness for the people who can groove with them.
A further reflection by Rev. Clifford L. Aerie