The nightly silence on the Mount of Olives

"Be still and realize that I am God! I want to be the highest among the Gentiles, the highest on earth." Psalm 46, 10

Today's Holy Thursday traditionally commemorates the biblical vigil of the disciples of Jesus at the foot of the Mount of Olives after their communion in garden Gethsemane. In Catholic parishes there are silent prayer vigils, also called Ölbergstunde (“hour of the mount of olives”), mostly in front of the altar, which last at least until midnight. In these days of the global corona pandemic, we are all subject to uncertain "mount of olive hours" in the orderly retreat due to exit restrictions, and might it difficult to find peace at heart, particularly at night. 
 
For many religious jazz artists, it is particularly the quality of silence which appears as a medium for spirituality within music making. The piece "SILENCE" by jazz bassist Charlie Haden (1937-2014) with its chorale like harmonic structure and minimalistic melodic development invites to enjoy silence and sparseness in performing the piece. It is beautiful to hear virtuosic instrumentalists like Michel Petrucciani and Keith Jarrett holding back on that strong aspect of their craft when performing this piece and instead follow the inspiration “behind the music”, from the spiritual source behind the composition. Silence is a wonderful example of spiritually inspired jazz which helps to bring a sense of devotion on concert stages and equally within church services. 

Silence (and the gaps and interruptions in the musical flow) result from listening intensely to the fellow musicians and a watchful attitude towards the audience. Silence gives birth to sound, it also stimulates your own imagination, and might inspire poems and stories. Jazz improvisation begins in and out of silence, it could perhaps be viewed as the space surrounding improvised sound. So, we first have to listen to ourselves and around us in order to improvise well. Duke Ellington said that he only hires musicians who can really listen – taking for granted there were many others who played well or hip, but he preferred the “listening” musicians….
 

 

How are silence and religious practice related?
Silence and listening are central prerequisites for successful improvisation, as well as in worship. Let us think of the experience of celebrating a devotion with a small circle of people. Family, friends, intimate, personal. – Like in these days, only connected via the internet from empty churches to our living rooms. We all take care to help shape the mood and not to endanger it. We react spontaneously and improvise where necessary. We choose words or music that are appropriate for this situation. We tell stories in our own language, be it music, prayers, poetry, thoughts, from memory, by heart. This is improvisation, the re-discovery and re-telling of what is close to our heart. Improvisation is therefore always a personal experience of transcendence, a transgression of the everyday that has already been understood when it is told anew for others.
 
As a jazz musician myself I know the famous concert situations where there are more musicians on stage than listeners in the audience. As long as decent fees can be paid, these situations can often be surprisingly nice and intimate. Whether in full concert halls or in small clubs, we truly celebrate the emergence of music from silence together with everyone present. Improvisation leads to the now and to the surrounding community. Empathy, empathizing with others in the community, creates gratitude, an awareness of grace, it creates humility. All of this together leads, as it were, to a “worshiping” attitude. If this succeeds, God's presence can be experienced. Johann Sebastian Bach, the great improviser and composer noted in his Bible edition for the second chronicle 5.12-13: "With devout music, God is always present with his grace." 
 
Let us allow daily moments of (musical) silence in this time characterized by ignorance and uncertainty and then use this as a source of inspiration, just as in the jazz improvisations about Silence, a few long notes slowly turn into an explosive dense symphony. Maybe forgotten memories re-appear. And ideas that are worth tackling again. Or we think of someone with whom we could get in touch again. Or maybe we just notice how pleasant silence is within us and within our music and LISTEN.

JAZZ FOR MAUNDY THURSDAY

Markus Stockhausen: OUR FATHER
(you can pray along listening
to the melody)
www.markusstockhausen.com
Markus Stockhausen, trumpet
Jörg Brinkmann, cello
Angelo Comisso, piano
Christian Thomé, drums
live at the Stadtgarten, Cologne, Germany
on January 23rd, 2015

Ike Sturm & Friends: PSALM 71
(improvised collectively
online - April 2020)
with:
Chris Dingman - Vibraphone
Ike Sturm - Basses
Ingrid Jensen  - Flugelhorn
Jesse Lewis - Guitar
Melissa Stylianou - Vocals
Misty Ann Sturm - Vocals

Uwe Steinmetz & Wolfgang Sieber:
Stay with me (from Taizé)
based on Matthew 26:36-38 
from the CD "Seven musical prayers"
(Jubal Music 2008)

Oscar Peterson: EASTER SUITE (1984)
I. The Last Supper
II. The Garden Of Gethsemane
III. Denial
Listen to Blue Church member´s
Re-Creation of this timeless music:

-> OLAF KORDES TRIO <-
-> CHRISTOPH GEORGII TRIO <-

Reflection on Isolation and Community 
by Hans Martin Dober (Tübingen)

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Markus Stockhausen: OUR FATHER (you can pray along listening to the melody)

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Ike Sturm & Friends: PSALM 71 (improvised collectively online - April 2020)


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Uwe Steinmetz & Wolfgang Sieber: Stay with me (from Taizé) based on Matthew 26:36-38  


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Gründonnerstag und das Paradox der Gemeinschaft von Hans Martin Dober.

OSCAR PETERSON: EASTER SUITE (1984)

I. The Last Supper

II. The Garden Of Gethsemane

III. Denial