“Is this a joke?” said the twenty-something guy with the hipster glasses walking out of church a couple weeks ago. “Victor Wooten? THE VICTOR WOOTEN is coming here? To a CHURCH? To THIS CHURCH?
It was true.
Hmm, I thought, watching him chuckle and shake his head in amazement. I better find out who Victor Wooten is.
If you’re a life long Victor Wooten fan, please forgive my ignorance and don’t hate me for writing about him- me, an electric bass know-nothing. Heck, a music know-nothing! I spent my afternoon yesterday sitting in a pew, watching him and listening to him and I still don’t know anything about how to play the bass guitar, but I just might just become a Victor Wooten evangelist because the wisdom he shared during those two hours?
There was a holiness in the room, from his words and from his music and from the awe of the audience who would break into laughter in the middle of his playing, just because what he could make the guitar do BLEW THEIR MINDS!
A holiness in the room?, you say? Really?
When I first saw our promotional poster above, with Victor holding out his guitar as if offering it up for a blessing, I wondered what he might be like. All I knew is what our senior minister, Dr. Jim Dant, had told us: Wooten is an electric bass virtuoso with five Grammy awards to his credit, he’s the bassist for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and he’s done at least one great Ted talk which our kindergarten teachers used as they prepared to begin the new year, (huh?) oh, and he’s written a book, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. Jim is taking bass guitar lessons from musician and teacher Shannon Hoover, and when he heard that Wooten was coming through town, Jim finagled a way to get to meet and maybe even jam with his hero! And to share him with all of us! Even with music know-nothings like me.
But holiness in the room? I hear your skepticism (unless you know Victor Wooten, in which case you might not be surprised.)
If you watch the Ted talk, you might understand what I’m talking about, but let me share a little about what I heard him say, what made it holy, at least for me.
Or maybe I should start about what I saw him do, before he’d even put the microphone on, before the whole thing even started. He walked into the audience and started introducing himself and shaking hands. And letting people take photos with him. Again and again and again. There is something holy about getting to watch kids and adults who work so hard at playing an instrument meet their heroes, to see them as they describe how much his work means to them. To hear Victor ask them about their playing and how it’s going. To see their mutual love of a task that’s difficult and beautiful.
So Victor Wooten played, with a long line of others and with Shannon and by himself. He played and everyone sat mesmerized, lost in it and found in it at the same time. And he talked. He shared how he was born into music and how he sees music as a language and what that means for people teaching it and learning it. And he took questions from the audience, including one student who was so nervous that he wrote out his question on an index card and read it aloud. He might have been nervous to talk to his hero, but the kid was BRAVE, because when Victor asked him if he had his guitar with him and would he join him onstage so he could really understand what the kid was saying, he picked up his guitar and let Victor help him, for a good while, in front of everybody. But I guess that’s what a master class is all about.
Here are some of the things Victor said over the two hours: (It was so powerful that I started taking notes!)
*The bass is an instrument of service.
*Learn to make the audience clap for someone else.
*Learn to listen to those playing around you. If you have no one to play with, make an imaginary friend in your mind and listen to him.
*Listen first, and then partake!
*As a baby learning to speak English, when you said something wrong, your parents didn’t say “that’s not the word for blanket.” No! They started saying “blankee” and clapping their hands for you, cheering you on. You didn’t have to learn some words perfectly before you moved on to other words. No. You got to jam with the professionals right from the start.
There was so much richness there. It’s got me thinking about how his wisdom can be applied to my little corner of the world, to my work, to my self. I’m thinking about my own hesitance to “play” in my writing. Sometimes I want to have figured out how a piece is going to turn out and where it’s going to go (the arc of the story) before I even start writing. Victor would probably say, jump in! Don’t be afraid of mistakes or going down wrong turns. Get in it! Feel it and listen to it and see where it takes you.
And I’m thinking about Godly Play, the form of Christian nurture that we use with kids at my church. I bet Victor would like it. It’s about jumping into the sacred stories, trying out the language of the faith freely, without being told the ONE TRUE WAY to interpret a story. It’s about faith, that the Holy Spirit will lead us if we open ourselves and LISTEN.
Listen. Serve. Jump in.
It sounds like Someone else I know!
*Many thanks to Wesley Smith, for the awesome feature photo of Victor Wooten playing at First Baptist Greenville. Thank you, Wesley!