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As we approach this last Sunday before Lent, sometimes called “Shrove Sunday” – but what we at Central know as “MARDI GRAS SUNDAY” – my thoughts go to one of my favorite places on earth, New Orleans French Quarter.  I’m looking forward to a trip there after Easter. Although I’ve only seen a small part of this major city in southern Louisiana, it is a place that appeals to my love for culture, music, history and great, great food!

Bourbon Street, and the Quarter (and surrounding neighborhoods), are interesting places, to say the least. During the day the sounds and sights contrast to the sounds and signs of life that engulf you once the sun goes down.  I can only imagine what it is like during Mardi Gras, having never experienced that…and am not planning to be there for Mardi Gras (too many people).

As it is, there is a variety of live music playing from every open door and window as you leisurely stroll down the street, as the nightlife begins (that would be around 10pm!) but finding what I wanted to listen to has become somewhat difficult.  Amazingly the “first love” of The Quarter; American Jazz, has come down to two clubs on Bourbon Street.

My favorite place is a club to relax and listen to some of the finest playing of jazz standards I have ever heard live, it was the MAISON BOURBON (which saw the apprenticeship of Harry Connick, Jr. for one of many musicians who began their careers in this historic watering hole) where an ensemble was playing to a very grateful group of people from all around the world (the table next to me was filled with Russians, and a couple tables over, some Japanese).

Jazz is an interesting style for musicians that requires technical prowess, a theoretical mind and the ability to “swing” with the flow of the song, while improvising counter-melodies following the same harmonic pattern as the melody of the song.  Not only does each instrument present a different tone and style of its own, but each also represents the nuances of each player.  Each player has a “role” also: at different times an instrument may support the whole ensemble, staying low, staying soft, accentuating the rhythm…and then may, through the subtle direction of the band leader (who might be anyone in the band) take the lead and be the soloist for a while, as the other players support them.

The ensemble plays the same song, but each instrument takes harmonic, rhythmic and counter-melody choices to interpret the song freely.

However, it’s not a “free-for-all”, in fact it is only through constant playing together and practicing that a group would find a way to know each other’s styles and techniques, to be able to follow the breathing and singing patterns…it’s almost more like DANCING, rather than playing.

Each player and instrument has its own role to play according to the way the instrument is constructed.

St. Francis’ prayer begins with the words, …make me an INSTRUMENT…  What is it like to be an “instrument”?  Perhaps the best illustration is exactly what I observed.  To be an instrument used of (played by) God is to be something unique, something that by design may be different that the surrounding instruments.  God may play me differently than you.  There are times when you may be called to play “up front”, sounding the melody or improvising your own tune around the melody that the entire congregation of faith plays.  Then there are times when you may be required to step back and support someone else in their solo or melody.  All the while, the song continues, moves forward, rises and falls as each player shows their virtuosity and gifts.  All of this is only possible when “practicing” together, learning each other’s rhythms and styles, getting used to working TOGETHER as one unit, while still presenting each other’s individual gifts.

For the rest of the world, observing and listening, it is a beautiful thing, not a cacophony of noise, but a seemingly intricate song familiar AND new at the same time…

…as beautiful as listening to five guys jam on Bourbon Street.

“Lord, make me an instrument…”