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We were supposed to be in the New Orleans French Quarter a few weeks ago, once again.  And I was thinking, 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 are in contrast to the sounds and signs of life that engulfs you once the sun goes down.  I can only imagine what it is like during Mardi Gras, having never experienced that.

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 folks speaking Russion, and a couple tables over, some Japanese tourists). 

Jazz is an interesting style for musicians that requires a strange combination of musical virtuosity and the willingness to be imperfect;  a theoretical mind and the ability to “swing” with the flow of the song.  All the 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.  But 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 of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.