Music is magic for me. It is the secret elixir that brings spirit to the ordinary, especially potent when I am in the very space where it is being performed. Music infuses the normal with the effervescence of enthusiasm. Live music does that magical alchemy of transforming time and space into a dynamic moment of bliss. My friend, Eddie Owen, has made a career and changed a city, powered by that insight.
My love affair with music began with the Southern gospel harmonies of my childhood, sitting with my grandfather watching Gospel Jubilee early on Sunday mornings. That harmony would find its way into the Memphis soul of Elvis and Stax that just made people move. I was tied at the ear to my beloved Philco radio and my Japanese transistor that broadcast a wide variety of music, from rock to classical. Country and bluegrass were also part of my pedigree out in my ancestral west Georgia. Coming to it naturally, music was in my soul from the beginning, but live music quickened my spirit regardless of genre. It’s one of the places I find that magic happens. Watching Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce knows about the magic trick of music. When I get to listen to my son play his music on stage, like this weekend, I am transported to heaven. The magic is palpable.
It was in college that my friend, Tom Greenbaum, introduced me to a new form of music, trio jazz. with his own inimitable style playing the Baby Grand in our fraternity parlor. In addition, he opened up a new chapter in my musical life as he hipped me to the music from the Broadway musical, Pippen, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who had previously written Godspell. The story is about a Prince ma,ed Pippen, the son of Charlemagne, who is in search of his identity, his life purpose…not far off from my own quest at that time in my life. Timing is everything.
In what serves as Pippen’s overture, Magic to Do, the cast suggestively asks the audience to suspend their sense of reality for the next couple of hours in order to enter into the life drama of this play. The cast literally implores the audience to “Join us” with an enthusiastic call. Actually they are asking for something much more exciting: heighten your awareness. Tune into the magic that surrounds you. Lean into the mystery that is breaking in over your head.
The lyrics: Join us….leave your fields to flower; Join us……leave your cheese to sour; Join us……Come and waste an hour or two! Magic to do.
I was lucky enough to see the original cast with the amazing Ben Vereen as the charismatic storyteller/trickster. Bob Fosse was the choreographer for the original production….can you say “jazz hands”? If you are so inclined, google “Pippin” and “Magic to Do” for a treat and observe the superb staging. You will thank me, much as I thanked Tom.
This song, “Magic to Do”, became the opening song for our jazz trio, which seemed only appropriate. While we relied on Tom’s Sheldon-like eidetic memory of the Sinatra catalog to power our group through the requests for songs I had never heard of, “Magic to Do” had a lilt, a suggestive power to begin our engagement with a sense of wonderment and upbeat promise. With Tom noodling the melody, Mark Jones laying down the rhythm, and me, playing little bass and delivering a winsome personality, there was indeed magic to do.
These moments in life are worthy of notice. Moments in live music, particularly if you are playing; pausing in the mystical silence of nature; catching a whiff of ethereal air from the sea or an incense censor; the intimate touch of the loved other: all contain the possibility of magic, a moment of breakthrough from the normal to the sublime. What’s your special place to sense that magic, those “thin spaces” where the boundary between the ordinary and sacred merge.
Are you able to see magic these days, or are you numbed by the busy blur of activity? Are you able to see what’s going on around you? Has the drive for rationality and sensibility lulled you into the sleep of normalcy.? In this chaotic time approaching Christmas, are you catching glimpses of the magic around you?
Every so often, magic seems to break in on me, not due to my careful planning or scheduling, but by what one might say is sheer accident. Others might look at the same facts but come up with a providential cause and effect in play. I tend to simply enjoy the moment rather than ascribing the “woo woo” effect, but that’s just me. But, and make no mistake, I love it when the magic happens, whenever it happens, however it happens.
Just the other day, a moment of magic broke into the normal. My wife was on her way to a gathering of her high school girlfriends. They do it every year, with a time to catch up and share the latest in the days of their lives. Mary was meeting her friend in a church parking lot just outside the perimeter of Atlanta in order to car pool to their friend’s new condo in Duluth, northeast of the city. Mary had stopped at a gas station to fill up her tank with gas. After she had fueled the intrepid Highlander, she was surprised and dismayed to find that her car door had locked automatically. Her keys were there in the seat, along with her cell phone and her purse. I do not know what words she released as she realized the fullness of her predicament, but I’m pretty sure it was encapsulated in one syllable.
After assessing the situation, she began to run through a check list of what she could possibly do to save the situation. She was about a mile away from the designated rendezvous spot with her friend. She did not remember the phone number for her friend as it was safely stored in the memory of her iphone. What in the world was she going to do? She spotted the attendant and thought maybe he would let her use his phone. When she explained her situation, the young man, named Jose, offered a simple solution: “take my truck”. Not knowing my wife as a justified, sanctified, teacher-certified, respectable citizen, this young man responded from his heart with compassion, perhaps mixed with a little foolishness. “Take my truck.”
And there it was, on a Saturday morning in Sandy Springs: Magic. The gift of a human being acting like one. Imagine that! Extending himself across boundaries of the normal, this person gave of himself in an act of care. Rather than the typical, “not my problem”, a simple but profound act of compassion. “Take my truck.” Magic to do.
Now, I won’t bore you with the details of how Mary extricated herself from this bind other than it all worked out after Jose did a little magic. Mary and her friend made it to the gathering in Duluth where more magic could take place among friends gathering. And when she offered Jose a twenty dollar bill for his kindness, he refused. Insisting that he take the twenty, Jose responded with a magical phrase: Pay if forward. And the magic continues…
Do you witness moments of magic in your normal, hectic life? Are you looking, taking the time to notice those random acts of care? My bet is, if you think about it, you can remember some magic that has come your way, some moment in the ordinary when the spirit breaks through. And you might hear Jose’s magic mantra: pay it forward. Magic to do.