"Faculty Meeting," the new jazz band with Professors David White (guitar), Margaret Aymer (vocals), Paul Hooker (bass), Phil Helsel (keyboard), Carolyn Helsel (drums), and Laurent Oget, spouse of Professor Aymer, (sax) will play during the dinner hour on Tuesday, January 31, of MidWinters.
What inspired you to form Faculty Meeting?
Paul Hooker: On Fridays at lunch, David and I would work on jazz standards. We often said that it would be fun to find some other instrumentalists—and then the faculty had the enormous good sense to add Carolyn, Phil, and Margaret to the faculty, providing a drummer, pianist, and a saxophone player (Margaret’s husband, Laurent Oget). The five of us started playing jam sessions in the chapel and it wasn’t long before we found out that Margaret had the voice to sing jazz, and, voila, Faculty Meeting was born.
Why is music important to you?
Carolyn Helsel: Music is a way I stay in touch with the rhythm of life outside of my brain. I am in my head so much of the time that music creates a sort of opening to other ways of being and knowing.
Phil Helsel: Music is first of all breath, also the root for spirit. It is continuity and flow. It is a form of knowledge that precedes speech. We are all sung to as children before we learned to talk, so music taps into a preverbal knowledge that can be powerful emotionally.
Margaret Aymer: There is something transcendent about allowing one’s body, one’s voice, to become an instrument vibrating in harmony to the music that surrounds you. This is even more the case when that voice is used in worship, but, in truth, even singing songs about love and loss can be transcendent if they ring true. Music sung with instrumentalists is a joyful act of community; again, something transcendent takes place when we hit our chords and notes together.
Paul Hooker: Music, like other forms of art, can express things that words either can’t express or express more clumsily. There’s also a kind of give-and-take—especially in jazz—that you simply don’t have when you’re playing solo. I live in a world of words; it’s nice to visit another world as part of a group of players as good as my colleagues in Faculty Meeting.
How does your vocation inform your avocation? Or vice versa.
Carolyn Helsel: Metaphorically, I think playing the drums reminds me of the importance of a steady rhythm to life. I have done so much at a fast pace and have told myself “this is only for this time, and then things will slow down,” when, in reality, I have set the pace for myself. It takes intentionality to slow down the rhythm of our lives to a more manageable and sustainable pace. That’s why keeping a Sabbath is so important.
Margaret Aymer: Hymns were everywhere in my house and in my world, so I learned to express important truths about faith and life through song. Singing, ringing handbells, and other forms of music making—these complete me to some extent. It is often the case that, when leading worship, the sermon is the last thing to which I attend. I will have done the exegetical work, but until I’ve chosen the hymns and written the prayers (or read the ones selected), the sermon won’t come.
Phil Helsel: Music is an important corollary to pastoral care. I begin and end my classes with singing. I've also been interested for a long time in the links between popular music and theological themes. From a pastoral standpoint, I've studied how musicians respond with creativity to the violence and destruction around them, contributing to the healing of the world.
David White: I am currently writing a book on theological aesthetics. As theologians know, music is a way to express such ineffable things as delight and wonder. Music is an event that puts diverse things together—notes, tones, instruments, personalities—and forms something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Music always seems to point to something beyond the forms it takes. The delight and wonder I experience in music cannot be fully accounted for by the mere putting together of the parts. It seems also to speak of mystery and splendor, of God.
What have you learned about each other / yourself by performing together?
Phil Helsel: Everyone has a balance of safety and risk and music pushes you to these edges. It's good to rehearse enough so that you don't feel you're taking too many risks. Also, knowing songs well helps you take more risks together. We're starting to know each other well enough to be honest about how our ideas shaped up.