#MormonArtsSunday in Berkeley

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This is our ward’s fourth annual Mormon Arts Sunday, though I’m the only one really aware of that fact. This year I brought back the sacrament-meeting topic from year one, What Creating Teaches Me About the Creator.

Speaker One

Our first speaker was a fifteen-year-old writer of stories, novels, and screenplays. He noted two things about God he’s learned from creating:

First, sometimes he feels frustration when art doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to. Yet our Heavenly Parents don’t strike us down with lightning!

Second, sometimes when writing you can get in the zone and that is true joy! This, he said, helps us understand our Parents love for us.

The rest of his talk, for a while, had me worried he was going off the rails comparing Odin to Jesus (he started, after all, by comparing Odin’s mead to Jesus’s Holy Spirit), but he ended up having a great point. Continue reading “#MormonArtsSunday in Berkeley”

Guest Post on Creation by Sam Barrett

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INTRODUCTORY NOTE: This is the written version of a talk given by Sam Barrett in sacrament meeting February 2014 as part of the Berkeley Ward’s arts Sunday. The assigned topic was “What CREATING teaches me about the CREATOR.” Sam works in advertising and is also a composer under the name Samson Y Hiss. His stuff is fun and creepy and weird—circus-hell music, you might say. (Worth mentioning: He agreed to let me post this here after seeing the word “grotesque” on the AMV about page.)

Samson Y Hiss is currently raising money on Indiegogo to record his music with real musicians on real instruments. I highly recommend checking the project out and supporting it. I have a cd of his work in the car and it certainly makes late-night drives more nightmarey. (The photos here are taken from the Indiegogo page.)

By means of introduction, if I remember correctly, the talk is structured around his day-to-day thinking about the topic as he prepared. You know. In case you find an all-caps MONDAY confusing.

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MONDAY

In the mid 40’s at midnight in Manhattan, a young man named Thelonious Monk was working as a pianist at a nightclub. Much of his style was developed during this time as he participated in “cutting competitions” which featured many leading jazz soloists. While engaged in one of these sessions he fell upon an old song he’d written years ago at the age of 19 back in North Carolina. Returning to the song nearly 13 years later as a superior musician he embellished upon the tune greatly almost to the point of rewriting it completely. This new tune would become known as Round Midnight. A song a number of jazz artists including Cootie Williams would reinterpret for years to come. Round Midnight became the most recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician. It appears in over 1000 albums.

He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, and sold vegetables to make money. He also studied qualitative analysis, and conducted chemical experiments on the train until an accident prevented further work of that kind. Moving to Newark, New Jersey Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor with the automatic repeater and other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention that first gained him notice was the phonograph in 1877. The accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. It recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder. And despite its limited sound quality and that the recordings could be played only a few times, the phonograph made Thomas Edison a celebrity. And he became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park” New Jersey.

Creators come in many forms. They are musicians, painters, sculptors, inventors, scientists, philosophers. They are actors, writers, directors, designers, builders, preachers. They are moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas; even crazy uncles. As sons and daughters of God creativity is an all of us no matter our profession or position. Continue reading “Guest Post on Creation by Sam Barrett”

Words, Eternal Words

"word is a word" from procsilas moscas on Flickr
“word is a word” from procsilas moscas on Flickr
At the beginning of May, my wife and I moved our family from Idaho to Utah. The bishop of our new ward wasted no time asking us to speak in sacrament meeting. At our monthly ward social—ice cream at the park down the street—he stood next to me, made some small talk about running (an interest we both share), joked around a minute with another brother in the ward who had just that morning completed the Ogden Half-marathon (our bishop had run in it, too), then said, “Hey, I’ve got an opening in two weeks for sacrament speakers. Would you and your wife be interested in addressing us?” (Or something like that.)

Now, I enjoy public speaking. In fact, despite the nerves that churn my guts the hours before I speak, I love it. (Consummate performer Alex Caldiero once told me to embrace the nerves; they’ll make you a better performer. My dad—a skilled public speaker—used to say something similar.) My wife appreciates public speaking, too. So we gladly accepted the invitation and set to work preparing our sermons. Knowing that Mormon Arts Sunday (see also here) was on the horizon, I wanted to integrate some Mormon art into my remarks. I waffled around with several ideas the ten days after the bishop asked us to speak, but my thoughts didn’t congeal until a couple mornings before we would stand to speak. I woke up that morning with the idea that I should tap into the oratorical tradition of our forebears and, relying on the promise of preparation, weave a narrative as I stood before the congregation.

This, I thought, is the oral poet’s art.

Elsewhere, I’ve described this art in terms of what I call “poetry’s communal moments.” Here’s a rundown of what I mean: Epic poems, which narrate the heroic journeys and deeds of a protagonist whose life and character exemplify the values of the poem’s originating society, were traditionally composed orally before a live audience who had gathered to experience or to re-experience the hero’s adventures. (I say re-experience because many listeners would have been familiar with the legends and story cycles around which the poet wove his* particular narrative). Giving the event varying degrees of attention and receptivity and moving with the crowd vicariously through the hero’s adventures, listeners could participate with the poet in the story’s creation and elaboration. In the process, depending on how much attention listeners gave and how receptive they were, they could also likely feel the poet’s language deeply, viscerally, as his voice washed over the crowd and resounded with their flesh, exciting the passions and evoking the senses’ response. In these cultural circumstances, poetry and the process by which it was made were shared by the community and rooted in the connection among poets’ and listeners’ bodies. During poetry’s communal moments, which enacted the essential kinship between poets and listeners, both parties in the transaction may have had their individual and communal values and desires both validated and kept in check as, through the performance event, they mutually recognized and committed to emulate the hero’s strengths and learned how not to be via the hero’s shortcomings. In this way poetry traditionally functioned as a physically offered and physically received means by which community members might gain shared experience and might confirm and maintain individual and communal values and desires.

Relying on this art of oral composition—as practiced in early societies, as in early Mormonism—and on the communal promise it carries, I celebrated the process of language-making with our new ward and at the same time sought to raise awareness of responsible language use. I considered it a good way to recognize Mormon Arts Sunday. It may not have been an explicit recognition that, yes, we have awesome Mormon art and I may not have explicitly referenced Mormon artists (literary or otherwise); but my efforts were a recognition that latter-day scriptural narratives provide us with a unique vision of language and that the art of sermon-making among Mormons should be embraced as a means of weekly communion. At least that was my hope.

Since Mormon Arts Sunday is this weekend, I wanted to honor it with the celebration’s founding forum by sharing the audio file of my sermon, which I’ve titled “Words, Eternal Words.” Here it is (all 26:10 of it):

(Direct link to the mp3.)

I welcome your response in the comments.

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*I’m not being gender-insensitive with my pronoun use. Rather, the role of “epic poet” would have been filled by males.

Mormon Arts Sunday is this Sunday, June 8

Mormon Arts Sunday is this Sunday, June 8. Wm explains the day’s origins and has some ideas on how to observe it.

Brothers and sisters I invite you to celebrate Mormon Arts Sunday this Sunday, June 8, 2014, and, from now on (unless we change it again) every second Sunday in June.

BACKGROUND

Mormon Arts Sunday started back in February 2013 when Scott Hales suggested a wear a black beret to Church day. That post was both inspired by and somewhat spoofing the feminist activism of the time of wearing pants to church, but the more some of us thought about it, the more interesting an idea it became. Scott expanded on the idea and then I explained why I wore a maroon tie to church that day. And when February rolled around this year, I kind of forgot about it, but Theric made sure the Berkeley Ward observed it in February.

But since we missed February, and since I don’t want to compete with Scout Sunday, and since AMV was founded in June (by the way: this is our 10th anniversary), we landed on the second Sunday in June.

Kent Larsen is already on board. He serves in a bishopric so he is able to influence the theme of sacrament meeting. But not all of us serve in a bishopric, so…

OBSERVANCE

  1. Wear a beret or a dark red/maroon item to church this Sunday. Dark red is AMV’s color, but it’s also a good color to represent Mormon Arts Sunday — it’s rich and vibrant and not generally a color that people wear to church all the time. Purple would also work. Wear purple if you’d prefer.
  2. Wear a cockroach accessory (not my personal reference, but see the Scott Hales posts above for an explanation).
  3. If you are talking or teaching this Sunday, include a piece of Mormon literature or visual art in your talk or lesson. The right poem can work quite well for that. One good source for that is the winners of the Eliza R. Snow Poetry Contest, which the Ensign used to run.
  4. Bring a work of Mormon art to church or to a home/visiting teaching appointment and share it with someone who you think would appreciate it.
  5. Do this on Saturday, but: buy a work of Mormon art. Something from Zarahemla Books, maybe. Or a Whitney Awards winner. Or from whatever your favorite purveyor of Mormon art may be (tell us in the comments).
  6. Have a special Sunday edition Family Home Evening where you consume and/or discuss a work of Mormon art.

That’s all I have. What suggestions do you have? How else could we observe Mormon Arts Sunday?

What should the talks be about for Mormon Arts Sunday?

Kent in a Beret
Why Kent can’t wear a beret on Mormon Arts Sunday (plus, his daughter stole the beret!!)

Our nascent annual attempt to change the way Mormons think about the arts, Mormon Arts Sunday, (a.k.a. “Wear a Black Beret to Church Day”) is approaching soon! I’m trying hard to make this a “thing,” and so while the whole “black beret” thing won’t work for me (as this photo demonstrates), I have managed to arrange for our ward to devote its sacrament meeting on June 8th (the 1st of June is Fast Sunday, so that won’t work) to the arts.

However, we do have to somehow give those who speak on Mormon Arts Sunday a subject. And since there will probably be 3 speakers, we need to divide up the subject of the Gospel and the Arts and Mormon Art into general areas—or at least select three specific topics from among the universe of possible topics. What should we say to speakers? What should they talk about?

Continue reading “What should the talks be about for Mormon Arts Sunday?”