How Live Music Can Inspire Our Imagination
The jazz performance theater at DePaul University is tucked in a corner on the second floor of the music building. On this particular balmy, Friday night in November, it’s buzzing with performances and recitals. I take my seat in the top row of the audience with a friend, looking down on the quintet of musicians spotlighted in the dim space.
The concert is a series of jazz combos, where quintets perform pieces interspersed with improvised solos. In each of the combos, one of the students takes the lead of introducing the musicians and giving context to the pieces. The rich, colorful sounds of a range of instruments from saxophone to piano, double bass to trombone fill the room with the wonder of spontaneity and inventiveness. I am entranced.
While the students’ zeal for the music is evident, their connection with each other is even more profound. The expressions on their faces during an improvised solo exudes a sense of adventure, like standing on the edge of a cliff and surveying all the possibilities. The students worked together on these pieces for months, and the laughs and glances they exchange during the performance and the applause they give each other after take this experience from an enjoyable concert to a showcase of beauty. The intimate nature of the performance space accentuates the feeling that we, the audience, are a part of something special, a precious moment in time that will soon expire.
Afterwards, walking out of the concert into the sepia-toned streetlights, my friend and I note our admiration for the music, but even more so our enchantment with the charisma of the student musicians. While there is no shortage of jazz clubs and concerts in Chicago, witnessing the combustion of passion, talent, and community within these student groups made the music glow. A university is a place naturally marked by a cycle of beginnings and endings — new students arrive each year, classes conclude at the end of the semester, people graduate and move away. Knowing this lent to the ephemeral nature of the concert, an awareness that not only would the show end but this specific group of people may not play together again.
Since this concert, I’ve been pondering how I can infuse the passion and energy that seeped through the room into my life on a regular basis. In A Letter to Artists, St. John Paul II wrote “all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” Regardless of our career, craft, or passion, God gives all of us the opportunity to find meaning and excitement in our daily lives through beauty.
Our routines may often seem monotonous, repetitive cycles of work, family responsibilities, and social obligations that don’t always fulfill us. Art and beauty are the forces that illuminate life, that turn our mundane experiences into extraordinary ones. Witnessing art in the moment of its inception through live music grounds me in the present, an exercise in mindfulness that tapping the replay button on Spotify cannot replicate.
On days when I am at a loss for motivation or life feels so mundane that the only question on my mind is Is this it?, I’ve found myself circling back to the music building on campus. Even just briefly walking through the building places me in the mood of the concert, the art and ingenuity and vitality infusing through my pores. I can feel God reminding me that this isn’t it, that while there is so much beauty in the world for us to discover, it is only a preface of what is to come in the next life. These walks invigorate me to return to my own writing projects with vigor and excitement, placing them in the context of a greater quest for beauty.
For those of us who live near universities, especially in Chicago, there is a wealth of opportunity to experience live music, often for free or inexpensive costs. If you don’t live near a university or community college, there may be community orchestras and private groups nearby that offer similar performances. Taking advantage of the art offered at these institutions is a tangible way to enter a transformative space and take part in something outside of the ordinary. These spaces in which musicians perform to learn, spread joy, and enrich their lives without the objective of making money hold the potential to not only immerse us in beauty, but inspire our imaginations.
If there is a passion or creative activity that you have been thinking about but not pursued, I guarantee a performance like this will not only force you to question what am I waiting for?, but give you the motivation to go after that ambition.
By imbuing beauty into our lives, we have the opportunity to have a transcendent experience. Chase after beauty — in whatever form speaks to you — not to escape reality, but to have a deeper encounter with who you really are.