Theodicy Jazz Collective is committed to making justice real through the creative, spiritual power of music. The group believes that music can promote peace and justice in society and that the jazz ideals of diversity, flexibility, and listening can help the Church thrive in our rapidly changing world. Inspired by jazz, blues, gospel, traditional hymns, and world music, Theodicy has been featured at Canterbury Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Trinity Wall Street, on National Public Radio, at Cambridge, Oxford, and Yale Universities, at the House of Bishops and General Convention for the Episcopal Church, and in communities across England and the US from Massachusetts to Mississippi, Los Angeles to London.
April, 2015, Jackson, MS
Today is a difficult day to write these liner notes. As I look up at my browser window, I see burning streets in Baltimore, one community among many that has ignited the kindling of racial, economic, and power injustice that has piled up over decades and centuries. As I look out my other window, I see the sunny main street of downtown Jackson. Newly planted trees align freshly laid pavement, signs of renewal and hope, while diverse passers-by walk among placards that remind us of 50 and 150 years ago when we too were ablaze. The cathedral where I work is actually the third structure of its name, the other two burned down in the heat of racial conflict. Right now, mercifully, our streets are not on fire. At least not visibly.
Writing these notes, I am mindful that the other members of Theodicy are seeing the same things in their browser windows, also impacted, concerned, and mourning. No longer neighbors in the traditional sense, we have scattered to DC, New York, Jackson, LA, Connecticut, and even Benin in West Africa: the views outside our windows are different. But we can all see that something is wrong. Many of us grew up being told we shouldn’t talk about race. It is taboo, a topic that will inevitably offend; better to be “colorblind,” or at least to pretend. But with eyes wide open, we see that this is not working. Look around. Not talking about this is getting us nowhere. Not talking about this is hurting a lot more than feelings.
As a diverse collective of musicians, we not only talk about this issue, but we also sing about it, play through it, and reflect and create from it. If our music is to be authentic, it must express both our deepest despair as well as our greatest hope. Most of the time, we aren’t performing for people, but making music with people, usually congregationally, mostly in churches.
Acknowledging the multitude of difficult ideas and experiences this music can evoke in a diverse community, we often open with an sung invitation to wade with us into what we acknowledge can be troubled waters.
And so, to those who have sung, worked, and worshiped with us before and those who participate now, we thank you for being part of this project. Your voices are vital to the integrity of this conversation, and you have taught us, shaped us, and inspired us over the last decade. So let us continue to love one another, for that is how we will discover, create, and share this beloved community.
Vocalist and liturgy coordinator
Invitation: Wade in the Water, arr. William Z. Cleary
Wade in the water, wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water.
See that band all dressed in red? Looks like the band that Moses led.
Looked over Jordan, what did I see? The Holy Ghost coming with me.
One of Theodicy’s central goals is to bring a prophetic voice of hope from the margins into the center of our tradition. Tradition is not merely a tool for honoring the past or maintaining the way we’ve always done things. Tradition is a living process by which we integrate new insights into the unfolding story of the Church over time, equipping us to respond to our own changing contexts and to the questions that arise in new historical moments. By incorporating varied traditions into common worship, we gain fresh insight into the people God is calling us to become. Over time, tradition brought us the ancient Psalms, communal chant, worship in the vernacular, melodic suspension and resolution, counterpoint, complex rhythm, and even dissonance.
Our goal is not to supplant this growing tradition, but to participate in it; not to abandon tradition, but to expand it. Looking at the recent past, the twentieth century, we note that perhaps the greatest insight it wrought was the expansion of what it means to be a person—who counts—and the soundtrack of that movement for civil and human rights certainly includes jazz and freedom songs. These songs, like many ancient scriptural texts, testify to how we are broken down and divided from one another. We long for healing, for that real or imagined “Zion,” not a literal place, but a symbol of a beloved, safe community,
committed to the wholeness of all people.
Call to Confession: By the Waters of Babylon, arr. William Z. Cleary
By the waters, the waters of Babylon.
We lay down and wept, and wept for thee Zion.
We remember thee, remember thee, remember thee Zion.
This ancient Hebrew text, found in Psalm 137, expresses the yearning of a people captive to Babylonian oppressors, exiled from their homeland, with no control over their identity, future, or community. This contemporary setting of the psalm, originally arranged for Good Friday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, articulates ambivalence about contemporary culture. While we claim to be the most advanced society the world has ever known, something in us longs for more, perhaps something we have lost. Are we living in Zion, or is this Babylon? By acknowledging what we have lost, we are able to move toward healing, with gratitude for the
blessings granted by grace.
Invitatory and Psalter: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, arr. William Z. Cleary
Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.
Here I raise my ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come,
And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold, of God,
O, to rescue me from danger, interposed this precious love.
O, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.
We love this hymn along with many others in the Anglican tradition. That is why we embrace them. We also love the music and tradition of spirituals, which is why we play them too. While we love these songs and are shaped by them, we are very conscious of the fact that none of them are “ours.” Particularly when it comes to spirituals, we are conscious of running the risk
of cultural appropriation.
We were struck anew by this danger the day after we recorded many of these tracks. After working in the studio well past midnight, we awoke the next morning to play the Absalom Jones service at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. As we made our way down the frozen highway in a light February snow, we were second-guessing everything. While we know how much songs like “Go Down Moses” have meant to us, we certainly have no “ownership” of them and were concerned about recording a piece with such a heavy history.
Lessons: Go Down Moses, arr. Andrew K. Barnett
When Israel was in Egypt land… “Let my people go.”
Oppressed so hard they could not stand… “Let my people go.”
Go down, Moses, way down to Egypt land. Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!
So Moses went to Egypt land…to make old Pharaoh understand.
“Thus siath the Lord,” bold Moses said…to Promised Land we shall be led.
Oh, Moses, come to Egypt land! Come make these Pharaohs understand!
The complexity that this tune introduces pervades Theodicy’s entire project and identity. The fact is that we, a diverse group of young musicians, have different relationships to each tune, each congregation, each theological question. This song distills that complication, posing the questions: Who are you in this story? Are you the speaker, crying for a leader? Are you Moses?
Are you Pharoah? And the answer seems to be: Yes. We are, at times, all of these characters.
This song has been made famous and meaningful by African American communities that continue to be attacked by systemic racism, white privilege, and prejudice. The song is a cry for deliverance, and this story could sound profoundly ignorant when sung in the voice of a privileged white woman. And while each member of this ensemble strives to
understand the plight expressed in this song, many of us can never know it ourselves as white Americans. While all of us on the album come from diverse backgrounds, we confess that we all experience privilege on a number of fronts, whether it be our race, gender, sexuality, or economic background, and all of us are aware our privilege of education and
opportunity. And our great fear is that we would be Pharaohs, housed in comfort and power, hiding from the discomfort and oppression of those around us.
Moses, too, was privileged. He was lucky enough to be scooped up from a childhood adrift, taken into a world of education and access to power. While we do not claim to be Moses in this story, we do seek to be inspired by the way he used his privilege toward justice. Just as it will never work to ignore racial injustice, it does not work to hide our privilege. And so we confess it, with gratitude for the traditions that give voice to these stories, calling the oppressed and privileged alike to work toward justice.
Canticle: The Magnificat, Ann Phelps, composer
My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my savior.
My soul magnifies the Lord, for God looks on my lowliness with favor.
From now on, generations will call me blessed, for the Great One has done great things for me.
Holy is the unspeakable name, for those who fear it will be shown mercy.
From generation to generation, God shows strength in loving arms,
And scatters the proud of the nations in the thoughts of their hearts.
God takes the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.
God fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty.
God chose Israel, remembering mercy, according to the promise to those who came before.
To Sara, to Abraham, to Hagar, and to their children’s children evermore…
This version of the Magnificat was composed in the winter of 2011 when we’d been asked to play for “Mary Sunday” at a local Episcopal church. After analyzing the text, we searched for a version that could somehow honor these words, both tender and grateful, powerful and prophetic. Most versions seemed to fixate on the “meek and mild” Mary of tradition, rather than this intense, profound woman we encountered in the reading.
Throughout history, the Church has effectively reined in Mary’s prophetic voice, along with the voices of most women. When we consider how recent it was that the women became ordained for the first time, we see that we are just beginning to reincorporate feminine voices into worship.
As a part of our commitment to bringing marginalized voices into the center of tradition, Theodicy uses inclusive language when we can, not wanting to relegate God or the Church to the masculine sphere, while maintaining a commitment to the poetic and aesthetic. This commitment is difficult, and has occasionally met reluctance or even outright resistance. But, in communities across the country that are willing to embrace this expansive approach, we have experienced transformational, liberating worship.
Creed: There is a Balm in Gilead, arr. William Z. Cleary
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
The words we use in worship matter. In worship, we are speaking together, confessing in front of one another the deepest content of our being. Liturgy is how we mark moments of gravity—immense sorrow and great joy. The language we use in such profound communal settings shapes what we believe and how we interact with the world, with God, the other, the self, even when the liturgy is over. Especially when these words are set to music, they become a part of us, as music drives their meaning deep into our subconscious and memory. The communal song has the power to transform us and our world. With this awareness, we are called to take very seriously the words that we use, the voices we include, and the meaning behind the silences.
Prayers: Latin American Bread Prayer, Andrew K. Barnett, composer
To all those with bread, give hunger for justice, and to all those who hunger, give bread.
We’ve structured this album to reflect a vespers liturgy, acknowledging our typical participation in congregational song and liturgical music. But as much as we love liturgy and insist that words matter, we hope it is clear that words are not enough. Words have power in their ability to shape the actions and contours of society. Our hope is that this music can be a motivator to greater love.
Suffrages: Be the Change, Andrew K. Barnett, composer
Be the change you want to see in the world.
In his 1968 speech, The Other America, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prophetically says, “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?...It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” We love this tradition too much to let it be reduced to a tool for maintaining tranquility and ignorance.
This is why Theodicy Jazz Collective strives to listen to the silences and give voice to the unheard truths that we are often afraid to confess.
In the face of daunting odds and complicated problems, morally awake people are still called to do what we can, where we are, with what we have. Solutions aren’t easy, and they are not quick. But still we give all that we have toward building a better world. We aren’t sure we’ve made the right choices, said the right things, or included the right songs on this album.
But we are committed to this conversation. We are aware that our ideas are not comfortable for everyone, and we risk offending people on all sides of all questions. But we are also aware that we are not the experts. We want to learn your insights and see the world outside your window. We know there are countless perspectives we’ve never encountered. Please, do not write us off as out of touch; teach us. This is a learning process for us, and we hope it will continue to be one of the most formative of our lives
Thanksgiving: God’s Eye is on the Sparrow, arr. William Z. Cleary
Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend to me.
God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know God watches me.
I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free!
For God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know God watches me.
Blessing: Canticle of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis), Hal H. Hopson, composer
Go now in peace. Now God, you have kept your word. Let your servant go in peace.
With mine own eyes I have seen thy salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people. Go now in peace. Amen.
Sending: Wayfaring Stranger, arr. William Z. Cleary
I am a poor, wayfaring stranger, journeying through this world of woe.
But there’s no sickness, no toil, nor danger in that bright land to which I go.
I’m going there to see my mother. I’m going there no more to roam.
I’m only going over Jordan. I’m only going over home.
I know dark clouds will gather o’er me. I know my way is rough and steep.
But beautiful fields lie just before me, where God’s redeemed their vigils keep.
Theodicy Jazz Collective
The Rev. Andrew Barnett, piano, clarinet
William Cleary, alto saxophone
Charlie Dye, drums
Dan Loomis, bass
Jonathan Parker, tenor saxophone
Ann Phelps, vocals
Sarah Politz, trombone
Mike Wade, trumpet
Jamey Arent, guitars
Danielle Adams, vocals
Amanda Bower, vocals
Dannita Wade, vocals
The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati
Stephan Casurella, choral conductor
Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Bill Gwynne at Person to Person Media
Visual media assistance by Joshua Geter
Canticle of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis)
Verses Music & Refrain: Hal H. Hopson
© 1986 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. (ASCAP)