Thursday, May 9, 2013


Parables is a community that connects the stories of individuals to each other and to the story of God’s unconditional love revealed in Christ through creative expression.  Thanks to the inspiration and collaboration of the community and a few friends, we have developed a structure for creating music that lets us do just that:  weave together a brand new song each week from stories from our lives and scripture through a completely collaborative four-step process that includes all people regardless of musical ability.
Step 1:  Poly-tone Drone 
The point of the first step is to get the community comfortable making sound together.  Everyone is invited to take a deep breath, and as they breathe out to simply pick a tone at random and hold that tone until their breath runs out.  It doesn’t matter if the tone sounds good or bad; it doesn’t matter if the tone resonates with anyone else’s tone.  Just pick a tone and hold it for the length of your breath. As you run out of breath, listen to the tones around you, and on your next breath try to harmonize with someone else’s tone.  Once again, whether or not you actually harmonize with someone, hold that tone for the duration of your breath.  This process continues for four of the breaths of the conductor.  You can hear what the process sounds like here.
What happens next is not explicitly musical, and yet is essential to the music-making process.  The whole community takes a couple minutes of silence to reflect on their past week using the Ignatian spiritual practice of looking for places of consolation and desolation in our lives.  Then every member of the community has an opportunity to briefly share a moment of consolation and a moment desolation.  As they do so, the rest of the community take note of phrases that resonate for them.  These phrases will become the verses of our song.
After sharing consolations and desolations, the community explores a passage of scripture.   At Parables, this involves exploring the work of artists throughout time as well as making some of our own art.  Once again, throughout the process, if a phrase strikes someone as particularly important, they write it down to become a verse in our song.
Step 2: Sifting Scripture
Having explored the passage of scripture, the community then begins to sift the text for a phrase and melody that will become the refrain of our song. To do this, everyone begins by creating a single monotone drone.  As people drone, they read the text silently to themselves.  If a phrase in the text strikes them, they sing it out load to whatever melody they like while the rest of the group continues to drone.  The rest of the group can respond to potential refrain either by repeating it exactly,  by repeating it with variations to the melody or phrase, or by simply allowing it fade into the drone. This process continues until a refrain is repeated together by the whole group.
It is an incredible act of trust in both the Spirit and the group, but it is surprisingly easy and fun.  And it is always an incredible sensation when out of the droning a single melody rises from group.  You can hear what the process sounds like using the text of Revelation 21:1-6 by clicking here.
Step 3: Call and Response
Having found a refrain, the community begins to intersperse verses from their consolations and desolations as a response to the call of scripture. This functions in the following cycle:
1: The whole group sings the refrain twice.
2: An individual points to themselves and speaks a consolation or a desolation that they have heard as a verse for the song.
3. That individual either sings the verse to the melody of the refrain, or, if they cannot think of how to make it fit the melody, they point to the group, and when someone in the group thinks of how to make it fit with the melody, that person sings the verse.
4. The whole groups sings back the verse twice.
5. The whole group sings the refrain twice (cycle repeats).
You can hear the process here.
For simplicity, we simply go around the circle and when everyone has song their verse, we begin step 4.
Step 4:  Layering
The final step is to layer each verse on top of each other.  To do this, the whole group begins by singing the refrain in a continuous loop.  Then one by one, individual transition from singing the refrain to singing their verse, until the refrain is not being sung at all, but everyone is singing the consolations and desolations that they have heard.  Because the melody is always the same (or very close), the melody of the scriptural refrain continues, formed out of the different word from people’s lives. From the outside it sounds kind of like chaos, but for those participating in the process, you can clearly hear the individual consolations and desolations join together into a common prayer of the community–and you may even hear words that you spoke being sung from someone else’s lips.
When everyone has layered their verse, the conductor signals everyone to transition back to singing the refrain. You can hear the layering process here
The process isn’t really intended to be a performance, but a spiritual practice for the community.  That said, you can hear the the music of the the whole process put together here.
A few notes:
The recording is from the workshop in which we developed this process for the very first time.  As we continue to explore it, it will no doubt continue to change.  If you use it, and find useful modifications, please let us know!
“Parable” is a Greek word that literally means “to throw along side.” In Parablesong we throw the stories of our lives alongside of each other and along side of scripture to sing a new song.

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