He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
- William Blake
“Kissing the joy as it flies” is a perfect description of an improvised group-sing with Bobby McFerrin and friends, an eternal sunrise that happens every Monday at noon at the Freight and Salvage Club in Berkeley. I knew what to expect, but still was both astounded and uplifted by the constant flow of melodies and harmonies unspooling moment by moment, each note suggesting the next and arising naturally out of the previous. I’m no stranger to this phenomena, as this kind of spontaneous music-making is the bread-and-butter of the Orff approach I’ve taught my whole life. But the high level of virtuosity and artful shaping by Mr. McFerrin and friends catapults it all into a stratosphere beyond the reach of mere mortals. And yet not, as they invite the audience to participate and sing beyond themselves.
Blake knew something about our wish to capture and repeat any moment of joy, happiness or transcendence. Indeed, that desire runs much of our lives. We hear a great song and we want to own the record/CD, eat at a great restaurant and want to return and order the same dish, find a fabulous vacation rental and vow to return. We soon discover that reality is not exactly repeatable as we try to step into the same river twice, that the magic of the first time is rarely captured that way again. The Buddhists have been telling us this for a few millennium, suggesting that our grasping hand trying to hold what is slippery and elusive, our attempts to bind ourselves to our joys and pleasures, destroys the winged life we are meant to live.
But the 90-minutes of singing yesterday was indeed a wild and joyful ride down a river filled with twists, turns and surprises, so immersed in the moment that there was no need to hope it was being recorded and expect to come back next week and sing the same notes.
Just the invitation to kiss the joy as it flies with that most ancient of faculties, the human voice, led by those who disciplined themselves to sing anything they hear and open themselves to hear all the music waiting to be sung that has never quite been sung like this before.
If you live in the Bay Area, get thee to the Freight and Salvage! If not, sorry. You won’t get it on Spotify.