Published on March 27th, 2012 | by Timothy Thomas McNeely0
The Power of Place – CATHEDRALS: Tacoma
They are called cathedrals because they were traditionally the “seat” (Latin: cathedra) of the teacher, representative of their authority. Place has power.
CATHEDRALS, the concert series, is named for its use of large, sacred spaces and because the inaugural show was held in St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle. The word “cathedral” is applied loosely, generally. However, the show on March 24 was evidence of the effect of a specific place on particular people.
When we listened and sang and danced along, our participation carried us beyond our everyday experience to a place of rich expression and life. Pickwick, The Maldives and Pearly Gate Music (aka Zach Tillman) spoke ex cathedra from Immanuel Presbyterian Church, host to the first edition of CATHEDRALS: Tacoma.
Each artist represents new life being breathed into old bones, old modes finding new means of communication. Pickwick are gaining great fame for their soul revival; The Maldives uphold alt-country; and Pearly Gate Music channels, and sometimes covers, Neil Young’s folk-blues.
This concert was what you kind of wish church would be like. On Saturday night, this church became a cathedral, imbued with authority by the desire of the artists to speak what is true, to say what we long to hear – that our experiences are valid, our hopes have meaning, and we are somehow loved.
Perhaps it was the place that made this possible. Traditionally, churches were built to be beautiful, allowing evocative artifice to convey both message and meaning. The sound produced over the course of the night hung in the rafters, a beautiful consonance of place and art.
Each set of musicians was overtly aware of where they stood, singing their profane songs to a secular audience in a sacred space. Not all were fully comfortable with the setting, though fully aware their performance was amplified by it. Pearly Gate Music offered up a song about going on a date with Jesus and having to ward off unwanted affection. Jason Dodson, lead singer of The Maldives, commented that something about churches always makes him sweat really badly. Later, he lamented his location further: “I wish we could drink on stage; [but] this is no stage, it’s a church.”
Yet, perhaps unintentionally (or perhaps not), Aaron Stevens and the Broadway Center for Performing Arts seemed to craft a show that followed a liturgy. From the opening invocation of Gina Chang, student at Tacoma School of the Arts, to the public confession of Pearly Gate Music; from the edifying sermon of The Maldives to the altar call from Pickwick, we joined in a ceremony. The metaphor may seem labored – but it is no exaggeration.
Pearly Gate Music prayed on our behalf: “…take me to a place where there is no pain. To a place where there is no fear. To a place that I call my own.” The Maldives’ every song was a warning against sin and a statement of hope. Galen Disston, lead singer of Pickwick, repeated the call, “Come on, church! Come on, church!” The audience met his challenge and rose to further, fevered heights.
On the internet, it’s usually considered bad form to write in all caps, as it reads like shouting. But here’s something worth shouting about: CATHEDRALS was a true success. There was a herculean effort to tell Tacoma about this concert. Even the night of the show there remained some trepidation about ticket sales and whether Tacomans would step up and support more music performed in our city.
Tickets did eventually sell out, and nearly 300 people sat down in pews in the wide hall of the church to hear lovely voices blending with the night. After a long winter, the start of spring.
CATHEDRALS: Tacoma, Part One, was launched by Aaron Stevens and the Broadway Center for Performing Arts. Presented with The Camp (Camp 6, renamed) and Immanuel Presbyterian Church. The concert series is a transplant of a series begun in Seattle by the Fremont Abbey Arts Center’s Nathan Marion. Look for more shows to continue the CATHEDRALS series soon.
For a succinct rundown of the bands, see our preview here.