I had a very unprofessional experience yesterday.
For the past 24 hours I've been contemplating whether I run the risk of compounding that unprofessionalism by writing about it. The answer is YES - I do run that risk - but only if I write unprofessionally. I think I can avoid that.
I also think that, by remaining silent, I grant my tacit approval to these actions and attitudes.
I can't have that either.
The bullet point: my gig was canceled.
Well, actually, the GIG wasn't canceled; my PERFORMANCE was canceled.
I was scheduled to open for solo bassist Trip Wamsley at a Christian venue, Koinonia Koffeehouse in San Jose CA. The show was set-up back in May, 2007.
I sent out an e-mail to my mailing list and posted to both of my blogs in order to promote the event. I even went so far as to book a room nearby to stay the night, rather than drive 60 miles to return home late at night.
As luck would have it, I also had the rare opportunity to perform live on my radio station's very popular morning show where I, again, promoted the show. Do you have any idea how much a 30-second spot on this morning show would have cost the Koinonia Koffeehouse?
Shortly after the radio broadcast, Trip called to tell me that the venue owner had booked a different opening artist for the show. A Christian piano player.
Ok, let's back up a bit.
How did I even end up getting on a gig at a Christian coffee house? I am not a Christian.
Well, to me at least, that shouldn't matter. Trip was the headliner and he wanted me to open for him. That should be enough. But let's back up a bit more.
The bass community, pretty much like any high school, has its share of cliques
& groups. One of the most active consists of Christian bass players.
Some are straight up "Christian musicians" who play Contemporary Christian Music.
Others are bassists who don't play distinctly "Christian" music, but who have made their "Christianity" very well known. At first, I thought this was odd.
Why is it so important to broadcast their faith?
I have come to learn there is a very good business reason for doing this; christianity is used as a vetting system.
There are gigs and opportunities for which you will simply not be considered unless you are "one of us".
Nobody talks about this out loud.
I am not going start naming names and events. That is not the point of this. Besides, you are smart enough to review the rosters of some of these bass events and notice when the preponderance of artists are overtly Christian.
You are also smart enough to know whether that should or should not matter to you.
THAT is my point. These events thrive on the faith of the artists "not mattering" – TO YOU - the admission-paying, CD-buying public.
But faith very much matters to those who are choosing which artists to book.
I gave voice to this observation of mine by coining the phrase - "If you don't pray – you don't play".
I shared that thought with a very small number of people. Trip Wamsley was one of them.
I knew Trip had experience in the formal Christian music world. I also knew he is overtly Christian. I knew he had/has opportunities presented to him, based exclusively on his faith. I am not taking away from his talent. He wouldn't get gigs if he sucked; and Trip CLEARLY does not suck. He is awesome.
He does, however, have the added bonus of being a "club member”.
Trip is also, at least in my experience with him, fairly progressive minded about his faith. I never once got the impression that Trip needs the people around him to conform to his worldview. In fact, I often get the impression that Trip likes to swim in the variety of humanity. Or at least he's not afraid of getting a little “wet” while wading in.
Ironically- this is fundamental to actual stories of Christ himself, however, it appears to be largely absent from the modern day practices of many "Christians".
So when I shared my "no pray - no play" observation with Trip, he turned around and booked me on the gig to open for him at the Christian venue - Koinonia Koffeehouse.
Perhaps that's what Christ would've done.
I thought it was a great opportunity to play and I had nothing but the most professional and respectful performance planned for the evening.
Trip was trying to build a bridge. He was trying to show me that this “Christian thing” I observed wasn't about creating a draw-bridge society designed to exclude the "unsaved".
And, perhaps, he was tying to show the venue that it should be about the MUSIC rather than mostly about faith.
Trip and I are friends through our mutual interest in music. I don't care that he's a Christian. Further, he doesn't need me to be a christian in order for us to get along.
Just as I don't need him to NOT be a Christian for us to get along.
That should be enough….but it's not.
Obviously, Trip didn't have the authority to book me to open for him at that venue. The REASON he lacked the authority is simple: I'm not a Christian. I wasn't on the list of “approved Christian artists” that this venue would book.
Trip believed "it’s about the music" and vouched for me - but for the Koinonia Koffeehouse – it is clearly "about the faith".
Several Christian players have acknowledged this activity occurs and, in private conversations, have expressed disapproval of it. But in public, they get booked to these shows/events - accept the checks -and say nothing; in effect giving it their sanction.
Which leads me to the "what do I expect out of all this" part.
I can only control my own behavior. And I don't ask, or expect, anyone else to do as I do. You can make up your own mind.
But for me, I won't be involved in events or organizations that exclude others, based on faith or other non-musical reasons; or that give "preference" to those of a particular faith.
Since these kinds of attitude thrive on everyone’s silent consent - I no longer feel compelled to remain silent when I see it happening around me.
I know many people reading this have varied degrees and types of faith. This should not be taken as a screed against you; only to those who use faith to create "clubs" of "us" & "them".