As a jazz musician, Colton Weatherston finds solace in silent Quaker meeting, where he doesn’t have to to think about music. But he also finds some similarities.
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When you’re in meeting, you’re with a group of people and you have an opportunity to speak but you also have a responsibility to listen, so there’s an expectation of balancing speaking with listening, and I think that’s a crucial skill for a musician. To be able to hear the other voices in an ensemble of musicians, to be able to give them the space to speak their truth and not dominate them with my own point of view—I think successful Jazz music has a balance between all of the people within the ensemble.
How Quaker Meeting is Like Jazz
My name is Colton Weatherston, I like in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’m a musician and I’m a member at Plymouth Meeting in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
Channeling the Spirit
There are some examples of music where I hear it and I know that I’m in the presence of the Spirit. Some examples would be John Coltrane. When I hear John Coltrane’s music, particularly his late era where he was really exploring and playing these extended lines with a lot of breath and a lot of fire, I know that I’m in the presence of the Spirit when I hear his music.
I have to be careful because I know I don’t want to be worshipful of these great musicians but I recognize what’s coming through them, this gift that certain musicians have that are able to express. I think of it in the form of an incantation, where people are meditating deeply on existence and the meaning of life and you get to this place where you just allow yourself to express these melodies. When people are able to take all of their technique and training and study and intellect and then bring it into a place where you’re combining your body and your mind and your spirit into an experience of oneness—that’s a great and rare place to be as a musician, but that’s kind of the inspiration. One hopes to get there.
Balancing Our Voices
Especially artists and musicians, we often don’t have the same point of view or even the same background. Each of us will bring a lot of baggage into the meeting of the musicians and we have to build trust with each other and people need to feel free to express their ideas as a soloist without feeling told by the leader how exactly to play—we have to work it out as an ensemble. And I think that’s very true with meetings also.
If you think of all the committees that exist in any given meeting and the different conversations that take place, there’s a lot of give and take that has to happen in order to have a successful and equitable committee, and a lot of those skills that you learn, they translate well to being an artist. So there’s a time to speak and there’s a time to listen.
- Colton Weatherston compares the experience of belonging to a meeting with that of playing in a jazz ensemble, where everyone has to spend time listening as well as soloing. Does this metaphor speak to you? What ensemble experiences do you have that you would compare to Quaker meeting?
- When Colton describes hearing artists who are channeling the spirit, it sounds like what Quakers would call “ministry.” Where else have you witnessed something outside of Quaker worship that would qualify as good ministry?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.