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Monday Musical Moment: The Power of Groove

Good morning and happy Monday!

Music is powerful.

I think that’s something the vast majority of people would agree with, even in the sometimes-polarized world we live in. A perfect example of that power can be found right here in church, where singing as a large group has been a part of church life for centuries. Music can give you a jumpstart to the day by setting a song like “Here Comes the Sun” or “Eye of the Tiger” as your morning alarm, and can also be used as an anthem to mobilize millions of people for social or political causes like “We are the World,” which was recorded by USA for Africa organization to provide relief for starvation in Africa, or songs that bring attention to police brutality by artists like N.W.A., Childish Gambino, and others.

But why? Why does music have such power over us? Is it the text? The instruments? The rhythm? The specific blend of sounds? The simplicity or complexity of it?

Over the course of human history, there have been millions of cultures, and each one has experimented with their own idea of what music is. The range of differences between them are vast and virtually impossible to group together and explain with a single answer. However, one of the most powerful aspects of music, one that cuts across generations and cultures, involves an intangible, indescribable, amazing phenomenon that I refer to as… the groove.

To me, there is nothing like a good groove. No matter what style of music you are listening to, a good groove is one that makes your body move involuntarily to the rhythm, sometimes without even realizing it! In 2016, I traveled to Cuba for 8 days as a part of a cultural exchange. While I was there, I learned to dance to various styles like the salsa, bachata, and rhumba, all of which correspond with a specific drum beat, or groove, that communicated to dancers what step they were to dance. Watching and participating in large groups of people all a part of the same “groove,” in sync and moving together, was an amazing experience, and in a way was a small representation of our commonality as human beings. To this day I cannot listen to the music playing in a Mexican restaurant without something in my core wanting to move ever so slightly to the beat…

Many of you may already know that I am also a big fan of R&B, rap, and hip-hop, and there are few artists who made music with the same level of groove than Prince. The video I chose to exemplify groove is a cover of the Chaka Khan hit “Sweet Thing” that Prince performed during an acoustic set at the historic Webster Hall in New York City for MTV’s “Unplugged” series in 2004. I find the level of artistry displayed in this short clip incredible. After starting the song, he quickly decides to turn the microphone towards the audience and spend the remainder of the song accompanying them. Prince, who was well-known for his skills as a guitarist, guides the audience with a strong sense of groove, but also plays with an amazing amount of sensitivity and nuance. Obviously, both Prince and the audience knew the song well and coexisted in the same groove, yielding a beautiful, shared moment for a brief 73 seconds.

Although many of his biggest hits came far prior to this performance, it is still perhaps one of my favorites of all time and I highly recommend you watch the other clips from this set! My favorite part is at the end, when he finishes the bass line early to let the audience settle on the final note. It’s those things that are so small you may not notice or be able to identify, you just know it feels right. You can see it in the faces in the audience as the camera pans over the crowd.

I hope that you will let yourself move to the groove as you start the week!

Justin

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