VOL. 128 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 8, 2013
See and Be Seen
By Dan Conaway
IT’S ALL IN THE WAY YOU LOOK AT IT. In this town, this should play.
They teach music in there, but more, they teach purpose and meaning in music. Music as more than sound, but as expression of the soul. Music as more than notes, but as evidence of who we are and what we believe, of what we’re capable of and what moves us. Sometimes a celebration, sometimes a lament, sometimes both, but always a reminder that we share our destinies.
Sounds like Memphis itself.
The building that houses it began as a bank – dependable, predictable, practical, pragmatic – but it didn’t look like that from the very beginning. It was different – strange, even wild looking, even disturbing in the way it challenged acceptable norms, in the way that new excites and frightens.
Sounds like the sounds we were the first in the world to make, and nothing in the world should keep us from making more.
The name of it is Visible Music College – an original, even weird name, for a creative, even inspirational place. It’s in what was originally the C&I Bank Building, Francis Gassner’s 1974 wonderful wedge of light, glass, stone and steel. It was recognized in 1979 by the Museum of Modern Art as one of 400 buildings that “have had a significant influence in the recent directions of architecture,” and in 2000 by the Memphis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects as the Design of the Decade (1971-1980). Yet, it would remain empty for years and years and eventually be acquired by the Greater Memphis Chamber who almost turned it into a parking lot.
Regrettably, that sounds like Memphis, too.
The Visible Music College is a Christian artist community of 130 or so students in an intensive three-year bachelor degree program that “includes a core of Bible, Theology, and Ministry courses that teach students to glorify God in the integrity of their thoughts (orthodoxy), emotions (orthopathy), and actions (orthopraxy).” That alliterative, musical model has already been successful enough to spin off another campus in Chicago, and a total of 20 campuses are planned by 2020 … what college president, Ken Steorts, calls a “20/20 Vision.”
Perhaps 17th century English poet and theologian, Thomas Traherne, can give us meaning for the visible in the name, “This visible world is wonderfully to be delighted in, and highly to be esteemed, because it is the theatre of God’s righteous Kingdom.” Or 20th century theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.”
Or maybe 19th century Irish writer and world-class smartass, Oscar Wilde, fits your view, “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
It’s not necessary that you believe in what they’re doing in that building to believe this: what they’re doing in there, like the building itself, is creative, artistic, a bit mysterious, and original to Memphis.
I’m a Memphian, and we could all stand to see a lot more of that.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.