Saturday, June 14, 2008

Four Priests Make a Joyful Noise

And we do it by playing blues and rock in a band called Rubrixx. It's captured in an article in this morning's Clarion Ledger:

BRANDON — With his electric guitar slung over his Hawaiian shirt, the Rev. Charlie Deaton slammed out the opening chords of the classic Allman Brothers tune about being trapped in a bedroom with another man's woman.

"Ain't but one way out baby," sang his friend the Rev. Scott Lenoir. "Lord I just can't go out the door."

The music spilled out of the parish hall at the otherwise quiet St. Peter's-by-the-Lake Episcopal Church, where the ministers' rock band practices.

Called Rubrixx, the band is made up of four Episcopal priests who say playing blues and classic rock together fulfills a spiritual need.

"All of us have a deep connection to music," said Deaton, St. Peter's rector. "Part of who we are is that we can't have a deep connection to one thing and it not have a deep connection to our faith somehow.

"We're not necessarily having to play religious music, but there's something about music that conveys something holy. It's more than just fun, it's joyful."

Rubrixx formed a year and half ago when Deaton and Lenoir, vicar of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Lexington, teamed up with two friends who also happen to serve nearby churches.

"We didn't set out to start an all clergy band," said bassist the Rev. Bryan Owen, canon for parish ministry at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson. "But it sort of captures people's attention to find out there are four priests playing rock and blues."

The ministers have all been playing music since their teens, when rock music first stirred something in their souls.

For drummer the Rev. Alston Johnson, rector of Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Madison, it was the sound of U2.

"It was spiritually formative," the 39-year-old said. "It gave me a vocabulary for an experience of God I had not found before. And not just in the lyrics, but in the music itself."

Deaton, 37, found transcendence in Led Zeppelin.

"I remember the first time I listened to the entirety of the fourth Led Zeppelin album," he said. "I listened to it on a six-hour car ride looping it all the way around, and by the time I got out of the car I said that's it, I got to play guitar."

The Who album, Who's Next, inspired Owen, 39, to play the bass.

"To this day, with the opening synthesizer of Baba O'Riley, if I hear it on the radio it just takes me right back when I was a kid and that sense of feeling like you're called to play music," he said.

Lenoir, 53, counts John Mayall and other blues singers among his influences.

"All the blues guys," he said, "I listen to them all."

Rubrixx plays a mix of rock and blues songs by artists including the Allman Brothers, Wild Cherry, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Crowes, Stevie Wonder and Delbert McClinton.

The band's name is a play on the word rubrics, which are the italicized instructions in the Episcopal prayer book that give directions for a church service.

So far, most of the Rubrixx's gigs have been at church events and fundraisers, though the band is also eager to play beyond the church circuit.

The priests say church members have been supportive of the ministers' second calling, and the music has provided another way to connect with parishioners.

"I think they enjoy seeing us having a good time," Lenoir said. "We make a good sound, and they get up and dance and all have a good time too."

Rehearsals also provide a support group of sorts for the priests.

"It's almost like any other clergy get together you would schedule for weekly check-ins," Deaton said. "I've personally taken lots of things away from our meetings that have helped to inform things that I've been able to do in the parish."

Though Rubrixx's songs may seem more profane than sacred, band members say the music is just another reflection of the human condition.

"Music covers the whole gamut of joyful and sad stuff," Lenoir said. "In human life there's sin, there's redemption."

St. Peter's parish administrator Ginger Perdue enjoys Rubrixx's music every week during the band's three-hour practices at the church.

She said she thinks it's cool that her rector plays in a band.

"If I'm alone you might catch me dancing in the office," she said. "Last week they were practicing Purple Rain and I thought it's pretty funny that my priest is singing Purple Rain."

The story is available on-line here.

Plus, the Jackson Free Press published a brief profile on me this past Friday, giving me another opportunity to plug Rubrixx. We seem to have arrived at our "15 minutes of fame"!


Perpetua said...

Slightly off-topic but the article in the Free Press said you went to Kenyon and then Vanderbilt. Being from a warmer climate, what did you think of the weather in Ohio?
I'm thinking you partly went on to Vanderbilt because of the musical venues? How safe is it to wander around the town near the Vanderbilt campus?

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Perpetua. The weather in Ohio was wonderful, especially for a kid from the MS Delta. In particular, there was a real and discernable change of seasons in central Ohio, including gorgeous fall leaves and snow (!). But the area was in some ways familiar to me since Kenyon is located in a largely rural and agricultural part of the state (like the MS Delta).

My reasons for attending Vanderbilt are too complicated for brief comment, but as to your question, I would advise anyone to take precautions in the Vanderbilt area after dark. It's a generally very safe place, but anywhere in a city can be dangerous after dark, especially when you're that close to downtown. So, I would advise anyone to go in twos or threes after dark on and/or around the Vanderbilt campus.

I think that Nashville is an absolutely fabulous city. My wife and I moved away from Nasvhille back in '98, but there are so many things we miss about it. The educational and cultural opportunities are hard to beat, there are wonderful restaurants, the music scene is wonderful and eclectic, the schools (public and private) are good, and there are many fine churches of almost every conceivable denomination which span everything from the left to the right. There's a place there for pretty much anyone.