Spiritual Reflections on Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Recently I made a pilgrimage from Atlanta to Nashville so that my close friend (and musical kindred spirit), Matt Coffman, and I could hear Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the historic Ryman Auditorium. If you haven’t experienced Bela Fleck, the Flecktones, the Ryman Auditorium or Matt Coffman (especially if you live in Nashville), consider them officially endorsed!

From Left to Right: Future Man, Howard Levy, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten (picture from Flecktones homepage)

Having seen Bela Fleck perform with a variety of different musicians over the years, I knew that the evening would be meaningful and memorable. However, my appreciation for Bela’s musicianship and the musicality of all the musicians who shared the stage has deepened on the basis of my experiences in the recording studio working on The Davis Academy Album as well as my ongoing belief that music is much more than sound.

More than sound? Music is a language, a way of communicating, a vehicle for bringing greater peace, tolerance, and humor into our own hearts and into the world. Music is a spiritual discipline and a great teacher. Great musicians, like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, are also great teachers.

As Matt and I processed the evening’s sounds we kept returning to several key awarenesses. Here they are, in no particular order. It’s my hope and suspicion that these awarenesses are anything but unique. Musicians, lovers of music, and spiritual folks will hopefully find these observations familiar.

1. You can’t be great without being good. Experience may suggest otherwise, but it’s my belief that you can’t achieve greatness if your heart and soul aren’t filled with goodness. You might be able to fool people, or you might in fact be a total rocker (artist, lawyer, rabbi, teacher etc…) but goodness is a precondition for greatness. This is likely because greatness typically manifests itself in the most ironic of ways: through modesty, humility, kindness, and grace. Bela Fleck, along with many great artists, illustrates this notion.

2. Teaching and learning are parallel processes. Too many of us are unreflectively stuck in the belief that learning comes before teaching. Once you’ve learned, then you can teach. However logic and experience instantly demonstrate that learning and teaching are parallel processes. Learning is a sign of immaturity, but immaturity is a good thing– it means the capacity for growth. At the same time, great teachers are a blessing not only to their students, but to all humanity. At the Ryman auditorium Bela Fleck took a few moments to honor one of his teachers, the late Earl Scruggs. There was a palpable sense of reverence and holiness throughout the auditorium as many of us understood the great love that emerges when true teaching and learning have occurred.

3. It’s Easier to See When You’re Not in the Spotlight. Bela Fleck is a master when it comes to encouraging others to shine and share their gifts. The spotlight migrated among the various Flecktones but it rarely landed on Bela. After the show I had a chance to chat with Bela and he mentioned the importance of listening. In addition to being easier to see, it’s also easier to listen. There’s tremendous joy and comfort to be found in knowing that you’re not alone, but rather surrounded by other musicians who have achieved greatness and goodness.

4. Collaboration is the Only Way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. In music, as in life, we are stronger when we unite our strengths and talents, our causes and aspirations, our lives and our fates, with other people. Music, more than any other art form, makes this abundantly clear. If human beings collaborated in life like great musicians collaborate in the studio and on stage, we’d live in a radically transformed world. Let it be so!

I’d love to hear from other musicians or folks who are interested in this topic. I’m sure the conversation is happening in many permutations around the world and I’d be eager to link up with others who are thinking about these types of things!!




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