Sometimes one of us will have a riff or a bass line from home but it really gels when we come together. – Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
There’s a band called The Script and they have a song titled Hall of Fame.
When I first heard this song, I wasn’t too impressed. It sounded like an ego boost to me. Be famous. Become a champion. That kind of thing.
But the story told in their music video paints a different picture, one of trying to re-write the script of your life. (Maybe that’s why the band calls themselves the called “The Script”?) To become a champion of your own life. To rise above what was expected of you, your limitations and set-backs.
When you watch the video (I’ll wait for you to watch it), you realize the song is about rising above your circumstances in pursuit of a dream more than it is about becoming famous, for fame sake.
Fame and notoriety is often achieved by less-than-honourable accomplishments but is also realized with hard work and dedication to a skill. We esteem those people, we idolize them. We put them on a pedestal and this creates a separation, a disconnect between their lives and our own.
The Hall of Faith
Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Fame chapter of the Bible. It’s interesting to me that this ancient text still captures the modern imagination and speaks to a central human desire to stand out amongst the tribe. Be someone. Be famous.
For the nascent Christians to whom this text was written, this chapter features the heavy-hitters of Judaism. It’s like the who’s who of the faith.
The chapter ends like this:
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. – The Message
This passage transcends time and culture when we remove the specific religious association with the word faith and think of faith as belief in “what’s better for humanity, what’s possible, what’s right, what’s just”.
Of course there is a lot of nuance to these answers but most of us have a sense of what’s right and a desire for good in the world.
What speaks to me the most from this hall of faith is the last sentence, “their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.”
According to the author, the lives of these faithful famous were not complete apart from ours.
We complete the whole. All those acts of faith working towards what’s better for humanity, what’s possible, what’s right, what’s just – are connected to me, are connected to you.
The work we do in the world that will never be recorded in a sacred text, that will never make us famous, that will never be highlighted in a rock music video – all that – completes the faith of those before us.
We’re connected and we do our part to complete the work of the past, like a circle. But we also move human understanding forward, and beyond, by leaving the script of our ancestors, of our tribe, of our faith community and learning to improvise.
Starting with a Script
We have all been given a script in life. We are born into a culture, a community, a family that follows certain rules and norms. This script forms and informs how we live.
It’s how we make our way in the world as humans. This is how we survive and learn, by starting with what the past teaches us, reading our lines and playing our part.
But at some point in our development we decide for ourself. Am I going to keep living my life from this script?
What values are important to me? What do I want to leave behind?
Whose line is it anyway?
Enter the Riff
I’m borrowing the concept of “the riff” from my work and experience as a musician.
In music, the riff is group of notes, a repeated chord progression, pattern, or melody. It’s catchy and rhythmic.
New musicians will often play well-known and unforgettable riffs in the process of learning how to make their own music.
Sometimes we need to play, which is to say live, an edgy, catchy, find-a-new-groove piece of music in our lives to help us make the leap from from a scripted to an improvised way of living.
Any jazz musician will tell you that excellence in improvisation, in going off script, is rooted in excellence in the fundamentals of music. You have to learn how to follow the script, or the musical score before you start re-writing it.
And just like musicians, we can use a riff, a repeated chord progression of catchy notes, those ideas that just won’t go away like the driving guitar line of Smoke on the Water, to help us make the leap to a more improvised life.
You know that riff that won’t leave your head? Maybe that’s your transition out of the script. Play with it. Copy it for a time. See where it takes you.
The Art of Improv
Often as we differentiate ourselves from the script we feel so much pressure to be original and unique, to stand out from the crowd. But maybe we don’t have to do something that hasn’t been done before but just do something we haven’t done before.
Improvising in music, improvising in life, is not the absence of a script, the absence of an established order of ideas, thoughts, or musical notes. Rather it’s an individualization of the script. We make the choice to repeat, play, and act what we believe is worth keeping, introducing new notes, new meaning, and new experience.
We add our voice to the hall of faith.
Join me in this episode as we indulge our love for driving guitar rhythms, appreciate but also critically examine the script we’ve been given, and consider how we might riff our way to improvising our life.
Music & Resources mentioned in this episode:
Music: Edged Out, Stardust, Mountaintop, Oceanway by Hawksilver.
Get your groove on (riffs you must listen to):