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LOEWEN: The Return of The Messiah: The humanities reborn?

Image Credit: Contributed/Jeffrey Loewen
April 16, 2014 - 7:25 AM

'THE MESSIAH MAY HAVE RETURNED. HIS NAME IS HARRISON ARGATOFF.'

Well I've been faithful
And I've been so good
Except for drinking
But he knew that I would
I'm gonna leave this place better
Than the way I found it was
And Jesus gonna be here
Be here soon

(Tom Waits, “Jesus Gonna Be Here”)

The Messiah may have returned. And he may be walking amongst us.

His name is Harrison Argatoff.

And instead of wielding a staff to lead his faithful flock to the New Jerusalem, St. Harrison of Argatoff carries a tenor saxophone….

Now, before you literal-minded freaks (on both sides of the theological divide) crowd the streets demanding my own crucifixion for this seeming heresy, settle down and listen a while.

And you, gentle reader, do not be afraid. I had an epiphany this past week. Let me tell you about it:

Some of you out there know that I work as the School Liaison for one of the finest independent musical instrument stores in Canada. We have been blessed in these perilous End Times of Capitalism with modest success at a time when most independent retailers are dropping like leprous outcasts into The Pit of Darkness, swallowed up by the corporate anti-Christs of the World. (You hear me, Mitt Romney and Family Walton?)

As the School Liaison, I come into contact with the music directors of most of the B.C. Interior’s public and private schools, and literally thousands of young musicians.

The teachers themselves are not the sniveling, grasping Unionists (Heaven forbid!) that the corporate media portrays them as. To a soul, they are deeply committed individuals whose lives revolve around their young charges with a sense that there is something vital in the Arts into which their students are baptized. So much so, that they often spend hundreds of unpaid, unnoticed hours to develop and enhance the nascent talents that they inevitably find amongst their pupils.

The fact is, most of these wonderful teachers are compelled to justify, year after blessed year, their right to remain Music teachers and not to be shunned in favour of more lucrative-to-the-schools Baseball and Hockey “Academies” where, no doubt about it, some of the region’s most articulate jocks hold forth on essential life skills like learning how to take a hit on the ice or how to slide into third with the deft grace of a back-sliding ballerina…

Call me a heretic, already, for the sacrilege that follows: to Hell with these essential life skills!

Unless you are a card-carrying member of the political classes in Victoria and Ottawa, silenced by your betters in the Legislatures and Parliaments of Power, you should be flogged for forgetting those elements that make us human and not unquenchable consumers: the Arts and Humanities that ennoble the Spirit with grace and wisdom.

After all, those in Power have no interest in you, gentle reader. It’s obvious.

Harrison Argatoff
Harrison Argatoff
Image Credit: Jeffrey Loewen

But back to Harrison Argatoff, and the epiphany I had while attending the B.C. Interior Jazz Festival this past week in my role as a Festival sponsor.

Harrison Argatoff embodies the best of what the B.C. Interior Jazz Festival has come to mean for so many of us associated with this amazing event.

For three days straight, Harrison and every one of the Festival's participants proved that Music is more than something that is ever-present aural wallpaper. The kids proved that Music is something enchanting and sublime — something that gives meek humanity a glimpse, if only episodically, of the Divine.

But it wasn't until Saturday's performance in Sheila French's Kelowna Secondary School Sr. Jazz Band that it began to dawn on me how incredible Harrison Argatoff really is…

There he was with the rest of his composed and classy mates ripping through a revamped "Body And Soul" when Harrison took flight. And what a flight.

There is something singular and unique in young Harrison’s tone — even his preparatory breaths before blowing a note sound musical. No doubt this is what one gets after one has learned a language (Jazz, my friend), studied its best exemplars, nailed the technical aspects, and listened to A LOT of the best (guided, no doubt, by those aforementioned Unionists) before, finally, arriving on stage with the ability to hold forth, as it were, with one's commanding tone and presence in check.

And then it happened.

During the jazz band's rendition of Radiohead's haunting "Everything In Its Right Place," Harrison seemed to stumble.

After a flawless series of solos. With a perplexing odd harmonic occluding the run.

Harrison paused.

A fleeting flicker of fear seized my throat in the stunning silence of the theatre, and I realized: Harrison Argatoff was doing something intentional.

Something magnificent and new to me. Something called "multiphonics" in which you don't produce a single note — no! You're producing two and more tones at the same time! And he kept doing it, working his “mistake” into an incredible act of bravery and harmonic bravado!

The Kelowna Community Theatre erupted, of course. The game was saved, and a Messiah may have returned to take us Home in that blessed moment.

Behind me, adjudicator Rich Sumstad, who has seen one or two sax players in his time, gasped, "He's forty freaking years old! We're never getting another gig!" There were tears in the man’s eyes.

Well, folks, he's not forty years old; but young Harrison Argatoff plays the sax like he's been born into this World to do just this: stun folks into the recognition that the Arts, the Humanities, Music, are worth preserving. They are the vehicles of expression that go beyond the measures of the Ledger, the miserly accounting of federal and provincial government budgets.

The Arts are the modes of the Mind and Soul operating at their highest levels of articulation and praise of the Ineffable. It is these very ephemeral offerings that make us human and aware that, for brief moments in our Life’s journey, we have witnessed something truly magnificent.

If only those holding the purse-strings in our Legislatures and Parliament could see a kid like Harrison. Maybe then they would begin to see that there are things, after all, more important than finding new ways to cajole the telecom giants striding overhead to offer us more choice in our cable viewing habits, or negligible savings on our all-important smart-freaking phone plans.

So which side are you on, Bruthas and Sistahs? Which side are you on, gentle reader?

I personally prefer the less productive, more wasteful side of the Ledger. Over here, the Music is sweeter, the Mind clearer.

Through these children, gentle reader, we become somehow better, wiser, more just. And just in time for Easter.

So sing “Hallelujah” folks. “Jesus gonna be here be here soon.”

Amen.

—  Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com

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