St. Mark’s has the Lenten blues
Published 12:00 am, Thursday, March 30, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Lent is generally observed in one of a few ways.
Dutiful Christians typically kick off the six-week period by receiving their ashes, choosing something to give up — whether it be a favorite type of food, a guilty pleasure, or some other vice — and cutting meat from their diets on Fridays.
But for the first time this year, musician Tom Larsen is observing differently.
The 29-year-old bluesman has enlisted the help of friends and musical acquaintances to create the unique series Blues in Lent, a six week program at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church featuring a different artist every Wednesday night of Lent. According to Larsen, the Lenten period and the music that originated among African Americans in the late-19th century in the rural American south are closely tied.
“Lent is kind of a contemplative period, you take a hard look at yourself,” said Larsen who is the guitarist of the Brooklyn-based blues band The People vs. Larsen. “And the point of the blues it can be a kind of spiritual meditation. That’s how I’ve always approached it. The audience can enter into that spiritual space with you.”
The performances — most of which feature primarily religious songs, though some secular music is also played — begin and end with meditation, with reflective conversation interspersed.
The last instalation of Blues in Lent will take place April 5 from 7:30 to 8:15 p.m. and will feature Todd Caldwell and Tom Larsen.
For more information, visit stmarksnewcanaan.org/go-deeper/lent-2017/blues-in-lent/
The artists in the series were selected by Larsen from a group of musicians who, as the lead singer and guitarist of the Brooklyn-based blues band the People vs. Larsen, he has met and played with in New York City’s blues clubs. Among the artists included in the series are guitarists SaRon Crenshaw and Solomon Hicks, saxophonist Jason Marshall and piano and Hammond organist Todd Caldwell, who will play in the last installation on April 5. Each artist is joined on stage by Larsen, playing duets of music by legendary artists like Elizabeth Cotton, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.
The series was first conceived of, not by Larsen, but by his mother, the Rev. Martha Klein Larsen of St. Mark’s, who, well aware of her son’s preference toward the blues, suggested that he bring his music to the church.
It was, in fact, as a boy traveling with his mother and father, also a pastor, from temporary stints at churches in Connecticut that Larsen first became enchanted with gospel and blues music. As a 9-year-old at a church in Hartford, a music director with a propensity for blues first taught Larsen the basics of the genre in a religious context.
“I understood always that music is part of the spirituality of church. It’s equally as important as the words we speak. It’s the way we come into direct contact with the Holy Spirit,” Larsen said.
Though it differs from the more contemporary gospel music heard in most churches today, and though New Canaan is 1,000 of miles away from its source, the transcendent quality of blues music remains, according to Larsen. He said he’s been met by enthusiastic and “open-minded” crowds at St. Mark’s.
Wayne Tucker, a trumpeter who opened the series March 8 with Larsen, agreed, though he didn’t realize just how much the crowd had opened up to the music until he had ceased playing.
“The performance is meditative, so during the performance itself, I definitely felt that the musicians and the crowd were one,” Tucker said. “But it wasn't until afterward that I realized just how much the crowd enjoyed the experience.”