Trever Hagen Reflects on ‘All These Years’
As the songbird whistled from the willow, a snake wandered into the church. Maybe it was passing through. Maybe it had always been there. As it slithered its way across the floor, Phil sat at a piano in the middle of the nave, recording an improvisation later titled “Queen Of Branches”. Before old wiggly could show his forked-tongue to Phil and cause a polka, the serpent was scooted out the backdoor without interrupting the day’s proceedings. Whatever that snake wanted, it got itself involved in the making of a record. Snakes, long the guardians of sacred spaces and stories, have always been getting themselves tangled up in some of our oldest rituals. Always trying to tell us something. And if you listen, those rituals bring transformation.
For change to happen, there must be a passage, a journey. A ritual is like a boat that helps you make the passage between POINT A: everything that has come before, and POINT B: everything that will come after. This music is the ritual. The boat. The transition. The event between POINT A and POINT B. The liminal zone where life’s structures break apart and begin to reform: no longer, not yet. Circling this heartspace, Phil experimented with sanctuary in order to honor the ritual: he retreated alone to the mountains in North Carolina to write, sojourned to family abodes in Wisconsin to nurture. Yet it was during hour-long stretches of improvisation in Northstar Church of the Arts in Durham where the music could open up to the presence of divine intoxication. The renewal of the elixir of life.
More than improvisations, though, these pieces are like prayers or hymns: music that is for devotion to your true north. And by listening to that magnetic pull northwards, one finds God. What is God? Love. Compassion. Devotion. That’s within each of us. There is an odd effortlessness to it. Or rather, control will not lead you there – to God. Instead of treading water and holding your spot in the current, only letting go, giving up to the current, do you float. And in that moment of acceptance, you are surrendering to the only law that exists, the law of nature: change. With that, perseverance becomes pleasure. Authorship becomes obsolete. And the music becomes part of The Commons. That common, shared space of muted, cosmic musical moments – like in the happenstance improvisation of these prayers (hymn-provisation) – where humans can grieve, heal, feel safe, find calm and create comfort. What a truly sublime mystery of faith.
It is difficult to pinpoint when an album might begin to be made. There is a process that is cultivated by those around you who see you and love you and help lead you to a space from where to play such devotional music. That space opens up from a place. A place has meaning, like anything else, through its trail of memories: That’s where Ellis and Amos were born. There is where Heather saw that hawk three days in a row. There’s where Mom and Dad go swimming. There’s the dogwood on the way to Brad and Stella’s. That’s a place. A rich, rich place.
Isn’t it crazy, all these years? All the sorting. All the pain. All the rebirth. All the places we’ve been. All the time we’ve been friends. All the time Willie was here. All the love. All the change. All the music. All the gathering, all the sorting, all these years of memories. There is no way to measure all of it. All of it over all these years.