To be immersed in a tiny historical church watching your favorite musician perform equates with a sacred experience. I didn’t know what to expect when purchasing tickets to see Rachael Yamagata at the St. Pancras Old Church. I simply thought it was a renovated building repurposed as a performance space. The hectic one hour drive, then one hour tube ride into Friday London afternoon rush hour kept my head in a frantic dizzy spell. I began to question if I made the right decision to see a musician perform one more time. Was all this work of paying for my dogs to be cared for and stay overnight in a hotel worth it to see a concert? My busy chattered mind ruminated this logic.
But then we stumbled onto St. Pancras Old Church, the doors were not open yet. And therefore, there was time to wander the graveyard that surrounded us. This space was one of the earliest locations of Christian worship from the fourth century. It’s been written about by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. The infamous Hardy tree stood here, that included numerous gravestones that were moved from their original location to the trunk of this tree, due to the building of a railroad. The tree grew around the graves. Early feminist writer from the 1800s Mary Wollstonecraft was buried here as well. In the midst of fast paced London was the luscious oasis of greenery. It slowed the pace of my mind and body. Before wandering into the church, you felt as if this was already a spiritual place, where people have gathered for hundreds of years gathered to worship.
Now we would worship in a different way. Entering in, I was quite surprised they sold alcohol. This is still a functioning church. To have a beer next to Jesus felt sacrilegious for the Catholic school girl in me. When I told a friend this, he offered. “Why is that? Jesus transformed water into wine?” This led me to further question why we must fit spirituality into the confines of a traditional box. The performances of the opening act Worry Dolls and Rachael Yamagata felt like a holy experience.
Musicians, as well as all of us, have the capacity to connect with the Divine or Universal Energy in order to create. The Worry Dolls talked of being vessels for particular songs, and even had a song titled “Let the Light Shine Through.” The song reminds us of the light children are born with, but we all seem to have the capacity to lose as we maneuver throughout the world. At one point they had joked about something on stage, and there was a loud startling noise that erupted from an amp. The performers joked, “Is that you God?” We all laughed, but there was an awareness that the spirit was present. Let me remind you that these performers are not Christian Singer Songwriters. They are indie artists, but their spirituality emanated through their performance.
Then Rachael Yamagata performs and it actually stopped my breath. I observed that I unconsciously held my breath as she sang, and played the piano. It was as if I wanted to minimize everything occurring in my body, to allow the space for her performance to awaken. Rachael has been a staple in my life from the time I was 25. For over 15 years through crushes, heartbreaks, marriage, divorce, and more crushes, heartbreaks she has consistently been there for me. Her music and lyrics at times seem to be the words wanting to be expressed from my soul. The rough passion that emerges from her as she sings will pause any heart in the room, and re-awaken tears that have been immersed in locked boxes for years to emerge.She also has been a source of familiarity for me, as I have seen her almost every year I have been living in the U.K. To see a favorite musician from the U.S. reminds me that home isn’t too far away.
Although so much of her music can be quite depressing, she alluded that it could heighten levels of suicidality if it was simply one depressing song after another. But she was playful about it, in how she revealed the stories behind the inspiration of these songs. One song in particular was written about a love she had an obsession for joking that it was “restraining order obsession.” Yamagata continued that since this person has since married and has children, she is dedicating the song to her new obsession: her cats. As she sang the lyrics, “I want you, and no one. No one else will do…” images of her cats were projected in the background behind her. Rachael plays and molds her once depressive state into art that we can all relate with and enjoy. At other times, she brought in upbeat melodies and audience interaction.
Rachael told stories throughout the show, which is a necessary skill for a true musician. One involved her first open mic experience 20 years ago and the horrors that arose from it, but it was necessary on her musical journey. She invited anyone in the audience who was a musician or wanting to be a musician to join her onstage to sing a song. Several people opted to take the offer, and the audience cheered them on throughout the entire performance. It was a beautiful experience to watch this artist offering an opportunity to upcoming artists with a supportive audience in a church.
One of the most spiritual moments of the evening was this song Duet that had an interlude, and the entire audience filled with strangers hummed to the tune in unison. This was a church experience. Loneliness transformed to community, if only for one night through the shared appreciation of music from this artist. Her old love wounds had the light shine on them, which sparked the lanterns in all of our hearts to collectively be lit as well. To be in the presence of an artist’s work, whether music, painting, dance, garden, poem, or elegant building is transformative. It stirs our souls, reminds us to appreciate the vicissitudes of life, and perhaps has the capacity to ignite our creative genius.
Therefore if you ever question going to see your favorite musician perform one more time, take the chance. Your pace of life may be momentarily transformed. You won’t regret the spiritual experience that is at hand. You will be taken to church.
For more on the amazing-ness of Rachael check her out on https://rachaelyamagata.com