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Jazz and spirituality: a trip to India transformed life and music for Uwe Steinmetz. He talks to Paul Williams. (Turning Point).

German saxophonist and composer Uwe Steinmetz is passionate about art. 'Through it I experience dreaming, laughing, crying,' he says. 'When I listen to my favourite jazz musicians or to an organ work of Olivier Messiaen, I feel carried away with all my senses to another world.'

Aged 27, his most recent work includes a composition for jazz ensemble, string quartet and narrator based on the works of the German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoffer.

Steinmetz grew up in a small town in north-west Germany not far from Hamburg and has been playing the saxophone since he was 13. By the end of high school, he was playing in various jazz/rock groups and big bands. He toured with the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra. 'I was clear that I wanted to become a professional musician,' he says.

Before starting at university he did a year's civil service in an old people's home. 'While there, I began to realize that serving people was what fulfilled and satisfied me--even more than playing music.' As a student in Berlin, honing his skills eight to 14 hours a day, he began to miss this 'human factor' in his life. He was soon running his own ensembles and jazz groups, but feeling 'more and more dissatisfied' with his achievements. A year at the Conservatory in Bern, Switzerland, provided fresh ideas and stimulus, but the 'inner emptiness' did not go away.

As he thought more about his motivation for becoming a musician, he discovered he had two 'unbalanced' sides to himself. 'One side was the contemplative one, that simply liked to listen to music, read poetry and observe nature and the visual arts. In this way I discovered something like "God"--a manifestation of the eternal beauty and truth behind reality.'

He also recognized egocentric feelings 'that poisoned the message of my music and influenced the way I interacted with others. My music had become just a form of self-expression. When I grasped the difference between what was really meaningful to me and the music that I was doing, I saw that I was heading for a dead-end street--both for my music and in my life.'

INDIA

It had become urgent for him to take a break. 'Religion, which had never meant much to me before, had become more important and I finally decided to apply for a place in a church mission programme.' He was sent to teach music for one semester at the Kodaikanal International School in Tamil Nadu in South India.

There he began to study and play with Indian classical (carnatic) musicians. 'I was overwhelmed by the deep spiritual impact of their performances. There was a devotion in their music, as well as in the simple life that most of them lived. Attending a classical Indian concert is like attending a church service. Playing alongside them gave me the deepest spiritual experiences I had had.'

He found his Christian faith was being deepened. He developed Roots, a programme of hymns, spirituals and folk songs, and performed this in schools, churches and private homes with the help of a fellow teacher at the school. Later he recorded it during a concert tour round Germany. At the end of his stay in Kodaikanal he organized a fund-raising concert to pay for a cancer patient's operation. His first activity on returning to Germany was to raise money for an orphans' village near Kodaikanal.

RENEWAL ARTS

During his last week in India he visited Shillong. There he met a couple who told him about IC's international conference centre at Caux in Switzerland. In the summer of 2000 he attended an arts conference there. 'I found that week one of the most inspiring events of my life,' he says. 'I enjoyed the joyful artistic presentations and insightful discussions with a very diverse mix of people from different cultures, continents and professions. I was electrified by the fact that we all shared similar ideas and visions about art, spirituality and creating a peaceful world. This gave me hope and strength to continue with my new ideas.' He decided to stay in touch with the organizers, who were forming a new body called Renewal Arts, and helped to architect their next conference at Caux in 2002.

'These life-changing experiences have been turning points for my professional life,' he says. 'They gave me new insights and fresh energy to finish my studies in Germany.' He capped these by winning a two-year scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. 'Since graduating in December 2002 I am enjoying being able to dedicate my full time to composition and working in my own ensembles,' he says. 'It has become very important for me to be open to God's guidance and I trust he will show me the next steps to go.' He now lives in Molfsee, close to Kiel on the Baltic Sea.

'Art touches everyone, in many ways and on many levels,' he says. 'Art connects people of different cultural, social and religious backgrounds. Art creates peace and adds the dimensions of devotion, contemplation and eternity to our secular and goal-oriented society. What matters in art is what matters in life.'
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Biography
Author:Williams, Paul
Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:862
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