Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pay For Your Music

A few days ago, I put up streams of Page CXVI's music—not only with their permission, but at their express suggestion. They want you to hear their music. They want you to enjoy it. And ultimately, they're hoping you'll buy it. So am I. If you enjoy the streams, go to their site, spend the $7 for the download, or $10 for download and CD, and listen in your car and your computer and everywhere else to your heart's content. Two things you really shouldn't do, even if you can:

  1. Rip the recordings in any way, shape or form without paying for the music. I'm well aware (and no doubt so are they) that this is easily doable with a stream out there like this.
  2. Keep streaming the recordings indefinitely, enjoying the music at your convenience but never actually buying the music for yourself. If you like it, buck up and buy it. (In fact, that's what I would say even if the music were available for free download.)

This is a rare case where good ethics and pure pragmatics coincide, at least if you're willing to take a view longer than your nose. The first action is clearly an ethical breach, insofar as it's a violation of the law of the land. The second, of course, is not morally suspect: as I said, Page CXVI wants this music streaming, in hope that it will broaden their audience and ultimately bring them more paying customers. Pragmatically, however, you still should buy their music if you like it—indeed, the pragmatics here are so compelling that I'll simply leave aside the ethics of piracy for the rest of the discussion. (I'll take it up another day, perhaps.)

That desire to be compensated isn't crass, isn't wrong, isn't selfish—whatever you may think, and whatever the most common view on the internet these days is. I think it is beyond dispute that the record label system is fundamentally broken—perhaps irreparably so. The internet has both contributed to that brokenness and exposed what was already present. It has also empowered an entire group of people—my generation—who feel entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want it, for nothing at all. The result is devastating not only to record labels but to artists. Indeed, an argument can be made that the major labels are hurting the cause of good music and shafting good musicians, but all of that is incidental: for most artists, you can't hurt the label without hurting them, too, and by and large most labels aren't good hearted enough to put the musicians first. If you hurt the label, you're hurting the musicians most, not their corporate intermediaries.

Legal enforcement is not an option here. The Internet is too big, with too many channels, and too much rerouting ability, for the hammer of law to have any impact at all in the long run on illegal file-sharing. Piracy, as we have come to know it, will inexorably crush any governmental or regulatory attempts to squash it. The War on Piracy is more futile and more pointless than the War on Drugs. The only possible remedy is cultural: only if we have a deep-rooted change in the views of th people doing the downloading and sharing will artists receive compensation for their work.

Why should you care? Why shouldn't you download music for free if it's available legally, and never pay a penny? Why shouldn't you stream Hymns I and Hymns II all day long without buying them from Page CXVI? It's not a moral issue, right?

The answer is simple: how much do you like Page CXVI? If you enjoy them enough to spend any significant amount of time listening to their music, buy it—because you buying their music is the only way they get to keep making more music. Sometimes, given the way the music industry works, it's the only way for an artist to make up the money he spent creating the album in the first place: yes, much of the music out their is produced at a loss to the artist, even the good stuff. You're undermining the most basic aspect of capitalism: coupling market value to revenue stream. Other factors contribute here, as well, especially oversupply on the market: so much music is produced that all of it begins losing worth. However, if the music is of sufficiently high quality that you want to listen to it all day long, you're without a good excuse: if you listen to it but refuse to pony up some cash for it, you're devaluing the work that went into it and furthering that economic decoupling. The result is a loss not only for the artist but also for the society to which they're contributing. That means you.

There are solutions outside of those proposed by the record labels. Many artists are building their careers successfully on the, "Try it and do us the favor of paying if you like it" model. The same model has had a modicum of success in the software development world—but only a modicum, and in th elong run it becomes difficult to sustain. After all, unless your product is simply astoundingly good (and even if it is), people would generally rather not pay for it. Being honest here: there are several pieces of software I use regularly but which I have never supported financially. They're available for free, and I take advantage of that. However, it's in my best interests to do so—something I've been increasingly thinking on over the last few months as I've pondered the relevant issues in art.

Making music, like creating good software, is hard. The current laws on both are a mess, and enforcement is a nightmarish joke. Something has to change. In my view, that something must be culture: as a culture, if we are not predisposed to value others' work and time, we will take it for free, and deprive future culture of the future contributions of those artists and workers who can no longer afford to spend their days without renumeration. People need to eat, and every argument I've heard advanced from supposedly capitalist views ("If it's good enough, people will pay for it!") leaves me asking one simple question: if you don't think their music is good enough to pay for, why are you listening to it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Page CXVI—STREAMING!

One of my favorite discoveries of the last year is Page CXVI (pronounced "Page One Hundred Sixteen)—a group devoted to modern arrangements of some of the very best hymns and traditional Christian music. They're excellent musicians, and I deeply appreciate the modern settings to the songs. Even some of the newer hymns (like In Christ Alone) have been freshened—and I actually like Page CXVI's arrangement better than the original.

Today, they sent out an email to their fans with links to streamable content. They want you to hear these arrangements. They want you to fall in love with them, just like I did, and buy them. I agree with those goals. So here we are: I'm streaming the music. You can stream as much as you like; please enjoy. But if you really like the music, do yourself the favor of actually buying it—that way you can listen to it on car rides, as alarms, as cell phone rings, and in any other way you please. You'll also be supporting an excellent group that's putting out great music.

If you like their stuff, you should also take a look at their main page, including their concert schedule. They'll be in fun places like Denver; Manhattan, Kansas; and Oklahoma City between now and the end of the month—so if you can, go hear them in person!

Hymns I:

Hymns II:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Worship "Experiences" (A Rant)

One of the great dangers we face in the modern worship music setting is a tendency to overemphasize our emotions. Because we (rightly) recognize that we are to worship God not only intellectually but with our feelings, we have esteemed music that moves our emotions highly—and this is a good thing. However, it can also lead us astray very quickly. We begin to evaluate our worship services purely in terms of how deeply moved we felt. We think that because we had strong emotion, we were close to God (and accordingly, He was honored)—even if the songs we offered did not honor Him or make Him look great to anyone, even if, as is too often the case, the songs were really all about us.

Eventually, we become junkies, always looking for the next fix of emotionally satiating sound. Power chords, the kick drum, and evocative solos come to define our worship more than well, worship does. We stop seeking to honor God and start seeking cheap thrills. If left to run unchecked, emotional worship becomes worship of emotion—the idolatry of self-worship.

I suspect it is not a coincidence that the advent of churches offering "worship experiences" (as opposed to the traditional wording, "worship service") has come in a distinctly non-creedal time, as ties to history are cut off and the theological grounding of worship is cast aside. A people who will not take the time to speak God's word aloud together, or who categorically refuse to link themselves to the Great Tradition on the basis that creeds are somehow stuffy, are in danger of running off into the weeds. Yes, the creeds and corporate reading of Scripture can both become worn-out traditions.

So can Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, and David Crowder.

The problem—always—is not so much the particular elements of our worship, as whether it is in fact worshipping God, and whether it is doing so properly. Worship is not something to be offered cavalierly, it is not about self-gratification, and it requires reverence. A look at the header of my blog points us in the right direction: we are to offer God an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe—because God is a consuming fire. The reference is to God's promise to the Israelites in Deuteronomy if they offered Him an unpleasing worship—a fire that destroys. God takes worship seriously, and most Americans simply don't.

We need to return to a theological grounding for worship. Not at the expense of technical excellence—though, frankly, more theological excellence would make up for a great deal of technical failure: remember that we are worshipping God, not performing at a concert. In the end, though, our goal must be to make our technical excellence serve one and only one end: turning the congregation's eyes away from themselves (and away from us) and toward Christ on His throne.

That means including Scripture more actively in our service, and actively calling the congregation to participate in reading it aloud together. That means incorporating the creeds—at least time to time. If, for historical reasons, the creeds are uncomfortable to people, bring them back in slowly and with a lot of introduction—but don't leave them by the wayside; they are too valuable to waste because of our discomfort. We all need to grow up out of our pasts, difficult and slow though that process may be.

Most of all, it means setting aside the constant desire for emotional highs and seeking to glorify God. The worship service ought to be just that: a time of self-sacrificial service to God, not a time of self-serving experience-creation. I am not saying that we will not have strong emotions at time—grief and repentance, joy, adulation, etc. are all good and right parts of worship. But the one emotion we must stir up in ourselves is not any of those but deep, abiding affection for God (for from it come all the others)—and that is stirred in us not by power chords (though they have their place) but by knowing Him more deeply and praising Him more truly. So it is that the most important emotion of all can be inculcated through some of the very means that evangelicals have cast off in the quest for more emotionally charged experiences.

We should keep singing Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, the Gettys, Hillsong, and a dozen more besides. Yet we should not stop there: we should also remember that we stand in the line of a great many thousands of believers who have affirmed the faith through the Apostles Creed, with its magnificent proclamation of God's Lordship. We should also remember that God's word is the most appropriate source of worship, for all it says is true. Every song we write that does not quote the Word directly, however good it is, can never measure up to the truthfulness of saying God's word back to Him in praise.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Music that Moves the Heart

Last night Jaimie and I went to a Trace Bundy concert in Tulsa—$60 for the tickets, four hours of driving (and the associated tank of gas), and the cost of coffee and ice cream so I could stay awake for the drive home, all for about an hour and a half of music. It was absolutely worth it. Trace Bundy is an outstanding artist, who writes the sort of relaxing music that you could fall asleep to if only it weren't so interesting and his technique so astounding. I had been up since 4:30 am, but my eyes were glued to his fingers as he pulled seemingly impossible combinations out of the frets of his acoustic guitar.

I own every non-Christmas album the man has published, and seeing him in person blew me away. I have heard almost every song he played last night (the backwards arrangement of "Happy Birthday" was a new one), and still I found myself engrossed, enthralled by the music coming from the stage. The man has a lot of talent.

He's also humble, putting his sense of humor to good use in establishing ties with his audience and knocking down any hint of pretentiousness. One of the most interesting moments in the concert was his description of the meaning behind his "Love Song"—a reminder to do things he does out of love. He smiled quietly and finished, "After all: if I'm the best guitar player you've ever seen and I don't have love, I am nothing" (a quiet but definite reference to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The song has always been one of my favorites. Now it tops the list.

Music is a powerful thing. At its best, it moves us out of ourselves, opens our eyes a little more to the majesty and mystery of the universe. No one, I think, has expressed this more clearly than J. R. R. Tolkien. The opening of The Silmarillion is his creation story for the grand myth he created. The Creator God, Eru Ilúvatar, has composed a grand symphony for the Valar and Maiar (angels) to sing the universe into being—but Melkor, the greatest of his servants, has begun a rebellion in the heavens, and sings discord into the melody Eru has created ("it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself"). The Creator God's response has always rung true to me:

But Ilúvatar sat and harkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur [angels] perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then gain Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.

In the midst of this strife, whereat the halls of Ilúvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Ilúvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased.

Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: "Mighty are the Ainur, and mightest among them is Melokor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

The passage goes on from there, and much of the rest of it is interesting as well. I remain stunned by that first image of God creating through music, and particularly the picture of God's sovereignty expressed in music, so that even the greatest thing the Enemy can create is in the end to the greater glory of God's music.

Though of course in our world God created by word and not by song, we know that God made music as well. We know that the music we create, the music that we love to listen to, the music that moves our souls, is an echo of the music God has made. We know that our hearts respond to music the way they do because God delights in music, too, and because he has made us to be moved by beauty. The same is true for every kind of art.

For too long, Christians have let art be the purview of the world. We need to remember that art is God's, and that means it is good. We need more people willing to make the sacrifice to be an outstanding artist—to be willing to be "impractical" at times and work hard at making good art, even if other jobs might pay better or be more stable. Art is good.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dancing in the Minefields

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite newly discovered artists. He has a penchant for thought-provoking lyrics, a gift for honesty, and a good ear for melody. He reminds me of Rich Mullins, and that can only be a good thing.

One of the songs off his new album (which is on my Christmas wish list) speaks as truly and powerfully about marriage as any I have ever heard. Listen to the song, read the lyrics, and watch the video, then join me for some thoughts on the far side of the lyrics.

Dancing in the Minefields
I was nineteen, you were twenty-one
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much too young
But we did it anyway

We bought our rings for forty each
From a pawn shop down the road
We made our vows and took the leap
Now fifteen years ago

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

"I do" are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard
Is a good place to begin

'Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price
For the life that we have found

And we're dancing in the minefields
We're sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love's chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me

'Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear

'Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

Why does this speak so strongly to me? I suspect there are a number of reasons, but most of all that I identify very strongly with many of the sentiments expressed. The details are a little different, but in many ways these lyrics could have been written about my marriage. I was 21 and Jaimie was 19 when we got engaged, and we paid a bit more for our rings, and we've been married a little over 1 year instead of 15. But we have been dancing in the minefields. We have sailed, already, into the teeth of a frightening storm.

Marriage is both harder and better than I ever could have dreamt. We have not struggled as much as many couples do with basic marriage issues—communication, squabbles over where to squeeze the toothpaste, etc.—but we have faced trials darker and harder than either of us ever expected to. Depression is a fearful thing, and to walk through it, or to watch your beloved as walk through it, is more difficult than I can express.

At times in the last year, Jaimie has struggled to pull out just one tremulous smile in an evening.

I fell in love with the most joyous, life-loving woman I had ever met. That's still who she is; circumstances can't revoke God's creative decision. But how hard has it been for this most joyous of women to walk through days when she can hardly smile? My heart has broken for her.

At times, I have been selfish. I have struggled to love her with the self-sacrificial love of Christ. I have let her down, put my own interests first, been unwilling to see our circumstances through her eyes. The long and short of it is: I am a sinner, through and through, saved each day only by the superlative grace of God.

The song speaks to me because it captures the bittersweet glory of marriage. We go dancing in the minefields, daring to have joy when any moment everything could come crashing down. We delight in the thrill of sailing though the storm could sweep us away at any moment. We live our lives with passion for God because, whatever the risk, we know that the reward he has given us in each other is worth the pains that come. It is harder than we could have imagined when we began—and that is why, as I wrote a few months ago, marriage is about commitment, not excitement. Yes, marriage can be fun, and yes it is a source of great excitement. At times. Often, we remember the promise we made and remain with each other because, whatever the travails of the moment, keeping that promise is better than anything we could ever find in breaking it.

And when we hold fast that commitment, we gain a view that we could never have if we fled when the shadows came. Storms are fearsome, terrible things—but there is beauty in them: the crash of thunder in all its majesty, the lightning that turns the black of night into the brightness of day itself, the crashing power of the waves and wind: the majesty of God made known in part.

We walk in Christ, and so when the shadowlands come, we can walk on, holding each other's hand all the more tightly perhaps, confident that whatever comes to pass, we shall walk out the other side still in his grace, still faithful to each other, still loving each other with everything we can give of our still-sinful selves. We come out the other side loving each other more, not less, because the trial sharpens us and pushes us to rely on God who loved us first.

I hate the storm, sometimes—but I am grateful for it. I plan to just keep dancing in minefields with the most beautiful woman I know. God willing, we'll dance another 60 years or more.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Real Worship Songs: You Alone Can Rescue

My favorite worship songs are those that focus on God. There are plenty of good, worshipful songs that include many references to us and our love of God, and indeed many of the Psalms are structured just that way. Nonetheless, my favorites are those that are wholly devoted to proclaiming God's greatness. The best of these are those that are directed toward God himself. While many songs declare God's goodness, most of those are statements about God rather than statements to God.

Songs that combine theological depth, a Godward orientation, and are directed in praise directly to God, are rare enough that I delight to find them. Add in musical excellence, and the result is a recipe for giddiness in me.

In the past few years, Matt Redman has had a penchant for penning these songs—more than perhaps any other modern songwriter. His consistent attention to theological details and his persistent work at improving his musicality has brought him a long way from "The Happy Song" or "Better is One Day." (I'm not bashing on either—but he's come a long way since then, especially musically. Obviously it's hard to beat Better is One Day for lyrical content, since it's pulled from one of the Psalms!)

One of his newest is "You Alone Can Rescue." Many of you may have already heard it, as it was featured on this year's Passion album. It's worth listening to again. The song is a simple, sweet meditation on God's salvation in our lives in the face of all our futility. Enjoy.

Lyrics:

Verse 1
Who, oh Lord, could save themselves,
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still

repeat Verse 1

Chorus 1
You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

Verse 2
You, oh Lord, have made a way
The great divide You heal
For when our hearts were far away
Your love went further still
Yes, your love goes further still

Chorus 2
You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise
To You alone belongs the highest praise
To You alone belongs the highest praise
You alone

Bridge
We lift up our eyes, lift up our eyes
You’re the Giver of Life

repeat 8x

repeat Chorus 2

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Songs With Anchors

Over the last few days, I have been listening to a collection of astoundingly beautiful music. Arvo Pärt is one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. He started his musical career at the height of serialism's popularity, and his earliest works bear the imprint of the era. Despite the deterministic influences, Pärt even then distinguished himself as having a particular talent for composing particularly compelling, melodically rich and harmonically powerful music.

In later years, he left behind the serialism and kept the impressive force with which he communicates ideas. Whether in his instrumental or his choral works, emotion of the deepest sort tugs at the soul. He somehow pulls reality into the shape of his notes, leaving the soul aching with joy at the beauty of all that is and longing for all that we wait for.

Pärt's music carries such power because it bears the imprint of an influence beyond serialism. The Estonian composer writes from the rich cultural depths of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. Whatever its theological troubles (and it has a few), the Eastern Orthodox church has remembered the power of mystery, and has held onto the already/not-yet tensions of this age far better than the Protestants generally have. The liturgy provides both template and mold for Pärt's writing: its history and weight have given shape to his thought and language, and it is for the church that he often writes.

Part's music soars with joy because the world is good, and God delights in what he has made. It strains with yearning because, for all that the kingdom of God is among us, we still wait for its fulfillment. Christ has died, and Christ is risen, but Christ will come again. We live in the age of inauguration, when the world to come is breaking into this one, like light shining through the cracks into the dark of our eggshell.

Others have often observed that the liturgical traditions have done a far better job producing world-class artists than the evangelical movement has. Among the various hypotheses offered, I think two bear the mark of truth.

First, the liturgical traditions are inherently loaded with narrative. Indeed, whatever its weaknesses, the church calendar and litany continually remind parishioners of the sweeping work of God—and emphasize that his work is not yet done. The triumphalism that has marked evangelicalism, especially evangelicalism in its culturally and politically ascendant moments, is continually held in check by the weight of tradition. (That weight carries a cost, as well, but evangelicals should pause to learn from it nonetheless.)

Second, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have continued to understand themselves to be part of the Great Tradition. Their words and their understanding of the world are, at their best, continually informed by their relation to the rest of the story. Thanks to a sometimes healthy distaste for tradition, evangelicals have tended to jettison this connection to history. Evangelicalism floats, buoyant, on the tides of the time. The liturgical churches are anchored—sometimes more firmly than we might like, but always at least enough to provide stability and context for the artist's imagination.

The two go together, of course: there can be little weight to narratives that are abstracted from the grand tale of history. Without an anchor for the reflecting soul, we are left simply grasping for a way to speak at the current trends of our day. We lose our sense of the eternal—of the glory that is this world, of the way it is shot through with dark horror, of the impending eucatastrophe (to borrow a term from Tolkien) that both has come and will come smashing into our world to end it and begin it all in one. We lose our ties to reality.

For the evangelical artist, the temptation is to run to Rome or Greece as a refuge for drifting souls. We dare not, though. Our convictions are too important to sacrifice for the sake of their anchors, however beautiful. We cannot relinquish the solas, and we dare not minimize the anathemas of Trent. Our differences are serious and substantial (if perhaps still not definitive).

No, we must reforge our own connection to the Great Tradition and remember what the Reformers understood: tradition is an enemy only when it trumps Scripture. Further, we need to align ourselves on Scripture itself. Too often, the Bible has been nothing more than a series of principles to apply to our lives or a ground for theological discussion. It is both of these things, but it is also more. It is the very grounds for understanding our existence. It is the context for our lives, and thus for our art.

The Bible lets fly the most epic and the most mundane aspects of our days. Its poetry sounds the depths of despair, pauses in the struggles of the ordinary day, and clambers to the pinnacles of the twin mounts of triumph and joy. Its doctrinal pronouncements are shot through with streaks of urgency and eschaton, like slabs marbled with fire.

If art, as is so often claimed, is our attempt to communicate transcendence, it must have as its ground the source of transcendence, the Transcendent One. It cannot stand on its own, weightless, any more than evangelicalism can remain stationary in the shifting sea of culture without an anchor. But evangelical art, like the evangelical project on the whole, will succeed when it is captivated by the liberating bonds of Scripture and history—and it will triumph when it sinks its anchor on the priest who sacrificed himself in our stead.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weddings, Photography, and Writing

I edited—in whole or in part—three articles for Pillar on the Rock tonight. They'll all be going up over the course of this week. If you haven't stopped by in a while, you should; Pillar is slowly shifting in the direction of an online magazine (a format we've been close to for a long time). Among other things, we're increasing the number of authors we have writing for us, and offering some broader perspectives on Christian living as it relates to the church.

Due to helping with Anthony and Megan Plopper's wedding, I had little time to write last week. I anticipate having only a little more this week (on Wednesday evening), as Jaimie and I will be traveling to an in Colorado from Thursday through Monday. We will have some time with my family, and I will get to reconnect with a number of friends from Focus on the Family Institute (now the Focus Leadership Institute) at a reunion being held this Friday through Sunday. I'm looking forward to seeing both friends and family again. It will have been a good week for visiting; Jaimie's whole family came up and visited us today. We really enjoyed spending a few hours with them—especially since it didn't involve driving to Fort Worth.

One of the little ways I helped Anthony and Megan with their wedding was taking engagement pictures for them. I was reminded, in the two or so hours we were at it, how very far I have to go as a photographer. (I also recognized the one significant shortcoming of my current camera body: it won't do spot metering. When you're shooting in high-contrast environments, that can be a serious time-killer!) Below are my favorite two pictures I took that day. You can see the rest of the ones I've put up so far here.

While those two came out well, I definitely still have a long ways to go as a photographer. Unfortunately, I have more hobbies than I can manage to sustain at any given time. I have my often-mentioned web design interest (I just added some more functionality to Pillar last week, focusing on a simple but pretty new animation for the navigation menu and on post snippets on the home page), music, writing, and reading projects!

I mentioned early in the year that I was planning to write a string quartet based on the life of David. I have never been able to get that project off the ground, thanks to a combination of busyness and a general lack of inspiration. Despite spending a great deal of time mulling it over in my head, I could never quite get the ideas to gel. I've recently been contemplating taking the same idea and writing a full-scale symphonic work (probably totaling 30 to 40 minutes of music). Obviously, that's a huge project, and it would take me a while with my current schedule. Nonetheless, I'm thinking hard about attempting it. I know I would enjoy it.

I have a few other projects in the dock as well. In addition to writing the final post in my series on alcohol over at Pillar (a controversial one, as you can imagine), I am brainstorming a post on discipleship, outreach, and the relationship between the two. I am continuing to work on my essay regarding media, pop culture, and relational wisdom; with some writing time set aside on Wednesday evening I may even be able to finish it. 52 Verses continues to plug along nicely; fully 8 poems are live now—each one a bit different from the others.

I've also been reading N. T. Wright's massive treatment of the historical evidence for the resurrection, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). It's good, but very thick and very heavy reading. I also have a Joyce Meyer book waiting to be read and reviewed. (Odd as that may sound, I make a point to read and review a wide variety of books, because lots of other people read a wide variety of books, and the most useful content on this blog is in the book reviews, at least in terms of the reasons people come here from search engines.)

Jaimie is contentedly working her way through the latter parts of The Wheel of Time, and I am enjoying watching her do so. The further she gets, the more we can discuss, and since the series is one of my favorites, that makes for a lot of fun conversations. She also keeps baking me good cookies—which is great, except that it makes it far more difficult to steadily lose weight in my bid to get in shape for a marathon someday in the future. My running speed steadily increases, as does my strength, but it would be much easier if my wife weren't such a good cook. (Even so, I am managing to keep on target. It's hard, but I'm getting there, and enjoying it.)

Speaking of Jaimie: you should go take a look at the most recent posts on her blog. She has a knack for hammering out spiritual truth in compelling ways that pushes me to do better myself in my own writing. Her most recent posts, It Is Finished and Baby, Baby are both exercises in communicating transparently, honestly, and Truthfully about the realities of this life.

With that, I am going to go; I have some reading of my own to do this evening, and I plan to be up at 5am and at work at 6am tomorrow. May God bless you with his peace, whatever your circumstances, and may his grace be your hope and strength in all things.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Long Process

I finished the duet. Or at least, I finished the semi-final rough draft of it. Four and a quarter minutes of music for clarinet and cello, a dance movement, written in about a week and a half. (That's why I am up late right now, and why I have not done much blogging in the same span of time.)

I will post a link to the piece once I get the recording of the actual performance of it (presumably in a few weeks). I have good sound sets... but they are still sound sets.

Yesterday was our one year anniversary. I will try to post some reflective thoughts on that occasion later this week. Tonight we enjoyed some of our cake, which was surprisingly good a year later (it was very well sealed).

I have a stomach ache. The two, gladly I suppose, are not related; I had the stomach ache first.

We will have another friend staying with us for a few weeks soon: the one and only Megan Tevebaugh, who is now counting down the days till her impending marriage to the equally unique Anthony Plopper. They will be living in the same apartment complex as us; it should be a wonderfully fun year (even as the next few weeks promise to be particularly fun as well.)

Sleep calls me now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making

I find more and more that I care deeply bout accomplishing meaningful objectives each day. I regularly find myself frustrated at work when my tasks seem unimportant or wasteful. I especially struggle when I have little to do. I am made to work.

Over the last 9 months, I have discovered that I love web design. I enjoy putting together attractive web sites, and I enjoy the challenge of making them work properly however one is viewing them. (Admittedly, my tangles with Internet Explorer have been less than pleasant.) At first I was designing Pillar, then redesigning this blog, then helping redesign Jaimie’s blog, then redesigning Pillar, then helping Stephen Carradini tweak the design for Gospelized, and finally doing the customizations for 52 Verses. Now that I have no such projects in view ahead of me, I feel a bit adrift.

In the past year, I have written a grand total of one piece of music, and that one not very long (though good, I think). Yesterday, I began work on a piece of clarinet and something—either piano or cello, depending on what the clarinetist can find in short order. It is refreshing; I somehow manage to forget how thoroughly entwined my soul and music are.

Yesterday, Jaimie began drawing in her sketch book—something she often used to do, but has but once or twice since we have been dating. She lost herself, apparently, in the strokes of her pencil. I know the feeling; it is how I feel when I wrote poetry, or let notes spill across (electronic) pages, or tweak a website’s design to perfection.

We are artists, all of us. Every one of us bears the imprint of our creator. I drive to work early enough to see the sunrise at one state or another—a glorious painting beyond the ability of my words to capture, no matter how I try. Our hearts are stirred by stories, moved by songs, stunned by the sweep of a cathedral. They leap at the sight of the Grand Canyon, ache to dance and shout and somehow take all the world in from the top of the Rockies, and crash in rhythm with the waves at ocean’s edge.

Not every man can be a painter, but all of us live to make something new. Every mechanic and every engineer, every plumber and yes, every person flipping burgers, is still making. Quibble if you will at their worth; admit, perhaps, that modernity so often fails to understand the point of beauty—but never deny that every man is a maker at heart. We each of us have a glimpse of God to offer to the world. Not, as so many have claimed, because we are all God, but because we were made to be like him: little mirrors that each one show a part of who he is.

I was made to make. So I sit and write posts and poetry. I spend hours on blog headers and pour my soul into new compositions. I work hard at work because I was made to make things well. Even when the things created are but lines of code that accomplish some end, I made them well. Praise God.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theology, Practice, and Time to Think

About a month ago, I decided to (temporarily, but indefinitely) stop listening to sermons. My brain had simply overloaded. I had listened to a sermon a day (and sometimes more) with very few breaks since I started my job in late July. That's a lot of sermons. I found myself with two problems: more teaching than I could process, and an increasing tendency to zone out while listening.

Around the same time I started thinking about how little time I had spent just thinking recently. One of the best avenues for thinking for me is to listen to good music. Whether the music challenges me directly with its lyrics, or simply provides a sonic environment in which my thoughts flow more naturally, I contemplate more when I am listening to music.

Finally, I realized (again!) that all the good teaching in the world profits very little unless it is applied. It is possible to have too much teaching. This runs contrary to the normal thought patterns of those of us who deeply value Scripture and teaching. That valuation is well deserved: the preaching of the word of God brings life to the hearers, is the means God has ordained for the spread of the gospel, and is utterly necessary in the life of churches and individual believers. But we can inundate ourselves with teaching, giving ourselves no opportunity to process, meditate on, and apply what we have learned.

So I am on a hiatus. I've been listening to a wide variety ranging from Rich Mullins' A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band and Page CXVI's Hymns to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to the best classical CD I own, Great Recordings of the 20th Century: Elgar and Vaughan Williams. You should own at least one of those (and better yet, all of them).

I have also taken days to simply be silent: to think in the relative quietude of a moving car. These are also helpful. Silence and time for thought are rare in our culture; we have to actively cultivate them if we wish to enjoy their fruits. We need to shut out the constant cacophony sometimes; never has any generation lived with such a constant stream of input of every variety, with little filter and no ceasing. In consequence, we find ourselves perpetually distracted, trading some of the best moments of life in exchange for a constant flow of sound and sights.

As I spoke with a coworker yesterday, I remembered how my parents enforced a time limit on my computer use as I grew up, insisting that I spend time outside instead of allowing all my time to drain away. It was a good decision on their part. I have much stronger memories of those mandatory outside times—riding my bike around our culdesack or then-unfinished roads in our neighborhood, skinning my knees, being Peter in The Chronicles of Narnia (with Beth and Abi as Susan and Lucy respectively), and lassoing fenceposts in the backyard—than of any video game I have ever played.

We can lose those better, more human moments if we submit ourselves entirely to the lordship of the screen. I am hardly advocating that we stop using computers and technology, that we stop using our screens, that we stop listening to sermons or to music—I am, after all, writing these thoughts in a blog post. These are all good things; we should enjoy them and give thanks to God for them. However, just as it has been profitable for me to take a hiatus from the constant flow of sermon content, sometimes it is profitable to take a hiatus from all content and simply be.

What about you? What distracts you, overwhelms you, demands your attention constantly, and pulls you away from the human side of life? How do you fight it?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two rants (sort of)

First, I was listening to Mercy Me the other day, and I generally enjoy their music. Not the most amazing thing in the world, but solid, and enjoyable when I want a break from sermons and classical music and soundtracks. (Occasionally, I do get in the mood for vocal music. Not often, but occasionally.) One of their tracks from Undone has an annoying innacurate statement in it, though: sung to God, "You are everything illogical, and that's okay." Well, beyond the fact that God being everything illogical would mean he would, among other things, be himself and not himself, etc.—I'm willing to grant poetic license some room to work with here—it's just a terrible line. God is not illogical.

Beyond comprehension? Absolutely. Not capable of being reduced to terms described by mere human reason? Certainly. Not merely logical? Without a doubt. But everything illogical? I know, it's not what they were trying to say (they were trying to get at his incomprehensibility and the greatness of all he has done, and how it defies human expectations or understanding)... but it is what they did say. And what we say means something, sometimes even the opposite of what we intend it to mean.

Anyone who has been in any kind of committed relationship—a deep friendship, a romance, you name it—understands that what we mean is not what the other person hears: what we say is. How we choose to phrase things is important. So, when dealing with songs, we should be careful in how we string words together, not merely saying things because they sound cool and sort of communicate what we are thinking or feeling. (That, as an aside, is part of what makes Jon Foreman so solid as a songwriter: every line clearly has some thought behind it, and it is not haphazard. The same can be said, in a totally different style, of Brooke Fraser. If you're not listening to at least one of them, you should be, so follow those links and get some good music.)

In part, this is frustrating because I am deeply committed to saying true things about God, and think that all of us ought to be far more careful in how we speak of him. That responsibility is only heightened when one has a large platform and an attentive audience—which Mercy Me certainly has had! It is also annoying because the song gets stuck in my head... and then I'm left with words ricocheting around in my brain that are not only theologically imprecise (which would already be sufficient to produce considerable annoyance) but deeply inaccurate. In other words, as egregious as their error was, it is made far worse that it was married to a sufficiently catchy tune and sufficiently well put-together background that it is a memorable inaccuracy.

Music is dangerous, people. Remember that. (But remember that dangerous can be synonymous with good. Think Aslan...)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A man like David

I'm back, and life is at last settling down into something of a normal routine again. I'm posting twice a week for Pillar on the Rock, and trust me when I say that writing two posts a week is a lot more manageable than doing the web design. I was spending 10-20 hours a week working out kinks on the site design back when PJ and I were getting it ready to deploy. The four or five hours a week I spend writing, editing my own and PJ's posts (he edits mine), and posting links to them on Twitter and Facebook seem pretty trivial in comparison. Now the holidays are over, I'm back at work, and our personal lives have settled down a bit, at least for now.

So here I am, in the few minutes I have before heading off for worship practice, tapping away at my computer on my own blog. A shock, I'm sure, to my many (ahem, not-so-many) readers.

It is, as ever, difficult to express just how much change a year brings. Certainly this year brought more than most—transitions out of college and into marriage and the working world being chief among them—but every year has its share of challenges, victories, and changes. I spent less time writing poetry and music this year than in any year since high school, and I missed both. I missed spending long hours late at night tapping away at my blog, too, in some ways. Yet I would not trade my life now for the one I had before in any way. Though I sometimes wish for more hours to read and write and compose instead of programming, I count myself the most blessed of men for the wife God has given me and the life He daily provides. Besides, programming is a good job.

My resolutions this year are few and simple: diligently study the word of God, by His grace kick a couple of troublesome sin habits in the face until they truly yield, and read a lot of good books. My goals are a bit broader: they include studying Greek at least once a week and composing equally often. My desires, from playing guitar to ranking up in Halo online, well... we'll see.

This I know: God will do mighty things this year, even if I can't see them. I'm going to content myself with learning, as best I can, to be a man like David. Early in his life, a man said of him: "[He] is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him" (1 Samuel 16:18). That seems a worthy goal to me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Enanthropoisis (Enhumanment): for orchestra

In honor of my 400th post on Blogger, and in honor of Christmas, something entirely different... I recommend you download the piece and play it with some good speakers; it'll be a much better listen.


Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel!

ἐνανθρωπήσαντα (enanthropoisis—enhumanment)

We sing songs of reflection, as we should. The incarnation is a stunning moment, worthy of all our quiet meditation. But it should also remind us that we are at war. The enhumanment of God the Son was not an olive branch—it was a frontal assault on the very fortress of the enemy, an arrow to the eye of the dragon.

We think of the baby in a manger as God's peace offering to the world, when in reality he was exactly what the Jews expected the Messiah to be: a mighty king who would smash through the enemy's resistance and humble every power in the world. They failed to recognize the enemy. We forget there is an enemy. They got the trees wrong. We ask, "What's a forest?"

That celebrated birth was a martial act, the most stunning entry in the millennia-long war. The manger was the first step on the long march to Golgotha.

Remember, this Christmas, as you celebrate the beauty of that silent, holy night: it was an act of war.

Christus Victor.

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come for thee, oh Israel!



You can download the piece by right-clicking here and choosing "Save As," "Save Link As," or similar.

[Originally posted as part of James Metalak's 12 Days of Christmas Project]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Calling All Dawns review

The song cycle has been a nearly-dead form for a century. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any composers of the 20th or early 21st centuries who are well-known for song cycles. There are a few, no doubt, but they're certainly not household names, as earlier practitioners of the form were.

Hopefully that will change in the years ahead. One reason I'm hopeful is the recent release of Christopher Tin's first album, Calling All Dawns. Tin is a relatively young composer who has done most of his work to this point in film and video games. To date, his best known piece has been "Baba Yetu," a setting of a Swahili version of the Lord's Prayer, composed for videogame Civilization IV. I suspect, having spent some time listening to this CD, that his stature as a composer will be increasing significantly in the years ahead.

Calling All Dawns is a orchestral song cycle, with twelve songs broken into three parts: Day, Night, and Dawn. The lyrical content ranges from "Baba Yetu," which opens the CD, to a selection from the Bhagavad Gita and a modern French ballad. Tin sees the CD as a celebration of the "cycle of life," a representation of "the fluid, cyclical nature of the universe." The work proclaims that "regardless of race, culture and religious belief, we are all connected through our common human experience."

Tin and I obviously have some differences of philosophy, but one of the things I've found interesting in listening to the cycle is that I agree with him. Before you skin me for a heretic, hear me out. We are united by common human experience. Each one of us longs for meaning, transcendence, love, community, and purpose. There is not a culture in the world that has not sung of hope and of sorrow alike. We all share in the agonies and the joys of life, and we all ache for a world better than this one.

The friend who gave Calling All Dawns to Jaimie and me as a wedding gift noted that he thought Heaven might sound a lot like Tin's work here. I agree. Tin has done a generally masterful job of weaving an incredibly disparate set of source material into a coherent whole: always a challenge, and the more so when your sources include everything from a haiku to the Torah and back again.

Tin proclaims his message of unity in the midst of diversity by his musical choices. The album is a very consistent album (with one exception; see below). It's very purposefully tonal, and the vocal settings from song to song, while varied enough to maintain interest, are almost never different enough from each other to be jarring. The pacing of the album is excellent: the first five songs (Day) are upbeat and rhythmic, while the next three (Night) are slower and relaxed, with less emphasis on percussion and more on gentle lyricism, and the concluding four (Dawn) are once again energetically orchestrated.

His vocal writing is excellent throughout, and I'm most impressed by how he managed to convey traditional cultural sounds without going over the top or breaking consistency with the rest of the album. His orchestral writing was solid and occasionally stunning.

Tin's use of strings was superb. Spread across the Night section is some of the finest pure strings work I've enjoyed from a new composer in quite some time. He used the brasses relatively sparingly, and to good effect, effectively lending punch and emphasis where needed. One of Tin's best musical decisions, in my mind, was his consistency in rhythmic structure. He varies the instrumentation over the course of the CD, but maintains a recognizable "beat" whenever the percussion appears.

The one weakness of the entire work, in my opinion, is "Rassemblons-Nous," the conclusion of the first section. Tin chose to put in a more modern pop-sounding piece here, a male soloist ballad in French. "Rassemblons-Nous" is one of only three songs on the work with a male soloist, and the only one where the male is the primary vocalist. I wish that Tin had chosen to go with a stronger setting for that moment. That being said, I don't think the song noticeably detracts from the overall quality of the work, however jarring it was on the first listen-through.

I wrote in my reflections on "Baba Yetu" a year and a half ago that, "Sometimes—rarely—a piece of art surpasses that which it was created for." A year and a half later, I find myself saying much the same about Calling All Dawns. Tin's ode to humanity has within in it the sounds of Heaven, when every tribe and tongue will sing praise to God. It's also smashingly good music in its own right. "Baba Yetu" is a good piece of music, but it's excelled by a majority of the other pieces on the CD. Tin is good and getting better. I've deeply enjoyed Christopher Tin's work thus far, and I look forward to his next concert works. I highly and unreservedly recommend Calling All Dawns.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flower bazookas - 500 words, 11/11/09

To men: remember that flowers are a veritable bazooka amongst weapons of love. (There's a turn of phrase you don't hear very often: "weapons of love." I'm going to use it regularly.) You should make a point to bring home flowers as often as you can, in as many unexpected and varied ways as you can. Go to the grocery store as a generous overture, and come back with flowers. Don't do it to get a favor, or to manipulate; bring her flowers because you love her. One last thing: bring whatever kind she likes best.



Actually having work to do is incredibly fulfilling. As much as it sounds nice to get paid to sit around and do nothing, it's actually quite frustrating. Simply put, man was made to work. God designed us for it. Work became unpleasant after the Fall; it was instituted from the beginning. Thus, when we aren't working, we very soon feel useless, and life begins to become rather dull and frustrating. Having experienced that recently, I am really enjoying being able to meaningful work to the glory of God. (Though if someone wants to pay me to simply read and write...)



My content on this blog has been low all year. The reasons have varied even while the results have remained the same. Shockingly enough... that's not going to change, for what I might call obvious reasons (the new blog PJ King and I just launched). In some sense, the reasons haven't changed: part of the reasons I've written so little of late is because I was spending many an hour working on getting the HTML and CSS properly set up and building images. It's nice to finally be able to write there. Long story short: writing beats coding.



I'm inclined to think the old saying, "When as Rome, do as the Romans" has limited value. There are times and areas of life where that's good advice. There are also times when it's awful advice. For example, hypothetically speaking: if I were in a community where education and intelligence were seen as tolerable at best, would it behoove me to act uneducated and intelligent? Or should I find some other course in which I tried not to offend but did not mask my personality? Or should I tray to sway the community? It's quite a balancing act, I think.



Last Sunday night, Wildwood Community Church hosted a worship night. I was blessed to be able to participate with the worship team, as I am on Sunday mornings. There is such joy in coming before God with people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, to offer praise and adoration to Him. One of the great joys of this particular service was the children: in normal Sunday services, the children are all in Sunday school. Here, they worshiped among and with us. It was a small, beautiful picture of heaven.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good songs, bad politics, good marriage - 500 words

I’ve been listening to some of Brooke Fraser’s music recently. It’s very good, and I’ve found myself with the nearly overwhelming urge to sing along. That’s great, until it happens when I’m at work, desperately trying to quash the urge before I have everyone in my area yelling at me… especially since I always have head phones in. Fraser is, from what I understand, a New Zealander who moved to Australia. She’s also an excellent lyricist and songwriter. Her personal albums are some of my favorite listening, and her worship songs are among my very favorites. Check out her music.

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One of Fraser’s songs includes the lines, “I am changing, less and less asleep / Made of different stuff than when I began.” The statement, along with the rest of the song (“Shadowfeet”) seems to be a fitting summary of my life right now. God is working to transform me, and of course that’s a process that takes a long time and a lot of work. It’s also incredibly rewarding. The joy of sanctification is incomparable. That’s good, because the pain can seem to be equally incomparable. Gladly, it’s not, and it’s only for a season.

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Marriage, no matter how hard, is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. In my admittedly brief experience thus far, I can wholeheartedly say that after salvation, it is the greatest joy in my life. Our marriage has been anything but perfect thus far: it’s challenging, sometimes painful, and often tiring. Yet it has been such a blessing to me. Nothing in my life has stretched me so much, taught me so many things, or humbled me so deeply. Equally, nothing has encouraged me, delighted me, or filled me so deeply with life. I highly recommend it.

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I find myself increasingly frustrated by Washington politics. I have never been one to think politics the solution to all our problems, though I’ve certainly been tempted. More and more, however, I’m aware that the problems of our world cannot and will not be solved by any political action, no matter how well intentioned. As Douglas Wilson has pointed out, the only hope for our culture’s reformation is in the reformation of the church. Heart change must precede policy change, or the policy change will be ineffective at best. This is as true for healthcare as abortion.

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As I was working today, I ran into a significant snag in the program I’d written. I spent the next hour tracking down the root of the problem. In the end, the problem was in the last place I thought to look: the inputs. Lesson learned: when a functioning program suddenly stops working, check the inputs, as well. It’s certainly possible that a heretofore unrevealed problem has raised its head… but just as likely, the external conditions are different. In life, of course, we see the opposite (which also happens in programming): circumstances simply expose what’s in our hearts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

5 100ish-word thoughts, 10/28/09

Composing Training Trials while Reading and Writing

(1) I'm going to make this one a habit if I can, too. It's fun, and it's a good writer's challenge: say meaningful things, briefly. It's especially a good challenge for me, as I'm sure my friends agree! I will write 5 thoughts, none of which will be longer than 100 words (they might be a bit shorter!). Topics will range from theology to humor to current events, and probably back again. Each week will include a wide range of topics. Short, easy, good practice, and hopefully fun reading! Alas, I must move on, as I'm at 99 words already...

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(2) As I, and I'm sure many others, have observed before: it's not the big, short trials that are the hardest. (They can be plenty hard, but they're not the worst.) The most difficult trials to endure are the ones that simply keep going. I noted several years ago that James' famous exhortation to "count it all joy" continues by promising that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. Implication: we're going to be facing the trial for quite some time. We'd better start learning to count it all joy: we'll be doing it a lot!

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(3) Training can be one of the dullest and most tedious affairs I've ever experienced. Especially training for software tools. Elegant and powerful this tool may be, but the book would be powerful only as an implement of pain, and never elegant. My days this week have been long and dreary. Three things help, in ascending order: (1) the instructor has a superb British accent; (2) I know that my wife is waiting for me at home; (3) I get to have a very short work day on Friday. Thus do I endure my pain. Longsuffering, indeed!

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(4) The joy of reading a new book is difficult to overstate. That being said, I'm pretty sure the joy I have in reading a new The Wheel of Time novel is quite impossible to overstate. I love the characters, I love the world, and I love the story. I'm reminded, every time I sit down to read this fantasy epic (and epic it is) of the power of words to stir the imagination, and how powerful and important the imagination is. Reading good novels is as good for us as reading good nonfiction, the Bible aside.

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(5) Composing is a strange pursuit. Not that I've done much of it recently, but I've missed it, and I've thought about it quite a bit. I do not quite understand the mechanism by which people can pull music seemingly out of nowhere, despite having experienced it myself many times. It is, to me at least, one of the deepest proofs of God's existence: we create because He does. (I'd say it's one of the quietest proofs, but that's not quite right, and it'd be a bit paradoxical to claim music as a quiet proof, don't you think?)

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God bless, and good night!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Missed notes

It is 2:22 am as I begin writing. Piano music by George Winston plays softly in the background. I have just finished - or rather, nearly finished - a quantum mechanics assignment, the final such assignment of my undergraduate career. Next semester the sole physics class I shall be taking is capstone; I will in a week have finished the coursework proper of a bachelor's degree in physics - no small thing, and certainly a thing not accomplished on my own merits.

And I find myself in a reflective mood. I suspect the music has much to do with it: long have I found George Winston's piano work to be among the best for inspiring quiet contemplation and thought. Not for nothing did I often model my early improvisatory playing on the piano after his playing. He captures ideas of seasons better than any similar modern composer I know of. Though not of great repute, though of simple style and developmental method, his works are of great value. They help me think.

In these hectic days, music that leads me to pause and ponder, to think... such music is a good thing.

This has been a busy and difficult semester, and it has flown by. It has been over three months since I proposed to Jaimie and she said yes, made me the happiest man in the world. It has been nearly a month since I finished the "final" draft of Destiny and Hope, my first orchestra piece in years. It has been four months, nearly, since classes began this fall, and it has been five since I last saw my family. I miss old friends that I see little of this year. I have learned how horribly selfish I am through the mirror that is my relationship with Jaimie, and I have seen God do great and mighty things in, between, and through us as a couple. I have seen my relationships with young men I care about deeply flourish in ways that surprise me, though it should not. I have been blessed to be a part of a ministry team in a ministry where God is moving - a ministry that, though my heart longs to move on to working in a church setting, is where God has put me, and where I thus work and work hard in this time.

God has taught me patience and endurance in some small measure this semester. More, He has taught me reliance on His grace in new ways, quieter and subtler than those that came before.

Often, come this time of year in this stage of life, it is easy to look back and see some grand sweeping changes in one's life, in one's character and constitution. Not so for me, this year. I see grand changes in my circumstances. Within, I see God working on my heart, less dramatically but for that the more deeply and more transformingly. He is rooting out sin, and driving me to my knees, forcing me to confront the terrible effects sin has, but more than that the evil that it is in and of itself. He has opened my eyes a little more to the sinfulness of sin. And He has continued to pour out His glory, to show Himself, to reveal just how great and how incomparable His splendor is. He has, in so doing, continued to transform my mind, shaping it to be ever more consumed with His agenda and His ends - to ultimately be utterly devoted to the glory of Jesus Christ above all else.

The OU orchestra recorded Destiny and Hope today. In that, in listening to them play and in listening many times over to the recording since then (12 times, according to iTunes), I catch a glimpse, though only the tiniest, of God's heart as an artist. I was awed as they played beauty where I had written beauty, as they captured quiet meditation and fierce pathos less than an hour after first hearing the piece. And I was sad, too, though not surprised, at how they missed notes. I marveled at how a single wrong note - an entry but a measure too soon, or a landing on a note a step too low - could destroy the carefully crafted beauty for that moment. I marveled, too, at how quickly they moved on once more into magnificent and compelling music-making. There is something striking and remarkable here: that we fragile little human people have been entrusted with the gift of reflecting the creative nature of God.

The universe sings. Most people thing such statements but flowery metaphor, but it's merely a statement of fact. (Perhaps merely is the wrong word.) Celestial objects, as they spin, have characteristic frequencies that correspond to pitches. I have often wondered, these last five or six years, if it would be possible, with some hard work, to synthesize from the relationship of perhaps the nearest 100 stars from the raw data into their connectedness and their musicality, and in so doing, to catch a glimpse of the symphony God has created for His pleasure. The stars never miss notes.

We, His great artistry, do. We live missed notes. We were made to reflect the very nature of God; His image is in us, placed there from the beginning. Now we are broken instruments, unable to be played properly; it takes the hands of a master maker to build us anew into beings capable of singing the Great Song.

My heart broke a little at every missed note, every gap in the music today. How much more does God's heart break when we miss notes with our very lives? How much greater is the the love - indeed, the Love - He has invested in us? And, as that orchestra did today, ought we not strive to play every note perfectly, to reflect rightly the intent of the composer?

I have missed many notes this semester. A recording would find my life a cacophony. Yet it would be a cacophony in which beauty emerges, not by the perfection of the instrument, but by the genius of the Maker whose instrument I am, and whose melodies and harmonies I seek to make my life's one song, as He remakes me to be a perfect instrument.

I pray you find yourself seeking harder after God Almighty in the days to come, that you are consumed once more with the mystery - for mystery it is - of the Lord of All come as a baby in a manger, the song of the heavenly host sung triumphant for the coming of God as a baby in a stinky manger. And I pray that you sing yourself the song of the redeemed, that you sing the glory of God with your voice and with your life.

- Chris

Destiny and Hope

Monday, November 17, 2008

In the last week and a half, I've...

In the last week and a half, I've...

  1. Contracted a nasty stomach bug.

  2. Written a paper based entirely on original research into media influence on isolationist sentiment prior to Pearl Harbor. [Fascinating stuff, enough so that I'm borderline interested in doing some real research on this at some point. History is fascinating.]

  3. Contemplated, somewhat briefly, what it would take to actually write a decent novel over the course of the next year.

  4. Prayed for some of my friends, for my family, for my fiancée's family, and for my fiancée. None of them as much as I should have.

  5. Slept a normal amount most of the time, and a ridiculous, though necessary, amount the last several days.

  6. Helped carry an upright piano out of one house and into another several miles away. (Don't worry, there was a trailer along the way.)

  7. Watched The Dark Knight again. Yes, it really is just as good (and maybe better) on the second viewing. No, the morals of the story aren't as confused as people seem to think. Some explanation on that sometime in the future. Maybe. If I don't get really busy.

  8. Read a good bit of World War II history. Fascinating war. One of the only unarguably "good" wars in history, at least as fought by the Allies. Except that the Russians were brutalized as deeply as the Germans were, and the Pacific conflict was pretty ugly, too. It may have been for a noble cause, but like all wars, it was really, really ugly.

  9. Looked forward a lot to being married. Accordingly, flirted a lot with my wonderful, beautiful fiancée.

  10. Missed my family back in Colorado a lot.

  11. Missed mountains, though not so much as my family.

  12. Enjoyed the smell of fall, as it's at last arrived. (Yes, it takes till mid-November here in Oklahoma, alas.)

  13. Played guitar three times.

  14. Missed a composers' recital that had a piece of mine performed in it, and performed really well by all accounts (go Corey!).

  15. Finished writing an orchestra piece for the first time in several years. (Yes, that's a live link, and yes you should take a listen.) As well, printed the score and held it in my hands... now that's a rather giddy moment, let me tell you. There's something quite unique about holding an orchestra score in one's hands, especially one as pretty as this one turned out. Modern notation software really can work wonders for printing pretty scores.

  16. Tried really hard to praise God and glorify Him no matter what. Didn't get it right every time. Praised Him for His grace when I didn't. I look forward to the day (in Heaven!) when I do.


Someday I'll be back with normal, regular posts. By which, as you all know, I really mean pages long ponderings of important things. That day is not this day. And that's okay. Mundane things are good, too.

- Chris