I shall compose.

Lately, I have felt as though my creativity has been pushed down for so long because I have all these little things to do for school… So recently I have decided to allow myself to be creative when I feel the need. This has brought my attention to something.

Part of my creative desires lean heavily toward composing music. I want to…so badly. But I feel unequipped… I sit down at the piano and I don’t even know where to start! I have all these ideas in my head…but it is so frustrating not being able to execute them the way that I envision. Sometimes I think it’s a lack of skill on my part. That the piano composition ideas in my head are too complex for my intermediate level, so I cannot play them. Or my knowledge of different genres is not cultured, so I am very limited from a stylistic standpoint. These things often discourage me and stop me from trying to pursue composition as a major hobby.

But here are some things I also realized: I am a perfectionist. I like learning fast and reaching new levels by leaps and bounds. I don’t like being a “beginner” at anything. But in music, there is ALWAYS the beginner stage. No matter what you do, you always, always have more to learn. It takes patience because many times musical growth can be out of your control. I can’t let my fear of being mediocre at something keep me from expressing myself through the art of composition. The more I do it, the better I will most likely get. Sometimes we have to tread through the learning stages before something becomes second nature.

Another thing: I care too much about what people think. Music is so incredibly prone to opinion… and everybody thinks they know best and that they have the most refined taste, yadda yadda. Because of being around these kinds of opinions all day from professors and peers, I find it really terrifying to put my own creativity out there to be either praised or ridiculed. Art can be so personal… It’s like transforming a piece of yourself into another form, and when it is being criticized, artists often feel disapproved as well. But I feel like being a true artist requires that step of consciously deciding to not care what people think and to put yourself out there confidently, knowing that what you created is beautiful no matter what people say.

I guess the purpose of this blog post is mainly for myself, or anyone who is having this same internal struggle.

I have to be a beginner before I become better.

I will be well equipped when the time permits.

The art that God allows me to create will be beautiful art, and I should have confidence in the fact that He gifted me this way. So much so that I want to share it with others.

So, I shall, indeed, compose.

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On Modern Worship.

I have been on quite a journey these past few years discovering what musical worship in a church service should look like. While I have found little answers, I have uncovered some reasons behind why most worship music in contemporary services has the tendency to bother me.

I used to think that the simplicity of the chord progressions and mundane instrumentation were what bothered me. That we had taken away the beauty of the music in order to please the listeners. I used to think that it was because I’m a musician and I naturally analyze everything about a song while it rings in my ears, leading to the fact that I am never satisfied with music in church. But none of these things cured the curiosity in my head about why the worship music in church didn’t seem sufficient.

It took a refocusing on the purpose of musical worship to realize what the problem was. What is the point of music during a service? To proclaim the name of the Lord and worship Him for who He is. One of the main problems with the contemporary music of the church now is that the music is incredibly self-focused. The song “How He Loves,” made popular by the David Crowder band, spends more than three fourth’s of the song saying “How He loves us, oh, how He loves us.” “Oceans” by Hillsong states in the chorus, “I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine.” These statements are not in any way contrary to the truths of the Bible. I would say they are encouraging things to remember and that our connection with God is largely based on His open arms and unwavering love for us. But this “genre” of lyrics has taken the worship music industry by storm, resulting in a jarring unbalance between worshipping what God does for us or how His love makes us feel, and worshipping God simply for who He is.

Because of large success of former worship songs, like those of Chris Tomlin and Hillsong, there is an incredible amount of lyrics that are repeated countless time in modern music, such as “there is power in Your name” or “we will not be shaken” or “I am Yours.” Before you take offense to my disapproval, hear me out. These lyrics, again, are not bad lyrics. In fact they are true and good and I say, heck, if you feel led to put these lyrics in a worship song you are writing, be my guest. The problem here is not of truth or even self focus, but rather the fact that popular songs with these lyrics seem to be filling in lyrical blanks in order for the song to be produced rather than using a beautiful form of art to proclaim who God is. Often making this evident is a lack of coherency between phrases of a popular worship song, where there is music and lyrics that hold true to what the Bible says, but the lyrics seem nearly commonplace and random, as if the song was thrown together for the sake of business. There is shallowness about this music that I almost cannot describe. Although I know nothing really about this topic, I often wonder about the behind the scenes of the worship industry, and if it is as corrupt and self-serving as the secular industries of the world in that we are producing what people want to hear rather than what will bring glory to a complex and mighty God.

Not all worship music produced these days is self-focused and fill-in-the-blank. There are some songs that do worship God truly for who He is. What I see happening, though, is the purpose of worship music being twisted into something that makes us feel good and serves our emotions. Musical worship can be emotional and it can be something through which we praise God for what He has done, but we must not forget that no matter how we feel, who God is still stands and will stand forever.

Hide Away

“Hide Away” by Daya is climbing the pop top forties every day. Although I realize the lyrics to this song can seem silly and shallow, I find the song to be catchy, and I personally wanted to explore the reason why it had the big emotional impact it does.

 

The song begins with a piano-like synthesizer pulsing a I-ii-vi progression. Daya enters in a simple manner, relating the observation that “boys seem to like the girls who laugh at everything.” The lyrics continue in this way as the singer communicates the kind of girls it seems that boys like. The simple chord progression and minimal instrumentation makes the verse sound contemplative, almost as if we have entered the dreamy world of the girl’s thoughts. As the phrase “Girl’s seem to like the boys who don’t appreciate all the money and the time that it takes…” a simple percussive beat follows with the lyrics “to be fly as a mother.” This added instrumentation accompanies a change of tone in the lyrics. Rather than them being simple and observatory, they now begin to develop into frustration with the lyrics “Got my both eyes out for Mr. Right, oh, and I just don’t know where to find ‘em.” This seems to be a building transition into the chorus.

 

The chorus has the most instrumentation out of the whole song, and the most fiery lyrics:

 

Where do the good boys go to hide away, hide away?

I’m a good, good girl who needs a little company.

Looking high and low,

someone let me know

Where do the good boys go to hide away, hide away?

 

There are several reasons for the way this song moves the emotions. Not in a sense of bringing you to tears, but in a sense of needing to move and get anger out. The frustration is musically communicated by the new vi-IV-I progression because it starts on a minor chord. Instead of the simple piano synth pulsing the chords, it is now a harsher synth. Then, of course, the bass and intense percussive features also contribute to the frustration the girl is getting out. It is interesting that on the lyrics “high and low” the melody of the singer goes from a high pitch to a lower one, which is an awesome example of text depiction in pop music.

 

The second verse and chorus continue in this same way, with very similar instrumentation: simpler in the verse where she is again making observation about the interactions of boys and girls, and complex in the chorus where she is frustrated about not being able to find a good one. The bridge is a very cool part of the song. All melodic and harmonic instrumentation drops out except for treble percussion, and girls voices join Daya as they repetitively ask, “Where do the good boys go?” It seems that percussion is the main way the writers of this song desired to release the confusion and frustration the girl is feeling. The girls joining Daya suggests that this is not only a problem in her life, but that many girls are looking for “good boys” that are nowhere to be found.
The song ends with the instrumentation ending once and for all, and Daya’s voice echoing softer and softer, “Hide away, hide away” as though her voice is what gives the listener a mental picture of “hiding away” itself. Overall, I think this song is a good example of portraying the text through musical decisions. And, also, I just love it.

 

Music in a Christian’s Daily Life.

I have often wondered what exactly the role of music is in a Christian’s daily life. It is often that I find a pop song on the radio to be catchy, but immediately wonder whether it is fruitful for me as a follower of Jesus to fill my ears with music not pertaining to anything of the Lord. In fact, pop music most commonly advocates for lifestyles opposing that which the Lord desires for His children. But, it’s everywhere. So how do we decide what music is supposed to be for us as we strive to have a heart like His?

Psalm 96:1-3 says “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.  Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” Similarly, Psalm 95:1 commands, “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” In these passages, a song unto the Lord is being used as praise and proclamation of His glory. Christian’s are usually aware of music being utilized in church as a way to proclaim the name of the Lord, but how does it translate into our everyday life? This passage states that we are to “proclaim His salvation day after day.” The first way that we are called to this is by singing unto the Lord.

Most often when singing is mentioned in the Bible, it for the purpose of lifting high the Lord’s name:

“My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.” –Psalm 57:7

“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” -2 Chronicles 5:13

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORDand put their trust in him.” –Psalm 40:3

 

However, another reason for singing in Ephesians 5:19 states that true community between believers is “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart unto the Lord.” Not only is singing used as praise unto the Lord, but as a sign of God-glorifying relationships between Christians.

Finally, Zephaniah 3:17 states, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Music is a key way of expressing praise to the King, to express love to one another, and for God to show that He delights in us. Although there are other ways these can be expressed, music is always described as bringing glory to the savior. That is the reason for music altogether, to show our passion for our Savior. We are called to do this day after day and to find what that means in our own lives. Because music is such a sacred art, Christians should be careful of losing sight of its original intention. I believe that the command to sing unto the Lord is a true one, and that some of the sweetest moments of praise come out of musical experiences. This can be translated many different ways in the modern world, such as listening to uplifting music that we may always remember that God is the one who sings over us. It could also be celebrating God through dance or instrumentation, but always remembering that God is the reason we do any of this in the first place and letting that shape our view of music in our daily lives.

Music is a vessel.

First semester of sophomore year has by far been the hardest semester of my career as a student. The sophomore music majors of UMHB have not had a break. Regular performances, multiple research papers, frustrating music tech projects, constant theory homework, and any extracurricular activities have most of us wondering, “Is this worth it?”

Why is music worth it?

The fact that when we see a bright red flower and find that it is beautiful is a testament to the existence of a higher power in that though it may not directly benefit us, we appreciate it and admire it as beautiful and wonderful. The fact that if we take a step back and think deeply about any part of life only to find that it is odd is a testament to one greater than us. For example, it is normal that humans show emotion through facial expressions. But if one thinks in the grand scheme of life and realizes that humans communicate through the movement of facial muscles, and through those movements we express thoughts and ideas that develop from emotion, it becomes something terribly odd and almost inconceivable.

In the same way, the way that music touches the human soul is proof that there is a God. How can it be that something invisible can have the power to make us move and to make us feel? How is it that when simple words don’t reach a heart, somehow music can? How is it that music can make us believe, make us question, give us perspective on the world? How could music possibly have affect on one’s character?

Why is music so impactful?

That question in and of itself is reassurance that there is, in fact, a God. A God that uses something seemingly so simple to reach us and touch our hearts. A God of many emotions, a God of immense beauty, and a God of power only communicated in the smallest fraction through music.

Music is a vessel. Music is a way that God penetrates souls when nothing else can.

Whether you are a performer, a teacher, or a worship leader, you are utilizing a precious, precious gift that few have honed as carefully as we are now striving to. We do music because it touches lives, because the combination of the Holy Spirit moving and music surrounding us is one that cannot be described by words.

We do music because it is so sweet to experience the intimacy with God that music allows us to.

For those who are tired, do not lose hope. There is a higher mission, a sacred calling to which we are running. God is worth it, and because He has gifted us in this way, we must be a light in a dark world through our actions, through our words, and perhaps through music.

Criticism in Worship.

Lately, it seems that everywhere I turn there is cynicism toward the mainstream worship music that is evolving today. People say songs are overplayed, songs have too shallow of lyrics, songs focus on “I” too much, music is too loud, worship leaders are too casual, blah, blah, blah. Although I frequently play along and list things that I’m hesitant about in worship music, it has begun making me quite tired. It’s hard for me to enjoy worship services anymore because my brain is reeling with criticisms of the songs that play. To be honest, I’m kind of sick of it. I think it’s time that Christians stop focusing on the small things in worship services and instead focus on the big picture of God’s grand and wonderful story. The real question is not: Is this chord progression overused? The real question is: does this song effectively communicate who God is and bring glory to Him in its lyrics and instrumentation?

To make clearer the question of instrumentation, one must look back on the doctrine of ethos that Aristotle and Plato introduced in their studies of music. This theory refers to the power of music to influence one’s character and emotions. I do believe this doctrine has proven true through the test of time, and because of that, it is important that the musical elements of worship music hold integrity. For example, because screamo music is linked with emotions of anger and rage, it would most likely not be appropriate to utilize screamo songs in times of musical worship.

Although the main focus of lyrics may be important in some ways, the most important thing is that the songs communicate biblical truth. Christ DID die for me. I AM forgiven. Just because these lyrics are self-focused, doesn’t mean that we should instantly label them as wrong. We praise God for who He is, and He is a redeemer, is He not? I think to some measure it is important that Christians are wary of constantly singing about themselves and focusing on the individual, because the focus IS God, not us, but praising Him for what He has done, as long as it is anchored in truth, is not wrong just because we say the word “I”.

The hardest thing in worship music for me has been the overuse of songs. For example, the first time I heard “Holy Spirit” by Brian and Katie Torwalt, I was instantly in love with it. But over the past few years that it has been popular, I would say that it has been played in one of every two or three worship services I’ve attended. Needless to say, it’s lost its spark. But in those times where I hear the beginning riff starting to play, I have a choice to make. Do I a) roll my eyes and let my critical thoughts swirl in my head and I simply endure it or, b) do I focus on the lyrics, and let the Holy Spirit show me something new every time because He is faithful in doing so?

My intention is not to say that small factors should not be taken into consideration when deciding what songs to play for musical worship, because I believe that in the right time and place, they are important. However, what I am saying is that we as Christians need to stop being critical of songs that play on Sunday and allowing it to hinder our worship, and instead focus on the truths communicated in those songs and choose to praise God for who He is no matter the song that is playing.

The Sweetest Moments.

Because of being on One Voice, I have had many wonderful opportunities to experience worship in different ways with various denominations. Because of these opportunities I have personally come to the conclusion that the music of worship does indeed affect the way that one’s heart responds during that time. When I think of moments that I have had true worship, my mind constantly goes back to a time when I was at a retreat in Austin and All Sons and Daughters, a Christian band, was leading. The instrumentation was folky and simple, and the lead singer consistently reminded those in the audience that God was the center of it all. What I found was that through its simplicity, the musicality in the songs provided clarity in the midst of many different sounds. Some people fear that excessive instrumentation in music provokes unnecessary emotion and causes worship to have a sense of fakeness. Although I think that theory can be true in some instances, music in general IS emotional, and I would invite the concept that music is one central way in which God touches those emotions and creates a sense of intimacy between worshipper and Lord. I believe that this intimacy can be accomplished in minimal other ways, and if the worship is centered on the Lord and is not a performance on the worship leader’s part, that instrumentation can be a very positive guide in hearing the voice of the Lord. Overall, I do believe that some of the sweetest moments of worshiping our Lord are when music is utilized for that very reason. And I do think that the components of musical worship affect how one responds to the voice of the Lord.