To the Musician in You
As minister-musicians I often write or speak to the minister in you. I recognize the priority that ministry takes in the minister-musician balance of work and being. For most of us our strong sense of calling is to ministry. We sense that God has called us to pastor and guide fellow musicians, to utilize our art to minister to the lives of people and provide a means of praise for the church. Our commission is to spread the Gospel through song – played and sung. Today I want to speak to the musician in you. The musician side of us is never in a vacuum. We function as musician within our role as called minister. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we not ignore the artistic side that hones our craft and sensitizes our spirit. How on earth will we ever direct those who fill our choir lofts, orchestra pits, or man the microphones in our praise bands with any sense of confidence if we do not spend time nurturing our own musicianship? I don’t know where this happens for you; whether listening to recorded music (best done with earphones in a secluded place for me – southern rock must be loud to be appreciated), or splurging for a professional symphony concert (the Nashville Symphony is outstanding), attending a local high school or college program (there is something uniquely authentic about young voices or instruments striving for musical expression together), or sneaking in to an acoustic songwriter session somewhere. I do know, however, that such exposure and fostering of our own musicianship most likely happens on purpose. For all of us becoming better musicians most likely includes time in a practice room. That room may be a secluded space in the church education building, or hidden away in our office with the door shut, conducting in the mirror. It may be at home after kids are gone to school where we can sing or play to our heart’s content. We need to listen to music. We need to practice making music. We need to rehearse leading music. We need to be in touch with a sense of its power, its ability to speak, form, and convey.
Music is the most oft-referenced art form in the Bible. No wonder this is so, since music has great power over the human spirit. Like the church father, Augustine, I am deeply touched by music’s way of speaking. Sometimes when my spirits are low I am revived by a joyful song. At other times when my spirits are low I find a strange solace in a song of lament or strangely beautiful song of sorrow that somehow helps touch the chord of unsettledness or pain. Sometimes when my spirits are jubilant I find rich celebration available in music that helps me express something of my joy. At other times when I am cheerful I find music that may be measured, though bright, capable of helping my glee to be strengthened into a purposeful praise through a kind of disciplined release of delight. From time to time I am convicted that I need to listen to music more. I need to foster that sensibility in me that responds to music’s own way of conveying humanity, not to mention truth and message.
I am quite an eclectic music listener. I developed the wide interest over different exposures through the years. I now try to be eclectic on purpose. Many people assume that I listen to music all the time when traveling in the car, which most of you know is much of my time (40,000 plus miles a year). The truth is, however, that it is fairly seldom that I listen to music in the car while driving. The road noise covers up so much of the good stuff. I am the guy who likes to hear the fret squeak of a guitar concerto, or the click of keypads made by the clarinetist in a soft adagio passage of a symphony. I try my best to hear the footpedal change in Clapton’s music when he changes effects boxes. I like to sense the trombone slide in an old Chicago tune. Saying that may make me sound like an audiofile, but that’s really not the case. For one thing, I can’t afford to be, and for another thing, what I am drawn to is the passion in the music-making that eminates from the musician, as well as the slightest nuance of the music itself. As a musician I like to identify with the music making. I sorta want to be “in the music,” you might say. This is one of the reasons choral music gives such rich blessing. It is one thing to express music as a soloist, whether over a microphone, or by filling the lungs and controlling release through the vocal chords, forte or pianissimo. It is something very different to sing in ensemble blending with those around you, finding that sweet spot within the ensemble where we can know our own chords are vibrating, but sensing their tone within the beauty of a well-balanced three or four part chord, whether dissonant or consonant. The same is true, sometimes more so, when singing perfect unison where many voices become one.
This past weekend nurtured my “inner musician.” Saturday I attended the all-state chorus presentations. Great inspiration to observe hundreds of high school students singing Victoria, Tallis, Mozart, folktunes, and 100 young men under the direction of outstanding composer, Z. Randall Stroope. Powerful reminder that teens grow in music-making. I attended First Baptist Nashville Sunday to hear King’s Brass, Dr. Al Travis, and the choir, and the punctuation of Dr. Terry York’s message on Psalm 150 that resonated with the musician in me that longs to praise my Lord with a loud “Hallelujah!” Sunday evening’s concert of the Tennessee Ladies Chorus was a joy-filled opportunity to direct the music-making of this very special group of ladies. By the time of the first notes of Vicki Wright’s organ prelude I was ready to burst. These 75 women filled the air with music that declared the presence of the Lord, gave Him rich praise, offered hope for those who trust in Christ and declared their faith to Bow their knee in all circumstances of life.
Fellow musicians, we must present our best musicianship! We must call our choirs, instruments, and vocalists to offer their best! Not only is the final presentation worship – there is worship in the practice room, there is worship in rehearsal, there is worship in music selection. These messages of worship, praise, and Gospel truth deserve our best musicianship! Consider the profound messages sung so beautifully Sunday night by the TLC. They sang of the wonders of God’s creation, but the message was that God Himself made these things. They declared the joy of simple gifts and the knowing that “Jesus Loves Me,” but also painted the awe-full picture of our name written in the wounds of our Savior; a message that turns to the glorious reality that “death is crushed to death, and life is mine to live” through the “Power of the Cross.” I sensed their best musicianship expressing the hope that is found in Christ alone. There was rich mature tone that hailed the glorious truth of a risen savior, “up from the grave He rose again!”
“When in our music God is glorified
And adoration leaves no room for pride
It is as though the whole creation cried, “Allelujah! Allelujah! Allelujah!”
(Fred Pratt Green – ©1972 Hope Publishing Co.)
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