And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord ), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord , “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord , was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
2 Chronicles 5:11-14 ESV
In my personal life, I am coming out of a long period of several years of foster care. We are still foster parents, but our current case is moving toward another adoption in a way that has taken a lot of the pressure off. We have also been struggling pretty intensely with being parents of kids from hard places. That struggle has forced me to become a student of trauma, child development, brain chemistry, and more in order to embrace this struggle as the new normal. Graciously, God has blessed us in this trial and He has also blessed me as a songwriter and performer with a number of songs that come from the context of this authentic kingdom journey.
As we come out of this time, I’ve realized that there’s something that was lost along the way that I long to recapture. What I lost was intimacy with the muse of music. I have been playing all this time and doing my job faithfully for the church, but in all the time taken up with the struggle, I’ve not been delighting in and soaking up music as much as I once did. I have decided recently to begin to “court the muse” again in order to restore that joy of performing music that I had. Here’s a list (listicle) of things that I’ve been trying to do to court the muse.
- Buying music
- Practicing daily
This is actually hard to do in the world of parenting. I find that I feel guilty about spending the money as well as the time it takes to chose a purchase. Wading through everything that could possibly be purchased on Amazon or iTunes is daunting. It’s not the same to stream music for me. Spotify, Pandora and YouTube are handy but buying a recording involves more commitment for me to take the time to focus on the recording and really digest it. Lately, I’ve been trying to buy a new CD once a month.
This has been much harder of course. I’ve also struggled with feelings of guilt that I am being selfish to spend time practicing anything that is not worship songs. However, this guilt is not from the Holy Spirit. Besides, I’ve realized that I waste MUCH more time on social networks and TV that is not productive in the least. So, I am reading, doing scales, playing tunes, transcribing, and all the other things that I learned in college make you a better player. This has been DEEPLY therapeutic and joyful for me. My brain, my emotions, and my body almost buzz with delight after practicing for even just 20 minutes.
A natural outcome of buying new music, but it also takes effort. My car has a 6 CD player and I have kept it loaded with good stuff all the time. I can’t listen to music at home (there’s too much kid and dog noise to even attempt it). But in my car, I crank it up and let it soak in. Again, it’s handy to have a device that plays 10,000 songs on shuffle, but it’s also helpful to focus my listening to one CD and letting every track play instead of skipping to the “singles.” I’ve found that this kind of deeply listening allows me to hear things every time a track repeats that I hadn’t noticed before. Just this morning, I was listening to a song and I noticed that the drummer would leave out the last 8th note in the measure on the high hat every 4 measures. It might be my 20th or 30th time listening to the track.
This requires students obviously. I have a couple of students right now who are starting their journey with the guitar. It’s so exciting to introduce them to music and joy of performing together. Giving them just a few notes that they can play, all of a sudden they are musicians having their first experience with the muse. It’s a rush! Challenging them to work on getting past their technical and cognitive barriers reflects back on me to do the same and to not be content with letting my playing become plateaued.
I love books! Don’t you? Why do we look at our phones or whatever for hours and hours? Books are so much more satisfying. Reading about music has been a good stimulation for wanting to play more. Even just reading good stories or learning about history has the effect on me of wanting to connect with the muse and respond to these ideas with producing something instead of just being a consumer.
In all of this, I want to acknowledge though I’m using the Greek term “muse,” what I mean is that aspect of the Maker that I reflect when I make music. He created the physics of the universe that makes music possible. His word even says that HE sings over me to quiet me with His love. That is what I want to tap into and become intimate with again. The Maker – the WORD – is the muse and I don’t have to strive after Him because he has courted me into a relationship in which music is one of the amazing ways that I can be close with Him and to know His love and joy more deeply.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
I deeply appreciate these videos created by InterVarsity’s video production crew, twentyonehundred . They have re-framed the conversation about worship styles to emphasis something that I’ve always believed – that worship should be diverse in style out of love and mutual submission that looks a lot like sharing a meal together.
These clips could function as a good conversation starter for a team of musicians, pastors, youth leaders, etc who are exploring the idea of diverse worship. It’s also a breath of fresh air in a time when the church is having hard and painful conversations about race and ethnicity. Brothers and sisters in Christ do need to have hard conversations, but they need to happen in the context of relationships that are fueled by gospel-based hospitality.
Back in my day, we had to bootleg Jaime Aebersold tracks from the school library.
Yesterday, we hid the afternoon doldrums and so I went to turn on some music. I turned on this video, and all of my kids froze and watched this mariachi group in rapt attention. This is music performance in it’s truest and most vibrant form. It completely captivated us.
Assuming that I know everything about music, my wife asked me what the names of these instruments are. I confess I had to look it up. I suppose that I need to add a “vihuela” to my wish list.
I heard a TED talk or something that said that if you have a personal goal then the last thing you should do is to tell someone about it. The reason they gave was that the act of telling someone your goal gives your brain the same warm fuzzies that you get from actually accomplishing the goal. As a result, New Year’s resolutions never work because once you share them, then you loose the internal motivation to get them done. That being said, I want to share one of my resolutions in the hopes that this post will sabotage the whole thing.
My resolution is to practice my guitar more and with more purpose. As a professional musician, I play the guitar all the time but I’ve not really practiced in any focused way since college. Here’s the general plan that I’ve come up with to practice about 30 minutes, 4 times a week.
Monday – Reading practice
Tuesday – Transcription
Thursday – Tunes and Repertoire
Friday – Scales & Technique
I started last week by reading through the lessons in William Levitt’s Method Book 1. I’m transcribing Charlie Christian’s solo from Seven Come Eleven. For tunes last week, I worked on memorizing the head to “Seven Come Eleven” and “Freddie The Freeloader.” Then for scales I pulled out a textbook from college, Jerry Bergonzi’s book on Pentatonics.
If you are a jazz player or any other kind of pro for that matter, this might seem pretty light, but I’m just trying to wade back into this so cut me some slack.
Gee, it felt good to share that with you. Now, where’s my phone? I need to go back to playing Subway Surfers.
I’ve known Michelle Higgins for about 20 years. We were in the youth group together at New City Fellowship (PCA) in Chattanooga. We also attended Chattanooga Christian School together where we both sang in the choir and even performed in a stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” together. (I was Mr. Darcy and Michelle was the mother, “Mrs. Bennett.”) Later, in college, we were ministry interns at that same church for a summer where we had some crazy times learning about how to love and serve as church staff. Later, we were able to hang out again when she and her family relocated back to St Louis where I currently live. Michelle came here to get her MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America. Since then, we’ve been able to collaborate on a number of events and our churches, New City Fellowship in St Louis (PCA) and South City Church (PCA) have been able to grow together as sister congregations in our presbytery.
I finally got to watch her talk this morning (I’ve been chasing my kids around, gimme a break) and I want to say that I personally endorse and support everything she said. I know she’s getting flack about what was said about adoption/abortion, and I want to say a hearty “AMEN” about her comments. I am now an adoptive parent and I have been a foster parent of 10 other children. I believe that abortion is murder, but the church in America can’t shout about abortion legislation without putting foster care and adoption in that same conversation.
If you watch her message at Urbana 2015 and think that she’s “blaming white people” or promoting hate of some kind, then I’m sharing all this to let you know from my personal experience that Michelle Higgins loves White folks. Her life is a testimony of the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit to break down the walls of division. In my 20 years of knowing her, she has been a compassionate and prophetic voice to both White and Black folks (and more).
I deeply respect her for being willing to say things that will get criticized. I’m not too comfortable even writing this endorsement because of the flack that I might get! But we need prophetic voices to say these things and not flinch. So, Michelle, thank you and congratulations for how God is using you at such a time as this.