When I sit down to play my piano, I remember why I wanted to be a pianist; when I sing I remember why I wanted to be a singer, when I teach, I remember why I wanted to be a teacher, when I conduct, I remember why I wanted to be a conductor.
This morning I am sitting outside in the cold sun and reading through Beethoven’s 8th symphony, listening along to the amazing way the Orchestra shares the melody, takes turns shaping the music- and I think- I want to listen to this the rest of my life. I want to play this music; I want to direct this music, I want to write about this music, tell people about it, and make them love it too.
Then I think of Beethoven and everything I have learned about his life and heart and music and I remember why I wanted to be a historian. Then I read the score and am amazed at how wonderfully and amazingly all the parts come together and wonder how on earth could anyone write such beautiful sounds and then I remember why I wanted to be a composer. Everything fits together- it’s like scripture; there are new connections and realizations every time I hear it again, and how even if I don’t understand how it all works, it cleanses me somehow, it makes me better, and I think- only God could have inspired this- and then I remember why I wanted to be a theologian.
And then I go to church.
Then I remember how much I DO NOT WANT TO BE A CHURCH MUSICIAN! And then I feel God saying “why?” And I say, “Because I don’t like this music God. You have written better than this- and most of this music doesn’t even have anything to do with You.”
And then I feel like there must be something terribly wrong with me… or with the world… or both.
I wrote this in my journal one morning last March. I had been studying for one of my classes (A graduate seminar on Beethoven) and suddenly, as I was so moved by the music, this wave of thoughts came flooding over me. Nothing new- I have been mulling over these things for years, but for the first time I felt a real call to come to terms with it.
I grew up in the church. I was born to Christian parents and received Christ into my life when I was three years old by my own reckoning- though it may have been earlier by God’s. I grew up in the Baptist General Conference (BGC for the uninitiated). My Nana and Papa (my mother’s parents) went to the Mega-Baptist Church in a suburb that was quickly becoming a metropolis. I remember going there with such excitement. Every Sunday service was accompanied by a big choir and an organ that made the voices of the congregation around me soar. I can still remember hearing my Papa’s powerful voice as we sang those hymns. I suppose ‘feeling’ his voice would be a more apt description as I cannot even remember if it would be a voice that someone would call “beautiful,” I only remembered I liked it. He always let me hold the hymnbook and I could feel the vibrations of sound in my hands. In retrospect, I don’t think he actually ever read out of the book since he often tended to be a verse ahead or behind the rest of the congregation… I loved these hymns. My mother would sometimes sing them when we were in the car and I would memorize the words. Often, as I was playing on my swing, I would “practice” the verses I had learned- going back to check with the hymnal in my lap to make sure I had gotten it right. These words were important. These songs were important. I needed to know them by heart. At times it felt like my life depended on it.
My sophomore year in high school our church was given the gift of a projector screen for the sanctuary. It was a big to-do. Many people in the church, including my parents, were worried that the hymnals (which were being used less and less as church favor swung towards newer “worship” music) would fall into complete disuse. Their fears were well founded. I know all that changed cannot be blamed on a projector as the music trend in our church was headed this way regardless, but it definitely helped speed up the process. The music didn’t stick with me anymore. The powerful words of the sermon each week were in disconnect with the often shallow, mundane, and sometimes just plain confusing things we were being led to sing.
When I got my drivers license, I started getting to church late…not too late, just late enough to miss a few praise choruses. Just a note- I have never been the “late” person. I am the kid who got to class first- the kid who showed up early for the party instead of fashionably late. I know my mother knew what was going on…but I think she wanted to go late too, so she never said anything. I struggled with a lot of guilt over this. I still struggle with guilt over this. As a good child of the post-modern period I had been indoctrinated with the idea that all things were equally good- each worship style equally valid. I figured this aversion I had to the praise and worship scene was mostly aesthetic- it just wasn’t my “thing.” It wasn’t until just the last couple of years that I have begun to see there may be something faulty in this line of thinking.
Just for clarification: I am not a church basher; I love the body of Christ. I am a member of it. I am also not a musical elitist. I am a classically trained musician, but I also love to listen to everything from Barbershop to various Jazz genres, from folk to ABBA. Seriously. Handel, Nat King Cole and James Taylor were my first loves. I didn’t discover Mahler until college. I am not on a mission to bash every style of Christian music that has been written since the 1960’s and tell everyone we should only play Bach in church…at least I don’t think I am at this point.
What I am is confused. I have given my life to Christ, and He has led me to give my life to music. I am one year away from completing my master’s degree in music. I have dedicated the majority of my short life thus far to the aspirations of becoming a professional musician. Music has become my life- it is how I communicate with and view the world. But more importantly, music has become my prayer life. More than anything else, it shapes how I communicate with and understand my God. So why is it then, that each Sunday morning it is work for me worship musically with the congregation of God. Why do I have to sit there knowing that the only reason I am here on time is because my husband is the youth director and it is expected of me? Why am I relieved when the singing is over and we can move on to prayer and the sermon? Why at times do I feel a Zwinglian rampage coming on and I would rather we just cut the whole music thing out of communal worship all together? Why do I not want to be a church musician? I think it must be because there is something terribly wrong with me…or the world…or both.