Faith Art Community Exploration

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Score One for the Pope

Check out this story about the Pope encouraging artists in their creative efforts. He touches on some good points about how beauty can be a thing that serves as a signpost to the transcendent. I love the fact that this event was multi-disciplinary in reaching out to artists that create in a variety of mediums (music, visual, performing) and even reached outside Catholicism to include those of other faiths. Good stuff.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Give to the Wind Your Fears

I tend to draw on different sources of inspiration as I write music. Anything from other artists to conversations to reading material can be the an important piece of the puzzle in the early stages of a song. Several years ago I picked up a few old hymnals with a variety of songs for just such a reason.

A few months ago I came across the hymn "Give to the Wind Your Fears" by Paulus Gerhardt and translated by John Wesley. The first verse really captured my attention and was the springboard for expressing some things that had been on my heart for awhile. Over the last year I've had friends and family going through struggles of many different kinds including hospitalization, divorce and death. I am thankful for the ways that God has ministered to each of these and continue to pray for His peace and healing. This song is just an extension of that.

The first verse spoke so beautifully what I would have wanted to express that I used it verbatim and simply reset it to a new tune. I then wrote new material for the chorus and second verse that I thought better represented what I wanted to say. I would not say that it's one of my best songs, but I'm pleased with the outcome and wanted to share it in case it might minister to someone who needs to hear it.

You can check out a rough video of it here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Art of Letting Go

I've been struck recently with the idea that I often get so fixated on perfection in my songwriting that I limit myself in my growth as a songwriter. I received Rob Bell's Drops Like Stars book for my birthday and came across the following section.

David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art and Fear tell the story of a ceramics teacher who divided the class into two groups - one group would be graded on how much they created in the designated time, while the other group would be graded on the quality of the one work they made. In the end, it was the "quantity" group that ended up producing the works of most quality.
They conclude "that while the 'quantity' group was busy churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the 'quality' group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

I have been working on a song over the last few months that I had really hoped to share with the songwriters' group on Sunday night, but was still unsatisfied with it. I worked on it for a few hours on Sunday and decided that while I still wasn't completely pleased with it, it was at least in a state where I could share it, get feedback and continue to craft. When I shared it, I got positive feedback from it and had to admit that my desire for it to be "perfect" probably was keeping me from devoting time and energy from other songwriting projects. I had to admit to myself this morning that the song probably is not the best thing I've ever written and may not be heard much. The choice that I'm left with is to either try to continue to sculpt away at it, or learn from it, move on and let it be a part of my maturing as a writer as I continue to pursue the craft.

I'm letting go, moving on and hopefully becoming a better artist because of it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Songwriters' Group Gathering

Last night we had the first of what I hope will be many Faith-Arts Songwriters' Gatherings. I really didn't know what to expect out of the night but hoped that we'd be able to break the ice, hear a few songs and get to know each other just a little bit. We had a decent sized group (with room for more) at our house where we had a little food and conversation before gathering in the piano room to play songs for each other.

Amy, Aubrey, Caleb, Hal, Micah and myself were on hand and shared songs. I shared "Wake Me Up" which we've been using in worship at Mercy Church for almost six months, so I don't know that I can really classify it as a new song, but seeing as how I don't have anything else that is more than a melodic or thematic idea, it would have to do. Each songwriter took their turn sharing and receiving feedback and I was blessed to watch what I've been dreaming about starting to happen as community began to help shape some of the songs that were shared.

It was a good start and I'm excited to see where it goes from here. I'm also excited to see who else might come along on the journey.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Songwriters' Group

When we left Indiana for Sioux Falls, one of the things that I felt called to do was to help artists in their attempts to create art that is redemptive in nature and excellent in quality. I feel like this summer is finally a time to begin to dive into this task on a couple of different fronts.

For starters, Hal Swift and I are partnering to begin a group for songwriters where we can share ideas, begin to develop relationship and hopefully eventually engage in the process of providing constructive criticism, song writing partnership and resources for each other to grow as songwriters. I will readily admit that my songwriting skills are pretty basic and I've only written a few things that I can honestly say that I am pleased with from an artistic standpoint. I don't necessarily feel that songwriting is a major part of my call, but it is something that God has used to help us in the faith communities that we have served. My hope is that others who are at various stages in their development will come alongside us so that we can be an encouragement to each other and so that we will see God glorified.

Hal and I are currently planning on having our first songwriters' meeting at my house on Sunday, May 31 at 8pm. If you or anyone that you know in Sioux Falls might be interested in joining us or if you just want more information about what we are trying to accomplish, drop me a line.

This will not be the only artistic front that I am working on this summer, but most others will be specific to our ministry at Mercy Church and our efforts to engage more artistic expression in our worship gatherings.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Creative Plagiarism

It's been some time since I've had a creative run in me as bi-vocation and family life leave little time to stretch creative muscles, but I've been sensing a stirring of late in song writing and am eagerly awaiting the outflow that seems imminent once the dam breaks. At the same time, I've come to distrust some of the easier "inspirations" that come to mind for fear that they are actually the intellectual property of other artists.

In the past, this was an easy thing for me to test out. I was listening to a variety of artists that I was very familiar with and when I started to come to some firm conclusions on melodic content it was pretty easy for me to take a quick break, listen to other artists that my own work resembled and confirm whether I was truly creating or merely borrowing.

I have a pretty decent musical memory and there are times that I can lock a melody away subconsciously that I've only heard a time or two only to find it bubble up to the surface as I start to write. On the occasions that this has occurred I have either scrapped the idea entirely or used it as a framework, reworking it until it has a character of its own.

At the same time, I love to actively engage in another kind of plagiarism: that of using Scripture in song. I heard Matt Redman say that worship songwriting is great because it is one of the only places that you are actually encouraged to plagiarize. This line of thinking has come to mind a few times in the last few weeks. As prelude for service yesterday, we used a song that I wrote about four years ago that is based on Psalm 13 called Unfailing Love. I've also been eagerly awaiting Brian Moss's next installment in his "Prayerbook Project" series where he's been drawing on a set of Psalms as source material and inspiration for new music.

The challenge of this type of writing is that it can be either very inspired or very, very forced. I have heard a number of Scripture based songs that sounded like they were quickly thrown together as a memory tool for a Sunday school lesson instead of being crafted carefully around the inerrant, inspired Word of God.

In many ways recasting someone else's material into something creative is much more challenging than writing completely original material. What may have been lyrical and rhythmic in the source text may sound stilted and awkward in any English translation and may require faithful adaptation. I have started the process numerous times only to find that the diligence required for this type of creativity was more than I could afford in terms of time or effort.

Still, I hope to engage in this creative plagiarism in the months ahead as a means not only of self expression, but also as a way to wrestle with the depth of life that is given in Scripture. As I try to offer faithful interpretation of Scripture into contemporary and musical language, I hope that it gives me a better sense of the heart of God and what it means to try to live a life pursuing Him.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Performance and Meaning

Amy and I had the great joy of being a part of an alumni concert at USD earlier this month for the Chamber Singers group that we were in back in the day. It was a day that we had circled on the calendar for months and made it three straight years that we'd had an opportunity to do something of this nature in Vermillion; the first when Larry Torkelson called together a bunch of his former students for an alumni concert, the second when we gathered again to mourn and celebrate Larry's home going after he lost his battle with cancer and the third being this year where a new tradition started by bringing the past and present together in a way that will hopefully continue into the future.

The current Chamber Singers group performed five pieces and then we joined them to sing five more. It was a great program of sacred pieces and the performance of the current group was excellent from a musical standpoint, but I found myself thinking about how disconnected some of the singers were in light of what they were singing. Instead of great songs of worship testifying to the power, majesty and holiness of God, they were great art songs where the song was the object of devotion rather than the One the song was written to reveal.

I suppose I was no different in college. I had grown up in the church, accepted Christ in Jr. High, tried to play the part of a good Christian in High School and had settled into a pattern of going through the motions by the time I reached college where I probably approached the same types of pieces in the same way that I witnessed from many of the current singers.

As I thought more about this, I longed for communion with God through the pieces we would perform together. I prayed that God would transform those works from works of art to expressions of love, devotion, hope and faith that would somehow touch the audience in a way that would glorify God and take on a transformative, transcendent power as we encountered Him in a place where the distinction between earth and heaven blur for just a moment.

I felt His presence and worshipped with all that I had, not wanting to sacrifice performance for connection, not wanting the art to be the goal, but His glory. I know I wasn't the only one and can only hope that it made the performance more meaningful not just for us, but for those that saw something of His beauty in our offering. I know I will continue to dwell on this thought and the lessons I've been learning for a long time and hopefully it will make me a better performer and a better worshipper.