7 Attributes of a Complete Contemporary Musician- Part 7

Attribute #7: In the previous six blogs, we have seen that the complete contemporary musician will have a meaningful purpose for his work (Attribute #1).  He will be open to cultural influences, learning from great artists of the past (Attribute #2), as well as embracing the creativity of other contemporary artists (Attribute #3).  He is able to both improvise and read music (Attribute #4), and is willing to study and participate in new innovation (Attribute #5).  He will have a rich understanding of both composition as well as performance (Attribute #6). 

In this seventh and final blog, we will discuss that the Complete Contemporary Musician is willing to teach and train the next generation of artists.

It is not enough to simply achieve artistic greatness for the sake of one’s own personal goals.  That is certainly more noble-minded than the pursuit of fame and fortune, but there is yet a deeper and more profound meaning to an artist’s existence.  He must be doing more than serving his aspirations for the sake of his own name, or the duration of his work, but rather have an awareness of a larger historical context.

The sincere artist is part of a much bigger picture.  He is part of a community that is influencing the course of human existence in the expansion of noble purposes and eternal consequences.  Upon the accomplishment of his life’s work, a sincere artist will have influenced society on a much more profound level than what can be measurable by Billboard’s top 10 list.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

An artist’s ultimate goal should not be that of fame, notoriety, wealth and personal gain.  Rather, it is the propagation and continuance of the very inspiration and beauty he has stewarded throughout his life.  The flow of the creativity he has nurtured, and the inspiration with which he has co-labored, must be carefully handed over to the following generation.  Successfully passing the baton insures that this flow will continue to influence succeeding generations.  Some call this an artist’s legacy, but it is really not about the artist at all.  It has more to do with the inspiration being transferred than it does the skills and philosophies of the artist himself.

“And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2)

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior…teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women…” (Titus 2:3-4)

The Scriptures are full of admonishment to train and educate the younger generations.

“He has also set eternity in their heart…” (Eccl. 3:11)

Whether we like to admit it or not, our journey on this earth is finite.  We can somehow perceive eternity, but this eternal vision should not cloud our thinking when it comes to how precious the commodity of time really is.

The priests who ministered in the temple were given a set number of years that they would serve.  “This is what applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall enter to perform service in the work of the tent of meeting.  But at the age of fifty years they shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.  They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting.” (Num. 8:24-26)  There is a time in life to shoulder the burden, and then there is a time to step back and help those who are carrying the load. 

Teaching and training is a precious commodity.  “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Prov. 25:11)  “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” (Prov. 27:9)

The willingness to give the wisdom and skillful knowledge gained, combined with the inspiration from which it came, is seed sown, ultimately producing a harvest.  This harvest is not just for the student, but for the teacher, as well.  As we give away what we know, more is given back to us.  This miraculous process of teaching and training deepens the roots of the very things we have shared, giving us even richer insights than what we initially gave away.

Perhaps J.S. Bach did this out of necessity, but the role he lived as teacher to those around him produced exponential benefits in his artistic work.  Even though he didn’t have the modern tools of our day, he was able (through delegation, training and leadership) to produce a huge quantity of music, arguably greater than anything produced in our generation. 

The only way an artist’s 'legacy' can be perpetuated into history, causing exponential influence, is through this process. 

There is a sacrifice, however.  It takes a willingness to look beyond the natural human desires of today’s prestige.  It takes an eye to see another artist’s burgeoning creative pursuits, along with the compassion to give away time and energy you would otherwise have used for your own work.  It takes patience to help the maturing artist see in himself what you have seen in him, and the willingness to push past his natural human failings, knowing that the treasure hidden inside is worth mining.   

The sacrifices, however, are well worth the effort and even though the giver may only see the results through heaven’s eyes, ultimately, there will be a harvest of eternal proportion.   


(for more, I encourage you to read “What About Fame?”)

7 Attributes of a Complete Contemporary Musician- Part 4

Attribute #4:  We have established the fact that to be a complete contemporary musician one must have a worthy purpose for his life and art (Attribute #1), he must learn from those who have come before him (Attribute #2), and he must be willing to embrace the creativity of other contemporary artists and stay abreast of the times (Attribute #3).  The skilled and successful musician must also be able to function both creatively and responsively in the process of making music, that is, he must be able to improvise as well as read music.

The improviser, to a certain degree, becomes the composer.  He spontaneously creates the music at the moment.  The music reader, however, is responsive to the one who has created the work already, endeavoring to bring the ideas into completion as carefully and accurately as possible.  Both scenarios have merit.  They are ‘two sides of the same coin’. 

Improvisation lends itself to freely expressed emotion-inspired creativity, while reading notation yields a more accurate, carefully constructed and pre-meditated order.

Improvisation many times marks the burgeoning of a new historic style.  As the style continues to work its way through history, however, notation begins to document it so that others can appreciate and participate in its established patterns.

Take, for example, Rag-time music.  It wasn’t until Scott Joplin put the music into notation that its wide-spread influence could happen.  A similar process occurred in 19th Century Europe with the Gypsy musicians who improvised profusely.  Skilled composers brought much of the creativity into notation, historically cementing the music for others to enjoy and play. 

Throughout history, there has always been interplay between improvisation and notation, the creative expressiveness of improvisation together with the careful preparation, pre-meditation and design of notation.  Take Bela Bartok, for example, who took the un-notated Hungarian melodies as themes for his classical compositions.  Another example is George Gershwin, who took jazz motifs and raised them into a sophisticated symphonic structure.  J.S. Bach merged the two worlds of improvisation and composition simultaneously, as he was able to create a multi-part fugue in his mind as he improvised!  (He literally improvised as he composed, and he composed as he improvised.  The process was one and the same to him.)

I once had to arbitrate in a great debate between people in my music ministry team who could only read music while straining to improvise, on one hand; while on the other hand, there were those who could only improvise and had no desire to read notation.

The music readers argued their points about the benefits of reading notation, and chided those who lacked that ability.

The improvisers, however, mocked those who couldn’t ‘play by ear’, citing the benefits to knowing how to ‘flow’ when given only a chord progression, at most.

I pondered how to solve this dilemma, and one day, as I was reading my Bible, a scripture popped out at me that said it all: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them.” (Prov. 20:12)  I knew then, as the leader of the group, that I must expect everyone to improvise (or ‘play by ear’), as well as knowing how to read notation.  Once the entire group felt comfortable with both, I knew we would have a winning combination.

One of the main benefits of reading music lies in the fact that it doesn’t exist as sound, but rather as ideas.  It leaves room for interpretation from the participant’s imagination.  It is not subject to the flaws of a human performance, but rather exists on a higher plane of ‘pure ideology’.  (For more on this, see “My Vision- The Technique”)

Another benefit is that it structurally allows more than a few people to participate, giving clear and concise direction to all who join the plan.  When dealing with larger groups of people, a more specific plan becomes necessary.  Take for example traffic in a big city versus a small town.  In one situation there have been multiple engineers who have designed highways and clover-leafs for huge volumes of traffic; whereas, in the other situation you might have a single policeman to direct a few vehicles.

The same hold true with music creativity: more people, more planning; fewer people, less planning (or easier improvisation).

The complete contemporary musician should be able to function proficiently in either situation, able to both read fluidly and improvise freely, to intellectually and accurately follow a chart, as well as participate creatively with others in a small consort.  He must know how to live successfully in high structure, as well as in little or no structure.

Perhaps someday, even as J.S. Bach, the one who is skilled in both areas will experience the simultaneous merging of both worlds!

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 10)

The tenth and final lesson that J.S. Bach taught me was to be devoted to God. 

He not only had the conviction that his music should be used in the service of the Church, but also deeply held the belief that (in his own words), “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”  He was not only employed by the community of the local church, but believed that anything and everything he would do in his life as a musician would be done to glorify God. 

Before he would create, he would write on the music “In Jesus’ Name” or “Jesus help me”.  Then, once he had finished a piece, he would write “To God be the glory”.  I don’t believe he was trying to be seen as a religious fanatic in doing this, but that he really meant these statements.  It had nothing to do with trying to impress the church leaders or his congregation with how ‘spiritual’ he was.  This was part of his personal devotional life.  His life of creativity was intertwined with his worship, his dialogue with the Creator of all things.

In his own Bible, on the pages of 2 Chronicles 5:13, he wrote a comment to himself, “Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence.”  He knew the Presence of God in his own life, whether in the service of the local church or privately.  He had a relationship with God that went deeper than his occupation as a Music Minister or as a member of a church.

As I’ve shown in previous blogs, his interaction with the people of his community and congregation (who also considered themselves to be Christians) was at times tenuous, fraught with misunderstandings and disappointments.  If he had relied upon this situation to bring him spiritual and emotional strength, apart from his own personal devotional life, he most likely would have had reason to give up.  His conviction to serve God, whether or not his community ever accepted him, gave him reason to serve that community.  His strength to serve was not derived from that community, but from God Himself.  

His involvement with the spiritual went beyond that of natural human organization.  He lived and served in the local church community, but he spiritually lived to serve something beyond that, something more eternal.  “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:13-16)

Here, on this earth, as wonderful as the community of the local church can be, we are yet human, with human hang-ups and differing viewpoints.  There is no perfect church, and no perfect music minister.  In the end, the only glue that holds the Church together is forgiveness. 

For those who are seeking a place that is above the natural failings of humanity (even in the Church), there can be a place of satisfaction, but it exists in a different place than the natural realm, it’s the place of the spirit.  Bach lived in this place.  He dialogued in this place, and derived strength from a divine relationship he had there with God Himself.

I have no doubt that he could have done well as a musician in any other occupational choice than that of a music minister, and that he could have given the world great music by the inspiration of God in a secular venue.  But he chose to identify himself with the One he served and had relationship with, by serving the local church community.  He was not ashamed to be identified with Jesus.  “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mk. 8:38)

Bach chose to be identified with the Gospel of Christ and to serve the Church community from the power of his own personal spiritual interaction with God.  It was a life-commitment that had far-reaching ramifications throughout history.  Not knowing about the massive impact he would wield on human artistic and spiritual history, unknown to most of his contemporary world, he dictated a final work from his bed: the chorale, “Before Thy Throne I Come”.

Application:  Never serve out of duty or obligation, trying to impress through good deeds a community that can never satisfy your deepest yearnings for success, appreciation and fame.  The only way true life-satisfaction and lasting creativity can be achieved is through a dynamic relationship with your Creator, found (as Bach did) through the grace of Jesus Christ.



10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 9)

The ninth lesson I learned  from J.S. Bach is to actively serve the local church.

Bach's dream and vision from God for his life's work was to produce music of the highest quality in the worship of God.  He was employed by the local church, but his heart led him to be there.  Many other opportunities were available to him for his career path, but he chose the community of the local church.

Many contemporary musicians think that serving in the local church is beneath them.  They think the constraints that are put upon them by the leadership are too hard to bear, and that they need greater freedom of creativity in order to flourish as an artist.

Bach, in his situation, may have felt that way at times, but he was willing to stick it out.  As a result, the pressures of relational tensions/resolutions, the 'buffetting' that he endured, actually caused him to excel in his creativity more than if he had been left to himself with endless freedoms.

The simple fact is that community is good for us.  "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17)  In a church scenario, there will be moments of 'grinding' that happen, but if we're willing to endure it, we will end up much 'sharper' (i.e. more powerful) for having been willing to go through the process.

Contemporary musicians are afraid that submitting their art to the authorities in the local church will somehow be too constricting, and that it boils down to the "Word" versus "Worship", with the music and worship always getting pushed to a lesser place.

Bach, however, found that 'boundaries' are good.  Without boundaries in our lives, we cannot ultimately succeed.  The American concept of 'freedom' for every aspect of our lives has led to our country's moral decadence and decay.  If we don't exercise self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, by the way (Gal. 5:23), we will end up being controlled.  "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor." (Prov. 12:24)  Submitting our artistic lives to the 'constraints' of the local church is probably one of the best things we could do for our continued artistic growth.  Bach proved this to be true.  As he willingly worked through the 'parameters' of needs, desires and demands of the situation that he worked in, he ultimately created one of the greatest outpourings of music the world has ever seen.

You think he would have succeeded anywhere, just because of his talent and ability?  Take a look at people groups all over the world, throughout the course of human history that have endured affliction of one kind or another.  They always come out of it a powerful nation.  The oppression created higher discipline.  The high 'structure' brought out the untapped power of the people.  Just look at those who come to America from foreign lands, places that don't have our opportunities.  Once they are given the opportunities, their work ethic causes them to rise to great heights, while the average American-born citizen is selfish and lazy by comparison.  A little 'buffetting' would do us all some good!

Freedom is never free.  Somewhere along the line, someone (including yourself) must pay its price.  Jesus paid the price for our salvation and paved the way for our success in every area of life.  But He also said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Lk. 9:23-26)

Bach willingly followed this path of unselfish sacrifice, allowing himself to be 'sharpened' in his skills, as well as his personal growth.  This also may be one of the reasons that, compared to later classical composers, he had a balanced and successful life, not falling prey to the moral failures we witness in the succeeding generations of classical musicians.  His ability to stay balanced in life caused him to create more music with increasingly higher quality over a successful and productive career.

His dream to serve the local church, the way the Bible outlines, produced success for him.  It also set him up as the teacher and role model for great art and musical creation for generations to come.

Application: When you do things God's way, it always works.  Honoring Him through a humble attitude, being willing to submit your life and your gifting to godly community and godly authority, according to the promise of Scripture, will bring results beyond what you think you can achieve doing it some other way.  There are no short-cuts to success, and there are no shabby rewards, when it comes to God's blessings!

(for more on this subject, see my article from "Current and Future Worship Trends": "My Vision- The Motivation")

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 8)

The eighth lesson J.S. Bach taught me is to give who you are to your family.

Bach had a very large family, and he included all of them in his musical vision.  Out of his family came two historically distinguished composers in their own right: Carl Phillipp Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach and Johann Christian (J.C.) Bach.

As I wrote in the previous blog, father Bach may have taught and trained his family members musical skills simply out of necessity, so that he could keep pace with the needs of his ministry.  Copying music, rehearsing sections, etc. may have been done by his family members, much like a farmer and his family would work together as a team to keep things running.

Although this is probably part of the benefit that he gained by spending time with his family, as he gave them the musical skills he had acquired, I believe J.S. Bach's motivation was deeper than that. 

It's obvious that he had a passion for what he did, and this passion spilled over to every part of his life.  His passion and dream was to bring an offering to God of highly crafted music, the best that he could give.  This life-quest couldn't help but be influential to everyone he was around, especially his children.

When at the end of the day, instead of watching 5 hours of television, or playing video games, Bach would gather his family around the piano and sing together, each child contributing a musical part, perhaps playing an instrument, or taking turns on the piano.  This was their established routine, but it was also their recreation, their fun.

The test of greatness for any teacher is to take something that is complex and difficult and make it fun for the student.  I believe, even though his children showed him respect, that father Bach did his part to make this a fun time for them.   He couldn't separate his love for his family from his life's passion, nor did he have to.  He simply gave them who he was, in a fatherly way, and that was enough.

What were the other families doing?  Were they out playing games together?  Or maybe they weren't doing anything at all.  Maybe other families didn't have the rich times of enjoyment that the Bach family had.  Maybe the Bach family was the envy of the town, being able to come together and sing and worship together.  Undoubtedly, the material Bach must have used for these times was filled with spiritual lessons, through the lyrics.

Bach was never ashamed of who he was as a father, a Christian, a musician of the highest standards, and his heart was to give to his family who he was.  His interaction with his children was interwoven with his dream, and they picked up on it.  He was a man of truth, and for him to be one way 'at the office' and another way 'at home' wouldn't have worked for him.  He didn't compartmentalize his life.  Rather, he lived a vision and a dream big enough (like a big stretched-out tent) to include all of those he loved.

The test of a man's greatness is not how much money he has made or how famous he has become, but rather it's the favor and respect he has from those who are closest to him, his own family.  Respect cannot be demanded, but rather it must be earned through years of consistent love and sacrifice. 

Someone once said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".  His family both respected him and imitated him.  It was his greatest legacy.

Application: Don't worry about what you think you lack as a parent, just give who you are (who God has made you to be).  Give them your dream, a dream big enough for all of them to enter.  It's their greatest inheritance.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 7)

The seventh lesson J.S. Bach taught me is to teach and train others.

There is a distinct difference between teaching and training.  Teaching is simply giving out information to those who are listening.  Training, however, is guiding the student into the life-integration of these principles.  When the principles have been completely absorbed into the subconsciousness of the student, it is at this point that the student is fully trained.

Bach was constantly training those around him.  He trained his children, his young students, his community, and ultimately, generations of musicians to come.

His intent was to give who he was to others, to distribute his knowledge.  Possibly, it was out of necessity.  He needed a veritable army of skilled people to surround him with aid, those to whom he could delegate tasks of such things as copying parts.  But I believe he had a deeper conviction than simply delegation for the sake of productivity.  One of the main goals of Christianity is that of sharing God's grace with others.  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." (Matt. 28:19)  Bach, a student of the Bible, had read this passage.  Notice the emphasis of making disciples.  The word 'disciple' means 'disciplined follower'.  I believe that Bach's ultimate goal was to do his part in the propagation of the Gospel, by raising up disciplined followers who would carry his dream of great music in the Church, proclaiming the Gospel through music for generations to come.  I believe he envisioned the potential of his dream echoing into the future through those he trained.

He wrote numerous musical studies for his students to use, but in a larger way, one could almost say that his entire corpus of creativity was profoundly educational.  It seems like everything he wrote took on an intellectually stimulating voice that beckoned: "look a little deeper, there's a hidden secret I want to share with you". 

How many generations of musicians did he effect?  Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartok, Stravinsky, to name a few.  His work is still being studied by contemporary creators.  Who knows how many more will follow?

Not only did Bach train his immediate students and community in the art of producing highly-crafted music, but he also successfully facilitated his dream of proclaiming the Gospel into future generations.  "That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God." (Ps. 78:6-7)  Bach, perhaps, has had a greater Christian witness than some of the greatest preachers and theologians throughout history.  His life's example of unselfishly sharing and giving to others will continue to echo through the generations.

Application: Don't allow the contemporary attitude of competitiveness to hinder you from giving to others, building others up with encouragement and assistance.  As you give your life away, you never know how far-reaching the effects will be.


10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 6)

The sixth lesson Bach taught me is to be persistent, even in the face of opposition and misunderstanding.

I've already enumerated several of the trials and tribulations Bach had to endure in previous blogs, but let me just sum it up by saying that it wasn't an easy ride for him.   Most people think that if you're talented enough, then you can just sail through life on easy street.  Obviously, that concept doesn't work in the real world.  At some point all of us are going to have to fight our way through the difficulties life throws at us.  The Apostle Paul admonished his student Timothy to "fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience". (I Tim. 1:19)  Again, the Apostle Paul writes, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, "Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore... (Eph. 6:13)

Bach, a Bible student, had undoubtedly read these passages.  To whatever extent he meditated upon them, I don't know.  What I do know is that he lived them in the life-decisions he made.  He always seemed to 'weather the storm', even when it looked like the odds were stacked against him.

He probably knew the Bible story of Nehemiah, who fought against insurmountable difficulties and persecutions from people who were trying to stop him from achieving his dream: re-building the walls around Jerusalem.  There is a Scripture passage that says, "Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon." (Neh. 4:17)  His team of volunteers had to both build and be ready to fight while they were standing against the enemy, pursuing their vision.  

Bach patiently, and almost defiantly stood against the numerous misunderstandings he had to endure.  I don't know what his personality make-up was, but based upon my study of him, I would guess that he was what I refer to as a Melancholy-Phlegmatic.  In other words, he was detailed, yet stable, not wanting to 'rock the boat', unwilling to be moved from his convictions.  One weakness of this type of personality mix is that they hate to be misunderstood.  They will do almost anything within their power to help others understand why they do what they do.  This seems congruent with Bach's high motivation to teach and train those around him, through the music book 'teaching tools' he created and his daily schedule of training his family and community.

Yet he was constantly plagued by situations of misunderstanding, those who really didn't care about the whys.

As artists, we deal with materials that cannot be easily understood.  Take sound, for instance.  It's a subject that can be scientifically measured, but yet it's unseen.  Everyone has a different set of ears, and different life-experiences which cause them to 'hear' (psycho-acoustically) a little differently from someone else.  The subject is fraught with subjectivity.  And yet for those of us who have spent our lives working in music and sound design, there are foundational truths that we have come to rely upon in our creative processes.  But these things are not easily explained, especially to someone who really doesn't want that much information in the first place.

It's easy for people to make knee-jerk assessments of what is good or bad, whether they know what they are talking about or not.  Everyone has an opinion.  Many opinions, unfortunately, are driven by popular culture, peer-pressure and a desire to 'fit in', rather than careful perception of excellence.  Pop culture changes like the wind, but that which is excellent withstands the forces of nature.  It takes on its own stability, even beyond the control of its creator.  It stands undaunted by the whims of culture and takes on an almost 'eternal' quality.  Why?  Because it is standing on Truth.  Truth doesn't move.  (I know I'm speaking contrary to popular situational ethics in these concepts.)  Nevertheless, Truth, Integrity, Character...these things can be, and are, present in the works of art that have been handed down to us through the ages.  The depth of these characteristics that are present in the works are directly proportional to their lasting nature.  A little compromise here and there will mean a shorter life-span of historical impact.

Bach knew, created and lived these principles unmoved by the situations, murmurings and antagonistic attitudes around him.  "Having done all to stand, stand therefore..."  He just kept standing.  He just kept creating and living a life of integrity to the best of his ability, because he knew it was the right thing to do.  He knew that if he continued to stand on the Truth, that the Truth would eventually defend him.  And you know what?  It did! 

In conclusion: Don't allow people's misunderstandings and negativity to 'get under your skin'.  Just know that they can't see what you see.  Just stay steady, keep 'building the wall' with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.  Keep fighting the good fight of faith. (I Tim. 6:12)  As you stay steady, weathering the storms, God will bring you to the other side victoriously.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 5)

The fifth lesson I've learned from J.S. Bach is that it's not about where you are, or your lack of resources.  The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this concept that Bach lived are Scripture stories about God's provision in seemingly insurmountable places of lack and distress.  I remember the story of Isaac prospering in a time of famine (Gen. 26:1-14), of Elijah being fed by the ravens during a time of drought (I Kings 17:4), or of Jesus who fed the multitudes out in the wilderness with just five loaves of bread and two fish. (Lk. 9:12-17)  Bach had read these passages.  Did you know that he studied his Bible, even writing in it some of his thoughts about the passages he read?  (More on that later.) 

A thread of thought that weaves throughout these Biblical stories is that provision comes to those who are obedient to follow God's supernatural leadership.  All of us have experienced it, we may not talk about it the same way.  Some call it 'women's intuition', or others may have had a dream warning them of danger, others just have a 'knowing' that some direction is the right way to go.  This is God's leadership in our lives.  Some people are 'tuned in' to it, and others have become so used to ignoring it that they have become calloused to it.  Nevertheless, provision comes to us when we are living our lives directed by this "still, small voice" (I Kings 19:12-13)  I am convinced that Bach knew the voice of God's leadership in his life.

Another equally important concept of provision is that of thankfulness.  The miracle of multiplication didn't happen until Jesus first gave thanks for what He had to work with. (Mk. 8:6)  How many times do we find ourselves complaining about our lack of resources or capabilities?  When we complain, we stop the miracle.

In all my reading and studying of Bach's life, I know he got angry on occasion when he believed that there was injustice in some circumstances, but the general theme of his life's demeanor was to roll up his sleeves and work with what he had.  He took the initiative to train his family, students and community in the skills of making music.  In the midst of misunderstandings and lack of resources, living in a fairly small city (compared to his contemporary Handel), he systematically produced a legacy of work that resounded through the generations of history.

Handel, by the way, lived in England and had just about every imaginable resource available to him.  He was lauded by the masses, praised by the king.  He was like a contemporary rock-star in his day.  No one knew of Bach, however.  Was Bach ever tempted to be jealous?  I don't know.  But something satisfied him that kept him going.  I think it was that he knew he was where God wanted him to be.  By following God and being content, at peace with himself, he then generated great works because he himself had become great in spite of his circumstances and lack.

He had learned the principle written by the Apostle Paul (whom Bach had undoubtedly read): "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:12-13)

The 5th lesson I have for you is this: don't be moved by lack, but look on the things you have with an eye of thankfulness and be truly grateful.  When you begin to give thanks...that's when the miracle starts. 

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 4)

The 4th lesson that I have learned from J.S. Bach is to be diligent.  "The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor." (Prov. 12:24)  I know that Bach read and believed this scripture.  He was the epitome of a hard worker.  In today's society he would probably be known as a 'work-a-holic'.

It amazes me in America, in the 21st century, how many things have been handed to us 'on a silver platter'.  Those who have grown up here, never having the opportunity to travel outside the U.S. to different parts of the world, especially third world nations that are impoverished, have a distorted view of the reality of human life.  The vast majority of us live like kings and queens.  We are the most prosperous nation, not only on the earth today, but that has ever been on the face of the planet in the course of human history!  Then to hear some news anchor talk about how bad the economy is simply shows how far off our perception of reality has gone.  Even the beggars on the streets of N.Y.C. are better fed than most people in the world.

Instead of a well-spring of thankfulness to God and to those who have gone before us, who established patterns of wealth and prosperity by their hard work and sacrifice, there has come to be an attitude in America of entitlement: "You owe me something", and it has nothing to do with the amount of wealth an individual has. 

While all of this is going on, however, those who immigrate to our country from foreign lands are in awe of the plentiful opportunities that are here.  They immediately roll up their sleeves and go to work, pushing through the barriers of discomfort that usually make those who have grown up here turn away, declaring, "It's too hard" or "Why is this happening to me?"

Worship in American churches, unfortunately, has also been influenced by an attitude of 'doing what's easy'.  I know that simplicity of design is a virtue, but when the vast majority of what is produced and popular is typically no more than 4 chords on a guitar, it says something about our work-ethic, self-discipline, and depth of commitment.

When mega-churches use drama and pop-genre music to draw a crowd, they quickly find out that they don't have a congregation, when they start asking some commitment from their people.

Discipline, faithfulness, commitment: these are not popular words in churches today.  Bach, however, demanded excellence even from his volunteers (which made up the majority of those he had to work with).  There is no way he could have produced and ministered a new Cantata each week for a number of years successfully without a stiff rehearsal schedule and high expectation of his people.

He was probably familiar with this verse, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies" (I Pet. 4:10-11)  He expected that even his volunteers would 'employ' their musical giftedness in the service of the local church.

My 4th lesson for you is: don't allow the mind-set of average to creep into your attitude, but expect more productivity from yourself than others do of you.  Don't wait for someone else to motivate you to do something, and then do just enough to get by.  Keep stretching yourself, keep motivating yourself to see and pursue new possibilities.  Do you know why most ideas don't come to fruition?  It's because people are afraid to work.  Ideas require work, it's that simple.  The reason Bach produced more music than anyone else is because he wasn't afraid to work.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 3)

The third lesson J.S. Bach taught me is to be inventive.  While he was alive, he dramatically altered the way people would think about music for generations to come.  Some of the most profound musical paradigm shifts began with him, and have lasted for centuries, even to today...things we take for granted.  We think it has always been this way.  Things like pianists using their thumbs.  Did you know Bach created that technique?  How about equal-tempered tuning.  If we had any other tuning system in our Western music, the average non-musical citizen walking the streets would declare, "That doesn't sound right!"  Bach established it hundreds of years ago.  Now all of our computer sequencers, electronic keyboards and tuning devices are all built on this system...globally.

Compositionally speaking, he pushed the boundaries of the musical instruments of his day to the extreme, like creating a four-part fugue for a violin, or creating music that pianists still believe is impossible to physically play.  He established and 'maxed-out' the concept of motivic development, which would be imitated by composers for many generations to come.  He boldly created things that others wouldn't have even dared to, most not even perceiving the possibilities that he saw.

I sometimes wonder if he ran into opposition when establishing new approaches.  Undoubtedly he did.  Obviously it didn't deter him.  At times I've thought about what he would do if he were alive today.  Would he be creating software, or using new tuning systems that are technologically available?  I know this for sure: you would find him in a church, creating new ideas and pushing boundaries as a spiritual quest, ignoring popular 'fluff', while digging deep into the reservoir of new potential within himself, and inspiring others to do the same.

So the third lesson is: Be perceptive to new potential, not just swayed by those who take popular roads easily travelled.  Search and dig for the undiscovered opportunities that are all around us, but that few dare to see.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 2)

The second lesson that J.S. Bach so wonderfully displays is that of passion.

He had a passion that drove him to create a vast amount of music, more than most composers would be able to create in two or three lifetimes.  So what drove him in this quantity and quality of output?  Was it fame?  Was it the hope of fortune?

No one knew of Bach like we know him today, until he was rediscovered many years later after his death.  He obviously was not motivated by fame.  His employers apparently had little understanding of the greatness of his work, criticizing him as having been unproductive, when in fact he had produced in a period of seven years what most composers would have been glad to produce in a lifetime.

His income was barely sufficient to meet the needs of his family.

His musical resources were comparatively limited to other musicians living in that same time-period.  When he asked for a few more hired musicians, he was scoffed at and ridiculed. 

By comparison, most of us music ministers today have it easy!

So what motivated him?  How did he keep going in the midst of the lack of appreciation and misunderstanding?

It was his vision and his faith.  He had a vision to bring to God in worship music of superior quality.  He wasn't content to give God second best in his creativity, and he wasn't content to just let church be average.  Along with this, his personal integrity and expectation of himself was commensurate with the godly Christian values of a work-ethic not based on pleasing man, but on pleasing God.  To him it didn't matter if man revered him or disdained him, because it wasn't man he was ultimately working for. 

As prayer and worship are integral to the Christian faith, so was the act of composing for Bach.  When he wrote, he wasn't just making something to get by for the next event, rather, it was prayer and worship for him.  When he wrote, he was touching his very relationship with God.  His creativity was prayer and worship, and he participated in it on a daily basis. 

Many scholars of his work are amazed by the complexity of pattern and design.  I believe the supernatural touch of God through this interaction of prayer and worship is key to the genius that is evident in his music.

In conclusion, the second lesson that I have for you is this: Don't be swayed by the opinions of man, but rather stay true to your inner convictions which, through a relationship with God, will give you passion and unshakeable vision for the future.

10 Lessons I've Learned from J.S. Bach (part 1)

J.S. Bach was perhaps the greatest music minister to have ever lived.  As I am a music minister, and have sought to find inspiring examples to help motivate my work, I have learned to appreciate Bach's life-example (not just his works) as an excellent model of both Christianity as well as musicality.

When I was in 5th grade, we were asked to do a book report on any historical figure that we desired.  You guessed it, I picked Bach.  Ever since then, the books I have read, the works I have listened to, and even the life experiences that I have had as a music minister have deepened my respect for this man.

The first lesson I learned from J.S. Bach that I would like to share is that he was a man who studied the works of others.  I learned, back when I was doing the book report in 5th grade, that Bach studied the works of those who had come before him, like Vivaldi, among others.  He had to go to great lengths to get Vivaldi's manuscripts and would hand-copy them by candle-light secretly at night for his own research and study.  He would travel several days to reach concerts that he thought would give him some bit of musical wisdom.  Time and time again he demonstrated that he had a passion for any knowledge that would come available to him.

Many times, in today's society, we look for the 'new' or the 'trend', but lessons from those who have come before us, from those who have created works that have withstood the tests of time, are of greater value.  The future is built on the lessons we have learned from the past.  Many people do not receive inspiration from the past, thinking that it will somehow hinder their vision and hope for a better future.  I have found, however, that the more I know about the past, the greater my understanding of the future will be (as human history has a tendency to repeat itself).

By studying the life of Bach, as a music minister, I have found that many of the same difficulties he had could very well be right around the corner for me (although by comparison I've got it easy!). Knowing what happened with him helps me navigate around or through similar situations.  At the very least, it gives me comfort to know that someone else has been successful before me. 

So my first lesson to you is this: Look to the past to those who have lived and created before you, and dig for hidden treasure.  You may be surprised at what you find!

Opposing Paradigms?

Should composers be performers, or performers composers?  Where in the world did improvisation go, when it comes to academic music training?  It seems that the longer a musical style is around, the more cemented it becomes, less flexible, less innovative.  Jazz, birthed in a highly innovative environment, is already starting to show signs of this.

What about new styles versus old ones...is there any common ground between Pop genres and Classical disciplines?  What would benefit popular styles from the Classical heritage, if anything?  What would J.S. Bach likely do, if he were alive in today's culture?

These are some paradigms that seem to be contradictory, but maybe these questions should be asked.

To find out more, see my article Opposing Paradigms.

What's a Music Minister?

When I first learned that my official title was 'Music Minister' I cringed.  I grew up poking fun at the lack of excellence in church hymns and the corny emotionalism found in certain denominational music.  Sure, some churches tried hard to be excellent, but they were, ultimately, a long way off.

But now I was leading people in Christian worship music and amazingly, in my own church community, I was the one holding the destiny of what I used to make fun of!

I guess, like the many media images of pastors that we see, portrayed as boring, impotent, and self-effacing, I likewise had a warped image of what I thought a music minister was supposed be.  I knew I had to replace that image in my mind quickly if I was going to have any success.

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked into my Classical music background.  I found that many of those we consider great composer/musicians had religious convictions and inspiration for their music.  Among them were Messiean, Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelsohn, to name a few.  But the one who stood out to me as a potential role-model was J.S. Bach.

Here was a man that stood for moral and spiritual integrity, as well as artistic integrity.  He was not only inspired by Christianity in his work, but he lived it.  Here was someone who took Martin Luther's 'praise songs' and brought them to a much higher artistic level.  He was an innovator in musical tuning, keyboard technique and new instruments, as well as being the 'father' of Western art music.  I couldn't think of a better example to draw from, as I embarked upon my new journey into contemporary Christian music.

My second example and role model for being a 'music minister' came from the Bible: King David.  Before he reigned as king, he watched his father's sheep, out in the middle of nowhere.  He was unknown, unappreciated and yet he was content to worship God in the wilderness...no recording contracts, no concert tours...just himself, his harp and God Almighty.

I related to this picture of David, because in my high-school years, I was 2,000 miles away from home, living in the generally unoccupied home of my violin teacher, practicing between 5-8 hours a day.  Since I did my high school work by correspondence, I had no friends.  It was just me, my instrument and God. 

I learned in those days not to be afraid of being alone, not to be afraid of asking probing questions about life, why I'm here and what I'm doing.  I'm sure David did this too.

Out of David's relationship with God, he wrote songs that have echoed through the ages, drawing hearts into a greater focus of God Himself.  David, too, was an innovator of new methodologies of worship, new musical instruments, and ultimately, a new theology that made a way for the Messiah of the New Testament.  David saw things that others couldn't see, he led Israel into a success that others couldn't accomplish, and he became the channel through which God Himself would enter the world.

After seeing these two examples of 'music ministers', I was fueled with new enthusiasm.  I still don't like hearing the phrase 'music minister', but when I realized that I was in the same line as J.S. Bach and King David it sure made me feel a lot better! 

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