Friday, December 11, 2009

I Will Sing

As 2009 nears its inevitable end, I have found myself looking back over threads and themes and events. A common thread woven throughout is that of music, and so I decided to post some reflections on the subject. It seems like with each passing day music gets more important and integral to the way I live. I've gone to ten concerts this year, more than tripling the amount I've been to in my whole life. I've bought many more albums. I did some calculations last night, and realized that I've spent about $600 on music this year total, which is rather a lot for a college student (though, to be fair, I've paid the school more than twice that much this year and have given at least that much money again to other necessary expenses-- living is an expensive business). Even though I often find myself digging through my drawers and the bottom of my backpack to find enough quarters to be able to buy a song from iTunes, even though I've missed homework time and been sore for days due to concerts, even though I could have flown to Colorado or California and back twice with that amount of money... it's been worth it.

Music is how God speaks to me more strongly than through anything else (see The Joys Of Our Hearts). Songs can sing truth into my life when all the other doors are shut and the lights go off. I think this is because songs have a habit of being honest. We say things in songs that we can't or don't know how to say in any other way.

An interesting side effect of this is that professional musicians are often some of the most real and honest people I've ever met. This year I have been able to talk to a lot of bands who others would give a lot to meet. I've met Christian rock heavy-weights like Red and chatted with Thousand Foot Krutch. I've talked to musicians who have defined the Christian music genre, such as Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline and Jars of Clay. I've talked to Superchic[k] about my heritage and BarlowGirl about my hair. I've chatted with DecembeRadio about the music industry, been teased by B. Reith about the way I said my name, and joked with VOTA about how tall I am. Ironically enough, I still haven't met my favorite band, but I've worked their merch table and hung out with their violin and cello player. I've learned a few things through these conversations, and not just about the music industry. I've learned that musicians are people who are trying to get through life just like the rest of us, and often the songs are as much to help them find their way as they are to help others.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Any time someone takes the stage in front of a few thousand people, they have the opportunity to speak for change and for hope. I think sometimes we confuse this extra influence they may have for the people themselves somehow being bigger and better, but that's really not the case.

Another thing I've seen this year is that music, like anything else, can be taken and twisted. It's natural that something as beautiful and powerful as music would be an automatic target for darkness to pervert. I saw a secular rock band perform for the first time, and it made me ache inside. Between the profanity and the alcohol and the dark words, I saw a terrible, empty cry for help. And it was then that I really truly understood how important it is for there to be Christians prominent in the music industry. For Christians to shut themselves away in their own genres and their own labels and their own tours would be to give darkness an open door to control the rock music scene. People like John of Skillet and Trevor of TFK have no interest in letting that happen. They are fighting the crippling world of secular rock with words of light and of life.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

All this to say that music is an incredibly powerful thing. I don't care what genre your music is, it's powerful, because it has the power to move and to mean something on a level so far beyond skin-deep. Whether it's classical or blues or jazz or country or soundtracks or rock and roll, it has strength and beauty. It has an irresistible way of moving our souls, whether positively or negatively.

That said, this year I have also learned the power of silence. There are times when we can use the music to hide, when it's just adding to the noise (to quote Switchfoot). In a world that is busy and loud and blinding and never slows down, we sometimes need to seek silence. There have been a few times when I've gone and switched off everything and found a place away from my laptop, my iPod, even my piano, and simply surrendered my silence to God so that His voice could come in clear. I have never regretted doing that. What I do regret is not doing it more often.

I've seen music change lives in incredibly powerful ways. I've seen it bring life out of dying souls. It awes me, at times, that God would give us such an incredible gift... and then so often we misuse it. We worship the scene instead of the Spirit behind the songs, we focus on the stage rather than the human impact. But when we can get past that, when we dive into the heart of music, we are faced with brilliant, clear-cut truths that seem hard to reach anywhere else. If I were to stand on a hill top and yell "this is the last night you'll spend alone, I'll wrap you in my arms and I won't let go. I'm everything you need me to be," I would get a lot of odd stares and it would be meaningless. But when the words to my favorite song, The Last Night, are sung, they've saved lives. The amount of stories I've heard about that song saving and changing people is almost unbelievable. I think part of it is that music has an odd ability to detach itself from the musician and connect to the listener, to bleed passion over the edges of normal human interaction. As I said before, things can be said in music that can't be said anywhere else. Music is a channel for communication. I don't know any other setting where you can stand beside 4,000 people screaming "no, you'll never be alone," and no one thinks it's weird or awkward.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Perhaps this blog is, in a sense, an explanation as to why I am so in love with music. As I said in Passion is Contagious, I am addicted to passion. I am also addicted to honesty, and to people connecting and moving together out of love. These things all combine in music. Also, music is something that cannot ever be taken away from us. Friends come and go, but songs stay the same. Situations change, teenagers grow into adults and move to new places, jobs ends and new ones begin, and still there is music. And it goes beyond that. Over the past several thousand years, technology has changed, styles have changed, religions have changed, wars have torn nations and homes and people apart, ideas and beliefs have crumbled under the weight of human failure... and music has survived. If you take my computer and my iPod and my concerts, I will play piano. If you take away my piano, I will sing until the very breath from my lungs is stolen by the silence of death.

"Yes, I will die one day- of this I am certain. But I'm not dead yet! No, tonight there is breath in my lungs- pushing, pulsing, yearning to break free... I will dream, for dreams are the seeds of what may be. I will wonder, for without wonder, how could life be wonderful? And I will sing.

Yes, until my pending death I will sing. In the face of indifference, I will sing. In the face of adversity, I will sing. I will sing about the pain. I will sing about the mystery. I will sing of the hope, the cage, the bullet, the winter, the dreamer. I will sing of all of these." - Jon Foreman

And in the face of all of this I find it necessary to ask myself: what songs am I singing? What songs am I allowing to be sung into my life? Am I clinging to songs of honesty and truth-- not songs that deny pain, but songs that show that hurt can be defeated by light? Or am I clinging to songs that lie to me about love, about people, about life, about hope? It's a question worth asking, for someone who spends a lot of time listening to music. Also, am I letting the music move me to turn around and speak truth and light into the lives of others? Because in the end, if it doesn't move me to hope and to love, then it's just adding to the noise.

I've asked God many, many times about how He wants to use my love for music, about why He's blessed me through so many conversations with professional musicians and so many concerts. I can understand and see music's short-term effects of encouraging me and teaching me and reminding me of His presence, but I can't see the long-term yet. God typically just answers "wait and see," like a parent planning some remarkable adventure and responding to a child's eager questions. So I will wait on His answers and His timing... and in the meantime, I will listen, and I will play piano, and I will let it move me to love.

I don't usually do this, but I'm going to ask for your input, since I know a lot of people read my blog now and I honestly want to hear answers. Has there been a moment when a song moved you? If you play an instrument, what's more meaningful-- playing music or listening to it? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of the effect music can have on people? Do you think I'm completely insane for being so obsessed with Skillet? Alright, so maybe that last question wasn't serious, and I'm not sure I really want to hear the answers to that one. But feel free to give me your input on a few or all of the rest.

Thanks for sharing in my thoughts. I hope today finds you well.
- Elraen -


Nicole Moran said...

Awesome blog. LOL that's about all I have to say. I agree with you! I typically can connect & worship deeper through music than anything else. Listening, singing, signing and sometimes playing, though that's new for me.

I just went on a rant last week because I saw a Christian berating Christian rock--for being rock, saying that in itself is an oxymoron & that its wrong.

Music is meant to be emotional. For some, that's hymns & that's totally cool. Sometimes, and many times, its hymns for me, that really move me. But more often, its a a Switchfoot, Jon Foreman, Anberlin, Red type of sound. I connect with it. And I believe God is glorified in that. And some people don't like it. That's cool. Meg loves Underoath; I hate them. Doesn't make it wrong.

My point is, I'm grateful I serve a God who created us as individuals, gave us ways to worship Him in our unique ways, and is big enough for us all to worship Him the way He created us to! Totally awesome!!!

See ya soon

miruialiel.eternalprincess said...

Mary, thank you for posting this--It meant a lot to me to read. We share many of the same views on music, and I am glad to see that someone shares them. We ought to talk more about this in greater detail sometime.

Has there been a moment when a song moved you?

Yes. I think one of the first times was at a Newsboys concert I went to nearly three years ago. I can't convey to you in words what I felt.

If you play an instrument, what's more meaningful-- playing music or listening to it?

Playing it. When I sing, or when I used to play the piano, touching the people I was playing/singing for was really important to me. I didn't want the music that I was playing to just be another thing to listen to. I wanted to pour passion and feeling into it. I want them to feel what is intended in the piece. I want to them to think beyond wanting me to perfect the notes. I want them to see that I've poured my heart into it, regardless of how well I'm doing, and I want them to be moved, not by my playing, but by what they hear.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of the effect music can have on people?

I agree. I've seen this many times. I've seen music change people's lives. Music affects people, whether good or bad, even if no one wants to admit it. You can say so much more with music than one could do in conversation.

Do you think I'm completely insane for being so obsessed with Skillet?

. . .no, because that would put me in the same boat. ;)

Liz said...

Q: Has there been a moment when a song moved you?
A: 'I don't know any other setting where you can stand beside 4,000 people screaming "no, you'll never be alone," and no one thinks it's weird or awkward.'
Q: If you play an instrument, what's more meaningful-- playing music or listening to it?
A: Both. There's something so amazing about listening to music & being part of the crowd at a show but there's also a magic when it comes to playing something, you can express yourself that way.
Q:Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of the effect music can have on people?
A: I agree indefinitely. As you know very well music has impacted MY life in ways as big as God because I see Him through music. I have no doubts that a song can save a life, can change someone's world around.
Q: Do you think I'm completely insane for being so obsessed with Skillet?
A: Yes. haha. JUST KIDDING!!! (or am i? ;) No but really, you're not insane. I know what their music & especially that one song means to you. I know you know that I relate completely. To be passionate about something that has given you passion isn't wrong or stupid in the least bit rather it's an incredible thing. Just imagine how you could impact someone else because of the passion & love YOU have received. YOU could change a life all because of that one song or that one band or that one lyric.

That all said, this blog is my favorite of yours so far. I think it's because I agree with you 100% and I relate to you 100%. And I also love how my favorite Skillet lyric was thrown in there...which I doubt you did on accident. Basically, I love you and thank you for using music every time I need it, and even when I don't think I need it, to remind me to Never Surrender ♥♥♥

Mary said...

Has there been a moment when a song moved you?
Yes, there have been a lot of times. Songs will move me when I’m trying not to let anything else move me, and they’ve done so in many situations. Worship, at home by myself, in the car, concerts… almost any situation I’ve heard music, I can think of some time when a song has moved me. A lot of the time songs move me with one phrase, one piece that finally clicked.

If you play an instrument, what's more meaningful-- playing music or listening to it?
Singing it :6: If I’m singing something, I’m connecting with it. Listening to music, I’m more just hearing it, sometimes connecting to it. Playing music, (which I don’t do that often) is more of letting feelings out. Often times when I’m playing music, I don’t connect with what I’m playing, just with the feeling of losing myself and momentarily having no thoughts.
So, singing, because that’s when I have to be honest. If I try to sing something I can’t connect with and don’t believe, I tend to find myself unable to; the passion and honesty that I associate with music is too much to go against.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of the effect music can have on people?
I agree. Music is meant to be emotional, and as you said often very honest, and that will always affect people greatly.

Do you think I'm completely insane for being so obsessed with Skillet?
Your obsession with Skillet was never called into question in my mind. ;) I've never thought you were insane for that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post, Raen. I almost cried. It meant a lot to me. No, I don't think your crazy. Your insight has made me realize the beauty of music that I sometimes might take for granted. I personally love The Last Night. I know you do, too. It's basically become my song of the Lord helping me through my depression. I'm feeling so free. This post made me think. Not just scratch at the service, but truly make sure that I believe with all my heart the lyrics to good, honest songs. I can't tell you how much I appreciated this. -- Angel

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there has been so many times a song has moved on me. Sometimes I just break out in dance, sometimes I break down in tears. I stand in awe of beautiful music, I head-bang to awesome music. There are some songs I love to hear because they immediately evoke happiness, and there are some which are so beautiful that I can't listen to without tearing up.

(sorry, I am uncultured and I don't play an instrument)

I full-heartedly agree. Music, almost ethereal, brings life to us. It takes us and plays on our emotions sounding us from our lowest moans of sorrow to our highest cries of joy. “Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.” And also to quote others who say it so much better than I, here's a little Shakespeare from the Merchant of Venice.

“For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze...
...The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”

Yes you are insane for being obsessed with Skillet, just make sure you put me down on that list as well. =D Everyone is moved by and obsessed with their own different music (for better or for worse). I know people who are obsessed with J.S. Bach, some are moved by “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” for others it's Green Day, others it's Queen, for me it's Five Iron Frenzy, for you it's Skillet. And for all of us, this music defines us and helps give shape to the person who we have become. Keep on rocking on Mary, your words are deep and full of truth.

And just a little Plato for good measure: “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.”

Until next time,

Joy said...

I'm finally giving you some feedback on this. You expressed so well what I've always wanted to say about music; thank you.

First of all, one of the issues I care the most about is Christians and the arts. You are SO right that we need to get out of our subculture bubble, and make art that touches the world around us. And this art should be more than just an evangelical tool. In his book Imagine, Steve Turner writes, "It would be impossible to think of loving humans and yet hating human culture, of loving individuals and yet hating their music, songs, stories, paintings, games, rituals, decorations, clothes, languages, and hairstyles. God made us cultural beings."

Music has always moved me. In a way, it has defined my life. I wrote an essay on how, throughout my teen years, different artists had a significant impact on who I became. One example: Wavorly gave me a needed push out of complacency. If I had never heard "Madmen", I probably wouldn't be the same person I am today. And music has stirred in me sleeping truths... when I heard the Annie Moses Band perform "When Daddy says I'm Beautiful," I had to leave the room because I was so broken and touched by the reminder that human love existed like that. And since certain bro-in-laws of mine have heard that song, they've consciously made more of an effort to build up their little girls. It's a beautiful thing, music.

Playing and listening both hold equal passion for me. And many times -- no, most of the time -- it depends on the audience. I will NEVER forget the adrenaline rush I got playing last summer at our final FASA performance. When the audience started clapping with the beat... I wanted to dance, I wanted to fly. NOTHING has ever hit me so hard, not even seven cups of coffee. :P Whether I play or listen, passion is contagious. I've played for dead audiences before, and it's so hard to muster any kind of energy or passion.