Sunday, September 6, 2015

Five articles which changed my life this summer

When I say these articles have changed my life, I mean that they have helped give me some new insight on life, or given me the motivation to change in some necessary way, or strengthened my desire to live in faith and obedience. I have realized that there are certain behaviors and patterns of living that unlock results that can be achieved in no other way. 

ONE: “Filled with Life and Energy” by Randal A. Wright

Of all the things I read this summer, this one has made the greatest outward change in my life. When I read this article in the July issue of Ensign magazine, and then shared it with my wife Qait, we both knew immediately that there were things we wanted to change. There were blessings we wanted to unlock that we were not receiving because we were not fully in control of our lives. The articles answers the question: What one practice, if followed consistently and with discipline, would help you have better health, energy, and inspiration? The answer surprised me with both its simplicity and the way that it struck me with that burning desire to change. The short answer: Go to bed early and get up early. Wright then goes on to give a pretty good list of scriptural examples of early-risers, including among others, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Mary Magdalene and the Savior Jesus Christ Himself. 

Having now followed this counsel for three months by going to bed as close to ten as I can manage and getting up at six am each morning, I can attest to the truth of what Wright concludes: When we win the first battle of the day against the mattress, we are far more likely to win more battles during the day. Certainly I have also seen an uptick in my output as a composer and my productivity at home and at work. I have felt a significant spiritual revitalization and commitment to improving my life in other ways. In sum, applying the teachings of this article have helped me be in a place where I was ready to receive more improvements through the following ones.

TWO: “Blessings of the Temple” by President Thomas S. Monson

This talk was given at the last General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by man whom I believe to be the living prophet of God on the earth. The first day that my wife and I got up at six am, we also went to the Mesa Temple. There is no specific rate of attendance required of Latter-day Saints, but we had been sporadic in our attendance. I had let the cares of my education and work convince me that I ‘didn’t have the time’ to participate in the the great work that goes on in Latter-day Saint temples. But since that first day this summer, we’ve attended every week, even now that school has started up again. I have learned for myself the truth of these words of President Monson: 

As we attend the temple, there can come to us a dimension of spirituality and a feeling of peace which will transcend any other feeling which could come into the human heart. We will grasp the true meaning of the words of the Savior when He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Such peace can permeate any heart—hearts that are troubled, hearts that are burdened down with grief, hearts that feel confusion, hearts that plead for help.

Now when we attend the temple, I rely on the peace there for a clarity from the hectic swirl of thoughts and concerns in my life, a peace which I have found nowhere else.

THREE: "Living Joyfully in Troubled Times” by President Ezra Taft Benson

One of the blessings coming into my life lately is that I have actually been more prepared and involved in church activities like Sunday School and lessons during meetings of the Elder’s Quorum. In the latter, we typically study from a book which contains the teachings of one of the modern prophets from Joseph Smith on. This year we have been studying the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, who became the prophet the year I was born. There have been a number of gems in these lessons this year, but I was particularly struck by this collection of teachings focusing on finding peace and even joy in a world consumed with troubles. A year ago I actually was getting quite depressed as I read the news and watched the souring relationship between Russia and the United States. I'd tried so hard to do my small part to create goodwill with my Karelian Soundscapes project. But as I've applied teachings like these from President Benson, I've realized I can't base my happiness in the cares of the world. 

It is a great blessing to have an inner peace, to have an assurance, to have a spirit of serenity and inward calm during times of strife and struggle, during times of sorrow and reverses. It is soul-satisfying to know that God is at the helm, that He is mindful of His children,and that we can with full confidence place our trust in Him.

This article helped confirm a lesson I have been learning over the last year or so that my happiness, my joy, my peace comes not from without but from within. As President Benson says: Happiness must be earned from day to day. But it is worth the effort. 

FOUR: “The Sabbath is a Delight” by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

This article is representative of a great focus which has been in the Church since last General Conference, a sort of revival of the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy. There has been a lot of articles and training and teaching on this topic over the last few months. But this talk, the final talk at last conference, set the tone. Instead of thinking: “What shouldn’t I do on the Sabbath?" I see Elder Nelson’s talk as inviting me to consider how I can show my love to God through my behavior on the Sabbath day. As I have pondered that, I have felt much more comfortable avoiding homework on the Sabbath, avoiding entertainment, taking a break from the internet. I have spent more time communicating with my family, writing my sister on her mission in Guam, teaching my children, and in prayer and service. Another blessing I have seen from trying to more fully consecrate one day in seven is that I have tried to actually follow through on the six days of labor part of the commandment, making my Saturdays another day of getting things done instead of a total play day. Fully dedicating a day of rest from my labors to the Lord has become a source of strength and peace as I go throughout the rest of the week.

FIVE: “Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence” By Elder Jörg Klebingat of the Seventy

More than any other single address from General Conference in recent memory, I have returned to this practical and relevant talk again and again over the past year - and learned something new each time. Elder Klebingat has helped me see that the Atonement of Christ is something that I can apply constantly, instead of just when I make major mistakes. I have found a significantly greater measure of peace and contentment in life as I've tried to apply that idea. His advice applies to taking care of my own physical and spiritual well-being through obedience, forgiveness of others, and acceptance of trials and setbacks.

Acknowledge and face your weaknesses, but don’t be immobilized by them…Yours is the privilege, if you want it, to come to know for yourself, today or soon, that you are pleasing God in spite of your shortcomings.

I invite anyone out there to check out these articles and see if you aren't inspired in some way to want to change your life a bit too.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter update 2014

I love this blog. I value each of the articles here. I also seem to rarely have the time to write articles in the more extended format I feel this blog deserves. That's why over the last year I've also expanded to a second blog, which I guess deserves mention here. The blog is, more of a 'micro-blogger' platform where I post some original content but also share interesting finds. I find myself posting a lot of quotes, articles, and artwork that inspire me or provoke thoughts.

This fall has been very busy with my doctoral degree, I feel that I'm finally learning how to handle life (including now three children) alongside of being a composer (or vice versa). I composed a trumpet/piano piece for a fellow graduate student at ASU, as well as working on several commissions that came in this fall. I've also been rehearsing and performing with a percussionist as an improv duo.
a sample of the great content going up on my tumblr blog (my son Nikolas reading a hymnal intently)
More about my prolific hymn writing activity after the break...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Alfred Schnittke on his film music

Alfred Schnittke | Declaration of Love
from the soundtrack to the 1983 film Сказка странствий (A Fairytale of Wanderings)
Haunting film music from one of Russia's great iconoclast composers.

Alfred Schnittke on his film music:

For several years I experienced an inward urge to write music for the cinema and theater. At first I enjoyed doing this, then it became a burden, and then it dawned on me: my lifelong task would be to bridge the gap between serious music and music for entertainment, even if I broke my neck in the process. 
I have this dream of a unified style where fragments of serious music and fragments of music for entertainment would not just be scattered about in a frivolous way, but would be the elements of a diverse musical reality: elements that are real in the way they are expressed, but that can be used to manipulate–be they jazz, pop, rock, or serial music (since even avant-garde music has become a commodity).*

From the musical point of view I found myself with a split personality. I had my own interests–an interest in modern musical techniques, in new compositions; I studied all this and made use of it in my music. But life saw to it that for about seventeen years I worked in the cinema much more and more often than I ought to have done, and by no means only in films that I found interesting. 
Eventually I began to feel uncomfortable, as though I were divided in half. At first the situation was that what I was doing in the cinema had no connection with what I was doing in my own compositions. Then I realized that this would not do: I was responsible for everything I wrote. This kind of split was inadmissible, and somehow I had to revise my views of both kinds of music. And apart from that, I gained no satisfaction from–speaking frankly–producing music by calculation. I am simplifying, of course; there was more to it than mere calculation. I realized that there was something radically abnormal in the split that exists in modern musical language, in the vast gap between the laboratory "top" and the commercial "bottom."
This gap had to be bridged, not only by me in my own personal situation, but also as a general principle. The language of music has to be unified, as it always has been; it has to be universal. It may lean one way or the other, but there cannot be two musical languages. And yet growth of an avant-garde in music has led to a conscious split and the discovery of a new elitist musical language. So I began to look for a universal musical language. From the musical point of view, this was what my evolution appeared to be.  

Alfred Schnittke | Concerto Grosso No. 1 | V. Rondo

A composer working in the cinema inevitably runs risks. There are good reasons for the fact that in America one has the profession of composer and the profession of Hollywood composer–something quite different. In the West at the present time [1984] not one decent self-respecting composer is working in the cinema. The cinema cannot but dictate its terms to the composer. The case of the collaboration between Eisenstein and Prokofiev [on 1938's epic Alexander Nevsky] is perhaps the only exception; maybe there are others. But even Shostakovich had to submit to the dictates of the film director. 
There is nothing you can do about that–it is not so much the dictates of the director as the specifics of the medium in which one must work. Being aware of this it is possible–and this is what I have tried to do in recent years–to work with those directors in whose films interesting musical tasks arise of their own accord. 
When I complain about the excesses of my own work in the cinema, I have in mind not everything I have done and not everyone with whom I have worked, but those cases forced on me by practical considerations, when I was compelled to write absolute rubbish. 
From the outset, my work in certain films was experimental: one day I would write something, the next day listen to the orchestra play it, not like it, change it on the spot, although I might have tried out a certain device, an orchestral technique, or something else. In this respect, I gained a great deal from the cinema.
Then too, the actual treatment of the inferior material inevitably dictated by the cinema may prove useful for a composer (I can't remember how many many marches for brass band and banal waltz tunes, how much chase music, gunfight music, landscape music I wrote). I can transfer one or another of the themes into another composition, and by contrast with the other material in that composition, it acquires a new role. For example, my Concerto Grosso No. 1 [see video above] includes a tango taken from the film The Agony, abotu Rasputin. In the film it is a fashionable dance of the day. I took it from the film and by giving it a contrasting context and a different development tried to give it a different meaning.**
*[Russian text published in Besedy s Al'fredom Shnitke, compiled and edited by A.V. Ivashkin (Moscow: Kul'tura, 1994), p.233. Quoted from A Schnittke Reader, edited by Alexander Ivashkin, 41-42. Translated by John Goodliffe. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002.]

**[From a 1984 conversation with N. Shakhnazarova and G Golovinsky, published in Novaya zhizn' traditsii v sovetskoi muzyke: stat'i i interv'yu [New Life for Traditions in Soviet Music: Articles and an Interview] (Moscow: Sovetskii Kompozitor, 1989), pp. 332-349. Reprinted in Besedy s Al'fredom Schnitke, compliled and edited by A.V. Ivashkin (Moscow: Kul'tura, 1994), p. 124. Quoted from A Schnittke Reader, edited by Alexander Ivashkin, 50-51. Translated by John Goodliffe. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002.]

Monday, April 14, 2014


Premiered January 24 & 25 2014

Breaking Ground Dance & Film Festival

Tempe Center for the Arts

Choreography | Carley Conder

Dancers | CONDER/Dance

Sculpture | "Urchin Spine" by Pete Deise

Music | R. Michael Wahlquist, sampling Son Lux's "Speak"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Schnittke's rejection letter to the Lenin Prize Committee

In 1990, Russia was changing fast. The single-party system of communism was giving way to a multi-party system. Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika were proving the undoing of the Soviet Union - its dissolution was less than a year away.

From composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), one of the most unique Russian composers since Shostakovich, we get an interesting glimpse into the change in attitude sweeping into Russia - emboldened, cautiously optimistic, and at last free to speak one's mind.
Composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)
image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
In the following letter to the Lenin Prize Committee, Schnittke gives his faith-based reasoning for rejecting the Soviet Union's most prestigious musical prize (This would have been the equivalent of rejecting the Pulitzer Prize!). His thoughtful argument presupposes the idea, all too easily forgotten in our permissive time, that religious voices deserve representation and recognition. As a convert to Christianity from the early 1980s, Schnittke here performs the verbal equivalent of toppling Lenin from the pedestals on which he was so literally and ubiquitously exalted in the Soviet Union.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Six sites worth your time

I'll admit that I've struggled as much as anyone to balance the all-pervasive influence of the Internet in my life. The proverbial cat videos and catchphrase GIFs can really eat up your day. For that reason, I love it when I find a site where the content is curated a little more carefully. Someone else has already gone through the selection process of what is praiseworthy. Of course there is Wikipedia, which can lead to nearly endless chains of articles that take you from fish to space dust to Finland before you know it. If you like revealing reads, fascinating facts or trusty tools, you'll like the sites on this list, some of my favorite places on the internet. When I'm not giggling at Cracked, that is.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mentions in the Press, January 2013

I feel a little bit like Mike Wazowski, when he is happy that he is on TV even though his face is covered. This weekend I've got a piece being danced to at the Breaking Ground Dance Festival, and it is mentioned in this article. The piece is called subtidal, and although I'm not mentioned by name (the article probably went to print well before I was brought in on the project) it is still pretty cool to see this kind of press for something I'm associated with! If you're in the Phoenix Area this weekend come on out to the performance!