Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where the Love Began

I don't intend to tell about my whole personal history with music here in one entry. But maybe I can provide a few vignettes that illustrate how I came to know that I had to be a composer.

I've played piano since the second grade, mostly hymns with some easy classical. By high school I'd taken up the clarinets (mostly alto and bass). It was in high school that I started playing jazz piano, which led me to my first improvisations on the piano and my first songs written. (My first song with words was for a girl, it made her break up with me, that is a whole different story.) By the end of high school as my family moved to Rexburg I knew that I was going to study and eventually create music.

That summer after high school proved to be a turning point.

After graduating I was sure that I wanted to start a band, in which I would play piano and write songs and hopefully find somebody who could sing better than me. The most influential bands on me at that point were Elton John (and Something Corporate and Ben Folds, both punk/emo Elton John wannabees.), emo bands like Dashboard Confessional and Brand New, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears, who had a certain sort of complexity to their music that I admired. I was just sure that if I just spent that summer writing music, that by the end of it I would be ready to get a band together that year at BYU-Idaho before my mission.

All in all, rather naive, optimistic, and in retrospect, fully plausible. Thank goodness my influences have changed since then!

Something interrupted my plans, however, and resulted in me being saved from sudden young fame. Her name was reality, and she and I still don't get along.

That summer after high school my family was moving to Rexburg. My father was there building a house my friend Ryan Spackman lovingly dubbed, "The Great and Spacious Building." Every day we drove up from Pocatello, an hour and a half drive, to work all day on the house, returning in the evening. Although I got exposed to a lot of classic rock radio (I still don't like the eighties!) I didn't get any songwriting done at all. Nothing. My time was either spent building, driving, or sleeping. My plans to write a great emo masterpiece that would solidify my eternal spot amongst the captains of emo were thwarted and how!

One day I had as it were my Faustian conversation with the devil. It is a conversation that, I think, is repeated with musicians of all levels in all times and places. The evil one has a sinister interest in controlling those who entertain. The conversation went on in my mind as I was building the house one day and went something like this:

"So you like music, right?"

"Yes, very much."

"You want to get rich and famous?"

"I think so. I think mostly I want to express my feelings. I want other people to hear my music and relate."

"Right, right - you want to feel accepted by them, understood...You could do it, you know. Be famous, I mean. Make music. Be heard."

"Yeah, I think I can do it. Building this house has put my plans on hold."

"Hmm, I see that. But this house will be built soon, you'll be going to classes, and then soon onto your mission. What if you just stunk it up in school? Write your music. Find your band. Don't worry about getting ready for a mission, you're ready now...and if it needs to be postponed a little while you get your name out, that will be for the better, right...?"

I can't really do that deceiver's invitation justice with my little recreation. Those weren't the exact things 'said' or the exact things I was enticed to do. I can't even confirm that the conversation was anything other than in my head. I do know, however, that I realized at that time, that the lifestyle I thought I wanted was not really what I wanted to pursue. The 'sacrifices' of more important things I would be required to make would be too much. I thought again and again that summer about that conversation, and I realized that I wanted nothing to do with the devil's plan for musical success.

It was around that time that the phrase came to me, that has influenced my musical growth more than any other single thought.
"If you want to write good music,
you've got to listen to better music.
If you want to write great music,
you've got to listen to the best music.
If you want to write the greatest music,
you've got to listen to God." -me, circa 2003
It was at that time, as we moved temporarily to the little Rock House in Rexburg, that I first sought out classical music. In the the 6 years since then, I have become convinced of the two points driven home to me that summer. First, the devil wants musicians to be successful in a way that destroys them in all the ways that truly matter. Second, listening to, learning from, and being inspired by the best music and by divine whisperings is the best way to learn how to write truly great music.

I remember dozing off one day on the floor of my room in Rexburg, a dozen CDs of classical music from the library on the floor around me, another dozen CDs from my collection in the trash bin. It seemed to me in my sleep that I was surround by the eager figures of long-gone composers. Wagner, Chopin and others in the shadowy background seemed to be encouraging my new path. Whether or not that was just a hopeful dream or something more, I've known ever since that it was my calling to create music.

What experiences in your life have led you to love music?


Michael W. said...

I have to ignore your question for a bit while I remember all the things I could say in response...your personal quote of listening to "better music...great music...God" especially rings true for me. With the principle of good-better-best, it certainly applies to what we let influence us. I encourage you to seek that divine coaching, and I believe you are a perfect candidate of composition for doing the best with what you would receive in that coaching.
I could say so much...
Your question: I have been raised to realize that music reaches our souls, compensates for weak words and other ways of communication. I have been taught it is powerful and important. I actually believe that all children have at least some natural love for good music. Honestly. I had the incredible blessing of growing up in a family who nurtured my natural love for it. And I give great credit also to my first harp teacher, because she taught me to love the sound of the harp. Maybe everyone has one instrument that communicates best with their soul; mine is the harp. Its expanses of expression match those of my own heart and soul. The harp helps me feel my love for music.

Michael W. said...

that was Qait.

Rae said...

What experiences in your life have led you to love music? :

Yeah, Qait's right. We were taught that when we prayed for help with our musical talent, and help in being a clear lens for the Lord--with our music--that the Spirit would make our music speak in ways that words would never do justice. Although I'm currently holding my cello-candle under a bushel, I do remember a time that we played for a Christmas program. Me and Qait were accompanying a choir. I have incredibly bad stage fright; it can make me cease to function. But this time, I was not only inarguably prepared, I was excited! And I remember that I played better than I ever had; I remember better than that, though, the point that I looked up and felt all the music around me, felt the music I was making, glanced at Qait with her harp (Q, this was in GA) and realized that I was temporarily in heaven on earth. My words really do pale in comparison to the memory; I'll have to explain it better some time.

Ryan Spackman said...

Hmm. Fascinating to hear your account and feelings from that summer. I remember introducing you to that recording about music by Michael Ballam that had profoundly influenced my views on music. I also recall several conversations trying to convince you against pursuing the popstar route, seeing how it has ruined many an artist. I'd always hoped you'd turn your genius to godly and inspiring paths. I had no idea you were really so set on the band idea though. But in answer, the Ballam thing is what caught my attention on music as more than just entertainment, but as something connected to the power and grandeur of God.