Sunday, March 14, 2010

State of the Art Address

My friends, Americans and fellow music lovers. I address you tonight on the state of our art, specifically popular music. 

I hope nothing on this blog that I have written has made anyone think I don't like a good catchy and well arranged song. However, some sort of morbid curiosity has led me over the last couple months to turn on the radio for the first time since high school to hear the 'hits' and I have to agree with the statements of several living prophets that our times are as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah. Nowhere is this more evident than in the our music, which seems to have hit an all time low. No longer are there lone artists that have a naughty streak. It almost seems to be the rule to be explicit, immodest, erotic or use language, which is less and less edited out on the radio. In fact, one of the only benign songs I can think of on the pop radio is Owl City's much overplayed Fireflies.

Recently young pop-diva Miley Cyrus (copyright Disney Star-makers Inc.) was heavily criticized for a performance where she danced on an ice-cream cart, holding onto a pole, reportedly for support. Critics thought she was 'pole dancing.' Poor girl. Maybe it is because she has a brand and an image to uphold to all of the 13 year olds who think she is the greatest thing EVER. Whether or not her dance act was really suggestive, I find it very telling that she was criticized at all. There are numerous other acts much more worthy of being decried than hers. As one blogger pointed out, the bad music of our times is no longer just rap or heavy metal. "The culprit this time is top 40 pop music."

The Killers (what a band name!) have a lyric in their hit Mr. Brightside:
"But she's touching his chest now,
He takes off her dress now..."
They only get (dis-)honorable mention for that.
The band 3OH!3 (um? What's with that?) comes up with the even more offensive lyrics in their hit Don't Trust Me:
"I said shush girl, shut your lips,
do the Hellen Keller and talk with your hips."
That is beside using the F-word and repeating over and over the line "Don't trust a ho."
Ouch. That is sickening. How about this sad lyric from David Guetta. Actually, never mind. I just looked up the lyrics and they are much too offensive, the title even swears in it! The radio edit must be editing out every other word. In the build up to the chorus, he says, "I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.." If there is a grade lower than F- for effort, he would get it. The rest of the song manages to say some of the most disrespectful things you could say about/call women.

The sad thing is that this is just the boys. The girls are degrading themselves even more.
Ke$ha (Yes the dollar sign makes it sound cool when you say it. Try it... Key-chaching-sha?) has several absolutely dumb songs they won't stop playing. In Tic Toc she shares with us how 'cool' it is to party like a diva all night every night, getting drunk, wild, and promiscuous at the club. The video takes the already gross lyrics and adds the offense of glorifying her contempt and disrespect for her family. Her other hit song Blah Blah Blah (really?) basically is saying, "If you want some action like I do in the back of my car you've got to shut up." One blogger lamented that his ten year old daughter liked Kedollersignsha. I would lament that anybody does. The difference between her 'full of attitude' verses (talk-singing) and auto-tuned chorus lines makes you wonder if she can even sing at all!
Katy Perry has been around for a year or so but a few of her often played song titles will suffice to show how crude her very mainstream pop sound is: I Kissed a Girl (and I liked it), Ur So Gay, or (That's what you get for) Waking Up in Vegas.
The old bad girls don't want to be left out either and are still getting heavy radio play.
Madonna, whose career took a major hit in the early nineties when she released the album Erotica and related graphic promotional material, (which, by the way, may have helped pave the way to mainstream-itize this whole trend I'm talking about) has come out with the song Revolver:
"My love's a revolver
My sex is a killer
Do you wanna die happy?"
The Beatles album Revolver must be rolling in its grave. The 51 year old Madonna out-explicits herself and nobody complains today. (I love the Beatles, but they are hardly blameless. Their song Why Don't We Do It In The Road pretty much has no other lyrics or different interpretation to its subject matter.)
Britney Spears' latest hit 3 is so popular that my little sister's cheer squad used part of it for their dance routine, and this in one of the most conservative cities in the nation. The song? Its about the very Sodom and Gomorrah sin of multiple partners in fornication. Not just subtly about that either, but just about as plain as you can make it. Nobody seems to have a complaint against her for dancing with a horizontal pole in the video (Poor Miss Cyrus.) I guess Britney said it best when she sings, edited from the video version, but heard on the radio:
"Livin' in sin is the new thing"
That, at least, is what all the radio stations that play current (non country) music in my area are promoting. In the movie Josie and the Pussycats there is an evil plot to sell products through subliminal messages in the music. That is so 2001. Why not just make the placement catchy, the packaging slick and sexy, and nobody seems to care. But its not products we're placing here, its lifestyle and beliefs.
That brings us to the winner for all-around mind-numbing pop grossness.
Meet Lady Gaga. Half of what she sings is nonsense syllables repeated suggestively. The other half is too offensive to repeat. Half of the songs they play on the radio are hers. Half of the clothes she wears aren't there. Half of her music describes abusive, dirty relationships with men, the other half says its absolutely glamorous to love girls...especially if you are one. But everybody seems to agree that Lady Gaga is artistic, talented, fashionable, amazing, and really 'pushing the boundaries of art-pop music.' It is incredibly hard to find people criticizing anything she does. The title of her album, Fame Monster, unabashedly proclaims her obviously successful (and shameful) music/business philosophy: Do whatever it takes to be famous. A few days ago she released a ten minute music video extravaganza for her song Telephone ("Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh...Stop telephonin' me!") which has already received more than 14 million views on YouTube as of this writing. The video reportedly contains scenes that should be at least rated R, including dancing firmly in the 'striptease' genre, glamorized violence and gore, girl on girl gross making out, all of which is supposed to be very groundbreaking and fashionable.

It makes me sick. I had to tell somebody. Nobody is saying anything! It's as if the world tuned in and ... I read these pretty lame sci-books when I was young that creeped me out about 'the invasion of the tripods' in which alien tripod things invaded the world by first getting everyone to watch their brainwashing tripod kids TV show. Then they put mind control helmets on everyone and made humans their slaves. Obviously in real life 2010 the Devil (as introduced in the Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil) doesn't need subliminal messages or mind control helmets. He has simply and successfully subverted the art of music and the technology of its dissemination. (!) I would frankly be embarrassed for this nation if aliens tuned into its entertainment right now.

A common and curious criticism of would-be music critics like myself goes like this:
"I'd like to see you do any better. I don't see you writing music and changing the world."
Well, people of America, I intend to. I don't want this tsunami of tsin to go unchecked. Somebody has to stand up to it. To that I end I close this blog by officially announcing to all five of my faithful readers the project that has occupied my composition efforts since December.
I am currently working on an album, tentatively titled, "Songs for Qait: Stars Ascendant" which will address my views of love and its healthy, righteous exercise and development. My effort will be to make the songs both as catchy and as artistic as possible. Coming soon you will hear a demo version of the opening song "The Night is Young" and you will hear much more about this project as it develops. I have been waiting to formally start telling people about it until I was sure that I was serious about it and had a good start. Now there will be lots more to say and I will very much appreciate your contributions and insights into making this successful.

I invite all people everywhere, musicians especially, to realize the power of music and the effect it has on our culture and people. We have to make sure that there is an alternative to filth.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I have never really been a big fan of sculpture. My biggest experience with it has been of the tacky sorts of things that you find in an antique junk store. The notable exception of my growing up was seeing some of the rather heroic statues around Temple Square in Salt Lake City. I got to see a variety of oldish greek-ish sculptures at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, but they didn't do anything for me except make me want to cover them up, maybe with a large fig leaf.

An interesting side-effect of my recent trip to Pittsburgh to interview with a couple grad schools was a sudden interest in the art of sculpture. In the city I saw many works in this 'public art' form. I am not interested in making sculptures, (I have no talent or inclination towards the visual arts) but in the concept and impact of this unique art form. It appeals to me on several levels. For one, there is an emphasis on the human form and all it can portray. There is something deep and divine in molding human images. The lack of coloring focuses attention on other details such as pose and expression. Best of all, to be experienced as an art, sculpture can be placed almost anywhere.

So it was I was walking rather aimlessly through downtown Pittsburgh, enjoying my first experience of skyscrapers, when I passed a church that had a sculpture in front of it, right by the sidewalk. It turned out to be Paul Granlund's "Resurrection" - I was captivated.
Unfortunately it was night time, so my picture of it didn't turn out very well. It portrays a man rising from an abstract block structure that seems as though it has opened to release him. I don't know whether this is meant to portray Christ's resurrection or just any man on the day of resurrection, but the image is nonetheless powerful. The inscription at the base of the stature quotes John 5 - "For the hour is coming, when all that are in the tomb will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life." You really do get the impression that the figure is floating, rising above the now powerless grave that has held him.

Though his head is hanging down, this seems to be only a temporary look down in wonder at the restoration of his body and its freedom from death. Somehow to me the figure seems about to lift his head upwards in supreme triumph over the last enemy, towards the voice that has called him forth. His arms are extended in a manner reminiscent of suffering on the cross, but hinting that they too will soon be raised in an act of praise. It was a neat experience to have suddenly, walking down the street.

Finding this sculpture and reviewing other works of art by this same sculptor (Paul T. Granlund) reminded me of a statue I had seen in a photograph last summer while researching (as part of my regular random research on Wikipedia (RRROW)) the Chernobyl disaster. I have been unable to discover who the sculptor is, but the sculpture itself is in a cemetery in Moscow, where some of the firefighters are buried who died as a result of attempting to contain the failed nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine. This is really one of the most powerful images I have ever seen as a memorial.
Here again the figure of a man is contrasted with a shape, this time the not so abstract outline of a nuclear mushroom cloud. His legs appear to be melting and his arms are flung out against the explosion. This image suggests several things to my mind. The obvious interpretation is the struggle of the firefighters, sent in to face the world's worst nuclear accident without proper equipment or information. "We didn't know it was the reactor," said one of the first firefighters to arrive on the scene of the 'fire,' without gear to detect or protect from radiation, "no one had told us." Two men went up onto the roof of the reactor to put out the fire, they were never seen again. Over the next weeks thousands more people were exposed to lethal and life-threatening doses of radiation in an attempt to contain the disaster. To this end the statue portrays a man perhaps futilely throwing out his arms in defiance of a power that is already consuming him. The tragedy is awful.

I come from the school of thought, however, that a work of art cannot help but also be a product of its time, no matter the intent of the artist. This is especially true of works out of Soviet Union, such as the subversive or dual meanings in the compositions of Shostakovitch, Gubaidulina, Part, or Schnittke. I think much of Soviet propaganda art is in fairly poor taste -while in Russia I saw many memorials to WW II that were literally trash, such as the abstract sculpture shown above, made out of old artillery cannons jumbled together. However, I see something else in this sculpture from the end of the soviet regime, something honest and from the heart of nations about to be free - the symbol of a man fighting overwhelming powers of darkness and oppression. The nuclear cloud becomes a symbol of mankind's worst side, which the people of the Soviet Union had seen for decades. This statue conveys a similar sentiment as Winston Churchill's famous 'fight on the beaches' speech: "We shall never surrender." I pray that the people of Russia and other former soviet countries will never give up the freedoms which have come after such suffering.

Finally, the statue could even be a portrayal of a Christ figure, a statement that even all the evils of the modern world were paid for in that moment of infinite suffering in Gethsemane and on Calvary, that no power on earth or hell could destroy/consume the divine sacrifice. In this way, these two statues become paired together for me, Suffering and Resurrection.

I recently reread one of the books that has had a measured impact on my artistic views, "The Fountainhead." While I do not agree with a large part of Ayn Rand's philosophy, I can't help but enjoy the portrayal of man, "not as he is but as he might be" which, ironically enough, resounds with me more from a religious point of view than philosophical. The following quote from The Fountainhead describes the work of fictional sculptor Steven Mallory:

"...your figures are not what men are, but what men could be - and should be...your figures are the heroic in man."

The book in general is about uncompromising architect Howard Roark, who goes so far as to work in a quarry rather than design buildings in someone else's style, or blow up a building that is not being built as he designed it. My wife Qait teased me when I even hinted that my new job at a potato factory was a similar outlet. Anyways, the events surrounding the young sculptor are some of the most meaningful to me in the whole book. Unlike Roark, Mallory has struggled to keep his ideals and stooped to making mass-produced sculptures of ugly-cute little babies. His encounter with Roark is the first time that he finds someone who really understands him, and it is the first and one of the only times when Roark actually shows what we would call empathy. "...this boy was a comrade-in-arms, hurt in battle, and Roark stood over him, feeling a strange new thing, a desire to lift him in his arms and carry him to safety..."

Is it okay for this blog entry to come full circle from the topic of sculpture to me saying that I really hope that in grad school I can find a mentor or friend who can help make me the composer that I 'could be - and should be?' In this way a teacher is a sculptor, following in the footsteps of that great Creator, Himself a teacher who is a sculptor using that most difficult and rewarding of of malleable substances, human souls, to bring out the best, the 'heroic' and divine in man.

Have any of you ever found a sculpture that really spoke to you? I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Discovering and Creating the Music of Today

During the application process for various colleges, I had to write several 'statements of purpose' or intent. The following (with the exception of the first paragraph) is culled from several of those statements and gives a background of what got me into music and hopefully conveys something of my views and goals as a composer.

As a lover of music, I know the unparalleled joy that can come from a good piece of music. For me, a great piece of music is one that opens up new depths of thought and beauty, and allows the listener to either leave the moment they are in, or enjoy it fully. Years ago, sitting at the piano, I discovered that I too could create music, not just consume. By the age of 17 I knew that I had to make music, that it was part of who I am. I have spent my time since cultivating both that destiny and talent. My degree in jazz studies helped me realize further the potential that making music can have to change lives, bring people together, or just let everyone have a good, quality time. My dad used to ask me what I thought about when I didn't have anything to think about. Music. Musical form. How movements in a piece I will write might relate together. How to improve a piece I am working on. Although my degree is not in composing, (BYU-I does not offer one) my passion has been composing and my activities during my undergraduate studies have proved that again and again. I founded the Student Composers Society at BYU-I, pursued compositional lessons (from my own pocket and competing with my jazz and other courses) and have relentlessly improved my composing talents by composing almost constantly. Since I began college I have spent my free time & money researching composing and composers. I've felt an affinity with composers making music today or recently. I long to join to their ranks.

In my first semester of college I heard a work by a living composer being performed on the radio. My first thought was: what are they doing to that violin? Followed by: I like it. I was enthralled and baffled. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. I began a studious search to find out how the gap was bridged between the music of composers covered in textbooks and music being composed today. I believed that if the music of one, two or three centuries ago could speak so powerfully, the music of today could be even more significant.

Who has been composing in the last 50 years? What are the trends and techniques being used? How are these composers supporting themselves professionally? What are their compositional philosophies? Why isn't this music reaching more people? What is it about this music that moves me so deeply? I sought the answers to these questions and was exposed to dozens of composers. As I listened to their music, there were many gratifying moments that presented more beautiful and wonderful sounds than I had known possible.

The more I searched, the more I realized that if I wanted to hear perfectly pertinent music I would have to create it. I began composing in earnest, taking lessons and talking to other students interested in composing. My research on modern composers doubled as a course in modern musical language and techniques.

On February 28th, 2008, I first saw my name as composer on the program and heard my work performed - a hymn and a movement for string quartet (now revised and in my portfolio as Zerkalo). It is hard to describe the feeling of hearing my own compositions performed. I suppose it is rather like hearing your child perform for the first time at a piano recital. I was nervous, yes, but also elated at each sound. Here was the complete cycle of music being played out: the composer has just finished the work. The performers have rehearsed and are now on stage sharing their talents. For the first time, an audience hears the work. What a thrill to share with them this pure and undiluted musical experience! As I spoke with people afterwards, I realized the concert had had as much impact on them as it had on me. I felt inspired and filled with a desire to create and share more music.

To hear living music impressed on me the importance of the music of today - music that expresses, exalts and exemplifies the tenor of our times. As important as the music of the past is, it is this living music that holds a mirror up to our times and has the most potential to be an instrument of social change.

From hearing a new work on the radio to the first performance of my own works to the present, my course has become increasingly clear - I feel it is my duty as a composer to enrich our culture, ensuring its progress by composing exquisitely expressive music that will become an important part of people’s lives. I want my music to reach people in a variety of ways - whether on their iPods, at thought provoking concerts, during reverent religious works, or in lighter but not less well-crafted music influenced by jazz and popular idioms. In all the music I write I want there to be a depth of thought and form - music that satisfies both the ears and mind. In order to be so versatile and effective as a composer - to 'wax poetic' with the language of music - I want to master a vast palette of musical means from all styles and periods. I will also need practical training as a professional composer to thrive in the changing music industry.

This is why I am pursuing graduate studies in composition.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Beautiful Truths tonight live with guest star Hey! It's All Music!

THE OPENING ACT of of tonight's blog is "Hey! Its All Music!"

I AM A COMPOSER. To many this creates an instant image of either a wig wearing maniac or John Williams. Not so much the actual image of John Williams, just the idea of him as one of two living composers that are household-ish names. I like the term composer but to me it expresses a number of things besides "a maker of stuffy old music" or "movie music guy." A composer is a musical poet/artist, crafting soundscapes instead of words or paint. A composer can be (as I want to be) a songwriter or a psalmist, though not all songwriters or psalmists are composers. A composer can do movies or ballets or jazz symphonies or song cycles or even albums or ring tones. Critics impose any number of appellations to a composer's music, "minimalist" "new wave" "emo" "Quintessentially Modern American" etc. The important thing to me is that I am making music. As I have repeatedly stated, I want to draw on a vast palette of music means/styles/textures to achieve my expressive ends. No matter what kind of music those means are employed to create, "Hey, its all music!"

SO IT IS that I hope to be found writing songs that could be found on the radio, concertos that receive standing ovations in the concert halls, reverent works that invite the Holy Spirit to a religious service, or even rousing works that glorify the freedoms and principles on which America is founded. I want to make music for the people, music that is meant to be listened to by people who need music for specific and important functions in their lives. In each 'facet' of my work I want to apply the same artistic integrity, dedication to quality and wellspring of inspiration. For me it feels entirely natural to combine all these kinds of works into one portfolio and call the man who made them 'Composer.' Whether a love song or hymn, a symphony or a concept album, a jazz suite or an oratorio, there will always be behind it: Michael Wahlquist, Composer. No matter what the 'genre' of work I am creating, the same standards apply, especially moral standards. As a composer I have a purpose, and that brings us to tonight's main act.

LAST WEEKEND I was in Pittsburgh (a long way from Rexburg, Idaho where I live, or St. Petersburg, Russia, where I served my mission, but it does have a 'burg' suffix, so it must be destiny for me to live there. The random 'h' even echoes the random 'h' in my last name) with interviews at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. I particularly had a great time talking with composers Matthew Rosenblum and Eric Moe from the former and Nancy Galbraith and Leonardo Balada from the later. It was a wonderful experience and as different as the two schools are, I would love the opportunity to study at either. I'm also waiting to hear back from a few schools closer to home, in Utah.

A CURIOUS THING happened while speaking with Leonardo Balada. It has had me thinking ever since. He asked me about my time in Russia, whether it had been difficult, since they were mostly atheists. The question following was, "I'm an atheist, do you think I'm a bad person?" I have to admit, I was not expecting such a question, or really any questions about my faith, since I had only a 20 minute interview with these two composers at Carnegie Mellon, and since the discussion was supposed to focus on my portfolio of works. In any case, hopefully they got what they wanted from the interview, which did otherwise focus on my portfolio, influences, and education. Perhaps even my answer to his offhand question let them know that I am a composer of convictions. I told him that of course I respect all people no matter what they believe, and when it comes to music, I really appreciate it when a composer uses their music to express their philosophies or beliefs - how they feel about life. I then used the example of work of his, an "Agnostic Requiem" (by which title I might have guessed he would bring up my faith!) I'm really not worried that they will let my faith bias their decision. Nancy Galbraith, the other composer present, has plenty of religious music on record.

I REALLY BELIEVE that there is a lot of Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom that comes from people of all or no faith. I enjoy a good Requiem or even a Mass or Passion, even though I can't agree with every part of they message they contain. I enjoy a good love song, because if there is one way that almost everyone in the world glimpses the Divine it is by being in love and creating families. I love a well constructed jazz solo or violin concerto, because there is something inherently glorious in the act of musical expression and creation.

NOT EVERY composer/music-maker sets out with such a determination to express their beliefs and views of life through their music. I intend to be one of those composers who does. There is a such a vacuum of works that portray, endorse, promote and glorify the things that I believe in and for which I stand. One of the central tenets of my faith is that I 'seek after' things that are 'virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy'. I feel a sense of obligation to make sure that my music stands up for Truth and Beauty, that it is virtuous, lovely, and indisputably praiseworthy. There is so much music out there taking up people's attention and lives with things that either don't matter that much or even are harmful. I regard it as my duty as a composer, as a music maker and therefore entertainer, to make sure I stand in opposition to such things, as a one holding up a light and standard.

SO IN my love songs you will see a portrayal of the ideal of love and family life that I believe in. In my reverent music for church you will find conveyed as clearly and beautifully as possible the eternal truths on which I found my life. In my more classical works intended for the concert hall you will hear principles of Order and Beauty, you will find symbolism of concepts of faith and truth. To me it is all music, and it all expresses something about how I feel about life. I intend to be an active influence for good in the life of any person who hears my music. There is so much other music demanding our attention, I don't want to submit anything to the world that doesn't live up to these ideals.

I AM A COMPOSER. I want to make a variety of music, but I want it all to matter to the discerning listener. I know it can matter to someone because my music will embody, exemplify and exalt the things that matter to me. Those are the things of love, of family and eternity and gospel truths that I know will bless anyone who embraces them. So even if a person only ever hears a nocturne from me, or a love song, they will have heard something that is striving for true beauty and beautiful truths.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Starving Composer For Sale

Last night I listened to the State of the Union Address from President Obama. This being my composing blog, I won't remark on how I feel about the President or his policies. Let me say just two things that relate to my life as a composer.

I pray for Obama, literally - he is the one who is at the head of the nation, whether or not my vote was for him. I pray that his influence will be for good and help keep America the country it should be. In Rexburg, Idaho there may not be a lot I can do to support our nation, but I believe praying for our leaders is one valid way. It certainly won't hurt to ask that they have the courage, moral integrity, and even flashes of divine inspiration to do the right things for our nation. Just like I believe in the National Endowment for the Arts slogan "a great nation deserves great art," I believe that our great nation deserves great leaders, and those leaders deserve our prayers and support to help them be great.

The second thing I want to confess is that I actually broke down and wept, sobbing in my hands, when the President spoke of education reform. It isn't that the programs proposed will immediately effect me - they deal with leniency on loans and increase of Pell grants, etc. What particularly got to me was when he said why they are doing these changes, "Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college." That touched me deep down at the core of what is going on in my life right now.

I got into college with the desire to make music. Over the course of my first year, that desire transformed solidly into composing. However, I found that BYU-Idaho didn't offer a degree in composing. After some thought and talks with my professors, I settled on Jazz Studies as 'the next best thing' and as a stepping stone to a later, graduate degree in composing. I also believed (and still do) that performance experience, I mean actually making music, is essential for a composer to understand how to write effectively. So, besides a two year break serving a mission for the LDS Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, I completed my degree in just four years. I even took classes in the summer sessions to keep this goal. Part of my rush to complete was the simple desire to move on: since BYU-Idaho didn't offer a degree in composition, I wanted to get my Jazz Studies degree and move on to a more focused education in composition. The other reason that I wanted to finish my degree in the traditional four years (unusual for a music student at BYU-I or many universities) is that I had committed to getting it in that time. The semester after I got back from my mission, I was offered a part time job teaching seminary. It was a great blessing. The generous compensation helped me get through school with relatively little dept. The job also offered the prospect of a career, if I were one of the lucky few who was chosen at the end of student teaching to get accepted full time. All they wanted in terms of educational experience was a degree, it didn't matter in what. I chose to stick to the degree I had already chosen, Jazz Studies, knowing that I could complete its requirements soonest. So it was that I committed to graduating in April 2009 so that I would be available for hire within about a two year period from the time my student teaching employment began. I stuck with it, even though it became increasingly apparent that not only was jazz not what I wanted as a career but even as it became more of a burden to pursue increased composing opportunities amidst increased demands from the jazz department. Pressure in the seminary program increased also as the time of hiring approached. I was visited in the classroom and interviewed by representatives from the regional offices and even Salt Lake.

Amidst all of this the economy collapsed. The LDS Church, ever quick to make fast the ship in the storm, as it were, initiated a hiring freeze that meant only a handful of student teachers (among hundreds church-wide) would be offered full-time jobs. That, among other factors, soon put an end to my hopes of having a stable career right out of college that would allow me to pursue composing on the side. Although it was difficult to be told 'no' I still interpreted this blow as a loving Father's way of saying, "I have something else in store for you!" It was still with a heavy heart I turned over my student teaching positions for the final trimester to teachers who still had a shot at being hired. I dedicated myself to finishing my studies as planned and moving on to plan B: immediately pursuing an education in composition. So in April of 2009 I 'graduated' from BYU-Idaho. However, it wasn't until the completion of my senior recital in July that I actually received my diploma. With a jazz band tour to California looming and suddenly out of the job, my wife and I took over a small managing position for a few girls' housing units on the corner of campus. While this provided no income, we had a place to stay. During the summer months I made the biggest mistake of my life, I think, and didn't actively look for a job until after my senior recital. The months and money slipped away as I practiced, composed, and began to get ready for grad school.

Finally I took up a job at a call center, part time. It is the kind of work that would have been just fine as a busy college student needing a small amount of income, but with a diploma in my hand, and wife and child to support, and high hopes, it was a bitter-sweet experience to have the job. I have been unable to find more work since, with the exception of a few grueling weeks in the fall driving trucks for the potato harvest. Several eateries in Rexburg have gone under, stable employers like the grocery store haven't hired in months. My wife Qait and I have had to move in with my parents. I can't even say how grateful I am for my parents doing this, or how difficult it is to be a married college graduate living at home again. Not only is it demoralizing and embarrassing, it seems to have taken the wind out of my sails. The only thing I managed to accomplish all fall semester (besides potatoes) was to compose a piece for harp, arrange my prelude and fugue, rework my string quartet, and chose and apply to universities. That was a huge process, don't get me wrong. But I wish I could have done it alongside a full time job, and I wish I could have done still more. Technically, I should have applied a year ago so that I could already be in grad school, but a year ago I was just trying to graduate and get hired to teach seminary. In a lot of ways this has felt like a low point of my life. When my car broke down, I had to borrow my grandma's car, since she couldn't drive right after her stroke, and I could in no way afford to replace my car. My wife doesn't have a place to call her own, it has been difficult to see her go through this. I rely on the generosity of my parents for nearly all that we have, from phones to car insurance to food. I am grateful and I feel awful.

It was a ray of light last week when I got to go to Pittsburgh. Carnegie Mellon University called me out for an interview, saying my portfolio had received positive faculty feedback. University of Pittsburgh was kind enough to also accommodate meeting with me on the same trip, and so I had a fantastic weekend dreaming of what it could be like to continue my studies and launch my career in such world-class institutions and such a well-connected location. However, the trip burned through some of the last savings I had from the potato job.

Maybe it is my fault for not getting a degree in engineering or financing or high school teaching or something else that is useful 'right out of the box.' I know that besides being a benefit to and advancement of our culture, my degree in Jazz Studies and pursuit of a degree in Composition offers little that is of immediate value to society or the economy. But I chose this path, and swore myself to it, at a time when I thought our culture, our economy and nation could support and use some of the 'higher things'. This economic crisis has already ended one potential career for me. Even though my degree can't even get me a burger-flipping job, I am determined to make it work. I have to admit my heart would be broken if I didn't get into any of the schools I applied to (three of seven have already said no, thank you, good luck), but I will continue to compose, to pursue this dream that I can make music needed by our society, my religion, and our culture. I suppose plan C would involve getting more specialized training in something useful like paper-filing or even a teaching certificate for high-school level. Plan D would involve joining the armed forces, who respect the fact that I got a degree, and would start me at a higher rate of pay for it.

So it was that I broke down (and quickly looked around to see that none of my sisters was looking over my shoulder) when Obama, the President of the United States, reaffirmed what I have been feeling for months: That no one should go broke because they chose to go to college, or in other words: education should matter. It is no use for me to wish that my professors would have talked me out of my degree, or complaining that they didn't prepare me for a career. This isn't their fault. I am the one who rushed to graduate like a good boy, knowing that Jazz Studies was a performance degree and that I am not a jazz performer at heart. So I hope to find 'salvation' in more education, and not only that, but the relative stability that comes from being a student, the professional opportunities that come from it, and hopefully someday, a stable career doing exactly what I've always wanted to do: teach and make music. In both of those pursuits I can hopefully give back to a society I am praying will help me get through this without making me feel like I can never pay back the debt, financial and otherwise.

It probably isn't chance that I just answered the phone to hear my dad tell me, "you are a good boy, a great boy." I am glad he still thinks so. I also hope that I can hear him someday call me a great man.