Friday, November 27

Finding God in Music

Most kids my age struggle with finding out who they are, what their place is in the world, what they want to do with their lives, et cetera...

While I certainly can't take any credit for this, I'm lucky enough to have at least part of my life puzzle in place already that some people take years to work out.

I'm a musician. Music is what I love, and the more I experience it, the more I love it. Music puts our emotions on display in the most raw and vulnerable way possible.

I'm not a very "out there" kind of person (even though I used to think I was). I really don't like to talk about my thoughts or feelings because I just don't think that people will be interested. In music, however, I have a way to express pure feeling without even the obstacles and limits that words impose, in such a way that anyone can relate.

For example, I'm listening to a Liszt piece as I write, and throughout the different sections of the piece I hear a portrayal of pure innocence which gives way to feelings of betrayal, followed by unbridled anger which then morphs into determination, perseverance, and eventual triumph. This piece honestly gets me every time because for me, it's so much more than just notes and cool sounds. This piece is about making a decision to seek after beauty and truth with determination regardless of how ugly life can be sometimes.

"Music begins where the possibilities of language end." - Jean Sibelius
Music is very powerful and incredibly important on many levels, both physical and abstract. I can't imagine my life without music because it's how I relate to the world, and it's through integrating my personal experiences in the world into my music that my existence is made relevant (on one level, anyway).

But "musician" is not the only label that I've claimed. Even more importantly than my identity as a musician, I am a child of God and thus am identified with Christ; therefore, it is my reasonable service to honor Him and obey Him.

Growing up in church, I heard my fair share of verses reminding Christians that whatever we do should be for the glory of God, so I knew all along that whatever I ended up doing with my life, I would be doing it for God's glory and not my own. But once I started becoming more serious about my music and realized that I want to be a classical musician a few years ago, I've since then struggled a lot with how one can make music for the glory of God outside of singing sacred songs in a worship setting. It was easy to say that I wanted to honor God through my music, but I was at a loss as to where exactly God fit in to classical music.

As I started studying music in college, I really had to start thinking about how to differentiate my music from anyone else's, and to do this I started exploring how I connected to music personally, both in listening and performing. Not surprisingly, I found that my connections to music are almost exclusively emotional, so I concluded that music does indeed come from the heart, as many people have said before.

I was kind of frustrated because it didn't feel like I had made any kind of progress in my search for how to be a God-honoring pianist. All I had discovered was that music comes from the heart and touches your emotions, and that was nothing new.

There was a pretty basic disconnect happening in my thinking, though. I was making music greater than God and implying that He had to just let the music happen and find some way to be glorified in it. After all, it came from my heart and there was really no way for me to control what happened with it. 

But I was getting things terribly out of order.

People in the music world can be really awful - everyone just wants to get their big break and make their name, no matter how selfish they have to be to attain to those things. They are willing to fight their way to the top with no regard for how they affect others along the way. Those people are completely missing the point of music - to bring people together and touch their emotions in a way too beautiful for words. There is no room for selfishness in music. We should seek only to better people and offer them new perspectives.

It took seeing several selfish musicians perform for me to see just how vital it is for me to be sincere and to have pure motives behind my playing. Music is a gift from God, and to keep it to ourselves or use it only to advance ourselves would be a terrible waste. The best music comes from people who play sincerely from the heart, because they love music and love others. Despite all of the politics and nastiness that happens backstage, when you actually take to the stage to perform, the only thing that matters is whether or not you actually have the substance to back yourself up.

I found these verses earlier today and I think that they sum up pretty well what I believe is the key to being a God-honoring musician.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, 
full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:16-17)

Like with so many other similar issues that I've struggled with relating to how I can possibly please God, it seems that it all comes down to one question: What is my motivation in doing this?

If music comes from the heart, then the most important thing for me to do as an aspiring musician (except for maybe my scales and arpeggios) is to make sure that my heart is right before God, and then to play passionately with love and sincerity from a pure heart.


  1. I love how all the things you are learning--even the very difficult things--are serving to make you a better person and musician. Love you very much!