In my “Redeeming Culture through Music” class, we were asked the following question:
“Which is most important in music: the composer, the performer, or the listener?”
The class more or less unanimously expressed that the three persons are equally important. After all, if there is no composer, there is nothing to perform and if there is nobody to perform, why bother to compose? Furthermore, without either of these, there is no reason or even opportunity to listen. In fact, these three roles are so remarkably interrelated that it is difficult to define or even discuss one apart from the other two and often an individual musician may (and should) practice more than one of these roles.
It seems, however, that although there is an almost triune relationship between the composer, performer, and listener, it is worth realizing that the composer and listener are mediated by the performer and, indeed, the performer ideally acts as both composer and listener. In performing a piece, a musician is interpreting and expressing with a unique intention, thus co-composing while also being the mode by which the original composer is sharing his ideas with an audience. Without the performer, these “ideas” would be limited to the mind of the composer; after all, notation is not truly music any more than words are truly that which they describe. The composer relies upon the performer to breath life into the form of his work and, through the performer, the music is made.
The performer is also the most active listener. It is immediately clear when a performer is not listening to his music and it is rightly said that while a musician might hear the note as he plays, the true artist hears it before. To play well, to bring to life a work in collaboration with the composer, the performer must also be the greatest of listeners.
Communication too must be mentioned, for without the performing artist to produce the sounds imagined by the composer, listeners or audience members cannot experience and participate in the music. As Madeleine L’Engle writes in her beautiful devotional book, Walking on Water:
“Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been stillborn.”
A piece of music might exist conceptually in the mind of the composer, but without the performer as its communicator, those who are mere listeners will not be able to hear, enjoy, and ponder it. The performer, then, is not only the embodiment of both composer and listener, but the mediator between the original composer and the awaiting listeners.
At this merely human level, it seems that of composer, performer, and listener, the performer (if we are forced to choose one) is the most vital, for he is both of the others, as well as a communicative mediator. It becomes apparent through scriptural synthesis that this answer is consistent theologically as well.
Here is where I must clarify: I do not mean to suggest that the relationship of composer, performer, and listener is a perfect parallel to the Trinity. (I have laughed at too many #AlsoNotLikeTheTrinity posts to risk it!) However, I will venture to suggest that music, like all arts, is incarnational, and that the composer, performer, and listener wonderfully image the intermediary work of Christ between God the Father and His creation, mankind.
“To paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity.” – Madeleine L’Engle
First of all, what do I mean that “art is incarnational”? The production of art is to put ideas into a sensory, communicable form. Books are ideas set in words; painting or sculpture are visual and tangible expressions of the artist’s idea; music differs slightly in that a person, rather than a medium such as a book or canvas, is needed to produce the audible product. But even (and perhaps especially) in this case, the music is an idea made actual through the performance; music is an idea incarnate as organized sound.
Already, there is an echo of Christ in the word “incarnate,” and rightly so. The idea that music is brought fully into being by the mind of the composer and through the performer as co-composer is reminiscent of John 1:1-3:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (ESV)
God (the Father) creates as a mind imagines, while the Son manifests as the Word communicates. Ideally, a composer would be also performer, thus imaging the perfect unity of the Trinity. Even with a separate composer and performer, though, the reflective relationship is present: the composer creates conceptually and, through the power of the performer, communicatively.
This brings us to the listeners. Controversial composer, Arnold Schoenberg, believed that:
“A real composer writes music for no other reason than that it pleases him. Those who compose because they want to please others, and have audiences in mind, are not real artists.”
Theologically, based on the parallels I seek to draw, there is some truth here. God creates out of His overflowing delight and the Genesis narrative immediately reveals God’s pleasure as He deems each piece of creation “good.” However, this delight indicates that God formed all things also in order to share this wondrous joy. When God crowns His creation with His own image, mankind, He pronounces it finally, “very good.”
Here and throughout Scripture (consider the Psalms as one such vast example) it is apparent that God in His infinite goodness and love made all that there is for His own right pleasure, but also with the gracious desire to communicate Himself and His creativity with His image bearers: mankind, the listeners.
This brings us back to incarnation. Consider Colossians 1:15-17
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (ESV)
Christ, the Son of God who took on flesh, is fully divine and fully dust, fully God and fully man. By Christ all things were made and in him all things are held together; he was the means by which all is made and remade, but also is the true image of the God we cannot see. He is the Word that speaks of the Divine Mind, making manifest what is “too wonderful” for mankind (Psalm 139:6, ESV).
Christ is the mediator, the co-creator who yet condescended in mercy to listen and to teach. He is the Word, incarnation, and — in this instance — the truest of performers, for through Him we receive reconciliation and understanding, for though Christ walked in flesh among us, He is one with our Creator.
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – Colossians 1:18-20 (ESV)
Although composer, performer, and listener are each necessary and impossible to isolate from each other, we find that the performer is ideally both composer and listener, as well as the mediator between an unhearing audience and the seemingly-incomprehensible ideas of the composer. Within the context of Christianity, we find parallels that reveal the incarnational aspect of the performer’s work and resonate with the truth of Christ’s manifestation and mediation. Performers, then, in their practice, image the preeminence of Christ as they bring music to life.
I am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.
As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?
So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.
Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.
So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:
Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:
Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2 I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Miroirs II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?
The Girl in the Red Dress
We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.
I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.
As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.
But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.
But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.
The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.
The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.
But the mist is back.
And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.
And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.
But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.
Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.
Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.
And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.
Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.
The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.
It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.
This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.
And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.
Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?
The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.
A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.
Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.
But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?
And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.
But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.
I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.
And this determination brings the strength which is grace.
It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.
It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.
Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.
But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.
And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.
And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.
Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!
But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.
But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.
The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?
I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?
But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.
Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.
More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.
She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.
Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?
I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.
I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day.
Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn.
What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning.
I’m back from a six week tour and study trip to four different countries and, thanks to jet lag, my brain is wide awake while my body is still confused as to whether it’s time for second breakfast or a mid-morning nap.
So I will take advantage of this forced downtime to go on my regular post-travel blogging rampage. Expect more than one post within the next couple of days! To start, though, I will begin with my “Read across Europe” post.
In every city I visited, I did my best to find a bookshop. In most, I succeeded, and with an overweight suitcase, returned home with many new reads to add to my library. I tried to be thematic with my selections and ended with a nice little collection of books from abroad. They served as a second way of documenting my travels and expanding my understanding of the lands I visited, the homes of their authors.
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Our first stop was Amsterdam, home of beautiful canals, more bikes than in all of America, a certain district we did our best to avoid, and- of course – the Anne Frank House. We toured it, but I felt that I ought to have read her book first, so I picked it up in the gift shop on the way out and was engrossed in it throughout several train rides and an international bus journey.
I ended up being glad to read the book after having been in its setting. However, I was surprised to see just how roomy the secret attic was; I remember elementary school teachers telling me with horrified tones how the hiding space was probably smaller than my bedroom, perhaps even smaller than my closet. This was no the case, as I found out. However, reading the book I was struck by the brutal honesty of its young authoress. Anne Frank was, well, frank about the too-real trials of their situation and yet she also possessed a wisdom and eloquence beyond her years. I was convicted by her ability to write with such clarity and skill in the darkest of times.
2. Poems of the Great War
“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow.”
From the first line, I was stuck by the poignance of these poems; they are full of yearning, mourning, and heartbreak but also hope and loyalty and courage. I picked up this little collection in Ypres after a strenuous bike ride through the surrounding farmlands, where once the poppies grew.
Although few poppies grow among the memorials of Flanders Fields now, the memories of the Great War linger. The museum and the poems in this book keep them alive, reminding, entreating us to never forget and to carry on with wisdom in light of the tragedies of the past.
This book kicked off my love of poetry, which continued to influence my reading choices throughout the rest of this trip.
3. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
This book caught my eye just as I finished exploring the castle in Edinburgh. In a city so rich in literature and history, it was a no-brainer that I needed to purchase a book. I had been hoping my something by Sir Arthur Conan Dolye or Robert Louis Stevenson or even J.K. Rowling as they all lived in Edinburgh, but this book focuses on a key point in Scottish and English history, so it worked just as well. It turns out the author got her Ph.D. in 18th century literature from Edinburgh University, which is pretty amazing if you ask me.
It was a great book for gaining insight into Mary Queen of Scots and Tudor England. Was it my favorite book? No, but it was interesting and certainly passed the time on another long train ride.
4. Underwoods by Robert Louis Stevenson
I found this gem in a quirky bookstore in Inverness. Besides a sporting goods shop where I bought amazing running shoes, this bookstore was the only interesting thing in the city. However, Inverness is situated in the Scottish Highlands, which I strongly believe to be the most beautiful place on earth. This collection of R.L. Stevenson’s poetry is not only over one hundred years old, it smells of “ancient Egypt” and is filled with thrilling rhymes and imagery. For instance, “Wine-scented and poetic soul” (from “To a Gardener”) won me over at once.
Update: I read several more poems and am in love with R.L.S.’s ability to marry humor and earnestness within the same stanzas.
5. The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson
After his poetry, I was on a Stevenson reading trend. In St. Andrews, a beautiful coastal town in Scotland, I found another darling bookstore, complete with ladders and books old and new. There, I picked up this “black comedy” and laughed my way through it all the way from Cambridge to Glasgow on my final train ride.
It was a pleasant way to pass a 4.5 hour journey, though Stevenson made me painfully aware of my limited vocabulary. I ended up having to scribble a list of words to look up later in my journal. Still need to do that…oops.
But, after this, I purchased a Stevenson collection on my abomination (er, I mean, my Kindle) and enjoyed finally reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, shocked that I’d never read it before and astounded at its insights into human nature.
6. Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare.
G. David, a bookseller in Cambridge, is one of the most magical places in the world. Unfortunately for me, my wallet did not agree, so all I could afford to buy in the end was this teeny-tiny copy of Much Ado.
We saw this comedy performed in the King’s College Fellows Garden as part of the 30th annual Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, so it seemed a fitting (and suitcase weight limit-friendly) souvenir. Besides, I think sassy Beatrice might be my literary twin and this is definitely my favorite of the comedies.
So there you have it! These are my souvenir books, though I also read a wealth of English and Cambridge authors’ books (on my Kindle…alas, it is so convenient for travel…)
Romeo and Juliet – Shakespeare
Aside from the traumatic Globe experience, I admit that I love this play, not because I make the painful mistake of thinking it is a romance, but because I am fascinated with the way in which it is simultaneously comic and tragic in its plot. Essay on this later?
Sermons on Ephesians – Reverend Charles Simeon of Cambridge
Wonderful resource to have on hand as I studied Ephesians during my stay in Cambridge. Simeon is concise and insightful.
Silhouettes and Skeletons – various
This was a weird one and I’m not sure why it was on my reading list for my Cambridge course. It sought to give a character depiction of Simeon and sort of did, I guess… maybe.
An Experiment in Criticism – C.S. Lewis
This book was incredible and is reshaping how I approach various works of art. I already want to reread it as I know there is a wealth of ideas that I missed.
Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis
Also insightful, but I wish I could have read Malcolm’s letters to Lewis…
Ariel – Sylvia Plath
At first, I was shocked and annoyed, considering Plath’s poetry to be nothing more than long and unnecessary sex and suicide metaphors. However, upon closer reading and applying the openness Lewis advises in Experiment, I found a new depth and beauty to Plath’s writing that inspired my own attempts at poetry.
The Art of Prophesying – William Perkins
This was a nice, concise guide to preaching which, naturally, my honors institute friends and I overcomplicated.
Samson Agonistes – John Milton
Do NOT make the mistake of skimming this in your head on an airplane. Instead, read it aloud with some literary friends; I promise you will find new meaning and beauty in it this way.
Manual of a Christian Knight – Erasmus
Rule No. 5 was about the only part of this book that did not make me want to give it up. Yes, it was helpful in some parts as it described our spiritual battle, but overall it was just. so. long. and. wordy. Still, when we discussed it, I – as usual- appreciated it more than before.
The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
This book seemed so straightforward until we discussed it…But it was a relief to read a children’s novel after so much theology.
Very British Problems – Rob Temple
This had me laughing aloud, but I think a more apt title would be “Awkward Introvert Problems” because all of the so-called “British Problems” are things I too fear.
Misery – Stephen King
Well this was equal parts inspiring and traumatizing…it’s writing and construction were brilliant and its story had me captivated for nearly all of my transatlantic flight. But now I wonder if I really want to be a famous writer as the plot centers on the kidnapping and torture of one…Still, it was my first King novel and I certainly enjoyed (is that the right word?) it!
Well, there you have it! My Euro-trip 2017 summed up in the books I read and purchased. Hopefully it gave you some new reads to check out in the future and maybe some new literary destinations to visit.
I was fortunate in high school to have had a wonderful arts department. The faculty, students, and facilities were excellent and I was well-prepared to be a college-level musician. Now, I am studying at a conservatory among talented peers under the direction of stellar professors.
But something is missing.
My high school music program and college conservatory were and are both incredibly supportive…internally. Within the arts departments, students and professors know each other well, building friendships and mentorships that will endure a lifetime. We cheer each other on in concerts, accompany each others’ solos, give each other advice. We pray for each other, share in the joy of each others’ accomplishments, and listen to each other practice the same piece for what feels like the millionth time.
But this is all internal support. “Intra-conservatory” if you will. Outside the walls of our halls, there is little understanding of who we are or what we do, causing music students to feel unknown and undervalued. This is not something that can be resolved overnight; however, it is vital to not forget what the arts contribute and, in turn, how you as a university can show your appreciation.
For instance, we as a conservatory or high school music program…
…are there for you. The symphony orchestra played for a ceremony honoring the construction of a new science building. The chorale sings for all-student-body chapels. We as a department are there for you, the school as a whole. We love to see other departments benefit and want to lead the rest of the school in worship. However, this supportive relationship cannot be one-sided; we long for appreciation beyond a casual “thanks” in return.
…earn scholarships too. Every time an athlete signs on with a university team or earns a scholarship, the school newspaper writes an article about it. I wonder if the school or the paper realize that music students also are recruited and offered large scholarships to attend and perform in ensembles, just like a sports team… Recognition of these awards equates to recognizing the excellence of the conservatory and the honor of being selected to participate in its ensembles.
…are a tool for recruitment. The chorale tours every year, even when it is least convenient, in order to ensure that recruitment and enrollment at the school continue to increase. However, although members love to sing and to share their gifts with potential students, it is discouraging to go through all this work to serve the school and not receive any acknowledgement.
…open our home to you. During large university events such as conferences, the conservatory opens its doors to all students, welcoming them into the hall that has become a second home for music majors. However, these visiting non-music students and faculty disregard this kindness by bringing in food and drink, leaving behind trash, and acting unruly. Please treat our building with respect! It is old, overcrowded, and falling apart enough already! (We don’t seem to be getting a new one any time soon.)
…provide a community for anyone. Even if you are not a music major, if you are willing to be a team player, have a heart for music, or simply want a wonderful group of friends who will be there for you through thick and thin, the conservatory will welcome you with open arms. Ensembles open to everyone are offered, allowing those who might not have the desire (or insanity) necessary to be a music major to still enjoy the tight-knit and loving community that musicians offer.
…are diligent and dedicated. What other major requires 4-6 hours of study every single day for only one class? And yet, we love what we do and chose to do it. Music majors are among the most dedicated and motivated students you will ever meet. They love what they do, even when it is stressful, and will push themselves to the maximum to ensure that they do it with excellence. Now, doesn’t that sound like the type of student a university would want to encourage and prioritize?
…showcase the school’s strengths. Our university is full of talent, not just in the music department. However, the conservatory showcases these talents on stage for anyone to see. Community members not affiliated with the school often attend concerts and praise the program for its superior quality. Shouldn’t the school be more interested in the program that is drawing in outsiders and showing off the school’s strengths?
…are more than musicians. Within the conservatory are writers, actors, dancers, artists, photographers, and athletes. There are future teachers, authors, businessmen, administrators, and missionaries. Music students are interested in a wide array of fields. However, in not investing in their lives as music students, the school is not investing in their wealth of other opportunities as well, which have the potential to benefit the school and the future of their chosen fields.
…serve other departments. Composers write scores for the film department, pianists play for administrative events, and chamber ensembles perform for art shows. We even started a chapel to serve the more traditional people at the school. Whenever there is a need for music, the conservatory students are thrilled to help, in spite of their already overloaded schedules. We want to team up with other departments and thus foster greater cross-campus unity. However, it is difficult to continue doing so with the university seemingly providing only limited resources and support.
…want to share our passion with you. The biggest thing to know about this issue is that we want to share with you. Any time we complain about being ignored or undervalued, we are expressing a deeper sadness that we are unable to share our gifts with our university community. We work from sunrise to midnight to create operas and concerts, eager to share the fruits of our labor with the school. But how are we to do this with an empty hall, or -worse- an audience that leaves at intermission?
We are pleading with you, our fellow students (and especially our administration), to come to our concerts, to experience for yourself the beauty of the music we love. Yes, we would love a new building with enough practice rooms and working facilities. We would love increased funding so that we can put on more lavish events or purchase the supplies we need. We would love to be included in the headlines of the school newspaper. However, the most meaningful way you as a university can show us your support is also the smallest: simply come and listen.
I turned twenty on November 14th, 2016. It was weird. Every day I was thinking, “one more week until I am no longer a teenager” or “three more days until I am a real adult.”
But then, when the day came, I felt the same.
This should not have been surprising, but I could not shake the feeling that I should have experienced a grand metamorphosis, shedding the hormonal teen years and entering my twenties as yet another confused college student.
But then I realized: I had never been the typical teenager, so why should I expect to feel like a normal twenty-something?
Teenage girls are expected to be a dramatic, selfish rebels who spend too much time failing at Pinterest-inspired manicures. This is an extreme, to be sure, but still…
While my peers were dating around, I had a single boyfriend who loved Jesus and respected me. My only fights with my parents ended with me telling them that I loved them. I added straps to my senior prom dress while other girls seemed to be competing to see whose dress could cost the most money while using the least amount of fabric.
I broke curfews to study and was only told to turn my music down when I was practicing piano too intensely. While I was nominated for Homecoming court, I was happier serving as Orchestra President (or, as my mom called me, “Queen of the Nerds”). My best friends were theater geeks, music kids, and bookworms, but the cool crowd was so…ordinary.
When the time came to choose a college, I decided on a Christian school with a stellar conservatory and literature program instead of the big name universities that my teachers were pushing.
Of course, I do not mean to say that I did not face normal struggles as a teenager; I definitely did. As a perfectionist, I was always comparing myself to the girls I saw as prettier, my peers who had higher class rankings, and the choir-mates who could sing better. I fought an eating disorder for three years beginning when I was fifteen. I went through random mood swings and said things I wish I hadn’t.
The difference though, is that these trials did not define me. Faith, family, and friends helped me through the teenage tumult and kept me from becoming the self-centered rebel that I otherwise would have been; they supported me through my dangerous perfectionism and loved me for my quirkiness.
In short, while I always “marched to the beat of my own tuba” (as a Dove chocolate wrapper once said), my loving family, growing faith, and amazing friends made sure that I stayed that way.
As my twentieth birthday drew near, I did not have much time for reflection as I was busy leading a chapel at my college and performing in choir concerts. Later, though, I got the chance read through old journals, flip through Facebook albums, and talk to friends and myself (my roommate assured me that talking to oneself is a sign of creativity). As I did so, I realized; I was never really a teenager, so why would I be any different as a twenty-year-old?
I won’t lie; I love Taylor Swift’s song “22.” Maybe it’s just because I am two years younger, but I do not anticipate actually relating to the song’s lyrics. I don’t want to “fall in love with strangers” or “make fun of my exes.” (I will admit that “breakfast at midnight” sounds pretty great because, come on, who doesn’t love breakfast food?) But I guarantee I cannot make myself “forget about deadlines” and I need sleep way too much to stay out all night partying.
I know I probably sound like a grouch, but I just don’t like the idea of feeling “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.” I know what I want to do as a career. I have amazing best friends who share my weirdness and a boyfriend who likes my determination. My faith keeps me strong when I am confused and my family is always there for me. Sure, I have moments of “I can’t do this” and “adulting is the literal worst,” but I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone and nothing compels me to fit the typical 20-year-old mold.
Though I am twenty and thus expected to be tired, broke, and confused (according to the Huffington Post), I refuse to act my age. I will go on working professionally as a pianist as I have since elementary school. I will keep writing poetry and short stories because even though I have to pay taxes and vote, I do not have to stop loving fantasy. I will watch Disney movies and sing along because being a grown-up does not mean I can’t have a sense of childlike wonder. I will chat with my mom about everything because she will always be my best friend, even though new people have come into my life.
When I turned sixteen, I wrote in my journal that I felt simultaneously older and younger than my peers. Now, at twenty, it is the same; I do not feel at all like the stereotypes say.I mean, come on, I play the pipe organ for traditional worship services, but also want to bury myself in a pile of stuffed animals. I am twenty, but feel more ten and thirty than their median.
No, this is not some “reblog to solve a major world crisis” post and you won’t end up with bad luck for a year if you don’t share. Odds are that if you ignore this altogether, nothing bad will result. However, I truly am asking you, my fellow lover of books, to share this post because it contains a letter that needs to be sent, but I do not know the name of the recipient.
I should explain myself. I was at the university fitness center this evening and, having no “brain candy” books on hand (I am entrenched in school reading), was planning to just watch Netflix while burning off some energy. However, as I was passing a woman working out nearby, I saw it: a glorious, glossy book titled The Night Circus, a book I had been dreaming of reading for nearly a month now but had not been able to find in my local Barnes and Noble.
“Is that book good?” I asked on a whim.
We proceeded to chat for a moment and she said that she would ask if there was another copy at the store where she purchased it and let me know. A few minutes later, as we were both concluding our individual workouts, she came over and handed the book to me.
“A gift,” she said, explaining that she could easily obtain another copy.
I tried to protest, but, being the bookworm that I am, could not but accept in awe that someone would willingly give such a beautiful and brand new book to a perfect stranger. But, then again, perhaps kindred spirits can be found even in strangers.
That said, in my excitement, I did not ask the woman her name. For all I know, she is not even a student or a professor at my school but some majestic book angel sent from libraries above. Of course, that seems just a little bit far-fetched, so I thought that I would attempt to find and thank her through my blog. So, if your readers’ heart is so inclined, please repost to share the following note and help me thank this kind stranger.
I truly cannot thank you enough for your generosity! To give such a lovely (not to mention bestselling!) book to a complete stranger at the gym of all places was wonderful. It may not have seemed like much to you, but to me, a stressed-out undergrad who genuinely needed a pleasure read, it was a gesture of grace. I have been wanting to read this book for so long, as I told you, and I can hardly wait to begin! I do hope you are able to get another copy soon; I would feel dreadful to have cost you the chance to enjoy this book which The Boston Globe assures me is “a showstopper”. I am so sorry that I was unable to thank you properly in person or even ask your name (I was a bit distracted trying not to sound out of breath or fall off the elliptical machine), but perhaps this blog post and note will reach you somehow. After all, Biola University is not a very large school. Again, thank you so very much! Your gift made my day and encouraged me as I head into a crazy week and semester.