Tag Archives: Music

“Get Me a Musician”

[The prophet, Elisha, said,] “…get me a musician.” And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him.
2 Kings 3:15 (NRSVCE)

I mentioned in my post the other day that while we’re at the lake Wendy and I are limited in our television viewing choices to the collection of DVDs we have there. So it was that last week I pulled out that oldie, but goodie of the cinema: Die Hard. The movie played in the background as Wendy and I sat at the dining room table with our laptops going about our work.

In case you never caught it, the underlying musical score for Die Hard is one endless string of creative variations on what most Americans know as the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The iconic melody of that familiar hymn comes from the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony. As I sat at the dining room table, tapping away on my keyboard, the melody suddenly and unexpectedly took me to another moment, in another place.

London. 2009. The Royal Philharmonic. It was our first night in London and Wendy and I had tickets to hear both Mozart’s and Beethoven’s final symphonies in one program. Wendy’s favorite was Mozart, but mine was Beethoven. There is a moment in Beethoven’s ninth when the music suddenly stops and a lone voice begins to sing. I will never forget the moment I heard that voice. I just began to cry as I listened. A chorus of voices joins the orchestra and the music continues to build to one of the most amazing and moving musical climaxes ever. What most people don’t realize is that Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote his final symphony. He never heard a note of it with his ears. He only heard it in his spirit. Amazing.

There is something deeply spiritual about the language of music, and I have learned over time that music is a language all its own. It has a special place in creation. Music is an integral part of heaven in the glimpses provided in God’s Message and the theme of music is woven throughout the Great Story.

In today’s chapter the prophet Elisha calls for a musician. When the music begins to play the power of God comes upon him. The language of music was the conduit of God’s Spirit. I get that. The language of music is a spiritual language (both for spiritual light and spiritual darkness, btw). Music has the power to reach deep inside to touch hidden places inside us. Music has the power of inspiration, conviction, revelation, exhortation, and even transportation.

My body last week was sitting at a dining room table in central Missouri. The melody of Beethoven’s ninth playing beneath Bruce Willis’ machine gun suddenly and unexpectedly transported my spirit, in that moment, to the Royal Orchestra Hall in London. My eyes began to mist over. Physicists tells us that all of time is contained in each moment. Perhaps music is a gateway.

This morning I’m thinking about this powerful medium we call music. I’m mulling over the incredible breadth of music that has spoken to me, moved me, and inspired me over the years. Beethoven to Berlioz to Bach, Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Yo-Yo Ma, Gospel choirs to bluegrass banjos to steel drums and a Reggae beat. I’ve come to accept that I will never know (in this life journey) fluency in the language of music that I desire. I still can experience its power in ways human beings throughout the millennia of history couldn’t even imagine. I literally have access to the entire catalog of human music in the palm of my hand.

“…get me a musician.”

Three Heroes: Miles Davis

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise. They’d been working on it as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was requested that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I figured this lends itself to a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have had photos of these three gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible for many years. [see featured image of this post]

The first hero I blogged about was Winston Churchill.
Today… it’s Miles Davis

Those who have followed my blog for any length of time may not be surprised to see Miles Davis’ name on my list. I reference the famous jazz trumpeter on a fairly regular basis and I even posted a review of his biography a number of years ago. Nevertheless, it seems a bit incongruent for this Iowa white boy with little musical ability and strong spiritual priorities to find the heroic in a gifted, conflicted black musician whose demons and appetites led to tragic places. It may not seem an obvious choice.

My exposure to Miles began with a Christmas gift. In fourth grade I began taking drum lessons at Woodlawn elementary school. That year my brothers gave me a couple of record albums to inspire my budding, percussive aspirations. One album was Buddy Rich. The other was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. For those who are not familiar with jazz, it is perhaps the best known jazz album of all time, and for good reason. It sparked a love affair with jazz.

In high school I continued to love jazz music. While my friends at Hoover High School were listening to Def Leppard, The Police, and Journey I was home listening to a wide selection of jazz from Weather Report to Grover Washington Jr. to Chuck Mangione. But, while many of my jazz favorites were flirtations and brief love affairs, I began to realize that Kind of Blue somehow became the true love that always hearkened me back. There was something about Miles that sunk deep in my soul.

Through my post-college years and into my 30s I lost my way creatively in many ways. When I lost my way creatively I unknowingly wandered from the person God created me to be. Unfulfilled, confused, and life-less, the disconnect led me to chase after passions into dark places. By grace, I found the artist’s way back. I began to reclaim my birthright as a child of the Creator.

It was during that journey that I hearkened back, once again, to my true love – Kind of Blue. It was then that he began to emerge as an artistic hero. I began to listen to more of Miles’ music. We were now on a journey together. Miles Ahead and Birth of the Cool were added to the list and I began to hear his own artistry evolving through the chronology of recordings. I loved the way he both honored the genius of a classic like Porgy and Bess while layering it with his own artistry. Sketches of Spain made all sorts of artistic connections for me to Picasso and Hemingway and I began to appreciate Miles’ own artistic journeys and explorations. He seemed to fill the well of his soul and music with input from such a broad, rich diversity of sources. I got that. I identified with that. It stoked my creativity and inspired me. Miles Davis, through his music, became a pied piper, a mentor, and a muse for my own creative journey.

As I learned more about Miles the man, I was fascinated. Like many artistic geniuses, he seems to have been a complex person. I don’t think he was particularly easy to be around. Unlike Winston Churchill, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed his company over dinner. Yet, even in his frailties, struggles, and failures I found myself identifying with that basic struggle those of us with artistic temperament have to create something beautiful amidst the ugliness of your own humanity .

Miles was a man of intense passions that he struggled to control. He faced and fought his own personal demons. Temporary victories gave way to repeated defeat. His soul carried scars. He hurt those he loved most. I get that, too.

Perhaps the greatest reason that Miles has become a creative hero to me is the fearless way he opened himself creatively to everything. I have twice posted on his theme “there are no wrong notes.” He was fearless in attempting new things, pushing the envelope, absorbing what others were doing and then weaving it into his own work. He wasn’t afraid to re-invent himself, push into places no one expected him to go, and where few seemed to understand. He was willing to try, to dare, and to explore new horizons. And, as he got older it seems that he never stopped. I hope that I might reflect even a small fraction of that spirit of creation.

 

Mom’s Valentine’s Day Present

We are blessed that the progression of my mother’s Alzheimer’s has been slowed by meds. We’re thankful for each day we’re able to continue to enjoy together. I’ve read that music and images are positive stimuli for those suffering with Alzheimer’s, triggering memories and hopefully lubricating the brain to continue remembering.

With that in mind, I put together a little video for mom (and dad) for Valentine’s Day this year. Some old family photos and music that hopefully gets the synapses firing in a positive way. The Dixieland jazz that accompanies photos of her as a little girl is from Bix Beiderbecke, an Iowa native. My mom’s dad loved Dixieland and attended the Bix festival in Davenport. My mom told me that when she was a teenager, the Crew-Cuts’ Sh-Boom was her favorite song. She repeatedly played it so much that it drove her father crazy (I remember having similar thoughts about N’Sync), so that’s what I chose for pictures of her as a teen. The Lord’s Prayer was sung at their wedding, and I can remember my mom listening to Whitney Huston’s CD a lot, especially after watching The Preacher’s Wife.

Our plan to take the folks out for Valentine’s dinner was scuttled by weather, but I had a chance to swing by their apartment this week and play them this video. It was fun to hear their memories, laughter, and to witness her tears as she watched. At the end of the video she wiped her tears and said, “God has been so good to us. We have been so blessed.

I hope she will enjoy watching this video over and over again. And, I hope it will continue to remind her of God’s faithfulness and blessings through the home stretch of her life journey.

Sinatra Memories

This week marks the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, so I’m doing a Sinatra tribute in honor of ol’ Blue Eyes. My first real memories of Frank Sinatra came from the album Songs for Swingin’ Lovers that constituted one of a handful of albums my parents managed to hang onto through multiple moves and a young family. There were a few LPs that sat next to our stereo/8-Track/Record Player console in the living room which I ignored for most of my childhood.

I think I was bored one afternoon when I began actually going through and listening to my parents albums. There was Dave Brubeck’s essential Take Five and LPs by the likes of Vic Damone. I remember my first reaction to the Sinatra album cover when I picked it up was, “How lame.” Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. When I put the needle on Side 1 and heard Frank’s flawless baritone voice start into You Make Me Feel So Young, I was mesmerized.

This 80’s teenager, used to cranking southern rock and bands like Kansas at unsafe decibel levels, found himself listening to the entire album. It transported me to another time and place. It was so smooth and so cool. I was hooked.

I’ve been a fan of Frank ever since. My girls were raised on a diverse soundtrack in which Frank was an essential part. He still plays a prominent part in almost any dinner mix if I have anything to say about it.

He’s just to marvelous for words.

Sinatra Song for Swingin Lovers Back

Hush Up

Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel!
Deuteronomy 27:9 (NRSV)

We grow up being continuously hushed.

  • Be quiet. Your mom is sleeping.
  • Be quiet. Dad and I are trying to watch this.
  • I don’t want to hear another word out of you. Go to sleep.
  • Be quiet, class. Eyes up here.
  • Listen up, team!
  • Shhhhh!

The truth is that it’s difficult to hear amidst all the noise. Even Jesus said, “those who have ears to hear, listen to me.” But in order to listen we have to silence, or tune out, all the other noise around us.

I’m not sure that there has been another time in human history that is as noisy as the time we’re living in. We are deluged by noise. Noise from ever present phones that beep, buzz, and blare. Noise from televisions that are constantly on in the background. Noise from endlessly streaming playlists. Noise from planes, trains, and automobiles. The noise, at times, seems never ending.

So, how am I supposed to hear myself think?

How am I supposed to hear what my loved ones are really saying?

How am I supposed to hear God’s still, small voice in my spirit?

Today, as I switch off the satellite music channel playing in my office, I’m thinking about my need for quiet. I’m contemplating the reality of noise becoming an ever present distraction in my life. I wonder how much I miss because even when I try to listen I cannot hear myself, or God through the din.

Today, I’m consciously choosing to hush up, and listen.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: Nuno Martins via Flickr

Shameless Audacity

source: Vincent van der Pas via Flickr
source: Vincent van der Pas via Flickr

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.  Luke 11:5-8 (NIV)

Last night Wendy and I were in bed watching one of the late night talk shows. A music act performed and we both thought it awful. The song wasn’t catchy at all but seemed strange and dated. The singer didn’t have a terrific voice but was dressed in some kind of strange outfit and made all kinds of weird movements around the stage. The band was also dressed in silly costumes. What the act lacked in musical talent they more than made up for with spectacle. This is something I have learned along life’s journey about artists in every medium. You will find some who achieve fame because of their talent, and you will find some who achieve fame because of their audacity (and, a few who have both).

I thought of that music act as I read Jesus’ parable this morning of the neighbor with shameless audacity who won’t go away until you loan him some bread. There is something to be said for having the courage to be shamelessly audacious. Dream big dreams, think big thoughts, go big, ask for much, and keep asking.

Good sometimes comes, not to the one who seemingly deserves it, but to the one who seeks after it constantly, asks for it tirelessly, and knocks without ceasing.

 

24/7/365 Worship

Church-of-the-Holy-Spirit-Jihlava2011
This building is called Church-of-the-Holy-Spirit, but the real church of the Holy Spirit is what every believer sees when he/she looks in  a mirror. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.
1 Chronicles 9:33 (NIV)

For many of us, worship is something that happens one hour on Sunday each week. If you or your local gathering of believers is really whacky, you might add another hour or two by way of a Sunday night, Saturday night, or mid-week worship.

It struck me this morning reading about the host of singers and musicians who literally lived in the temple because they were needed day and night for the continuous worship that took place. The idea of “continuous worship” is foreign to most of us because our brains, experience, and tradition has been to compartmentalize worship into a one or two hour time slot in our week. The threat of this, of course, is that we think of God and/or our faith as something we put into a compartment of time. We take it out once or twice a week, then put it back and forget about it until the calendar and clock tell us it’s time to pull it back out again.

I am reminded this morning of the radical concept that Jesus introduced and which Jesus followers celebrated around the globe just over a week ago on the Sunday we call Pentecost. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts of believers. The temple stopped being bricks and mortar and became flesh and blood in the form of any and all who believe. Church was never supposed to be a building we go to once or twice a week. Church was to be the living, breathing, touching, loving, feeling, serving people who believe and follow Jesus. Worship can happen anywhere, anytime, day or night because God isn’t at the church building, God is in me. My body is the temple and I take it with me wherever I go.

Today, I’m reminded once again that my body is a temple of God open for worship 24/7/365.