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Posts from — August 2010

Considering Colleges, Part 3

(Read Considering Colleges, Part 1 and Part 2)

My final thoughts on considering colleges concern finding a church. It’s no secret that many young adults, despite growing up in the church, stop attending during college. The reasons behind this fall-off are numerous, and I don’t intend to wade through them in this post. Suffice it to say that yes, it’s true: many stop attending because they never wanted to go in the first place. But many others drop out because they’re overwhelmed with the task of finding one.

I truly believe that for a Christian, access to a solid church needs to be a criterion for evaluating colleges. Don’t wait until after you’ve settled into the dorm to start looking around; but apply the same amount of care you put into selecting a school towards selecting a church. For many people (myself included), college is a time of spiritual struggle and transformation. Many “church kids” come to terms with what they — not their parents — truly believe; and they need to be part of a community committed to guiding them biblically.

I need to acknowledge the profound and active role my parents played in my college church search. The care they took to call up pastors, ask for recommendations, and plan church visits — before I even chose which school to attend — reinforced to me the seriousness of the task. Even though I had attended church my whole life, I had absolutely no experience searching for one; and I’m grateful that they guided me through the process. Yes, ultimately I “chose” what church to attend during college; but knowing why they suggested certain ones helped me make an informed decision.

The primary concern in finding a church is spiritual solidity. Consult with your current pastor for suggestions or possible connections. Here are a couple of good overview articles on what to look for in a church:

Some practical advice:

  • If you won’t have a car, look for churches that are within walking distance or that offer reliable weekly transportation. This will give you fewer excuses to skip church once you get “busy.” No matter how well-intentioned we are, we can all use some preventative measures — especially if getting yourself to church is a new responsibility.
  • College students are notorious for being “pew-warmers.” Look for a place where you can not just attend, but serve. Some churches require membership to serve in certain areas, so inquire about those processes early. Once you decide where to attend, make the commitment to find ways to plug in and get started early.

August 31, 2010   2 Comments

How Not to Save the Arts

Timely advice from Mark Bauerlain, English professor at Emory University, at a time when many schools are struggling to fund and justify their arts programs:

“Many advocates believe that the best way to maintain music, theater, visual arts, and dance in the school day is to align the arts with social benefits…

…This is, I believe, a mistake. It ties arts learning too much to social benefits and downplays the arts as an academic subject. It doesn’t insist upon the arts as a discipline, but rather sentimentalizes the arts as a salvation.”

His conclusion:

“If we wish to bolster the arts, let’s emphasize the challenging, difficult course of mastery, the need to practice practice practice, and the crucial element of artistic tradition in the discipline. If social benefits follow, that’s great, but social impact doesn’t work as a curricular argument.”

Read the entire article here.

August 30, 2010   No Comments

Advice for Christian Artists

Do not say that Christian art is impossible. Say rather that it is difficult, doubly difficult – fourfold difficult, because it is difficult to be an artist and very difficult to be a Christian, and because the total difficulty is not simply the sum but the product of these two difficulties multiplied…If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to “make Christian.”

-Jacques Maritain, in Art and Scholasticism

(Photo: John-Morgan)

August 29, 2010   No Comments

Reader Question: Non-Christians on the Church Music Team

In response to a recent post on church music teams, Wendy asked the following question:

I visited a church once who, I learned, ‘hires’ their Sunday morning musicians to play. They are professional musicians — hired because they are awesome musicians, and not necessarily Christian. Shouldn’t those who serve in the church be followers of Christ?

In order to answer this question, the first thing to consider is, “Why does a church meet?” My understanding from Scripture is that a church meets primarily to worship God together and build one another up in the faith (1 Corinthians 14). While a church may engage in other activities (i.e. evangelizing, helping the needy, etc.) the regular Sunday morning gatherings are meant for believers who understand Christ’s work on their behalf and wish to glorify God for who He is and what He has done. Non-believers are certainly welcome — Paul mentions that gatherings should be intelligible to them (1 Cor. 14:24-25). But if they do not have the Holy Spirit, they are unable to truly participate in worship (1 Cor. 12:3).

The next question is, what role does music and the music team play in a church meeting? Music in a worship service is not for entertainment — it is fundamentally to help believers think about and engage with God and His word (Eph. 5:19) and admonish/edify one another (Col. 3:16). To this end, the music team is essentially helping to lead a spiritual activity. The 9Marks website describes this task well:

Leading the church through singing and playing music is a kind of diaconal service, whether or not the people in the position have been formally affirmed as deacons. It’s diaconal in that musicians employ their common grace skills in order to serve the church for larger spiritual ends … a church should choose musicians whose lives will commend the gospel. After all, the musicians are leading and representing the church publicly, which means they’re representing Christ publicly. (cf Acts 6:1-6 )

So in short: yes, I believe church musicians should be Christians who desire to use their gifts to serve their fellow believers. This doesn’t mean that Christians can’t worship God through the art/music of unbelievers (they can and do) — but I don’t think the church service is the place for that.

Recommended Reading:

(Photo: Brian Petersen)

August 28, 2010   No Comments

Music & Exercise

The NY Times recently ran an interesting article on the relationship between music and exercise. I wonder which classical composers would test as the “healthiest.” I can just see a whole new line of albums: “Rachmaninov for Running.” Or “J.S. Bach for Joggers.” Or “Biking with Beethoven.”

August 27, 2010   No Comments

Considering Colleges, Part 2

Read Considering Colleges, Part 1

So you’ve narrowed your college choices down, and you’re ready to check out a few in person. How can you make the most of your campus visit?

Time It

If you’re a high school junior or senior, you’re probably inundated with postcards for “prospective student days/weekends.” Honestly, I think you get a more realistic picture of a place by visiting at a different, non-peak time. Schools, like people, will “clean up well” when company’s expected. Nothing’s wrong with that; but if I’m going to live somewhere for 4 years, I’m mainly interested in the normal, not-necessarily-company-ready state of the school.

Also, if you call far enough in advance, you can request many of the “perks” normally offered at these prospective weekends: campus tour; appointments with admissions officers, financial aid advisors, and professors; overnight stay in dorms; opportunity to observe a class; etc. If you’re a potential music major, sometimes you can observe part of an ensemble rehearsal or studio class as well.

Prepare Your Questions

In my previous post on this topic, I suggested a few questions to ask current students and potential instructors. You’ll want to prepare similar lists for any appointments you’ll set up. Here’s a good list of starter questions that you can tailor to your needs.

Do yourself (and your interviewers) a favor and browse through the school and department websites in advance. Even though school websites are notoriously difficult to navigate (see above), the information you’re seeking is usually somewhere below the surface.

Listen, Observe, Listen, Observe

When visiting a new place, I attempt to live like a local by taking public transportation (or walking), hunting down resident-recommended spots, and just watching daily life unfold. Maybe that sounds strange, but I’ve found it’s the best way to really “learn” a place.

You can do the same at a college campus. Stroll through campus on your own. Spend an hour or two in the residents’ favorite restaurant/coffeehouse and observe people interacting around you. Do you hear predominantly loud conversation or are people quietly studying? Do students generally appear relaxed or stressed? Social or introverted? You’ll get a real sense of atmosphere and character — and you’ll probably gather pretty quickly whether or not you’d like to live there.

Next time: Searching for a church

(Comic: xkcd)

August 26, 2010   No Comments

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein

Today is Leonard Bernstein’s birthday. He would have turned 92.

Dynamic and larger-than-life, “Lenny” was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in American music. Though he held to many controversial viewpoints, no one can dispute that he was insanely talented as a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator.

My own experience with Lenny came via old and mostly black-and-white library videos of his Young People’s Concerts. I first started watching them around age 10 and wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about classical music or practicing. But YPC made learning about music fun. In particular I remember learning about modes via the Beatles, watching Aaron Copland perform, and getting my first introduction to Mahler.

One enjoyable aspect to the YPC was how Bernstein managed to work in popular music to illustrate his subject. Here’s one such memorable moment (Spanish subtitles and everything):

(Photo: Wikipedia)

August 25, 2010   2 Comments

Considering Colleges, Part 1

My brother Tim is in the process of applying for colleges. He’s planning to major in music (hey, I didn’t scare him away!), so these days we’re chatting frequently about teachers, music theory placement exams…and, of course, the all-important school visit and audition.

Most prospective music students get plenty of advice about auditioning. They spend months choosing and practicing repertoire, recording, and performing so they’ll be in top shape for the real thing. But with all the focus on the audition, the rest of the school visit is often overlooked. I think this area deserves more attention; because if you plan ahead and ask good questions, you’ll learn a lot about whether or not a particular school is a good fit for you.

Pre-Visit Investigative Work

Quiz Current Students: One of the most helpful things I did before choosing my undergrad school was talking to students in my intended major. Ask the admissions counselor or potential private teacher for the name/contact info for a current student. Seek honest feedback about this person’s school experiences, using questions such as:

  • What is the best thing about working with [private teacher]? The most difficult thing?
  • What is the size of the current [instrument] studio? Number of undergrads/grads?
  • What other schools did you consider, and why did you choose this one?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere of the music department? Of the [instrument] studio?
  • Do you find the academic coursework challenging?
  • What type of performance opportunities have you gotten?
  • Do you have any major frustrations about the school?
  • What are your career goals?

Evaluate teachers: For prospective music performance majors, your potential private teacher should be the most heavily-weighted factor in your final decision. Most music majors’ overall impression of their school experience depends on their relationship with their teacher. If I’m forced to choose between a great teacher + mediocre school and mediocre teacher + great school, I’ll take the first option every time.

Your current teacher is probably your most helpful resource in selecting possible future teachers, as they may have personal connections or experience with different faculty. Your teacher also knows how you are as a student, so s/he should have insight regarding what type of teacher will benefit you most.

If you don’t have the luxury of taking a lesson with a potential teacher prior to your audition, try setting up a phone or email conversation with him/her. Ask questions like…

  • What are your current students doing (i.e. repertoire, competitions, auditions)?
  • What is the size of your current studio (both at the school and private)?
  • What do you like best/least about the school?
  • How would you describe the quality of the ensembles and overall music department?
  • What is your teaching philosophy?

Next time: Tips for the real-live school visit

August 24, 2010   1 Comment

Fighting the Blues, Part 2

(Read Fighting the Blues, Part 1)

When it comes to fighting the blues, oftentimes I turn first to physical “fixes”: food, exercise, sleep, medicine. Now I don’t want to discount the physical aspect of depression. Unhealthy habits undoubtedly affect mood, and we cannot neglect caring for our physical bodies.

But when I feel down, the root emotion I am experiencing is hopelessness: a spiritual issue. Physical changes may temporarily relieve symptoms; but if I ignore the deeper matters of the heart, the infection of hopelessness will return no matter how bodily fit I am.

I have found the following helpful in fighting the blues:

Preach to Yourself

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures

Strong emotions are persuasive. They convince us life is a certain way; and the more we listen, the more we grow in our confidence of that interpretation. Therefore, we must fight feelings with truth.

In addition to the Martyn Lloyd-Jones book listed above, I highly recommend Richard Baxter’s sermon The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith. Yes, the English is old-with-an-e; but it is well worth the effort. Baxter offers a mine of practical wisdom to both those who battle melancholy and those close to the melancholy. Especially helpful is this list of truths to apply to the heart during times of hopelessness.

Read Biographies

Hopelessness is isolating; we feel that no one understands what we are experiencing. Not true. I am often amazed at the number of famous Christians who suffered from seasons — sometimes extremely serious, almost paralyzing seasons — of hopelessness: King David, Charles Spurgeon, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Edwards. Reading about their struggles and triumphs reminds me of God’s faithfulness throughout history and provides comfort for the present.

Do your Duties

“Be sure that you live not idly, but in some constant business of a lawful calling, so far as you have bodily strength…If you will not be persuaded to business, your friends, if they can, should force you to it.”
-Richard Baxter, The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith

Refuse the urge to mope and wallow in self-pity. If you’re acting useless, you’ll feel useless. Arm yourself with the truth, and then get moving. We all have things we are called to do; and fulfilling our purpose does wonders in uplifting the soul.

Further Recommendations

(Photo: VinothChandar)

August 23, 2010   No Comments

Art as Doxology

“The arts and the sciences do have a place in the Christian life — they are not peripheral. For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the Lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God — not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

– Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible

(Photo: Ed Siasoco)

August 22, 2010   No Comments