A couple of decades ago, friends in the East would sometimes comment, in the context of Lights (an a cappella octet with which I was deeply involved for nearly a decade) that it must be great for me to have an “outlet for my music.”
Music is indeed a large part of life for me. This prefatory sentence alone is probably sufficient to set the stage for whatever musically themed posts appear in coming days/weeks/months.
In the course of my blog’st’ry (blog history), I’ve written relatively little of depth about music, rather referring to it mostly tangentially. (I have written here & there about worship music or other music for the Christian assembly — subtopics that represent a relatively small piece of the music pie for me.)
Maybe it’s time to delve more deeply into this thing that has played such a major part in shaping my life (thanks to the Lord who provided for it). I’ll still regularly draw lines from musical to spiritual topics, but the musical jumping-off points might be a little more deeply musician-y at times. After all, this is the area of my greatest formal education, so it makes sense that musical experience and insight might help to shed light on other things. Today’s topic is fairly general: musical creativity and outlets for it.
Those folks in the DE/NJ/PA “tri-state area” were right about the significance of the Lights vocal group and the musical opportunities it provided: although my congregational schema offered only narrow avenues, with Lights I had a place to use some additional gifts. So, with and for that group, I wrote, I arranged, I corresponded, I collaborated with Scott and the whole group, I directed, I planned, and I sang. The creation of music — mostly, arrangements that were tailored for those particular singers — was the most personally fulfilling of those activities, and I did a lot of creating. There were always multiple projects and revisions in the hopper.
During that time, I was also somewhat active in conducting, and playing horn with, community music ensembles — namely, the First State Symphonic Band, the Newark Symphony Orchestra, the Newark Community Band, and the Cecil County Choral Society. Other outlets included compiling and editing three different songbook supplements for my congregation. With some committee buy-in, I inserted a few of my original songs into those supplements — a decision some might have viewed askance, but I never heard any negative comments first-hand, and it was, regardless, an “outlet.”
A particularly exciting time period saw me composing and arranging for the teenage group I worked with closely. Several teenagers’ poems became songs that their own group later sang, and that whole experience was nigh unto spiritually enthralling. I was being used for good.
One of the discouragements I face these days is the lack of such meaningful outlets. Frankly, I’ve tired of singing and of vocal groups. (I don’t watch any of the singing competition shows, and “Glee” makes me retch for more than one reason.) But there is a part of me that harks¹ back wistfully to those days of pouring so much spiritual, mental, and technological energy into creating Christian music.
During our New York sojourn, I had significant outlets, and even some new ones as part of my work life. These opportunities led to hours upon hours spent in service of an institution and its programs. I arranged, I composed, I re-composed, and I transcribed. Transcribing is, at its core, moving music from one medium to another, and I did that according to the strong mix of student talents available then. One student performed a piano piece, various small instrumental groups performed chamber works, horn students worked through my etude book, and my large ensembles performed a couple of compositions (including Faces of Foster and Bounce) and several transcriptions (including chorales from Harding’s Chi Sigma Alpha, Schubert, Great Songs of the Church No. 2 with Supplement, and Beethoven) and a re-transcription of three well-known movements of the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. Flute and cello, by the way, make gloriously sonorous, supportive sounds to accompany “Instruments of Your Peace.” Most of those transcription activities were very fulfilling; I felt energized by the creation, rehearsal, and performance aspects, to varying degrees.
In the church-congregation sphere in western NY — for reasons of distance, philosophy, and opinions — musical outlets were not really open, so I eventually redirected energies toward our small group/house church, but there wasn’t all that much place for creativity in the worship/music area there, either. Looking back, my composition of Christian songs has virtually dried up since living moving from Kansas in 2004, and I find little use anywhere for arrangements or songs that I’ve written, although I make an average of maybe $50 a year in CCLI income.
It is with some of this history in mind that I share the following song, which, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, is probably the best original music (given its topic and genre) that I’ve produced in 4-5 years. Thinking back to my teen years, I wrote songs for at least four girlfriends. The song below, in clear contrast, was written in tribute to a very neurotic, tiny dog owned by our dear, generous friend, Martha P. The dog really appeared to go into a depression every time Martha left the room. Katie, by the way, had no middle name. I tried to bolster her self-confidence by providing her with three.
Enjoy the song. I have zero concerns over copyright with this! Maybe the last line will help you a little, as it helps me, in a light-hearted way.
¹ Yup, it’s “harks back,” not “hearkens back.” “Hearken” means “listen.”