Friday, October 27, 2006

Why We Should Write New Songs

Somewhere in the Genes
I grew up in an artistic, yet not particularly musical immediate family. Both of my parents are artists. My dad is an incredible painter (water color, oil, caricatures) and calligrapher (not to mention an expert in foreign language) and my mom is amazingly skilled in design, layout, drawing, and photography (she taught elementary school art for nearly 20 years). I have a brother who is a genius power electronics engineer and also plays the acoustic guitar and sings when he isn’t building flux capacitors (I’m actually blown away by what he does with engineering). My sister is an extremely talented cyclist, runner, and writer (and is also fluent in German and French). The giftedness in my family is overflowing; however, most of the talent is focused in areas other than music. Nevertheless, there is a bit more musical genes in my extended family. I have a cousin who is a professional touring opera singer in Germany, and two cousins who are professional violists. One lives in New York and one lives in Seattle, and both have played in symphonies and even within the scores of some popular movies. In addition, I have an uncle who plays the piano. There is a fair amount of musical interest and talent in my extended family, and also a ton of talent in the arts within my immediate family (and of course, those family members who aren’t artistic are extra talented in other areas). When it comes to the next generation, it’s interesting to watch skills develop in my nieces and nephews. Definitely some brewing genius there. My two nieces are already producing their own movies in iMovie and are writing their own songs in GarageBand. When I was their age, the only gear I had was a mini cassette recorder and a lot of imagination. It’s been fun to watch them develop their God-given abilities.

King David’s Set List
It seems that everybody would like to be like somebody else. Maybe you’d like to be an artist. Maybe I’d like to be a bit taller and have some athletic ability. Often, we’d like to take strengths of another person, yet leave his/her imperfections behind. The reality is, every human struggles in one way or another. Where I am weak, you may be strong, and visa versa. I’ve mentioned in previous writings some of the challenges which accompany the artistic make up. I’m not sure if this is common for all people, but from talking to other artists, I’ve discovered that I am not alone in what I’d like to call “creative restlessness.” As artists, I don’t think we are ever really satisfied with who we are creatively, or what we’ve accomplished creatively. We always want to be better at our craft, and we’ll go to great lengths to top the previous project (or concert, or painting, or book). Some might call this passion. Others might call it obsession. Some will say it’s normal. Others will preach that it is unhealthy. So, what does God say? What does the Bible recommend when it comes to the “artistic itch?”

I find it interesting how many times David speaks of “singing a new song to the Lord.” (Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1) Why a new song? David could have settled for some of the old favorites. He could have broken out the redundant “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” of the day, yet he chose over and over to write something new. This may be random, but have you ever wondered if David had a set list when he played before God or before King Saul? Did he ever make updates, thinking “man, I don’t like that song anymore... or I’m at a different place now...or... what in the world was I thinking back then?” I imagine David (if he’s anything like us artists today) was pretty finicky about his art. Maybe he had pity parties after King Saul made suspiciously negative comments about a new arrangement. Maybe David tore up a lot of musical scrolls, and even broke a harp or two in moments when he thought “he should just give it all up.” For me, this is a comforting image. As I picture who David might have been, I don’t feel as pathetic, knowing that God saw David as a “man after His own heart.” A flawed man. A man who probably had a temper. A man who struggled with lusting after women (I doubt the Bathsheba episode was isolated). A man who battled depression at times. A man who danced naked before the Lord. A guy who slayed thousands upon thousands of people, and probably thought nothing of it at times. The “grew up in church” part of me struggles to point out some of these character concerns. David would most likely be kicked out... or slowly persuaded to slip out the back door of most churches today. However, apart from all of David’s shortcomings, what made him a man after God’s own heart? Was it his sensitive spirit? Was it the fact that he sought to commit all his ways to the Lord? Was it his longings to hate sin as God hates sin? Was it his genuine, humble, pour-it-all-out conversations with the Lord?

WIth this, I want to come back to the idea of “singing a new song to the Lord.” Why a new song? Why not a remix? What was it in David that caused him to seek to constantly write originals for his God? Was this simply David’s unsatisfied artistic hunger for something better? Maybe it was in fact less about art and more about an evolving relationship. Maybe David kept finding new ways to love and honor God. Maybe David was more inspired to learn new secrets about His Creator, as oppose to exploring new depths within himself.

The Toil And Sweat of Becoming A New Creation
This past year has been both wonderful, and especially challenging for me. As a child, you feel the aches and pains of your bones growing, but you don’t always see immediate results when you look in the mirror. This is where I’ve been at. I know there is a lot of stirring going on in my heart, and often, I can’t exactly document what is happening deep down inside. I just sense that I am becoming more of a man, and less of a boy. I am becoming more concerned with the legacy I will leave behind versus the style of jeans I am wearing and their current level of hipness. I’ve been analyzing my drives and I’ve been trying to figure out what is making me tick. I see this passion to create, this desire to become a better artist... yet so often, I’ve been trying to reconcile my worth through what I can do instead of making beautiful art to accentuate God’s glory. I’ve often wanted to write a new song because I feel lonely, or because I sense some restlessness inside, which like a bubble under water, longs for some escape.

I turned 31 the other day, and sometimes roll overs in the odometer of life forcefully remind you that you only have so many years left in the engine. I’ve heard older Christians who have commented about how their dependence upon the Lord has only deepened through the years. I hope and pray that is where I am going. More and more, I wake up and ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do today?” and “How can I use what I have for you and not for myself?” and “How will you help me resist the sins that seem to overpower me again and again?” and “How can I stay in step with Your spirit instead of sheep headedly following my own flesh?”

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to figure out why I am the way I am. The older I become, the more I understand that weakness, doubt, and restlessness are the blemishes which highlight God’s ability to do miracles when we’d rather excuse them as childhood fantasies. Our frailty is an invitation for God to shine. I’ll admit, I’ve become a serious cynic through the years. I often guard myself from close relationships because I don’t want to be hurt again. In some situations, I try not to get my hopes up too much so I’m not disappointed when the bottom falls out of my plans. I take less risks, and err on the side of comfort. I do all this in such a way that most people don’t notice. I’ve become exceptionally good at appearing “together.” The truth is, I hate this protective shield I’ve put up. Yet, I battle to lay it down. I can pour my guts out on a page of paper, but when it comes to real interactions, I’m often scared for anyone to see the true Marc. The Marc who doesn’t think he is good enough. The Marc who wants to get close to people, but doesn’t know how to get there. The Marc who bears more weight than he needs to.

I think that we probably all feel this way on some level. A lot of us are discontent. Some of us are bitter. Many of us are trapped in complexities or addictions we don’t know how to get out of. There are a few of us who have been burned by relationships gone south. Then, there are a select number of us who are learning to look up instead of inside all the time.

So you may be asking why I am being so blatantly honest. Why be so vulnerable in this open sea of cyber space? I do this because I think we have to be honest with ourselves and others before we can be honest with God. True relationships come from knowing that someone else can look at all your crap and still love you. A genuine relationship with God means coming to Him without feeling like you have to take a spiritual shower first. He knows what you did last night. He knows what’s going on behind the burdened blinds of your mind. I say all this because I believe most people find a way to medicate themselves apart from God. For me, it’s sometimes been music. I was talking to a friend today about how music can almost be a drug... where there’s a certain of level of adrenaline which comes from creating. For some people, it’s exercise, or spending money, or ministry (believe it or not)... fill in the blank. We all know the “really bad ones.” For David, he probably got a pretty big rush starring at Bathsheba from his balcony window. That might have been his medication after a lot of stress on the battlefield. Yet David was a man after God’s own heart. How can that be? Maybe it’s that David repented, and got up from his mud hole and kept walking up the hill of sanctification.

Where are you today? Are you hiding? Maybe you’re hiding from people. Maybe you’re hiding from close relationships because you don’t want to be hurt. Maybe you’re hiding from God because you’re embarrassed by the mess you’ve made with your life. We’re all scared of humiliation. We’re all dead afraid of being exposed for who we really are. We’d all rather strangely cling to our weaknesses instead of handing them over to the Lord so that He can strengthen us, and use our imperfections for His own glory. The surprising irony is that exposing yourself to God is healing, not humiliating. Being honest with God may make you weap in public. You may have to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day as you’re driving down the interstate to work... just so no one can see that you’ve been balling your eyes out. Whatever the embarrassment, transparency with God is freeing and probably more medicating than anything known to man.

I Couldn’t Write A Song If I Tried
Maybe you’re not singer, or a writer, or an artist....but you have something... something beautiful that God’s given you to praise Him. Might God be calling you to write him a new masterpiece? Maybe you’ll need a giant choir...or maybe you’ll just need an acoustic guitar and a quiet place away. You know where you are. Talk to God... even if you don’t know how to... even if you’ve forgotten how to. Let go of yourself. Let go of the apprehensions...and the shields. Even if you don’t feel like you can carry a tune anymore. Even if half your guitar strings are broken and the rest are caked with rust. God would much rather hear a surrendered squeaking clarinet than a chromatically tuned 40-piece orchestra which requires admission.

Psalm 40:2-4 
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
       out of the mud and mire;
       he set my feet on a rock
       and gave me a firm place to stand.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
       a hymn of praise to our God.
       Many will see and fear
       and put their trust in the LORD.
Blessed is the man
       who makes the LORD his trust,
       who does not look to the proud,
       to those who turn aside to false gods.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Wish Most Christian Movies Weren't So Cheesy

Well, I've been promising a new blog entry, and still haven't gotten around to writing much... although I have many ideas swirling around my head. For now, I will just give you a quick update of what I've been up to creatively.

The last couple weeks have been busy. I've been working a fair amount between all my freelance jobs and my job at the tv station. My biggest project recently has been the construction of my home studio. I am getting ready to begin a couple new projects... I will be writing some custom Beachboys-type music for a car restoration company, I have some voice overs coming up, and I will also be starting work on the score for a 45 minute independent film. It's been a challenge compiling the equipment to make this movie happen. The next additions to my studio will probably be a $900 orchestral sample library and a Mac G5 desktop computer (as I'm maxing my laptop out, and I can't afford one of the new Mac Pro towers). I hope to use this gear for future projects, including other custom music projects, and possible a future Marc Andre album.

I've been focusing a lot recently on working towards a career in custom music and sound design for tv shows and movies. I think it'd be awesome someday to write the score for a well produced Christian movie. So many Christian movies these days are just cheesy. I think God has been re-impressing upon my heart a desire to be a missionary through my music, whether that be instrumental or vocal.

In many ways, I have been rediscovering my love for music, and more importantly, I've been re-inspired to use my words, melodies, and arrangements for my Creator. Sometimes, we go through times of drought and reflection so we can come back to the same mission more inspired and passionate.

Hang on to your seats... earth shaking blogs are just around the corner.