Friday, April 21, 2017


Throughout this school year, my first one as a music major, I have grown and changed in many ways. These changes have transformed the way I perceive music, the way I practice music, the way I analyze music, and the way I relate to music. My classes, ensembles, and instructors have all influenced me in various ways, and I have made enormous personal and musical growth. I count it as a tremendous blessing to be able to pursue an education that allows me to explore my musical passion. This year has been short but absolutely jam-packed with experiences, and I eagerly await the growth I will continue to attain in future semesters.
Studying music theory has changed the way I view music by showing me that structure and guidelines can be a good thing. Some of my classmates have expressed frustration with the many "rules" and exceptions of voice-leading and counterpoint. However, I think the guidelines are beautiful! That may sound weird...but the guidelines essentially streamline the criteria for various genres of composition. That means that musicians all over the world have the opportunity to interact with pieces that are essentially connected at their very core. I mean, all existing pieces are essentially various compilations of the same chords, notes, and rhythms. Music is finite, and thus as a musician, I am connected to generations past by the thread of our music. The guidelines, for me, further enforce the truth that music is universal, and I think that is beautiful.
Through voice lessons, I have learned that success is defined by personal growth, not comparison to others. I always did, and still do have a problem with comparing myself to others. As I have hit ups and downs in my self-confidence and in my personal mental health journey, it has definitely impacted my performance in voice lessons. I have truly discovered the power of the mind, and how my outlook going into a lesson plays a huge role in determining the outcome of that lesson. I have spent too much of my life believing that "I can't do it", simply because I listened to the little voices in my head that convinced me someone else was better than I was, and that my individual worth and talent were somehow tied to theirs. It is time this way of thinking comes to an end. Those little voices in my head are from the Devil, and frankly, he can go back to where he belongs. I have made so many strides this year in my technique, performance confidence, and practice structure. I will celebrate those successes, and I will celebrate the successes of others. There isn't a finite amount of victory in the world. We may all win our battles, and we may all rejoice in one another's triumphs.
Finally, continuing my study of piano brought healing through music. I have gone through some difficult life events, both prior to coming to UMHB and during the past year here. Not to mention, adjusting to life as a new freshman in college is difficult enough just on its own! Through the music I worked on in my piano lessons, I was able to express my emotions and work through my thoughts. I often have a hard time outwardly expressing painful emotions. I have found that through throwing myself into creating a passionate rendition of the emotions written into the music, I am able to in turn feel and process my own emotions by proxy. My time at the piano is truly a gift from God, and I thank Him that I am able to continue that study at UMHB! He is so faithful.
Altogether, I am absolutely so blessed with the outcome of this first year at UMHB. I have learned and grown so much both musically and personally. The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and its Music Department are truly a gift from the Lord.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Conditioning or Tradition?

For those of of who have grown up attending church, especially attending the same church for an extended period of time, it can often be weird or even difficult to attend another church with a different worship style. I 100% believe that different worship styles work for different people, and I love that there are so many choices out there for American modern Christians. Many individuals will visit various churches with various styles of worship throughout their lifetime, and, in a perfect world, they would be able to worship with abandon and personal freedom in each and every setting. However, that is not usually the case. We who have spent years in the church have a pre-disposition to a certain style of worship and a certain type of church music. Is this pre-disposition simply a natural and unavoidable response to tradition, or is it a sign of unhealthy conditioning?

I do not want this to be a theological discussion, nor do I have the knowledge to make it one. I want to merely examine the effects of associating worship with a certain type of music. For the sake of illustration, let's imagine that there is an individual who has been attending a church that features traditional gospel music sung by a choir paired with piano, organ, and orchestra for many years. This individual is happy and fulfilled in that church, and they find it easy to worship. If this individual were to attend a church that worships with trap set drums, bass guitar, and a praise team, would he or she feel led to worship with the same fulfillment and freedom that they typically do? In most instances, the answer would be no. The individual may even feel awkward or out of place. Where does this feeling come from? Shouldn't worship be worship, no matter what style of music is used?

I believe that there are a number of sources from which this barrier to worship may arise. They have been generalized as the following:
1. Familiarity and comfort
2. Corporate versus individualized singing
3. Actual sonority of instruments used
4. Prejudice and conditioning

Familiarity and comfort:
The individual's predisposition to a certain type of music and a certain style of worship may simply lie within the fact that what we know is comfortable. The individual does not by any means disdain other styles of music or worship, they merely feel more comfortable within the style that they are accustomed to. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as one takes care to recognize the merit of other styles. I believe that it is okay to have a custom when it comes to worship. It is merely having an individualized way of encountering the Lord. Again, this is not to say that one should be indignant and refuse to listen to the Lord's call when in situations that involve differing worship styles, it is just recognizing that the Lord's call may be more easily recognized when one feels comfortable and fulfilled in their environment.

Corporate versus individualized singing:
There are various studies published regarding the unifying and fulfilling effects of singing in a choir. Could an individual's ability to worship more freely in a church that uses a choir stem from this camaraderie and fellowship? Does the choir foster community that causes an individual to feel welcomed and free to express oneself in worship? In churches that use a praise team, the music is often louder and more contemporary. Does the loud music (that essentially covers up the congregation's singing), make individuals feel more free to worship because they are not insecure about being heard? Is there more merit to feeling valued and involved versus feeling ignored (in a good, humbling way) during worship? I believe that, again, the answer essentially lies in personal preference and individual heart condition.

Actual sonority of instruments used:
This is more of a theoretical point. I would be interested in studying the physical effects of different instruments on the human brain during worship. Does the low buzz of a bass guitar or the room-filling ring of an organ somehow cause one to feel more worshipful? Is our ability to worship drastically affected by the physics of sound? Do certain sounds have psychological effects that subconsciously stir one's heart toward worship? I am in no way suggesting that the presence of the Lord dwells within any certain instrument or sound- I am merely offering up the proposition that certain sound waves may have physical effects on the body that produce a sobering or awe-struck state of mind. Many people actually agree that certain instruments definitely play a role in moving individuals toward worship. This is why certain instruments are often used in "emotional evangelism" type settings. I would be interested in exploring whether or not that indiscernible "effect" derives from the actual physical sounds of those instruments or from our association of them with the idea of worship.

Prejudice and conditioning:
Although it is certainly not a positive thing, the fact of the matter is that sometimes individuals are raised to think that their individual music and worship preferences are somehow superior to all others. This often affects people subconsciously, and they do not always know that they have fallen victim to this type of conditioning. An individual's inability to worship with freedom in a church that is contradictory to the style that they are accustomed to could be a result of the fact that they subconsciously believe their way is the only way. I believe that this kind of thinking is absolutely toxic to the Kingdom of the Lord, and we must make every effort to recognize it when it occurs. It cannot be combatted if we do not even know that it is happening.

I would be very interested in studying each of these propositions in depth and over time, perhaps even utilizing controlled experiments of some sort. I do not know if these questions will ever be answered, but I feel that they are all important to consider. I fear the day when we stop asking questions, and become complacent in our learning, in our worship, and even in our walks with the Lord.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Come On Eileen

One of my all-time favorite songs is Come On Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners. No matter how many times I hear it, the catchy tune always lights up my face and has me dancing. Through exploring concepts of music theory, we can determine exactly what it is that makes this such a "feel-good" tune.

First, the song utilizes layering of many different instruments in order to catch the listener's attention gradually. It begins with a lone fiddle, which is soon cut short by the bass line, which is present for only one measure and functions as a transition into the second part of the introduction. Then, the familiar fiddle returns, but with the addition of percussion and keys, which add to the "build-up" of the song. Then, the piano plays a glissando that transitions the song from the introduction to the first verse (and smoothes over a shift from the key of F major to the key of C major). Those instruments are generally used throughout the verse, until an accordion is added toward the end of the verse. The accordion signals the movement of the song from verse to chorus, and serves to change the key of the song once again from C major to D major. The song continues to follow this pattern of single instruments signaling transitions from section to section and from key to key. 

As mentioned previously, Come On Eileen uses frequent key changes when transitioning to and from sections of the song. This distinguishes the tune from many commonly heard songs, and makes it interesting to the listener. The key changes can be unrecognizable to ears that are untrained in music theory, but anyone would be able to determine that there is a sort of difference between sections of the song. That indistinguishable difference can bring intrigue, mystery, and interest. 

Come On Eileen is also distinguished by frequent shifts in tempo. The introduction and verse are characterized by a driving, intense tempo that undoubtedly pulls forward. This driving forward motion is emphasized by the consistent use of the heavy bass line. Then, the chorus continues with the quick, lively, tempo, but instead of driving forward, sits on that tempo and allows the listener a chance to "breathe" and just listen. This cycle between forward motion and stagnant bouyancy enhances the sense of euphoria created by the song, because a sense of tension is created within the listener and then rapidly released. 
Suddenly, the tempo dramatically slows at the start of the bridge, after a ritardando at the end of the chorus. Throughout the bridge, it accelerates more and more, until the song seems to absolutely get away from itself. As the tempo accelerates, more layers of harmony are added to emphasize the tension-building effect. It finally culminates in two measures of rapid-fire solo fiddle that shift the song back into the chorus. The chorus returns to the same buoyancy as before, but with a faster tempo. This tempo continues into the end of the song and fades out with a diminuendo. 

I never expected that I would enjoy applying principles of music theory to one of my favorite de-stressing songs, but it has proven to be fulfilling and interesting. I enjoy being able to pick out and analyze the concepts that make this song stress-relieving, energizing, and joyful for me, and I hope this song creates the same effect in other listeners. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Worship and Community

Looking around at the world around me, a concept that comes to mind is division. My world is divided, my country is divided, my school is divided, even my family is divided. Although I don't necessary think all division can be resolved, because I believe in standing up for one's convictions and I know that my beliefs won't always be popular, division can be very exhausting and discouraging. As Christians, our primary loyalties must always lie with the teachings of Christ, and our hearts should align with His beliefs, but there is a lot of disagreement in the world today regarding how to specifically live that out. Throughout all of this division and disagreement, there is one thing that brings us all together as followers of Christ: music.
"Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His Name; proclaim His salvation day after day." Psalm 96:1-2
I believe that Christ created music primarily as a way of glorifying Him, but also as a way of uniting us as believers. We are not united in language, we are not related in culture, we are not united in denomination, but surpassing all of those things, we are united as we use song to glorify our Lord. True community comes only through Jesus, and the growth of that community through living out our love for Him together. I have been in countless situations where I felt an incredibly present and obvious spiritual unity, with individuals who I otherwise did not know or have a relationship with, come through music.
One of these instances occurred in Clarkston, Georgia, this past June while I was on a choir tour with my youth choir. The trip occurred in the midst of a serious storm for me and I honestly really questioned what God was doing and why He would place me there, so far away from everyone I knew and loved, during such a time of pain. See, I left for the trip to Georgia the morning after I graduated from high school. While on the bus in the early morning, I found out that one of my childhood bestfriends had been involved in a tragic accident with a drunk driver after we had both graduated just the night before. I was, understandably, devastated, and I became angry at the Lord. I resented the fact that I was on a bus heading 16 hours away from my home. 16 hours away from my friend. I absolutely could not understand what God was doing. Once we got to Georgia, I took part in my mission work by day, continued serving as the team leader of a Bible club team, and remained a vital part of my youth choir, but by night I would question God. And I would cry in staircases and I would plead with God to make it okay and to make her okay. And I would ask God to keep her until I arrived home again. Just to have one more memory with her.
Fast forward a few days later, I had just gotten on the bus with my youth choir headed out for the day. Right before the bus was to pull out of the parking lot, I got word that the Lord had called my sweet friend home. In that moment, the entire world as I knew it ceased to exist. It all came crashing down around me, and I was left in the mess. In the darkest moment of my life, I pleaded with God and I begged and I wished for it to be changed. And I was powerless. I would end up staying in Georgia a few more days before flying home to be with family and friends, and those days were some of the hardest. Just like before, I would complete ministry work and sing concerts by day, and become a complete mess at night when I thought no one would know.
The night before I was to leave Georgia and return home, I was asked to speak and sing about what I was going through at a local church service. The idea did not appeal to me at all, and I felt certain there was no way I would be able to get through it, but for some reason I agreed to it. I told my story that night, in the few words that I had, and I sang "Just Be Held" by Casting Crowns, and I didn't feel like it was anything out of the ordinary. But what happened afterward was extraordinary. That music touched the hearts of the men and women in the church service that day. Where my human weakness and despair had failed me in the department of words, the music communicated my pain. The music communicated my weakness. The music communicated my confusion. The music communicated my very loss for words. Those people, the majority of whom I had never even met, knew my heart, and they surrounded me with love and with prayer. Even though I was 16 hours away from most of my loved ones, God had used music to connect me with dozens of strangers and to remind me that I wasn't alone. That I was never alone. And I was shown yet again that music is the thread that connects us as believers. Expressing our devotion to Christ and our desperate need for Him through song is the commonality in all of our hearts that unites even two of the most different individuals.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common." Acts 2:42-44
Acts 2:42-44 described the functions of the early church as it began its ministry after Pentecost and Peter's sermon to the crowd. "Breaking of bread" is said to refer both to communion and to worship. We know that there was no "church" as it functions now before Pentecost, and that many years beforehand, the world was divided by language at the Tower of Babel. This early church was the first entity to forge the division between ancient people groups, and that could only be accomplished through the 4 functions of the early church, the 4 commonalities between all believers: worship, teaching, service and fellowship. I believe that, although all 4 of these tasks share equal importance and relevance in the Kingdom, worship is the most unifying of the four. It is not usually one's desire to complete tasks of service with people that are not like-minded, teaching is very hard when there are language and cultural barriers, and fellowship is neither effective nor meaningful if communication is strained. However, I think worship is an expression of our common beliefs that is capable of traversing both culture and language. I think that for anyone who has been in a cross-cultural ministry situation that the connection of lives and hearts through music and worship can be plainly seen, even when other attempts to forge communication have been awkward or even outright failed. I experienced this first-hand while in East Asia over Christmas break. Many people I came in contact with did not speak fluent or even conversational English, but I was blessed with the opportunity to sing for them and aid in leading them in worship multiple times. A tangible connection was formed between our hearts and theirs, and our viewpoints and beliefs were clearly communicated even in the face of a large language barrier. I believe that the Lord had that very fact in mind when He made us relational creatures and when He made us with the desire to glorify Him.
"My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You- I whom You have delivered." Psalm 71:23 
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." Colossians 3:16
"My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music." Psalm 57:7
Throughout all of this discussion and study of both the relevant Scriptures and personal experience, it can be plainly seen that music plays a large role in worship, in churches, and in the Christian lifestyle. It is capable of surpassing cultural and language barriers, it unites individuals from incredibly varying backgrounds, it speaks when words cannot be found, it glorifies the Lord to the highest, and it is a part of our very DNA as descendants of the early church. I will forever be grateful for the impact that music and worship has on my life, and for the ability to use that as a vessel to form relationships with countless other believers.