For a class: what am I passionate about?

It is easy for me to identify that about which I am passionate, but surprisingly difficult to write about it. I am a composer, percussionist, and guitarist, on top of being just plain fanatical about music in general. I am told that, as a young child, I used to climb on top of my parents’ stereo and dance whenever it was on. I took piano lessons for a few years before I got a drum-set for Christmas when I was 10. Soon afterward I took up guitar, and started a band with my brother and a friend. We played some pretty serious thrash metal, with the kind of “turn-or-burn” apocalyptic evangelistic lyrics one might expect from a group of over-zealous Bible Belt 15-year-olds. Nonetheless, the music got better and better until our friend took off to college. Soon afterward I joined another band that he had started, more of a progressive rock thing which we all thought we’d be in for the long haul. When I went to college, I started taking a couple of music classes, with the intention of becoming a better guitarist. By the end of my freshman year the band had split up, but I was hooked on music theory and for the first time began to listen to “classical” music.

I had been the biggest Iron Maiden fan you’d want to meet, and thought that rock was the pinnacle of musical art. Sure, I played in the high school orchestra, but never really paid attention to the music so much. Studying music, first Brahms pricked my ears with the pathos-laden slow movement from his Third Symphony. Then it was Mozart’s 40th. But it was in hearing Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky that I was finally reeled in. I found in them a whole new musical world, but with a distant connection to my rock & roll past by way of its primitive impulse and elemental rhythmic force. I listened to Stravinsky almost exclusively for the entire summer, and when I began my second year I was truly converted.

That’s nearly ten years ago. I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in music composition now, and have written more for string quartet or orchestra than for guitar. My music is published and performed and commissioned and all of that good stuff. Yet I maintain a love for a wide range of musical styles: I focus on new composed music mostly, but I love jazz, I still rock out to Black Sabbath, I dig modern rock and old country and electronica and folk… I’m fairly omnivorous, I love it all. If, however, I were to try to say what it is in music that so holds me… well, I don’t know exactly how to approach that. It is many things all at the same time, and yet there is an overarching love of the art of music that is hard to put into words.

Perhaps from a pragmatic point of view, music is what I do best. It’s almost the only thing I’m good at, and certainly the only thing at which I really excel. I have been told by many people that I am a gifted musician, and have sometimes felt that way myself, and in the interest of stewardship I pursue it as a career. I used to think that meant “rock star.” Now I imagine it’s much more likely to mean “university professor.” Either way, it uses the gifts I have, hopefully to further God’s kingdom.

Yet beyond mere pragmatism or faithfulness, there is a deeper goodness to music that holds me enthralled. The Greeks spoke of the “music of the spheres,” that natural logic and coherence and interplay between all that existed, moving together in a symphony of inaudible yet cosmic consequence. That sense permeates all of creation—there is music in it all. How sweet, then, when that order and harmony become audible, when a composer puts pen to paper to draw up instructions for a new creation. It is the Big Bang blown afresh. It is a dream of a new universe, populated by both the strange and the familiar, the new and the old. It is colors borrowed from the dreams of others to form new lines, new shapes, new physics. It is imagining the other, exploded upward into whole worlds like a tiny spindle of a fractal set. Music mirrors creation, and as a composer I image my Creator, and in doing so I am brought closer to feeling the joy of creating, the sheer exhilaration of “Let there be…”

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Composer of music and sonic art. Percussionist, guitarist, computer musician. Composition/theory/electronic music professor. Husband and father. Catholic. Food and beer enthusiast. Perpetually dissatisfied with the contents of my sock drawer.

2 thoughts on “For a class: what am I passionate about?”

  1. It’s great to read you writing/reflecting about music again. Not that I don’t enjoy your theological musings but it seems the core of who you are shines when you speak of your musical journey.

    Ah, Brahms’ Third…who knew that the old Cayvan room would turn a curly haired, fire jacketed prog-rocker into a refined yet still rockin’ music professional? 🙂

  2. Hey JB. Tracy said something like that, too. She loves when I talk or write about music. Thank you, it’s good to hear you say the same. I’m always hesitant to write too much about music, I don’t know why. But I love to, and I feel like that’s where I get the closest to saying something real, start getting down to the bottom of things.

    And, of course, no recollection of the Cayvan would be complete without the mental image of you, Brooke, Pete, and me closing the library in paroxysms of laughter. Somewhere around here I have that picture of us studying for fundamentals with the Trude… who’s the loser?

    I miss you guys, we need to talk soon!

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