Preeminent Performance

In my “Redeeming Culture through Music” class, we were asked the following question:

“Which is most important in music: the composer, the performer, or the listener?”

The class more or less unanimously expressed that the three persons are equally important. After all, if there is no composer, there is nothing to perform and if there is nobody to perform, why bother to compose? Furthermore, without either of these, there is no reason or even opportunity to listen. In fact, these three roles are so remarkably interrelated that it is difficult to define or even discuss one apart from the other two and often an individual musician may (and should) practice more than one of these roles.

It seems, however, that although there is an almost triune relationship between the composer, performer, and listener, it is worth realizing that the composer and listener are mediated by the performer and, indeed, the performer ideally acts as both composer and listener. In performing a piece, a musician is interpreting and expressing with a unique intention, thus co-composing while also being the mode by which the original composer is sharing his ideas with an audience. Without the performer, these “ideas” would be limited to the mind of the composer; after all, notation is not truly music any more than words are truly that which they describe. The composer relies upon the performer to breath life into the form of his work and, through the performer, the music is made.

The performer is also the most active listener. It is immediately clear when a performer is not listening to his music and it is rightly said that while a musician might hear the note as he plays, the true artist hears it before. To play well, to bring to life a work in collaboration with the composer, the performer must also be the greatest of listeners.

Communication too must be mentioned, for without the performing artist to produce the sounds imagined by the composer, listeners or audience members cannot experience and participate in the music. As Madeleine L’Engle writes in her beautiful devotional book, Walking on Water: 

“Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been stillborn.”

A piece of music might exist conceptually in the mind of the composer, but without the performer as its communicator, those who are mere listeners will not be able to hear, enjoy, and ponder it. The performer, then, is not only the embodiment of both composer and listener, but the mediator between the original composer and the awaiting listeners.

At this merely human level, it seems that of composer, performer, and listener, the performer (if we are forced to choose one) is the most vital, for he is both of the others, as well as a communicative mediator. It becomes apparent through scriptural synthesis that this answer is consistent theologically as well.

Here is where I must clarify: I do not mean to suggest that the relationship of composer, performer, and listener is a perfect parallel to the Trinity. (I have laughed at too many #AlsoNotLikeTheTrinity posts to risk it!) However, I will venture to suggest that music, like all arts, is incarnational, and that the composer, performer, and listener wonderfully image the intermediary work of Christ between God the Father and His creation, mankind.

“To paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity.” – Madeleine L’Engle

First of all, what do I mean that “art is incarnational”? The production of art is to put ideas into a sensory, communicable form. Books are ideas set in words; painting or sculpture are visual and tangible expressions of the artist’s idea; music differs slightly in that a person, rather than a medium such as a book or canvas, is needed to produce the audible product. But even (and perhaps especially) in this case, the music is an idea made actual through the performance; music is an idea incarnate as organized sound.

Already, there is an echo of Christ in the word “incarnate,” and rightly so. The idea that music is brought fully into being by the mind of the composer and through the performer as co-composer is reminiscent of John 1:1-3:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (ESV)

God (the Father) creates as a mind imagines, while the Son manifests as the Word communicates. Ideally, a composer would be also performer, thus imaging the perfect unity of the Trinity. Even with a separate composer and performer, though, the reflective relationship is present: the composer creates conceptually and, through the power of the performer, communicatively.

This brings us to the listeners. Controversial composer, Arnold Schoenberg, believed that:

“A real composer writes music for no other reason than that it pleases him. Those who compose because they want to please others, and have audiences in mind, are not real artists.”

Theologically, based on the parallels I seek to draw, there is some truth here. God creates out of His overflowing delight and the Genesis narrative immediately reveals God’s pleasure as He deems each piece of creation “good.” However, this delight indicates that God formed all things also in order to share this wondrous joy. When God crowns His creation with His own image, mankind, He pronounces it finally, “very good.”

Here and throughout Scripture (consider the Psalms as one such vast example) it is apparent that God in His infinite goodness and love made all that there is for His own right pleasure, but also with the gracious desire to communicate Himself and His creativity with His image bearers: mankind, the listeners.

This brings us back to incarnation. Consider Colossians 1:15-17

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (ESV)

Christ, the Son of God who took on flesh, is fully divine and fully dust, fully God and fully man. By Christ all things were made and in him all things are held together; he was the means by which all is made and remade, but also is the true image of the God we cannot see. He is the Word that speaks of the Divine Mind, making manifest what is “too wonderful” for mankind (Psalm 139:6, ESV).

Christ is the mediator, the co-creator who yet condescended in mercy to listen and to teach. He is the Word, incarnation, and — in this instance — the truest of performers, for through Him we receive reconciliation and understanding, for though Christ walked in flesh among us, He is one with our Creator.

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – Colossians 1:18-20 (ESV)

Although composer, performer, and listener are each necessary and impossible to isolate from each other, we find that the performer is ideally both composer and listener, as well as the mediator between an unhearing audience and the seemingly-incomprehensible ideas of the composer. Within the context of Christianity, we find parallels that reveal the incarnational aspect of the performer’s work and resonate with the truth of Christ’s manifestation and mediation. Performers, then, in their practice, image the preeminence of Christ as they bring music to life.

 

 

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Unarmed Battle: Insights on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (NKJV)

I have read this passage (Ephesians 6:10-18) probably over 50 times in the past couple of months and numerous more throughout my life (sword drill and memory verse, anyone?). However, this time I felt as if the Sword of the Spirit had hit me with the flat of the blade. Hard.

Reading these verses this morning, I realized with sorrow and fear that many Christians in my generation- myself included- are entering a battle unarmed.

Every morning when I check the news, another tragedy has erupted. Another disaster has left devastation in its wake. Another evil person has taken the lives of innocents. More leaders have turned to threats instead of negotiation.

And switching to social media leaves no relief. Where once I saw memes and birthday wishes, I overwhelmingly see more and more cries for help. 

This network of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration is what the world has become. Our world was created with so much beauty and remains overflowing with blessings, but sin left its mark and we are living in the fallout (no pun intended…)

This is a world at war: physical war as well as spiritual…indeed, physical war because of spiritual warfare.

This brings me to my point.

Christians, especially those of my young generation, we are in the midst of the greatest war ever fought and, although our victory is sure in Christ, we cannot enter this conflict unarmed. My goal now is to provide insight (humble as it may be) into how we may live out the strengthening command of Ephesians: to put on the full armor of God.

How do we arm ourselves spiritually? 

  1. “Know thine enemy”– Our ultimate enemy is not our neighbor with opposing views, nor the man whose words strike like daggers, nor the one who inflicts physical wounds. Certainly these are fleshly enemies, but our principle enemy is “not flesh and blood, but the…spiritual forces of evil.”  When we recognize that our enemy is much more terrible than any single human being and is the force behind the evil we experience, we are better able to love our earthly enemies in prayer and deed, as well as to prepare ourselves to defend all against the evil powers at work in this world and in the hearts of mankind.
  2. Know Who holds the Power- We must “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” indicating that we must don our armor and face our battles with confidence, knowing that they are “a light, momentary affliction…preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our King has already won the battle and our End is sure; bearing this constantly in mind will give us the strength to withstand any attack of the enemy.
  3. Tighten Truth- It is no coincidence that Paul describes Biblical truth as a belt, for it is what holds us together as individuals and as the body of the church. We are bound by this truth as we might be bound by a well-made belt. However, we must not allow ourselves to feed on the lies of the world, growing so full on deceptions that we loosen the belt of truth in favor of comfort. Rather, Christians, we must fasten it still tighter, binding our hearts to the Word of the Lord and committing ourselves to discernment in all things.
  4. Perform Spiritual Cardio-  A breastplate protects the heart, thus the “breastplate of righteousness” is a safeguard for Believer’s hearts. In practicing righteousness in a world that has abandoned definitive morality, we exercise and strengthen our hearts; imitating Christ in unwavering righteousness is the greatest heart exercise, for it teaches us to sacrifice our own desires for the love of God and others, as well as prepares us to shine as lights unto the world and to stand before the throne of our Lord.  None of us will do this perfectly, but as honorable soldiers we must continue to “press on toward the goal…for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
  5. Come in Peace- We are instructed to fit our feet to bring the Gospel of Peace. Perhaps this means listening to others with the intention of understanding rather than replying. Or maybe this means voicing our convictions with firmness but gentleness. The cliche “What Would Jesus Do/ WWJD” saying applies quite nicely here, for Jesus used strong speech when necessary and was never hesitant to proclaim the truth, even when it made people uncomfortable. However, we must also be winsome and kind. Finding this balance is difficult, but it is the key to fighting a spiritual battle while preaching peace to others.
  6. Take Refuge- Ducking behind a shield in the midst of battle is not retreat, but reasonable refuge. In the same way, amidst the turmoil of this spiritual war and the conflicts on earth, we must seek refuge in our faith. There are two sides to this shield of faith. The first is that we have a certain hope for future victory, that is, we have faith. The second is that we must live faithfully (loyally, earnestly) in light of this hope. We uphold faith as we look toward our End, but we also must maintain integrity and perseverance through the present struggles, thus living faithfully. This twofold faith hems us before and behind, protecting us against the enemy’s onslaught of doubts and despair.
  7. Keep your Head- A mind set upon God is a helmet of salvation. Christians, our salvation is assured, but we must keep our minds focused on it, rejoicing yet always striving forward. A clear-headed soldier is a more courageous warrior and a focused fighter will win. However, just as a soldier must put on his helmet again each day, we must continually remind ourselves of our salvation and hope in Christ, ceaselessly renewing our focus and resolve.
  8. Draw your Sword- Time in the Word and in spiritual development is not optional. The enemy loves to persuade us that we do not have time to pray or study scripture and is strongest when he convinces us that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. But these are the very lies we combat when we choose to focus on spiritual growth. Throughout my personal battle, I have found that any time I give to the Lord in studying His Word and praying or praising, He redeems in some other way. After all, He who made time surely can make enough for us to spend with Him. Our time in study and meditation on God and His precepts is as crucial as sword training for a knight. Without it, what pitiful tin soldiers we will turn out to be.

 

Beloved Reader, I am writing this for myself as much as for you. I confess that I neglect my armor, allowing it to rust in patches and loosening my grip on the Sword. But I beseech you and am dedicating myself to continue training for this ongoing war. Our victory is won in Christ, but we have a duty to fulfill in this fallen world, which is the battleground. We must be faithful soldiers, living in love but firm in conviction, prepared to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy and strengthened by our secure future as redeemed Believers.

 

In Christ,

Ryanne