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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The Road Part Taken

In reading the poetry of Robert Frost for my honors college curriculum, I found myself hit by a wave of nostalgia. (Not to be confused with a “wave of nausea”- I’m not reading Nausea quite yet…)

Throughout the formative years of my adolescent life, Frost provided guidance and comfort. I did not read his work extensively, but I remember my initial delight in “The Road Not Taken” as my sixth grade teacher made her class memorize it before embarking into junior high school.

And I recall with warmth how “Tree at My Window” provided solace during the tragedy of my favorite tree being chopped down.

And, of course, I remember with delight singing the choral arrangement of “A Girl’s Garden” in my first choir and falling in love with the union of literature and music that has since become my life.

As I revisit the beautiful and intriguing world of Robert Frost’s verse, I am not only reminded of these memories, but convicted: Am I still journeying down the road less travelled but ultimately more worthy? Am I appreciating the beauty of the world around me as I used to love that scrawny tree? Am I pursuing the artistic philosophy that began brewing in my mind years ago?

Oh, Mr. Frost…you know how something as simple as a tree or a path or a garden might inspire a world of contemplation and I am in constant awe of such poetic power.

 

 

 

A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning. 

Dystopian Reality

Dystopian novels have been “in” for several years now. The Hunger Games and Divergent were the most popular reads of my high school days. Brave New World, 1984, and Anthem were on the AP reading lists. I continue to devour Ray Bradbury’s work.

However, we forget the purpose of dystopian fiction, which is to warn and protect us from creating such futures in reality. Dystopian fiction remains fiction only so long as we read and heed these books as warnings, not merely as disturbingly entertaining tales.

While we continue to be shocked by the dystopian stories we read, we are at the same time allowing ourselves to fall into them. By labelling them as “fiction” we are separating them from our reality and from our future. We feel terror and disgust as we read them, but can easily brush them aside as “mere stories” once we close the covers.

Ray Bradbury once said,

“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

As much as I’d like to say Bradbury is inerrant, I would like to alter this statement ever so slightly for the sake of clarity:

“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop believing them.”

As soon as we assure ourselves that dystopian societies are just monsters created by authors, they lose their power to prevent us from growing into such societies. The moment we begin to read these books as fiction, when we stop believing that such horrors and degeneration might be possible, is the moment we begin to descend into dystopia ourselves.

images-1.jpgIf children were to read the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel as merely a story that could not possibly have any truth to it, the preserving concept of “stranger danger” loses its impact. We cannot read this story to children without explaining its moral and begging them to heed its lesson.

In the same way, adults cannot read dystopian novels simply as futuristic fairy tales; we cannot consume them only for their shock and entertainment value. Rather, just as we would hope that children learn caution from Hansel and Gretel, it is our duty as responsible readers to learn an even greater caution from stories such as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and even The Hunger Games. 

It is of even greater importance now in 2017 than when these stories were originally penned, even if that was not long ago. We already have turned deaf ears to the warnings of these stories and are already reaping the consequences as we slip into dystopia.

Consider the following: 

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 Remember the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? We were bothered by them for their selfishness, their vanity, their degenerate morality, and their obsession with entertainment. But are we equally concerned by such lifestyles in reality? Or do we shudder at them between pages and then act as they do in our own lives without even realizing?

download-2In The Giver by Lois Lowery, another YA dystopian novel, babies who are not up to standards are “released.” I remember my friends and I crying over this chapter in elementary school. Yet now so many former young readers champion the killing of the pre-born because of detected health problems, special needs, or simply because the child is unwanted. How can we justly promote in reality the things of which we once read with sorrow?

download-3Fahrenheit 451 is fairly explicit in its message (Bradbury makes no attempt at subtlety -bless him). Yet while we read of the death of literature, we retreat without a thought into cheap entertainment as soon as we finish the book. Worse, we ignore his clear warnings and are happy to glean our information through soundbites and social media blurbs rather than through thorough reading, considerate conversations, and serious thought. Are we, too, mindlessly “watching our stories” without discernment or contemplation?

fullsizeoutput_161Perhaps the most shocking dystopian novel I’ve read is Brave New World (Aldous Huxley). At least, it was shocking when I read it four years ago. Now, it feels rather ordinary. (Has the world really fallen so far in four years? Perhaps I am simply older and sorrowfully wiser.) As I read this book, I was horrified at the unrestrained sexuality of it; most characters sought only their own pleasure, cared nothing for relationships, and procreation was a thing of the distant past. But is this so far different from today? We find ourselves living in a generation that boldly protects promiscuity and demands consequence-free pleasure while conservative approaches to relationships are scorned as old-fashioned.

download-4.jpgAyn Rand’s Anthem centers on a character called “Equality 7-2521.” Everyone is equal, but, ironically, no one is free; every member of the society is equal to the extreme that none of them may differ from others. Today, are we perhaps striving for a dangerous equality like that of Anthem? We must certainly protect and value all people equally; however, Anthem warns against forcing equality of thought. Although we read this warning, do we follow it? The minute someone expresses an idea that we consider offensive, are we quick to aggressively silence him or her rather than admit that we all have the right to think freely?

I am not saying that everything in these dystopian novels will come true, but they are not nearly as far-fetched as they once seemed. Certainly I do not expect America to be divided into factions or our teenagers to be sent into battle against each other or for us to mate according to selection by governors. However, there are undeniable dangers to reading dystopian novels as fiction, just as there are dangers to ignoring the morals of fables and fairy tales.

We ought to read dystopian books as seriously as we read history books. It is said that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and so we diligently are set to studying history from the minute we enter school. We also are encouraged throughout our school days to read dystopian stories, but we must not be satisfied with reading them as mere fiction. Rather, we must read them with the discernment and diligence with which we study history. It is imperative that when we read dystopian books, we read with great awareness of their relation to reality so that we are not, like poor history students, doomed to live them.

 

Sing, Muse

Dear reader,

Please read the following poem. Then, please click the link and listen to me read it; I have of late found great value in reading poetry aloud. Once you do those two things (it should take but two minutes of your time), you are welcome to read my explanation of the poem or to interpret it for yourself. I’d imagine both will lead to similar conclusions. Finally, if you are so inclined, I would love to hear from you! Thank you in advance!

-Ryanne

First, the written word: 

Sing, Muse, of rage-

     or rather- Desire.

     Drive with twin rhyming whips –

              Name and Fame-

     up mountains toppling, rising peak,

     ever crying, out of reach,

     “On, on, onward!”

.

Harpy howl to clamoring poets’ ears

     as siren song does fall.

     Dazzling, drawing, drowning:

     divine-seeming, it pulls

     still higher, higher

     up Tow’r where language

     began and begins

     “On, onward, pilgrims!”

.

So scaling e’er, traipsing eager,

     though weary,

     worshippers seeking sanctuary

     not for rest

     but to exalt,

     that which in climbing, we sculpt:

           New relic, sainted self.

.

Oh! To be one of the many few,

     who, pious, always “onward”

     and yet- when time trickles low-

     kneeling, wonder,

          “wherefore.”

.

Wherefore place an icon made

     (like us only in its fade)

     of substance age-old, ever-new:

     Ambition dressed as Holy Muse?

 

Second, the spoken word: 

 

Finally, a brief word of explanation: 

I found myself forcing creativity today, working to compose a piece of music without passion. I was inspired only by the thought that if I finish this, it will be another successful accomplishment to my credit.

But as I realized that selfish ambition was my main motivation (at the moment), I was deeply convicted. Why create at all if what compels me is untempered ambition? What profits it to climb what a favorite author of mine calls “the Alpine Path” if I seek only to plant my lonely, temporal banner at its peak?

And, as in most moments of intense emotion, poetry happened. In scribbling and speaking this poem, I was able to recall why I write and compose: not to glorify myself but, as in the parable, to be a faithful steward of my talents. To do this, I must write to the best of my ability to reflect the true Author and pray that my words will direct minds toward the living Word.

10 Reasons to Read Children’s Literature

I love children’s books: always have, always will. However, so many people pass the age of 12 and think they must “grow up.” They somehow rationalize leaving behind the lovely rows of Newberry Medal winners for the cringe-worthy gratuitousness of the “teen paranormal romance” section. When did that even become a section?! Or rather, WHY?!

But I digress.

Upon entering  high school, too often we leave Narnia and enter far nastier realms of either purely reality (that is, not reading at all) or cliche, poorly-written teen romance. Even for advanced readers, skipping over the teen literature for adult books is not usually easy or wise; these too are riddled with profanity, pornographic scenes, and – frankly- poor writing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely wonderful teen and adult books out there. I’ve blogged on a few of them and am planning to publish a roundup of recommendations for later, but in general, I have been lately drawn  more and more back to the children’s literature sections of the bookstore.

Not convinced that children’s literature is for every one?

Here are ten reasons why you should read more children’s books:

  1. They are not just for kids! C.S. Lewis, who was a prolific writer for both children and grown-ups, once remarked that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Well-written children’s tales grow with the reader, gaining deeper meaning as the reader ages.
  2. They’re clean! Every time I pick up a book outside of the kids’ or classics sections, I stumble across something scandalous. I get it, sometimes a swear word or sexual scene is necessary, but usually they seem to be thrown in to attract an edgier audience rather than to enhance the story. Children’s books manage to convey real issues without having to be unnecessarily explicit!
  3. They are not condescending. So many books geared toward teens are written in a dumbed-down style, overusing descriptions such as “the boy felt angry.” Don’t tell us he felt angry! Tell us that he “clenched his fists as his face turned red with pent up emotion.” Readers are smart enough to infer what the character is feeling! I’ve found that children’s books most often show rather than tell, preventing the reader from feeling as if he/she is being talked down to by the author.
  4. They address real events and issues. So much of my understanding of the world comes from what I read as a child. They might be riddled with magic and fun, but so often children’s books are deeper than we give them credit for! They teach history, different perspectives, address serious issues, even demonstrate survival skills!
  5. They offer comforters and encouragement. It’s as if, the older I become, the authors that nurtured me as a child become more important; instead of babysitters, they are mentors. Rereading them takes me back to a simpler time, when my biggest worry was how many chapters I could read before I’d have to practice piano. They also are full of sage advice, the depth of which I have only realized with age and experience.
  6. They are brain candy and food for thought. Written for children, the writing style is not generally complicated; however, with such a vast spectrum of topics, these books are certainly not mere fluff! They are perfect for light reading, yet they also demand that you think, ensuring that time spent reading them is time well spent.
  7. They are original! This should be a given. Actually, this should be a requirement for publication. Sadly, though, cliche is the new original for many books. However, you can always count on children’s books to bring lively new stories to the world! Just like kids are always imagining new things, children’s authors are constantly producing fresh tales.
  8. They tell fantastic stories. Again, this should be a given for publication in the first place, but you’d be surprised how many books I start, thinking they look intriguing, and then set aside in my “Half-Price Books trade-in” pile. However, children’s books tell such a wide variety of gripping tales that I have lately found myself staying up late reading, just as I did when I was little.
  9. They have pictures. Books do not need pictures; I’m not Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. But, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy some well-drawn illustrations? The illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society did such delightful work that I have bought books by different authors simply because they are illustrated by her.
  10. They promote bonding. I clearly don’t have kids yet, but I look forward to a day when I will read aloud from my favorite books to my kids. I remember fondly the times my parents would take my brother and I to the bookstore and let us pick out books. Even now, that is how my dad and I spend our time together and, even as a twenty-year-old, I usually make my pick from the Newberry Medal winners.

Are you convinced now? If not, I encourage you to visit the children’s literature section at your local bookstore anyway. Need recommendations? Just comment and I will send you millions. (Maybe not quite millions…)

While I will admit that I am sad to see some changes in the children’s literature section, with books such as Dork Diaries replacing the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, I recognize that it is a place where wholesome storytelling thrives, fostering both imagination and education. In short, children’s literature gives me hope in the midst of a world that is increasingly drawn to darkness and – scarier still – poor writing.

 

T.G.I.M.- Some thoughts on Rest

Okay real talk. I hate Fridays.

A lot.

And, to be even more honest, I am not a huge fan of Saturdays either.

But I do LOVE Mondays! Fresh start, strict schedule, etc. I often possess more of a “Thank Goodness It’s Monday” (hence the title of this post) mentality than the more normal “TGIF.”

You see, I love to be constantly working; being busy holds me together. Too much down time and I become frustrated. Relaxing is not restful for me because I literally feel guilt when I am not being productive. It is a problem and I know this is not healthy.

A year or so ago I published an article titled “Rest and Laziness: They are Different!” (https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/rest-and-laziness-they-are-different/) Well I am guilty of, as they might have said a decade ago, “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”

I am quick to encourage others to take breaks, but I do not easily take them myself. I work so hard and constantly throughout the week that by the time the weekend comes around, I am physically unable to keep up with my pace. I still try and work, but because I am so exhausted I end up not accomplishing what I wanted to and becoming angry at myself.

This is unhealthy and I know it. This messed up workaholic mentality  has been my biggest struggle for a long time and I am finally having to confront it.

My ever-wise dad, who has long fought with the same tendency as me, offered these words:

“Sis, you are me. We are the same in this. And you are learning the hard way that you need to take down time. You have to introvert. You need to say no to doing more and just schedule rest time into your day. Find Bible verses on rest and dwell on them; God rested on the seventh day as an example for people like us. Now let me pray for you.”

As always, Dad was right. My hands feel weird not practicing piano right now and my mind is fretting as I write this blog post instead of a homework assignment. But I need to follow the steps my dad suggested.

  1. Introvert: I realized last night as I zipped out of my dorm for an event that I have not really had any time to myself this year. I love my friends, but I finally am at the point where I know that some time to myself is going to help me recharge. So I cancelled some plans and curled up with a book.
  2. Say No: I overcommitted myself this weekend, as usual. But another way of “saying no” is to say no to myself and my consuming perfectionism. This morning, I woke up later than I planned and was determined to go practice extra hard to make up for it…but then I said no. Instead, I called my mom and did some quiet time and feel much better for it.
  3. Schedule Rest Time: One of my friends schedules an hour into her day for chill time. I need to do this. I forget that doing honors institute reading is not down time, even though I enjoy it. As weird as it sounds, I think I might need to make Netflix more of a priority!
  4. Dwell on Truth: I love verses that encourage hearty work. I write them down in my notes and highlight them in my Bible. However, God mandates rest as well and I need to meditate on these passages in my heart. My faith encourages physical rest and, by pondering these truths, I will also find spiritual rest! I have found Psalm 116 to be especially comforting.
  5. Pray: Having my dad pray for me over the phone was wonderful; I was filled with such a peace. I often forget to pray, but this is a spiritual self-harm. Prayer leads me to lean on God rather than myself, granting rest to my soul and direction to my outer life; in short, I need to stop overlooking it.

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” – Psalm 116:7

Before I conclude and have hot chocolate and introvert time with my amazing roommate, I am going to jot down two final thoughts:

  1. My favorite animal is a sloth. I could learn a few things from their chillness.

Image result for sloth
2. One of my favorite Bible stories is of Mary and Martha, but I have always sympathized more with Martha, who is always bustling about preparing her household. Jesus says to this hardworking woman:

“Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed…or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42

Mary knew when to rest, taking a break to listen to truth with her whole heart. I am naturally a Martha, but I am committing now to following the steps above so that I may learn to be a Mary…

…and also a little bit of a sloth. I mean, come on, look how adorable they are!!!

Image result for sloth