My work life, for the most part, puts me in contact with high school kids. Specifically, those who are performing arts kiddos. Not too long ago, I made a comment something like this – “Music has always been a part of my life.” Later that day one of the students who had heard my comment asked me a question – “I know you say that music has always been a part of your life. The reality is there was a time, even if it was a short time, when you couldn’t play an instrument and weren’t really soloing yet. Where did it all start for you?”
The short answer is one word – home.
Okay – this might need some more explanation. My parents constantly had music playing. My mother owned a piano before I was born so I grew up with an instrument prominently featured in my home. They owned a record player that allowed you to stack several albums onto the spindle. When the bottom one was done, the next would drop down. It was the early version of a “playlist”. And there was always a stack on the record player in my house.
Both my parents sing. Daddy is a bass – and I mean a BASS – and mom is an alto. I remember sitting in a church pew between them, watching mom’s finger trace the text of the hymn that was being sung. As I learned how to read, mom’s finger moved to trace the alto line so I could start to connect the harmony she was singing with the notes on the page.
I have VIVID memories of sitting in the sanctuary at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, New Mexico, and watching the adult choir rehearse. I didn’t know it then, but I was already beginning to understand that rehearsal is a process; preparing for a quality performance takes time.
A week after I turned 4 1/2, I took my first piano lesson. The only time I ever wanted to quit was the first time I had to play both hands together. It wasn’t that I was too frustrated to keep going to lessons; I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to keep trying. But my parents didn’t give up on me and didn’t let me give up on myself either. Now I get paid to play, have the opportunity to be a part of the praise team at church, and still find so much solace from time spent alone, just me and my keyboard.
Music is embedded in so many of my memories – my first vocal solo at age 12 (I sang Amy Grant’s “Father’s Eyes) in a tiny little church in southeast Michigan, finding myself in the rotation to play for the Sunday evening services in that same building, the children’s choir I was in that sang in Cobo Hall, band and choir all throughout school, my first part-time job teaching beginning piano students, honor bands, collegiate performance experiences . . . so many of my dearest friends are people I’ve met during my performing arts experiences.
Like I said earlier – the easy answer is “home”. I have parents that were themselves musicians and they never pushed, bribed, or cajoled to get me involved. They simply listened and participated and I witnessed it all. To say I’m grateful to them would be the biggest understatement of my life.
I was standing at the counter
I was waiting for the change
When I heard that old familiar music start
It was like a lighted match
Had been tossed into my soul
It was like a dam had broken in my heart
After taking every detour
Getting lost and losing track
So that even if I wanted
I could not find my way back
After driving out the memory
Of the way things might have been
After I’d forgotten all about us
The song remembers when.
Those lyrics are from a Trisha Yearwood song entitled, not surprisingly, “The Song Remembers When”. And it has everything to do with why music is such a personal, powerful experience for me.
From the time I was young, I remember watching the adults in my life have visceral reactions to songs. I remember seeing tears in my mother’s eyes when the song “Because He Lives” was playing on the record spinning at the time. (At the time, I didn’t understand. Now that song evokes the same response in me.) I sat in the sanctuary of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, New Mexico, on Easter morning and watched as tears started falling down the faces of nearly every member of the choir. I was probably 6 years old or so at the time. Years later, my parents would explain that it had been a rough path getting to the performance and it seemed like everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. All the frustration led to shortened tempers and some tense conversations. At the perfect moment in the cantata they were performing, the sun hit the rose window in the balcony and bathed the choir in colored light. The purpose of the day, the reason we were celebrating became the only thing that mattered and the responses of the choir members could be seen on their wet cheeks.
In my own life, there have been songs that have caused my eyes to fill with tears almost from the first note. There are songs that leave me invigorated and feeling like I could conquer the world. There are songs that hit me between the eyes with a truth I hadn’t considered before. And more times than I can count, I’ve heard lyrics that made me think, “Yes! That’s it! I haven’t known how to say it but those are exactly the words I’ve been looking for!”
Sometimes the songs I’m talking about are connected to matters of faith. Sometimes they are not. But one thing holds true – songs stick in my brain because I have an emotional connection to them. Or maybe I have a connection to the first time I really heard the song. Whatever the original circumstance, those songs are always there. I can go without hearing a certain meaningful song for years and when I hear it again, I’ll be able to sing every word without a mistake. More importantly, I’m instantly transported back to that moment in time when the song first imprinted itself on my heart.
Trisha was right. The song DOES remember when.
I was a teenager when my father decided to embark on a Sunday night sermon series in Revelation. The book of Revelation starts out with letters written to specific churches and the first is to the church at Ephesus. Revelation 2:1-5 reads as follows –
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
Like many kids and adolescents, I was easily irritated when things didn’t seem “fair” and the charges against the church of Ephesus were not even a little bit fair! After a list of all the good things they had done they are chastised for one error – they left their first love.
I had nearly reached a nice simmering level of indignation when my father made a statement that shifted my perspective immediately – “Your motive matters.” We are called to be the light of the world. Even in the letters to the churches in Revelation, the imagery of this role is seen in the recurring reference to a lampstand. It is safe to say that God intends for us to do good in the world. But every action needs to be motivated by our love for our Heavenly Father.
Whatever good these believers were doing, there were important things they had forgotten. I’m not sure exactly what was missing but the phrase “do the things you did at first” definitely implies something has been lost.
It’s not about appearances. It’s not about church attendance. It’s not about followers on social media, how many likes you get on a post, or even how much money you give to worthy causes. It’s about your motive. Where is your heart?
These were the types of thoughts that inspired one of my newer songs titled “First Love”. The song is part repentance, part reconciliation, and quite a bit of recognizing the need to check our motives. Often. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered, “Love God with absolutely every part of your being.” The Bible is rich with reminders of the importance of love informing our choices. And with this verse from Revelation, it’s clear that all the good deeds I can perform are pointless if my motivation is anything other than love.
I’m running home to you my First Love
I’m so sorry for the choices that I made,
For the path that led away
From your presence,
From the wonder of your love.
True confessions time – I’m stuck. Yes, “writer’s block” apparently happens to songwriters. I’ve got two or three “works in progress” but cannot seem to make any forward progress.
What’s worse is the fact that I have a very vague idea where at least one of them needs to go. There’s the rough idea wandering around the edge of my thoughts but nothing concrete.
And I’ve discovered by experience that trying to force something is useless. I just get more stuck. Kind of like when you get your car stuck and you hit the gas harder and only succeeding in digging the tires in deeper.
So here I sit. Trying to create some creative “forward momentum” and I’m just spinning my metaphorical tires.
This won’t be terribly long or profound.
Something creative keeps wiggling around in my head trying to get itself out. I’m certain that this “something” is musical in nature. Been toying with some lyric phrases/lines that seem like they might be able to go somewhere. But the going is slow. . . really slow. . . like, I’ve seen sloths move faster than my creative process is moving right now.
So I keep toying with/crafting/testing lyrical possibilities . . . no clue what’s gonna happen in the end but sometimes I learn more from the process than the actual product!
Stay tuned . . . something new may be in the works!