“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the key to learning.” -Plato.
Are there things we experience through learning and appreciating music that calm our hearts and minds better than any drug or distraction? It relaxes, helps us endure pain, lifts our mood and helps us remember. (It must have helped me remember to proofread).
Martin Luther says music creates “innocent delight, destroying wrath, unchastity, and pride,” and emphasized that we must experience music personally like we experience the salvation of Christ: not just in theory. (Luther on Music Robin Leaver vol XX 2006)
I found that as I learned how to play instruments, sing, and compose, I didn’t depend on a radio to hear music. I also didn’t get frustrated by background noise when I realized I had an ability to control the sound in my head. Developing this skill will give you and others joy if you approach it with the desire to make these sounds better and more delightful every time you come back to them.
Perhaps this is why Plato wanted to start children climbing musical mountains when they are young. They naturally have the innocence and delight in this gift that God gives us, perhaps if we keep our hearts purely thankful to God for his loving gifts through Christ we will not so easily wander off the path of our musical expression and will find ways to bless others who need a healthy way to connect and experience the comfort and joy God makes available through music. But when the trials of life tempt us off the musical path we should be on, there is always the option to just turn back!
Invest in your musical education and experience and become a mountain climber like you were before something spooked you. How will we participate in cultivating a musical community?
Do you have a song to sing, a piece to learn on the keyboard, a favorite scale to experiment with? Learning music will improve your health and inspire others! Step by step your life will be blessed with musical delights.
This month I am realizing how disconcerting composing can be. I want a gigantic project to be done by a certain deadline, and I have to encourage myself of the value of putting these sounds together to share with others. By the end of February, I want to make my “Psalm 1-4 for Piano and Voice” available as a set. I have some tools to do it, and a great delight in these simple, yet emotionally deep arrangements which bring the prayers to life in music.
Psalm One is, naturally, at a walking tempo. This reminds me that God wants to walk with us as we meditate deeply on his word. I dedicated that to my husband who has walked faithfully with me so many years.
Psalm Two is raging and rebellious in D minor, questioning God’s authority to rule and setting forth two things that God desires, and are hard to do fully on Earth: “worship with reverence” and “rejoice with trembling.”
I was able to do some simple text setting of that by training the fingers for a piano and forte (soft/loud), to demonstrate that we can be excited about how good God is in an energetic way, but also allow him to speak of his holiness in that quiet and unique voice he gives through the Scriptures.
Psalm Three is a wistful and longing prayer, delighting in God’s deliverance through several ranges of the piano to get the impression of Him answering from His holy mountain. Psalm Four ends like a lullaby and is meant to enchant with an ostinato (repeating bass line) and gives me a very calm feeling. When I first encountered the Holy Minimalist composers at Cincinnati Conservatory, I was awestruck by how much Arvo Pärt and Gorecki could do with a simple intensity and skillful work, using few materials. His “Symphony No. 3” achieved great success and impact, even seeming to have a healing power, in the words of his listeners. Seeing how others have gone up the path of music ahead of me, in faith I can keep plodding and sometimes walking until I get this music into the hands of people who love new classical music and the classic, poetic prayers of the psalms. We will surely get up mountains of faith, pursuing musical beauty, if we are steadfast.
This week in the studio we have been thinking about how mirrors make a space seem larger and give you immediate feedback, you see the various parts of your body to produce the music in real time. Our music teachers (and their echoing voices) are better than mirrors because they tell us what to focus on and they want us to do well. Mirrors help; a recording device helps us face the plain truth of how we are practicing. But still, a cold mirror will only reflect your mood and can not encourage you to be imaginative enough to convey the music in a way that brings everyone delight and comfort. You do need some musical community and people to reflect back to you the goodness of the journey you are on and help you avoid some pitfalls and dead-ends. Musical friends get you to the top of the musical mountain faster since encouragement is valuable, cultivate your team.
One musical friend said it was good for me to be maintaining my creativity;even though I am now distant from the days when I had orchestras to play with and friends who would be willing to put in many hours of work to produce a beautiful recital with me. The shadow of all those extra hours of inspiration, training,and work can make me feel like I will never go back to that mountain-top experience. But the chance to create a music studio that blesses my family, church, friends and online community is something I never could have imagined! When the world was not so connected and I had no family of my own I was stuck in a practice room or driving long hours to get to rehearsals 20 years ago. The current musical friends train my children in singing, violin, and cello and listen to my compositions or playlists. And most of my conservatory friends have fared pretty well too; and I like seeing what is going on in their adventures even though we are geographically distant now. The shadow of what you were able to do once should not cause you to take your eyes off the path ahead, I think I will present more excellent compositions and beautiful performances the more I mature and I will have a front row seat for my students, friends (new and old) and my family’s musical growth as well.
Make Music Day has been a highlight in forming a new music community to get some feedback in performing and composing. I am going to start planning a way to get involved this year and I hope you will consider it as well. God gives us these gifts so we can share them. One day we may find even the mountains themselves are singing and making music along with us-see Psalm 98:8!
Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (ESV)
This week I forced myself to come up with a limited list of projects and habits I would focus on for the musical 2021. I had a plan to plan in great detail and then I got laid low with sickness and had no strength to do the analyzing, reading, composing, ear training, organizing and practicing that I thought was needed for this way. So the concept of “Musical Mountains” was spoken of to everyone in the studio and even if we didn’t have the most detailed map I tried to get everyone to look at the challenging things they could accomplish “for sure” in 6 months even if they stumble at it now. One had the slow section of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, another recognized endurance work with Tchaikovsky’s June on the flute and a possible need to just make the finger go faster which could be prompted by memorizing some etudes and transposing them. It is too hard to play the Merry Farmer by Schumann if Level 2A Piano Adventures is not easy; but look where we can go if we try one step at a time. Memorization, music competitions, theory contests….. and get that list of what to do when together.
Sometimes we just need a little push out the door to inspire ourselves and others, right? And if we have a plan and practice running forward each day we won’t run backwards on the day of the race even if we don’t win or run as fast as we want. We will run this beautiful and musical race marked out only for us and music was put on our path for a purpose of joy. The steps God has for us in music only need to be accomplished with faith one step at a time–we just can’t plan our way because only God sees how everything works together for his glory and the good of his kingdom. Feeling paralyzed and confused is horrible but it passes. I am ready to go forward in spite of confusion and sickness and unrest and disappointment and I am sure you are as well.
In the spirit of MLK who said everyone can be great because everyone can serve, Krystal Grant my most talented musical friend is taking time to get to know what people truly value and arrange her future compositions around truth rather than stereotypes. What a noble task. It is because we are all made in God’s image that justice and love should reign among us rather than violence and oppression. Better and healing days are ahead.
Please invest in America’s musical future by taking her thoughtful survey and keep taking those steps on your musical mountains and enjoy them for all they are worth.
Are you hoping for a very creative and productive new year in the arts for 2020? I often linger around the heroes of the past for inspiration and wonder how did Bach and Beethoven do all this? All their troubles and trials I got to study at the conservatory through many music history classes. JS Bach struggled with being and orphan at age 10. Later in life he continued to go through ups and downs like losing a wife and many children and eventually his eyesight and when styles changed many of the musicians after him found a lighter style more appealing and he was forgotten a long time. Beethoven came at the end of patronage for composers and had to keep going with his music in spite of lonley times and the onset of deafness but he purposely chose life and music-making rather than sinking into a self-absorbed sorrow. We are blessed by what so many in the past left for us, we hum their tunes but should not forget it was their character and hope that made them press on. We will bravely go on day by day climbing up these musical mountains and exploring the territory that is ours alone to make it more beautiful and amazing in sound, and hopefully this, to the glory of God.
For this year I am developing a map to climb up this mountain with musical skills and performances of the classic works that we love as well as the ability to create new designs and sounds around the old standards. I am going to try to celebrate every achievement; an extra octave of scales, a new page memorized, ability to execute and explain complicated rhythms–Yes,I am gearing my listening to monthly playlists and performances to reflect new skills and abilities to connect and persevere one step at a time and I look forward to partnering with many new and continuing students on this journey up a musical mountain.
This Thursday April 29th we made music for a live audience. This was a very special audience of students who were part of the Bryan College Community School of Music and their immediate families. In a year where family and community bonds were strained because of Covid-19 we were all so relieved to be able to “play” and make music on a stage. Live music performance, together. Exploring in real time what the future holds for our learning and remembering how fun it is to be at the fresh beginning of a musical journey and realize YOU, even after practicing and taking lessons for 3 months have developed a musical gift to share that others can recognize and rejoice in. And YOU who are graduating High School after singing and playing devilishly difficult piano pieces have still more music in your future and much beauty to contribute to the world. We all learned so much this year, scale, arpeggios, Beethoven and Bach. Yet I know that unless the Lord builds the house the laborers labor in vain. I even asked for prayer support from an International team of prayer warriors! Now that it is done I can say: Celebrate with us by making the making the music only you can and sharing your encouragement with all the musicians in your corner of this small world!
I hit my target of April on the second set of Psalms and I am so excited to have them in their final format. Also very thankful in this “taxing” month of April to have had friends sharpen me and help me by previewing them and giving me their impressions. Sometimes just getting everything edited and in order is part of the mountain climb but it feels like going around in circles. Even if I did not feel like God was answering my prayers each bleary morning I can look back and see that He was and He did. So thankful.
The Steadfast Heart, a psalm cycle for advancing musicians is a pedagogical work of art and a journey of faith. It sets into sound the faith of a Messianic Jewish classical musician who wants to pass along all that she has learned of faith and music to her children and the next generation of God-fearing musicians.
Mastering the keyboard step by step helps you understand the miracle of harmony. Melodies refresh the soul and many tones blending together show the wonder of unity in diversity; this is true of all music. However, meditating on the psalms as you play helps you understand the way Christ and all the faithful have looked to the Father in Heaven as their guide and protector as you delight in the musical sounds you can produce.
Dr. Doran includes accessible verses from the NIV and some lines of the poetry that challenge modern ears and sensibilities. Sweet melodies, imitative counterpoint, modal and tonal harmonization and register shifts prove that an intermediate pianist can savor the artistry for the level they have achieved and still thirst for more musical and spiritual goodness to come just like David longed for the Lord’s presence and fullness. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs after You, O God.” Thousands of people are trying to hear or memorize ALL the Psalms in these confusing and uncertain times. What safer way to explore than in the shelter of your practice time until you are ready to share your favorites with others. Here is a method to use the instrument we have in our homes and be a participant in this wonderful musical journey from Psalm 1-150. Each new set should be released in January, April, August, and December.
Just getting to March I am amazed at all the talents and dedication of my students developing their musical ideas through the cold months. Some are helping me create new ways of understanding scale patterns and memorizing songs, others are attending Bryan College Master Classes and learning you can get a musical “speeding ticket” from rushing through a piece without being able to let every note ring true. One is perfecting her tone and playing some of the best music written for woodwinds with great style. Some are learning how 2 phrases can be different by just one note and training their fingers with new 5 finger patterns.
One younger student is learning how to play with contrary motion and shift hand positions before he realizes this is actually “hard” and All of them are learning patience with technology and how good it is to have a supportive family.
Before I unleash the line-up of summer classes I want to invite you all to a brief time of studying the surprising influence of Irish Musicians and ideas on March 17th at 7pm and make sure everyone is geared up to recognize the musical terms and symbols on the Bryan College Community School of Music “Manufacturing Music” test that happens in mid April. Let me know if you have any questions about our activities and I am thrilled to keep moving up the musical mountain with you all.
Organization and efficiency…can we make it easy for ourselves to go on with the steps when we are tired? Community is better than a mirror or recording device. Let’s review tools to get ready to serve our musical community wherever we find ourselves this season, there is to be yet more musical mountains ahead.
I long for energy to recreate and and refine the sounds each day and to be ready for whatever challenges and opportunities await. And some more of that energy is going to come after tonight’s rest! Psalm 4; I will lie down in sleep in peace, you make me dwell in safety. This reminds me of my mountain project of getting some good lyrics into the hands of intermediate pianist that develop their spiritual lives as they develop their musical skills. You can here a sample here:
But prior to that, I make a list- do things in the same order, try to maintain a regular schedule, but not so rigid that it does not allow for life and growth.
This year I have had a curtain, a schedule, a metronome tuner, a cellphone to record voice memos or videos, tape, MuseScore, a laser printer, reed tools, milk crates, and file cabinets. Every one of these blessings helped. MuseScore was suggested by Dr. Krystal Grant of Ars Arvole, and it really frees me up as a composer to write and arrange what I want and not have to incur any more expense really.
I am still trying to get the visual beauty of the tools in the backpack to line up with the beautiful sounds. My sharp black pencils, which are on the right side of my piano in a kids plastic pencil holder with happy face stickers, is not quite as beautiful as my the perfect-size “zibbaldone” with a tree on the cover (full of manuscript paper for making practice notes and copying favorite melodies or exercises to work on hard parts.) This is something Dr. John Mortensen suggested in his YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04RoY9wiOWI. Ah, yes YouTube has been a helpful tool–more than I would have imagined this year. But it was all beautiful that with the help of some of these tools I could get ready. So when I got a chance to pull out the flute and entertain someone in the not-too-cold weather with a Tallis Canon project I am working on…I was prepared to offer a little sweet encouragement.
Back in 2003 I got the idea I could compose a setting of each psalm that would be useful in the life of a pianist with intermediate skills. It would highlight the emotional mix in the prayers. There are many who have been drawn to this challenging quest. I am still moving up this compositional mountain. I have not been derailed yet, although the progress is slow.
I know not everyone is speedy to the top of the mountain, think of Tolkien. In reading through The Hobbit with my children I got the impression they were not certain if the quest to regain an ancient home was even a good thing. After all, it is more comfortable and respectable to not be going off on adventures. You need to pause a minute to reflect on if this is an evil dragon or a “misunderstood” dragon like some in more recent media. But; MUSIC enchants Bilbo to feel the love of beautiful things and the dwarves still have the memory of all the harm the dragon caused and the lack of appreciation he has for the treasure he is sleeping on so a partnership is formed and off to the fictional mountains they go.
I finally polished off this psalm setting begun in 2017 with the help of Caroline Brenchley, my daughters and various members of the NorthShore Fellowship family as they helped me grieve the loss of my mother-in-law Marie Doran. Her life was a legacy of providing comfort and security to her children and I am glad I got to capture a snapshot of the grace she showed me in her sufferings within Psalm Six. She enjoyed home but she enjoyed her children much more to her final breath wanted to make sure everything was okay for them.
So as you progress on your musical journey this week I hope you will enjoy one project at a time and be convinced of its goodness and beauty. Imagine what will make your audience feel the love of adventure and beautiful things and enjoy the companionship that your music creates. Your playing and singing is beautiful to God; he created you for it and someone is going to ask you why you keep at it-they might even be willing to join you!
What makes a classic? What makes a nation? What makes a race? Indeed, what are the stories of artistry and creativity that only beautiful music can tell because it asserts the beauty and wisdom of our heavenly maker? How can we harmonize with the diversity that God has purposely created among us?
Look at a mountain or a long, hard to imagine plan that must work. Why does it take so long to get something from its basic dreamy unprocessed state to the concert hall? And it also takes so long for people to truly communicate, understand, and love each other? I take comfort in the verse of this hymn that declares, “Jesus the name that calms our fears that bids our sorrows cease, its music in the sinner’s ears ’tis life and health and peace.” I feel wistful and hopeful as I turn the corner to the new year and tackle the challenges ahead.
And each active step we take toward getting there–to have harmony and holiness earth as it is in heaven–feels like we are only at the foot of the mountain.
So as I clean up Christmas music projects and begin the scheduling of new projects with my talented friends I am committed to being curious and content. I am curious to see how God can weave me together with musicians and audiences near and far through the wonder of technology and travel. I am content to clean up scraps of papers and plans and get the show on the road for 2021.
I feel packing for the journey will involve my manuscript paper, metronome, my reeds–but I really will get nowhere at all if I can’t be thankful for how music blessed me in a year that I could never have imagined. And I hope the little joys you and I have in encouraging new performers and composers will expand as we carve out time to cultivate people and the amazing, thoughtful music of 2021.