In March, my sacred piece Dayspring was performed by the modern-dance ensemble Dance Currents in Boston.  Like many of my pieces, Dayspring uses music to explore, express, and bring to life concepts central to the Christian faith. Thus, it's an example of "theopoetics."

The program note (below) provides an initial grounding for the ways the piece attempts to do this. But the theological work happens in live performance - in this case, through both the music and Kathy Hassinger's choreography.

PROGRAM NOTE: "Dayspring", an archaic word for "sunrise", is used in the King James Version of the Bible both literally and as a metaphor for Christ.  Though every sunrise brings with it the possibility of both joy and sorrow, we are reminded in the Colossians 1:17 that Christ  is “before all things, and in him all things hold together”.  Musically, the piece explores the mystery of Christ’s reconciliation by juxtaposing and eventually integrating musical ideas that range in mood from ecstatic to mournful.

Video coming soon!



Introduction and "Method": The Beloved

Welcome!   If you’re here, it’s because you have some degree of interest in the intersections between music and Christianity. Thanks for visiting!  

I’m a professional musician who has a love for all sorts of  musical traditions – from hip-hop to gospel to contemporary classical music. I’m also a person of faith who has at various times worshiped as a Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and liberal Protestant.  I’m not a theologian or a pastor – nor even primarily a church musician.  But I’m someone who has spent 40 years exploring the intersections between music and Christianity, and therefore I think I have something interesting to say about the topic.  

In this blog I’ll write a lot about my own experiences, and even when I don’t, I won’t try to separate my thinking from own lived experience. I’m not approaching this project as a scholar – careful, dispassionate, and logical – but, as John Caputo would says, as a “religious” person: 

Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with a passion for something other taking profits, people who believe in something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding.  (Caputo, On Religion, Routledge, p. 2)

I’m going to adopt and adapt Caputo’s description of “religion” for my own purposes, in order to justify and explain my approach to this project.   (If you are keeping track at home, this means I’m going to approach religion religiously. You’re welcome.) As the narrator in the Biblical book Song of Solomon says: “My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away…” (2:10)  The loving response to such a call is to leap toward the beloved like the stag or gazelle mentioned earlier in that same passage.    There is no fear or doubt – just a leap into the beloved’s arms.

This is the kind of enthusiasm and passion I feel toward my twin “beloveds” of music and of faith – and it’s the attitude I’m going to bring to this blog. (To Laura, my wife: if you are reading this: you are also my beloved, and much of my understanding of the kind of love I feel toward music and faith has developed out of my experience of my love for you!)    

I don’t know about you, but when I leap, I can look pretty foolish – and I often fall.  But my beloved doesn’t care if I look silly or fall on my face. When called by my beloved I’ll leap any time I get the chance.  It’s the only appropriate and true response to that kind of call.  So that’s how I’m going to approach my topic.

By the way, I think that being a “lover” in this way brings us in some ways closer to the meat of existence.  Kierkegaard writes:

Existence itself, existing, is a striving and is just as pathos-filled as it is comic; pathos- filled because the striving is infinite,…comic because the striving is a self-contradiction” (Concluding Unscientific Postcript, Trans. Hong, p. 92)

When he writes about the life-changing experience that prompts the famous “leap of faith”, I can’t help but think of the calling to become an artist: a radical re-evaluation of the very fabric of one’s life.

When artists create, they hear the call of the creative voice (however they imagine it.) They have to go where they are led, for if they don’t respond enthusiastically and faithfully to its call –and instead seek first to understand it, codify it, justify it, and explain it – they are no longer being artists. They are no longer being lovers.

In short, the creative act (whether one is a professional or amateur) opens one to an orientation toward the world that is distinctly “love-oriented”: that is, an existence that is marked by faith and hope.

So that is how I’m approaching this project: as someone responding to the call of his beloved with passion and enthusiasm, pushing aside fear or doubt and confident of forgiveness (if necessary.)    I hope not to write things that are false or incorrect, because doing so would insult my beloved. But I won’t be afraid to be honest and to follow my ideas where they lead.  That is:  I promise to always respond in truth.

Other writers and thinkers seek truth within discourses of theology or philosophy; I read and respect them, and I value the work they have done. But I’m not afraid to step outside the academic disciplines and explore my topic as a lover.  

I may not be a good dancer, but when my beloved calls, I will leap right onto the dance-floor. I hope you'll join me!