MUSIC + FAITH
I see music as a “vocation”, or a calling: an inescapable desire to devote one’s life to something meaningful. I have felt “called” not just to a life in music, but to a life in which I use music in service to others. Simply put, I want to use my talents and training to make the world a better place.
I am not ashamed to admit to this goal. In fact, as a Christian, this goal is the manifestation in my life of Jesus’s command to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
As a professional musician and educator, I try to use my particular set of skills and opportunities to follow Christ's command to in my own personal way. What follows is a summary of how I try to do so as a composer, conductor, educator, and scholar.
Note: A good introduction can be found in this profile from the website Open Horizons, as well as my article "Punk Opera as Spiritual Vocation" from the National Opera Association's The Sacred in Opera journal.
Also - listen to this interview on the podcast Twelve Enough.
Honoring and respecting my audiences.
I do not write music just for colleagues or other specialists, but I also do not underestimate the abilities of the non-specialist to understand what he/she hears. My ideal listener is the educated non-musician. You can read my artistic statement at the bottom of the COMPOSER page; reading it in the context of this page of faith will allow you to see its foundation.
Honoring and respecting the musicians who perform my pieces by envisioning them as true collaborators, not just interpreters.
This compositional "ethic" directly affects the aesthetic direction of my compositions: I try to compose music that allows the individual personalities of the performers to shine through, and that allows ensembles to practice the group communication that makes musical performance such a powerful model for community.
Composing sacred vocal and instrumental music for concert use. (See the COMPOSER page for examples of sacred compositions.)
I am particularly interested in the way that contemporary music can function theologically: that is, how it can explore ides about God, faith, and spirituality. I believe that music – whether it has words or not – can illuminate and interrogate profound spiritual ideas in ways that lay beyond what the written word can do.
Writing music that confronts important issues and topics
My opera, The Prioress's Tale, is a project that tackles head-on the scourge of religious intolerance, hatred, and bigotry. Click here to learn more about this piece.
Approaching conducting as a opportunity to teach not just about music, but also about community-building, trust, empathy, and mutual support.
I firmly believe that the experience of collaborating in the preparation and performance of a musical work can be a powerful metaphor for true Christian community.
Conducting masterworks of the sacred choral literature in public performances.
I hope that performances of pieces like Handel's Messiah and Mozart's Requiem will speak to audiences of all faith traditions. The real message of Christianity is not that some ideas are right and others wrong, but that in Christ there are no divisions: “neither male or female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.” If the great sacred works of the Western tradition stir us spiritually, they can remind of us our common humanity: despite our differences, all human beings share the experience of searching for spiritual meaning in their lives.
Presenting outreach and benefit concerts.
Over the years I have led choirs in performances at shelters, hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes, inner-city schools, and an AIDS hospice facility, among many other locations. I also try to raise money and increase awareness for various community-service organizations through fundraising concerts.
Honoring and respecting my students by placing my responsibilities to them above all other professional duties.
In the student/teacher relationship I recognize the potential for powerful, positive interaction, as long as it is mutually respectful. For me, the best way for to "love my neighbor as myself" is to view my student as my neighbor. For more details about my approach to teaching, click here.
Approaching teaching as a means of ethical instruction, particularly by teaching to students to critically explore the ways music has been used for good - and for bad - throughout history.
In my courses on popular music, this means encouraging students to use music as a lens through which to examine issues like racism, sexism, and economic oppression. In courses on classical music history and theory, this means developing curricula and coursework that teaches students to approach their education with a critical eye: What are the advantages and disadvantages of various systems and theories? Whose voices are not represented in this history or this description? When students learn to think this way, they are poised to taker the next crucial step: that of making intellectual and ethical decisions with intentionality, empathy, and true understanding. This what the means when it speaks of "wisdom".
Focusing upon multiculturalism - in the classroom and on the concert stage.
The Western classical tradition keeps eurocentrism alive more powerfully than just about any discipline. Opening the ears of students and audience members to music created by all different kinds of people - and in all different styles - is central to my goal of making the world a better place. Respect, understanding, and honoring the music of a group of people is a good step toward increasing understanding and tolerance of all cultures.
Exploring the ways popular music can teach us to listen in different ways.
My current research into the rhythmic structure of rap is part of this broader research goal - which is at its heart motivated by my belief that all musical traditions are equally valid when listened to properly. At this point in time, very little scholarly work has been put into exploring how to listen to popular music; most research into popular music had been done by non-musicians who explore its social, cultural, and economic dimensions. Popular music is undeniably a powerful and meaningful art-form for millions upon millions of people, yet we currently lack a powerful way to "explain" why or how its musical dimension operates (as opposed to its lyrical or visual dimensions). Of course, one of the reasons why we lack a comprehensive musical "theory" of popular music is that it borrows heavily from the African-American musical tradition, whereas the dominant theories of music were develop to explain Western classical music. So, the process of developing critical and analytical tools for popular music becomes simultaneously the process of challenging the eurocentric discourse of music theory. Especially as it relates to African-American music, this is, for me, is a powerful way to serve a cultural tradition has longed been marginalized in favor or European music. I consider my musical "neighbor" to be not just the Western classical tradition, but the popular tradition as well - and I seek to love both equally. This must mean special attention to the tradition that has suffered a lack of attention for so long.