Songwriting & Daisies

What can I tell you?

I have fallen. Hard.

In an awkward conversation about jealousy (I won’t bore you with the details), a friend recently said to me, “I think you should keep writing songs.” How frustrating. How simple. How frustratingly simple.

How comforting!

I’m not sure what changed in my spirit when I read those words, but I felt as if a pile of dynamite was ignited in my soul. Suddenly, everything is alive.

And it is finding its place in my life again, the daily desire to simply pick up my guitar, to sing something–anything, to work on a new picking method, to clean my guitar, to write a song. All of these things are drawing me, day after day.

There is so much unfinished business. I have a binder of unfinished business on my bookshelf. It is disheveled and not worth much, I’m sure–but I find myself determined to go back and piece them together. There are songs there, on the random papers of my past.

And there are songs in the present. There are songs about new friends, old friends, changes in life, hugs…there are songs written, and songs to be written. I can’t get enough of it.

It’s a songwriting feast. I haven’t written like this in years. I thought…I thought it was gone. I thought I had lost “it.” I thought after my enormous life (and faith) blunders that God had taken my love, my passion, my calling (if that’s what you want to call it) and given it to someone more worthy.

The truth is, none of us are worthy. God doesn’t bless us because we are good, or because we deserve it. He blesses us because it is in His nature to do so–because He cherishes us, and He knows how to delight us. His delight is in us, and when we are delighted, I believe it delights Him. Just like a lover, who brings a daisy to his beloved, simply because he knows it will make her smile and exclaim at its beauty. Music is the daisy God gives me.

God is not slow with us. Sometimes we think that we’ve forfeited His blessings, His gifts. I’m not sure if that’s even possible, folks. I don’t know. Perhaps all this time, God has been bringing me daisies, and I’ve been simply too preoccupied to notice (or care). Or maybe He allows me a time without daisies so that I will remember the delight of them, and not simply fall into a routine of saying, “Oh, how lovely.”

What I do know is that He gives us our passions and talents for a reason. And He brings them to life if we will stop avoiding them.

How about you? What are you avoiding?

Pax,
Sar

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Therapy

Sometimes the greatest therapy is the simplest thing.

To say that I’ve been emotional lately would be about as understated as the National Deficit. The reasons why are mostly unimportant, but I must confess that music has been a large part of it. I have been missing music, and recent events have pushed me to my breaking point, to my “must play, must sing” point. This is a good thing.

So yesterday, after another difficult and long day at work, I went home, changed out of my work scrubs, kicked off my socks, and the guitar and I strolled out on the grass in my back yard.

I landed, eventually, with my blue jeans rolled up to my knees and the sun warming my skin, on top of the picnic table, singing at the top of my lungs. For two hours, I played all of the “old” songs in my brain, the old Caedmon’s tunes that I haven’t sung in years, some songs of my own that I had forgotten, and a few new songs.

There is no greater therapy, friends. And to those of you in Marquette…I am choosing to believe that I summoned this great thunderstorm this morning by singing “April Showers” in the sunshine yesterday.

Be blessed, folks.

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Loss

Somewhere in the midst of it all, I missed Rodger.

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The Quotable Floyd, part IV

Well, friends–here we are, one week post concert, and it is quote time. As always, I would encourage you to go back and read The Quoteable Floyd from previous semesters (I, II, and III), as I always do. The truth is that I’m a quote junky, and Floyd is ridiculously quotable. He can’t help himself. He teeters on a fencepost between incredibly wise and hilarious.

So without further adieu, I give you The Quotable Floyd. Spring, 2014.

From the Mozart…
Long notes should not be crescendoed. I know for a long time that was Choral Gospel, but don’t do it.

I like when Mozart is irritating and brilliant at the same time.

We won’t go allegro con spirito; we’ll go allegro breathe-a-lot-o.

It’s very important that it be unmushed.

When you get to the second note, just shake a little.

That’s a G! Good for you!

In the orchestra, you are the trombones!

Breathe in exact tempo.

Choral music is a constant stream of cues.

If you don’t do it well, it’ll sound like you did it well.

It’s almost as if Mozart said, “What are the notes we can leave out? Give them to the Altos!”

Altos, that’s not a melody; that’s an accompaniment.

We are the choir that sings “Ni.”

Keep it bouncy.

Try it and see if it fits.

The third pasus has a little Barbershop in it!

Those are rhythmic eruptions.

Only sing a normal sound.

It’s a G-sharp, but it’s spelled with an A-flat.

This time, make different mistakes.

From the Faure…
That “L” was better. We lost a couple of pitches along the way, but the “L” was better.

I don’t want that word in the room. [I think the word was “in,” which, of course, is not pronounced the same in English as in Latin.]

You’ve got the note–it’s right in your voice.

Don’t grab it between the bars.

It’s got to be round without any edges to it.

Oh! Some of you noted the dynamics!

When you see an Amen, slow down.

If you like accidentals, you’re going to love this piece.

Don’t miss your “us.”

And suddenly, BOOM–there you are!

And out of nothing comes a sudden noise.

Try less hard in the fast department. Try less fast.

There are times in choir when you should not search for an answer.

If you don’t do it, it won’t do what it needs to do musically.

The piano is moving some other melody. Don’t go with it.

Let the dot step back for a moment.

We don’t want a big hole at that point.

Make sure your air is expelled.

Mark that in: Sing real purty there.

And, as an added bonus, I give you the final pre-concert quote:

If I make a booboo, make it right along with me; it’ll sound like it’s supposed to be.

Pax, friends!

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Unavoidable Music: A Blog for Jean

If you read my post about Avoiding Music the other day, you may have felt sad for me or wanted to say something to encourage me without knowing what might do the trick. Jean (the excellent Alto you’ll hear in the Mozart quartet this weekend if you happen upon the Marquette Choral Society concerts–and please do; I promise we will not disappoint) greeted me at last night’s dress rehearsal with a hug. What a tender heart, to have responded so to my silly rambling blog! It meant everything to me, and it reminded me that those of you reading my blog commit to me and my trials every time you visit this site. It is only fair–for Jean’s sake–that I share the good stuff, also. She has earned it.

Jean…do remember that Bryan Adams line about his guitar? Played it til my fingers bleed? I’ve never actually known someone to play a guitar until his fingers bleed. Still, Thursday night left me pushing into those light Martins long after my voice gave out (which was somewhere around the F’s in my song binder). I couldn’t stop, despite the deep burn–and then numb–in my fingertips. I fell in love, Jean. I fell in love with my guitar. All over again.

Falling in Love

But something else happened, too.

I found comfort, I found hope in the place I least expected: In my own songs. Imagine, the songs that were birthed out of my own crazy life situations–situations that I sometimes doubted I’d ever survive–became the unavoidable music of my life once again. The hopes, the fears, the prayers; the stories, the jokes, the ridiculousness; the quips and proverbs, the poems and prose, the absolutely unavoidable music of who I am. And the more I played, the more I sang–the more I wanted to play and sing; the more I needed to play and sing; the more I was driven to play and sing.

It was like reuniting with a friend you haven’t seen in years. Without any effort, you are thrust into memories and common ground enough to disregard any awkwardness. It was like another part of myself was reminding me who I am. I was barefooted, Jean–no shoes, no socks, nothing to keep me from feeling the grit and grain of the world beneath my feet.

Barefooted

And now, with a heart full of music and a voice that is justifiably exhausted but eager, I approach concert weekend. My mind is flooded with longings and expectations that are going to meet their full satisfaction* in the next two days. There are entrances to await. There are cues to be seen. There are dynamics to be recalled. There are legato engines to be fired up and driven off a cliff. Are we ready? Am I ready?

Hellyeah.

Let’s do this, Jean. It’s unavoidable!

Pax,
Sar

*Full Satisfaction is not to be confused with Final Satisfaction. Remind me to come back to this and quote you some Jeremy Begbie. It’s about time to finalize my thoughts about his material. However, you, too, can have Full Satisfaction (with a tender hope for Final Satisfaction) by attending the MCS Concert this weekend. Mozart, Faure, and Floyd never disappoints–and Jean and I would love to see you there, right, Jean?

MCS Poster

Postscript: It’s okay to admit that you’re giddy-excited about the next edition of Floyd’s Quotes. I am, too. And there are some goodies this time around. :)

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Avoiding Music

I’ve been avoiding music.

I know what you’re thinking, but it’s true–I have been avoiding music. Not all music, and not total avoidance, but definitely enough to break my heart last night.

Folks, I used to count the songs. I used to know each chord, each title, and exactly how many there were. Now? They are lost in a shuffle on my bookshelf. Binders, folders, notebooks, the graves of my once passionate heart. Each song is buried away for lack of…

What is it? Lack of passion? Lack of hope? Lack of desire? I don’t think it’s any of those things. Maybe lack of purpose.

As I listened to a local musician last night sing one of his own songs, I felt that gentle weight of God’s Spirit upon my heart, like a cat who sleeps on my chest each night. And it broke me. It broke me into a universe of indistinguishable pieces that all longed for the same thing: To sing.

Not for an audience.
Not for a career.
Not for a position in a church.

Just to sing. Just to lift my voice.

To remember my life verse, and to live it with full abandon:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

More than a favorite verse, this verse is the song my mother sang over me when she carried me for nine months. She would prop that beautiful 12-string against her round belly and sing it softly, the duet of alto and Cortez resonating there in that secret place where God was creating me–not only my physical form, but my spirit, my soul, that part of me that longs for eternity and my Savior.
Cortez
And now, I avoid the songs and the prayers that would return me to that longing. I have been content to let others sing, to leave my songs in their tombs.

I am content no longer.

Can Christ raise them to life again?

Can He give voice to the longing within my spirit?

Dash told me once to go through my music and play each song. I don’t remember why he advised me so, but I remember being thankful that he did; so that is where I’m headed this evening, friends–to sit on the living room floor, all alone, and at least attempt to work through every song I’ve ever written. Even the ones that hurt.

Maybe–just maybe–God can breathe life into these dry bones.

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Choral Panic

I remember the very first time I felt what I’ve come to call “Choral Panic.” We were three rehearsals away from our Spring concert, and I realized (after I’d finally made sense of the ha-ha-ha-ha-hallelujahs in Handel’s Zadok the Priest) that counting and singing with precision in an auditorium with an organ was going to be an entirely different task than what we’d been practicing in the choir room with the piano for months. One person, I remember thinking; If even one person sings it wrong, we are all going to lose our places.

The following semester offered me a similar moment, when I tried to count 7/8 time. And then there was the German line that I was still worried about the week of the concert.

There’s always a moment.

There’s always a sinking realization–a fear–that wrenches my gut and says, “This is going to fall apart. You’re not ready. None of you are ready.”

That’s where I am right now. At rehearsal this week, I sat in my little corner of the choir room trying desperately to find the F-natural after the F-sharp of which the entire alto section seemed entirely oblivious, and it was enough to bring me to that moment. We are three rehearsals away from our concert, and I can’t find an F-natural. I am in Choral Panic mode. I’m wondering how I’m going to sing that Latin at a gajillion-Mozartmiles-per-measure (no, I’m not exaggerating [okay, yes, I am, but it might as well be a gajillion]). I’m wondering how I’m going to count all those ridiculous rhythms. I’m wondering how I’m going to keep from crying when the choir breaks out in Libera Me. I’m wondering whether it would help me at this point to go in and mark the solos so I don’t accidently sing with Jean on her beautiful alto parts. I’m wondering if I’ll be cognizant enough to remember that the altos do have three measures to sing in Faure’s Sanctus. I’m wondering whether my shoes are still comfortable enough for the concert. I’m wondering how I can stop myself from singing “homni-es” when I need to be singing “homines.”

In spite of how it may seem, I actually love this part of the process. I love this anxiety, this restless uncertainty of how our performance will turn out. It is an incredible lesson in any area of life–not only in music, but in sports, in writing, in work, in relationships: You prepare as much as you’re able and then do what you’ve been preparing for. In the end, one of two things will happen. It is commonly expressed as “sink or swim.” It’s that moment, when the audience hushes and we know: This is it. We are going to give it everything we have and there’s no stopping to fix it. This is when we see what we’re really made of as singers.

But here’s the truth of it, folks: Floyd has never lead the choir where he couldn’t conduct us (okay, except during that one concert where he tried to bring the ladies in at the wrong time and we rebelled and came in where the music implied). He knows this music better than anyone in the choir, better than anyone who will attend the concert, better than anyone else I know. He knows where he’s leading us; he knows how to get us to respond and produce the very best that we’re able if we will simply commit to following him.

So am I in Choral Panic? I am. But I’m going to bunker down and do with it what I always do with it–listen to the music as if it were Bing Crosby on ‘repeat all’ and work on it until it makes me crazy. I’ll tape the Latin to my bathroom mirror until I am comfortable with it. I’ll trust Floyd.

It’s such a neat parallel to faith, isn’t it? I’m so glad that Christ never leads us where He can’t conduct us. I’m so glad that He allows us to prepare and struggle through F-sharps and F-naturals and 7/8 time signatures and foreign languages while He makes a beautiful piece of music of our lives.

Have I mentioned that joining choir is the best decision I’ve made as an adult? Yeah. It still is.

If you’re in the area, contact me for concert details. I’d be honored to see you there. :)

Pax Christi,

Sar

 

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