Young musicians, and artists in general, will often be told by their mentors, or those who are farther down the road in their journey, “you need to find your voice.” But how to do that? And, if you’re like me, you wonder why, in an age when anyone on the planet can present their art to the rest of humanity, why bother adding one more voice to all the music that’s already been composed? Do we really need another voice, specifically your voice?
Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbury Award winning “children’s” book, A Wrinkle In Time, describes a war between light and darkness being fought on our planet. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, the three strange but kindly guides, teach the book’s protagonists that all of humanity’s great artists and scientists, people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Hildegard Von Bingen, Shakespeare, Bach, Madame Curie, Einstein, Beethoven, Clara Schumann, St. Francis and many more, have been lights for us to see by in the war against the darkness. The musical equivalent of this light is what the teachers of the medieval era called “The Music of the Spheres,” the song of God that we can’t hear in our darkness. Our wounds have left our ears stopped, eyes blind, voices mute and legs lame.
And yet, sometimes we become aware that despite the darkness, we get hints of this music coming from—just over a hill? Messiaen believed that he heard it in the bird’s song. Plato believed that it existed in a dimension beyond the realm of our senses, beyond the realm of our universe. When we believe that something is “beautiful,” we believe this because somehow, we are aware of what the “form” of true beauty is. We are comparing something that is of substance in our universe, to something which is the ideal, true beauty.
Part of the attractiveness of the Gospel is that Jesus teaches that your voice is intended to help others hear The Music of the Spheres.
“You are the light of the world… let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Mt. 5:14, 16). “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.” (I Peter 4:10). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)
Author and screenwriter Steven Pressfield has written a series of books that I have found helpful in my own search for my voice. The first of this series of books, The War of Art, states that in order to find your voice, you must overcome resistance.
You know what resistance is. It’s negative. It can’t be seen, heard, touched or smelled, but you know it when you feel it. It’s similar to Plato’s realm of forms, but it’s just the opposite of goodness and beauty; it’s dark. It is anything that prevents you from doing your work, the work which God has prepared beforehand for you to walk in.
Pressfield calls it “the most toxic force on the planet.” Resistance takes many forms, especially comparison. Teddy Roosevelt has said that comparison is the thief of joy. It’s true. But finding your voice means that you must work to overcome resistance.
Finding your voice is work, hard work. For the musician/composer this means practice. It means overcoming your penchant for self-sabotage. It means working when you’re not . “inspired.” The painter Chuck Close has said, “Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Picasso said almost the same thing:
“Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.”
The great musical lights of the past knew this well. J.S. Bach, in his work to find his own voice, walked almost 250 miles to hear Dietrich Buxtehude present a series of concerts during Advent. He had permission from his superiors to leave his post in Arnstadt for one month to pursue what we might call today, continuing education. The twenty year old Bach’s trip north was by all accounts, life changing. In fact, it was so enthralling that young Bach overstayed his leave by almost four months! Apparently he worked together with Buxtehude and played with him in the Advent concert series. While he was there, he copied by hand several of the master’s pieces for transport back to Arnstadt. Hand copying parts—that’s a lot of work, but many teachers feel that imitating others at first, is one of the best ways to find your own voice.
Bach hand copied a lot of music, including that of the Italian “Red Priest,” Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. In fact, Bach’s Harpsichord concerto in D Major, BMV 972, is for all intents and purposes, a copy of Vivaldi’s “L’Estro Harmonico.” But it was this work - this copying of Vivaldi’s “voice” that led to Bach finding his own “concerto” voice. For it was during his tenure at Weimar that he first came across Vivaldi’s concerti. It was also during this season that Bach wrote the bulk of his own concerti, including the magnificent Brandenburg concerti.
But aside from the work you must do to find your own voice, there is also the discovery that your voice is unique. Ephesians 2:10 may be broken up into three parts. The first states that you are one of God’s creative works, a product of His voice:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”
The second is that you must work and do good work.
“for good works,”
Finally, you must understand and acknowledge that God has somehow, in mystery, had a hand in creating these good works for you to walk in to bring light to the darkness, “so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
“which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Pressfield puts it this way;
“… it's as though the Fifth Symphony existed already in that higher sphere, before Beethoven sat down and played dah-dah-dah-DUM. The catch was this: The work existed only as potential — without a body, so to speak. It wasn't music yet. You couldn't play it. You couldn't hear it. It needed someone. It needed a corporeal being, a human, an artist… to bring it into being on this material plane… Beethoven got it. He brought it forth. He made the Fifth Symphony a "creation of time," which "eternity" could be "in love with.”
You have been given a voice by God that only you can sing with. You are part of that “Music of the Spheres” that God has created. You are His “workmanship,” a work of art in your own right. Find your voice so that you can discover who God created you to be; and what He has planned for you to “create.” Bring His good works, His light into the world, through your voice.
Glenn A. Pickett, Professor of Music Composition & Music History
California Baptist University
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