Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perhaps I ought to spread out my reading every day.

This year I'm reading through the "One Year Bible." Each day presents a passage from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. As of today, I've journeyed from the creation of the world up until David's adultery with Bathsheba and his betrayal of Uriah. I've also followed the life of Jesus on earth through three full gospels and I'm now sitting and listening with his disciples at the last supper in the gospel of John. Because the Old Testament story is so epic and bloody and full of heavy, difficult truths, and because the gospels are so full of our Lord's radiant life, and full of heavier, more difficult truths, most days I am exhausted and I let my eyes glide over the Psalms and Proverbs and they hardly sink in.

Not so, today. I woke up early and read from 2nd Samuel, slept in a while longer and read from John, but before continuing on, I knew I was supposed to leave the Book where it was and return to it later.

This evening, now, I have returned, and much to my delight, this is what I found:

"Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge."
-Psalm 119:54

"The earth is filled with your love, O Lord; teach me your decrees."
-Psalm 119:64

"To a man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.
All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."
-Proverbs 16:1-3

I don't have the strength of mind to lay out for you why those verses hit me so hard today, but I hope they fill you with as much wonder and conviction and encouragement as they do me.

Friday, May 6, 2011

These melodies sound OK together

By and large, composing is a lonely occupation. You spend a lot of time humming to yourself and drawing little dots and lines and if you’re distracted easily (like I usually am) you just don’t even bother with it unless you’re alone and reasonably sure to stay alone until you’ve got a good amount of work done.

But so that you, my kind readers, might have a peek into the process and say “How interesting!” I present to you a thrilling musical discovery:

Two tunes I’ve been wanting to use for Welcome Oklahomagain* overlay on top of one another in surprisingly useful counterpoint! After hitting the snooze button a few times yesterday morning, I was half awake and had one of these melodies running through my head. In a moment of strange and miraculous insight (certainly not a moment of clarity, as I was still pretty groggy), I thought “Oh, this other phrase would probably work if it comes in partway through this one…” Without leaving the bed, I reached for my clavichord (a hilariously quiet keyboard instrument that has been out of vogue for about 300 years) and twiddled my fingers through the two melodies together and realized it was a nearly perfect fit!

Here’s the first tune I had in my head (first with only the clavichord, then with me singing some words):

It has been with me since Easter 2010.

Here’s the other one (again on clavichord and then with words):

That one has been rattling around in my brain since sometime in 2007.

And then here they are together without any singing:

Can you hear both melodies? Don’t they go together nicely? If I hadn't just played them each alone and told you they came three years apart, they would probably just sound like one inseparable unit.

I don’t know yet if both lyrical ideas will gel into the same song, but I feel hopeful that they can. If so, the part about an allegorical trailer park drug bust will be near the beginning and the bit about a scissortail flycatcher will come later among a litany of other “signs that you’re going to be OK”. Even if these end up as two separate songs, it is still going to be great to be able to use that scissortail melody as the featured vocal line in one spot on the album and as a hidden bass line in another.

*Welcome Oklahomagain is my master’s thesis project, a fan-fiction third installment in Sufjan Stevens’s abandoned “50 States” album series.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Unpredictably, Indescribably Good (Part Two)

Halfway through our set of 90s alternative and 70s funk cover tunes, it was announced that the bride and groom were about to depart. The bridesmaids all jumped into action handing out sparklers to everyone so we could wave the newlyweds out in a blaze of sputtering glory. I grabbed a book of matches off one of the tables and headed for the parking lot.

It was a windy night, and when it came time to start the show I rifled through two or three matches that went out as soon as they were lit. In a hurry I tossed them on the ground, but then that “I’m littering!” instinct kicked in and I looked down. What I saw wasn’t a scattering of burnt matches, but a towheaded boy about five years old with a fistful of sparklers in either hand. He wasn’t smiling, and he didn’t look longingly at me; he just looked stone-faced and ready for me to light his fireworks. Immediately I knelt down and shielded the wind with my back, struck up another match that failed and then finally one that got the paper on the ends of his sparklers burning. He didn’t look me in the eye, and he didn’t say thank you; he just backed up and watched the colors explode from the ends of his fingers.

Throughout the day Saturday the image of that boy’s face haunted me. I did the right thing in helping him, I’m sure, but I almost didn’t. What if I hadn’t looked down? What if I had looked down and then turned my eyes away?  What if I had given up after one match and stood up to try and light my own sparklers again? I know myself well enough to be sure that all of those possibilities were more probable than the scenario that actually played out.

Imagine yourself as a five-year-old again, standing there, sparklers in hand and not old enough to light them yourself. Imagine a sea of older, taller people all laughing and lighting each other’s sparklers and paying no attention to you at all. Imagine me standing within arms reach and not bending down to help. It is awful, isn’t it? I’m close to crying again just thinking about it.

But the Lord is doing something to me. Steven six months ago would not have lit that kid’s fireworks. Maybe even Steven a week ago would not. I am unbelievably selfish and shortsighted unless someone approaches me and very plainly asks me for help. Left to my own, I don’t notice other people’s needs until the moment has passed for me to lend a hand. But I don’t want to be insular and myopic, and perhaps I’m beginning to see the first fruits of a new me that will not be. Maybe even a new me that already isn’t.

All glory and honor to the One who has come to make all things new.