Music as “Hard, Bodily Work”

In his book Rainbows for the Fallen World, Calvin Seerveld draws attention to the possible misappropriation of the creative nature of God as the straightforward model of our creative nature (26).  While I’m not sure I agree with him that the relationship between God as Creator and man as creative is always so misleading that it over-spiritualizes and individualizes the nature of artistic activity, he brings up the excellent point that it may lead us to “overlook[] the limited, serviceable, craftsmanship character of artistic activity” (26).  He proceeds to explain that a healthy understanding of art recognizes it as hard work that can be a legitimate vocation that must be embedded both in a community of artists and in the community of saints.

Although many of the performers around me seem to find themselves most at ease in a community of musicians, it can be tempting to consider oneself an autonomous agent, acquiring skills for one’s own, individual creativity.  I think this temptation may be strongest for composers, who are trying to create something entirely new.  But Christian performers and composers (and theorists) should not spiritualize their creative “genius” as only coming as a gift from God and needing no additional development; we all need the training and sharpening feedback of a musical community.

Musicians know that what they do is very difficult.  We are no strangers to long, late hours of practice, rife with muscular, mental, and often emotional fatigue.  But the end result at many a given performance appears effortless, almost like magic.  It is thus tempting for many to imagine music as an otherworldly field only comprehensible to and attainable by a select few.

We struggle when we feel that the body of believers around us has this attitude, or does not understand the energy and richness of what we do – i.e. if they ask us to leave off the complicated “classical” stuff and play something a little more in tune with the times, or if they assume that music is something we should just do in our spare time or should only do in church, etc.  At these moments, we find ourselves tempted to emotionally separate ourselves, or at least our musical selves, from the church, only expecting to grow musically in a community of musicians.

Certainly, the church needs to support artists; they function in a critical capacity, redeeming the culture through hard work and God-given talent, pouring out blood, sweat and tears into yet imperfect work that still hopes to acknowledge the turmoiled, sinful world around it and redirect it to the joy and hope of God’s saving work (Seerveld, 34-41… more later).  But we, as artists, cannot abandon the church either.  As difficult as it can be, we need to find ways to embed our whole selves in the church, to ground our thinking, our practice, our art in the solidity of the word of God and in the fellowship of the body of Christ.  We need to reach out and in love show our brothers and sisters more of what we do and why.  It seems to me that it is worth it to explain some of the difficulty we experience and some of the joy and beauty we encounter in our “classical” repertoire… why we think it gives glory to God in specific and unique ways.  So let us not separate any part of ourselves from Christ’s body, and let us work hard.

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