Saxophone and Clarinet – Essence Altered

October 7th, 2010

I originally wrote this saxophone and clarinet duet for Liz and I to play at our wedding. It is, however, perfect for any setting whether it be for a wedding, church service, or a recital (I’ve used it for all three). However, since it was designed to be played by a bride and groom, the idea is to depict two people becoming one in the music. This is exactly what happens at a wedding, and the piece’s dissonant beauty reflects this sacred concept. This concept should be made clear to your audience so that they properly understand the piece.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information; its total length is 5 minutes

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Sample score

Additional information

I am now going to disclose my full intended meaning for this saxophone and clarinet duet, and I fear that both good-willed and malicious people may misunderstand. Discussing sexuality can be a very sensitive thing because of how our culture has mutilated it. We have taken an innocent and beautiful part of creation and removed it from its proper context thereby perverting the entire concept; from the act itself to its relational and spiritual application. Currently, sexuality is always associated with copulation in one way or another and people cannot seem to get this out of their minds. Sexuality can be (and in this context should be) understood as a deeply intimate relational concept that refers to a certain level of connectivity between physical sentient beings. It cannot be related to animals and it cannot be related to spirits. It is for the spirit-animal hybrids that we humans are. It has something to do with sex and as well as something to do with the marriage relationship and its intimate spiritual connectivity.

While this piece refers primarily to the spiritual aspects of sexuality, the sex act makes the spiritual aspects possible which is why its purpose in uniting man and wife cannot go undiscussed. Between Genesis 2:24, I Corinthians 7:4, and Ephesians 5:28-31, it is quite clear that a married couple is to be regarded not just as a unit, but a single physical organism. How this works is something of which Paul writes in Ephesians 5, “This is a profound mystery.” When a couple gets married, their resultant relationship is so deep and so profound that eventually their body, soul, and mind literally begin to function as a single unit. Two separate beings slowly growing to know each other perfectly and in every way in order to become one while each individual maintains the wonderfully complex distinctiveness that God gave each of them. Sex seems to have something to do with this, but it’s simply a means to an end. This end is what I’m attempting to get at with this piece; that profound mystery that I will never understand.

The first thirty seconds or so begin with a technique in which I give the performers a set of notes and tell them to improvise for a set amount of time. I’ve written the pitch sets in such a way as to leave no possibility for resolution so that by the time this section is over an unsettled and yet profoundly peaceful atmosphere has been created. This resultant texture represents two restless spirits of a living man and woman who are longing to be with one another; the essences of two human beings passionately desiring the fundamental change needed for them to become a single entity without compromising their distinctiveness.

After this opening improvisatory section, the rest of the piece consists of a simple three part form. The outer sections resemble a series of long sighs in which the instruments slowly merge in and out of each other’s timbre and pitch. The resultant sequence of dissonance and consonance is reflective of the intensity, depth, beauty, and mystery of the love found within the marriage relationship. However, since I’m depicting a change, the first of these outer sections deals with the relationship before the fundamental change that begins after marriage.

The middle section takes a motive from the limited melodic material presented in the first section and elaborates on it. This development is accompanied by the same type of improvisation as in the beginning, but this time with direction and intent. These elements work together to push the sound back into the sighs depicted at the beginning. The saxophone’s improvised texture is designed in such a way as to envelop the the clarinet’s sound while still allowing the clarinet to be clearly heard. Heading towards the climax of the piece the clarinet and saxophone both begin to have windows of improvisation. The lines (both improvised and not) dance around one another with increasing energy, finally pausing on a single pitch in unison. The two lines then separate with a sharp attack on the same dissonant interval which we heard in the beginning that resolves to reveal a much more intense and in depth joyful sigh compared to what we heard in the beginning. When the saxophone resolves the sigh, the clarinet responds by cascading down to a lower register which results in a related and peaceful sound caused by all of the sound that came before it.

The final section represents the goal of this fundamental change. The two distinct and complimentary people are now seen as one person. Their essences can now freely pass in and out of one another without fear and without shame. They know and are known deeply by one another.

Purpose release

July 29th, 2010

Purpose CD Baby, hard copies

Sample Purpose (click)

It’s been a long journey putting this new project together.  Now that I’ve had a chance to sit back and see how it has turned out I am confident that it was certainly worth the effort.  I’d like to take a moment now to help you understand what I’m hoping people will take away from it at the surface level:

This has been a challenging year for me (emotionally) because I’ve deeply questioned the value of my life pursuit in music, the value of my faith in God (which has become stronger than ever), and the value of my very existence.  This project is the result of that questioning. As you listen, search for the questions I’ve been asking in the music. Don’t look for the answers because they’re not there; The composer hasn’t found them.

A technical note: There are lengthy transitions between some of the tracks that are meant to bring the project cohesion.  Listen to them as part of the project.

I hope you enjoy it on the surface level.  I’m looking forward to helping you dig deeper into it soon.  Thank you so much for your continued support.

Purpose hides and so we seek it. But somewhere on the way we find beauty and realize that the purpose of life is the process of searching for it.

Special thanks to my freinds Cassie and Eva for their help with recording this CD.  Buy it so that they can get paid!

Aesthetic Education; Loving God

July 22nd, 2010

So far this series of posts has dealt with matters of intellect, enhancing people’s awareness of the world, and their overall cognitive abilities.  To the academic world these are matters of significant consequence (Although I am quite certain that I have not persuaded anyone).  But now that we’ve defined our terms and unpacked some sensitive concepts it is time to apply them to things of great consequence to the church and her members.

Getting to know God and becoming more like Him should be a Christian’s chief concern in life. Following His commands is a given, and not sinning would be a very simple task provided we grew to love God with all our hearts.  There are two methods that God as given us to grow closer to him: general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is God’s word given to us through the prophets and any teaching or analysis done that originates from scripture.  The church handles the word of God quite effectively for the most part, and I have taken a lot from the teaching I have received.  But, unfortunately, simply teaching the word only goes so far and the intense division in the church we have today bears witness to this.  The word of God is only part of the picture, and for the church to not teach general revelation as much as it teaches special revelation is to limit the church’s perception of God’s glory and majesty along with the deep knowledge and wisdom that result from studying his creative work both aesthetically and analytically.

To only study the word is like getting to know a person only by talking to them.  When I first met Liz (my fiance) we got to know each other initially through conversation, but as our friendship deepened conversations by themselves only went so far.  We started to experience life together; listening to a stream together, attending to a specific part of the sky, running, going to the symphony, studying pedagogy, and countless other activities enhancing not our factual knowledge of one another, but in a profound sense our aesthetic understanding of one another.  I didn’t ask Liz to marry me because of the factual knowledge about her that I had accumulated; it was because of the things I had learned abut her aesthetic characteristics in between conversations that I fell in love with her.

Do we somehow expect our relationship with God to develop differently?  How is it that He can give us such a clear picture of what kind of relationship he wants with us using marriage and we (mostly) ignore it?  Just as it is impossible to fall in love with another person by talking it is impossible to fall in love with Christ only by studying the Bible.  You have to spend time with him outside factual knowledge and dive into the richness of his creative work.  By enjoying other people’s perceptions of that work, creating representations of your own perception, and perceiving his wonders first hand, you will gain an aesthetic understanding of our Savior beyond words.  This is when and how you will fall in love with Christ.  Feel free to memorize every word of the Bible, but until you learn to actually perceive Him in the world around you, you cannot know Him well enough to love Him.

Now, when it comes to the study of scripture, it’s impossible to even understand the depth and beauty of the Bible until you’ve experience life with God.  Much of he factual knowledge in the Bible is rooted in the aesthetic understanding of the world.  I, for example, was bored to tears trying to read the major prophets until I had composed the Dark Process since that was how I learned to understand a large work rooted in emotion rather than story.  Several symphonies and concertos by various composers also acted as gateways into the major prophets for me.  But this isn’t even the best part; I met with God and glorified his name in the midst of these aesthetic experiences that also enabled me to enjoy His Word.  So it hasn’t been the Bible alone that has caused me to love God, it has been the perception of His creation through the lens of Scripture which I gained through an understanding of creative work..  That said,  I also want to make it clear that the lens of scripture is vital to the accurate perception that draws us to worship.

Aesthetic education teaches the believer to learn about God through general revelation.  It is through God’s gift of his creative work perceived through the lens of His word that we will learn to love Him.  Therefore opportunities for aesthetic education in the church are essential to foster a passionate and unifying adoration of our Savior.

What Should Believers Do With Secular Art?

January 28th, 2010

In the past I’ve heard people say that we Christians should eliminate any sources of entertainment in our lives that are not of a profound spiritual nature.  That somehow all of the art we consume has to be holy and set apart to glorify God and all other art should simply be dismissed.  Also, in the dark past of recent Christian history even certain sounds themselves were considered unfit for worship in the church.  The drum set has been (and rare cases still is) an instrument of the devil and having the beat on two and four causes a raging desire for unholy pleasures (if you know what I mean).  This detail in particular offends me deeply since playing drum set is one of the primary ways in which I worship my Savior.

Since I’m dealing with extremes, I should probably shed light on the opposite end of the spectrum:  Since the earth and everything in it is the Lord’s, he has the ability to redeem anything.  This must include art.  So people take that to mean that if they are believers, they can consume any art they want and so long as they are using the experience to learn about God.

Both of these extremes are equally dangerous.  The former because to consider any human art as incapable of being corrupted is itself a clear demonstration of pride (the most satanic and destructive sin of all).  Similarly, it is shameful for a man to think he has the authority to label anything or anyone unfit for the kingdom of God.  It’s God’s call, not ours.  It is also dangerous because this view makes accusations based on a lack of cultural familiarity and not the word of God.  The drum set and the guitar are intimate parts of our culture, and to condemn the objects themselves without clear biblical grounds means that we (not God) condemn the culture we do life in.  Not to mention that this is a sick and twisted materialistic view of holiness.  Holiness comes from our hearts, minds, and lives, not the tools we use to show admiration to God.

The other extreme is dangerous because Satan uses very subtle ways of getting us to stray from our faith, and one tool he’s very fond of is beauty out of its proper context.  Dance is a wonderful artistic tool, but it can be used in a pornographic way very easily and subtly (I define pornography as anything meant to awaken sexual desire outside of it’s proper context).  It can be very easy for a man (or woman really) to justify consuming such art by saying that they are admiring a well crafted and beautiful presentation that has no obvious sexual reference.  Yet they know that watching is encouraging them to fall into lust.  The principal in this example applies to everything.  If you’re reaction to a work of art is sin, or the art has the intent of tempting us rebel against God then don’t consume it.  At the same time, don’t instinctively condemn art because you’re reaction to it is sin because it may be you that is the problem and not the art.

So then, there is no clear line of right and wrong when it comes to entertainment.  There are some things that can be labeled as a clear attack on the moral principals that guide us in our daily lives, but most secular art is not that simple.  Use the good judgement that God gave you.  Don’t listen to things that make you stumble in your walk with Christ, meditate on the things that draw you closer to Him, and don’t consume art you’ve approved for yourself around you weaker brothers and sisters (who you are commanded to love) that can’t handle it.

I would like to end this by justifying and recommending a work of art that is clearly secular.  In 1997, The Five Sacred Trees, by John Williams, was released and added to the neglected genre of “Bassoon Concerto”.  If you don’t know what a bassoon is, I strongly urge you to purchase this recording and consume it until you are well informed about the beauty of the sound which a bassoon can produce.  This work is a beautiful depiction of a very specific component of nature, and it is very easy to use this work to help you marvel at the wonderful creation around you.  Ever since I consumed this work, I have not been able to look at a tree without marveling at God’s awesome workmanship.  However, it is very possible that some believers have struggled with tree worship and witchcraft in their past.  I highly doubt I’ll ever come into contact with someone like this since tree worship has not been common for quite some time, but if a rare exception stumbles upon this work I would strongly recommend that they carefully consider what their reaction might be before they listen to this.  I mean this very sincerely, but I also mean it as an example of what I’ve just discussed.  Just because one person stumbles into sin because of a work of art doesn’t make the work unholy.  It simply means that the person should not be listening to it.

Do purchase and enjoy this work.  It is $4.95 on iTunes, and worth every penny.  Feel free to give it a rating and write a review as it needs much more attention than it has gotten these 13 years. John Williams, Judith LeClair & London Symphony Orchestra - Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountain - The Five Sacred Trees (Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra): I. Eó Mugna

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