Soprano Saxophone and Piano Duet – Hide and Seek

September 6th, 2010

I had a very difficult time finishing soprano saxophone and piano duet. It began as a simple exercise in exploring orchestrational possibilities in jazz chords while applying percussion techniques on the keyboard. Adding a line for the saxophone simply seemed like the thing to do at the time, and it made it possible for me to have a live instrument for the presentation of my final project in the class I wrote it for. So I wrote the first two minutes of this piece with no intent outside of making pretty sounds. But I liked the sounds so much that I felt the need to turn them into a coherent musical exposition. After being stuck on the piece for about six months, I finally decided that the only way I was going to finish it was to make up an ending that worked and polish it until it was good.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

Download score and parts (pdf) – 7.99
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Sample Score

I don’t have a sense of closure when a piece doesn’t seem to have any meaning outside of itself. So even when I had all but finished the piece I still couldn’t leave it alone because I didn’t understand what it meant. And yet I had already named the piece “Hide and Seek” simply because of the way it sounded. It seemed to be trying to go somewhere profound, but became sad when it couldn’t get there. Then it returned to searching for that profound place, this time without being concerned about the result.

The sound reminded me of my childhood games of hide and seek when I would be entertained by looking for my friends that had hidden from me. It was enjoyable not because I found them, but because I found them through a process of searching for them. But sometimes they would hide so well that I would grow weary of looking for them. But it would then be all the more exciting when I found them. But the purpose of the game wasn’t to find but to seek. So becoming irritated because I couldn’t find my friend was silly since all that should have resulted was enjoying the game longer.

While applying this concept to life itself, and thinking about the music in the context of the Purpose project, I finally realized that this piece is about searching for the purpose of life. Many people (myself included) become frustrated when attempting to work out the reason God put them on the earth. While there is the obvious Sunday school answer of “serving, worshipping, knowing, and glorifying God”, very few people are satisfied with that answer and justifiably so. Knowing and glorifying God is an infinitely broad description of our purpose since God is an infinite being. Saying that really means to do what we were doing all along but for a different reason and maybe throwing in a few religious practices to remind you of that reason. But as dissatisfying as the answer may be, it’s still the correct one. However, I’ve taken it a step further with this piece.

The beauty coupled with tension throughout the first fast section recounts the beauty of life in the midst of seeking the reason for our existence and being disillusioned by the answer we find. This results in a discontentment because without knowing the details of why we were put on this earth we have no idea of what to expect from life. So as we move into the slow section we wonder in vain why we exist and therefore what we should be doing with our lives. But in the midst of this anxiety, we find that beauty remains inherent all around us, even throughout our pain. This brings us to the second fast section in which the sounds that were harsh in the beginning have been reinterpreted and are beautiful. Nothing has changed but our reason for perceiving. We’ve realized that we exist for the sake of seeking the answer to the question of our existence. God put us here to ask questions and seek answers. Since God is throughout all aspects of creation, this ends up meaning that God put us here in order to seek Him. We still haven’t moved beyond the broad Sunday school answer, but this realization has satisfied me and justified my life and work.

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

Wedding Processional Music – The First Song

August 30th, 2010

It is very rare for me to write a piece quickly and have it be worth anyone’s time. But sometimes the meaning behind the sound in my head is so obvious that it takes very little time to make it into a coherent musical unit. One Sunday afternoon I sat down to put a few initial ideas down and ended up not stopping for eight hours. This work resulted in the first draft of the wedding processional music Liz and I ended up using for our wedding, “The First Song”. After meeting with Dr. Lorenz (my teacher at that time) twice about the work, tweaking the formal structure, and perfecting notation for the improvisational aspects, I finished the shortest piece I had ever written.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

Dowload score (PDF) ($2.49)
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The length of The First Song was determined by the use I had in mind for it, which was wedding processional music. But its transient nature also contributed meaning by leaving the mystery of romantic love a mystery.  My main goal was to tell my wedding guests exactly how I felt as the woman I wanted to marry walked down the aisle to become my wife. However, the piece works very well without the visual aspect being present.  It is a simple depiction of what happens in a man’s heart the first time he sees the woman that God is about to give to him.  It didn’t need to be long, because this emotion in its specificity happens once in a lifetime and is very short.

This emotion is apparently also very predictable (although this does not detract from the emotion but rather intensifies it with anticipation). Because this life changing emotional experience had been foreshadowed on so many different occasions it was surprisingly easy to predict accurately.  The very first note in particular was a very obvious one:  A single sharp and high pitched percussive strike on a grand piano with the sustain pedal engaged in order to bring the entire sound spectrum of the piano into a subtle state of anticipation to depict the literal physiological reaction of a man’s heart when he sees the object of his deepest and most passionate affection from a distance.  I’d felt this many times before when seeing Liz from a distance and to describe the emotion musically was very simple.  From there it was simply a matter of imagining her walking towards me with the intent o giving herself to me and (I to her) for the rest of our lives.

The flurry of nervous tremolos and glissandi following the first note describes the excitement I had while anticipating my bride’s walk towards me. The way I use the sound spectrum here is designed to be a direct reaction to the first note’s sympathetic resonance just as the anticipation of Liz walking towards me was the result of seeing her.  I think it is also important to point out that I use the black key pentatonic scale to color the sound with a slight stereotypical oriental impression.  This was motivated by Liz’s patriarchal Chinese heritage, but I masked the color because it’s very hard to see that she’s part Chinese.

The next minute or so of the piece describes the anticipation, nervousness, and wonderful joy I felt as she walked towards me.  I could do nothing but bless God and rejoice in my bride’s beauty, the richness and depth of her spirit, and her love for me.  The various components of the sound are designed to fit together in such a way as to put into the mind of the listener a snapshot of the passionate and complex mixture of emotion  This texture builds and comes to a point at which it can no longer be contained and collapses out of necessity.  The bride has arrived face to face with the man rejoicing before God over her, and his joy must be contained in a permanently lingering conclusion that will be preserved for as long as they both live.

Long story short, I love my wife.

“The man said,
‘This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman,”
for she was taken out of man.'”

Genesis 2:23, NIV

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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