Alto Saxophone Solo – Psalm 51

February 17th, 2012

This alto saxophone solo is a musical depiction of Psalm 51; a biblical text describing David’s sorrow over his sin. Using a concert A drone (from any source you want) to create harmonic tension and release throughout the solo, the music follows the same emotional path that the psalm does. It begins in lament and brokenness and slowly moves towards repentance, and restoration.

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Below is the text off of which this alto saxophone solo is based:

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion,
   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
   in burnt offerings offered whole;
   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

-Psalm 51 (NIV)

Aesthetic Education; See the Art in and Around You

October 13th, 2010

We’ve previously defined aesthetic as the cumulative effect of every component within a specific framework.  Art produces aesthetic, but not just art produced by humans.  God is an artist too, and it is a sin to be indifferent to his creative work, the pinnacle of which is mankind. If only we realized the wonderful artistry found in each one of us we would not be as likely to sin by showing indifference let alone contempt towards each other and the world.  How do we recognize this Godly beauty in creation?  How do we develop it within ourselves?  How do we bring it out in each other?

Every person you’ve ever met has an aesthetic, and I’m sure you are well aware of this whether you’ve thought about it or not.  I’m referring to the cumulative effect of a person’s existence upon your senses.  Analyzing a person’s aesthetic is a completely rational way of evaluating another’s impression on your own mind.  Some components of a person are obvious:  physical appearance, personality, body language, accent, interests, intelligence, etc.  These are the things that determine whether or not a person is attractive, fun, annoying, or simply “nice”.  But there is something about a human being’s aesthetic that is unique; it’s that ability to behave in the way the person chooses.  It’s the ability to go against what is natural to human behavior or to not.  These choices are what weigh most heavily on a person’s aesthetic.

This trait of the ability to choose is what animates us and gives value to our lives.  It’s also what gives us the ability to develop virtue and vices.  It creates harmony because it makes chaos possible.  It is the center of our existence and causes within us a spectrum of possibility ranging from beauty to depravity.  It is this one thing that saturates our being and causes all of our other components to be seen by others in a way that will either please or irritate them depending upon the condition of their own aesthetic.

The evil, twisted, or unnatural aesthetic mutilates the beauty of natural human tendency.  It kills, covets, hates, gossips, and corrupts all that is good, having an inherent effect on the person and destroys them.  The aesthetic that chooses what is good goes along with unnatural human tendency and produces love, joy, peace, etc.  It is choice that creates beauty, but because of our desires that are contradictory to the way God designed us to be we all degrade our natural beauty to an extent no matter how good our choices are.  This causes our personal aesthetics to clash and grind against one another so that the whole of creation is degraded by our conduct.

So then, there is inherent aesthetic contrast between a good man and an evil one.  Obviously we’re all evil to an extent and fall somewhere on the spectrum of beauty and depravity.  But it’s important to identify extremes, decide where we fall, and how to progress on the path towards harmony.  But after we’ve done that, we quickly realize that we are not capable of reaching perfect beauty.  We strain ourselves and punish our flesh in a attempt to achieve a character produced by a righteous life.  Then many good-willed people justify their imperfections with the sorts of things the despised use to make themselves feel better; the main justification being the inappropriately ascribed subjectivity of beauty.

We are all created by the work of God, but we are still in progress: designed to make a choice as to whether or not we are going to allow God to animate us, or let our standard-less selves to animate us.  Whether we are to become beautiful works of art by the greatest artist in the universe who spilled His blood over us to complete us and perfect our beauty for the Artist’s glory, or to remain imperfect by rejecting completion.

We creatures are not left without a clue planted within ourselves.  It’s a taste of the perfect beauty we’re made to long for.  It’s the aesthetic of God longing to shine through our distinctive individuality.  This distinctive aesthetic is beyond words, music, or any other form of expression.  It can only be truly observed in the people you do life with.  And even then only in the people who have let themselves be the jars of clay God calls us to be; cracked and broken vessels overflowing with the Spirit of God.  But even with non-believers, glimpses of it can be seen longing to break forth but are suppressed by their desire to create a cheap imitation of themselves, thinking that they are fighting a tendency to be something ordinary.

We, along with the whole of creation, are simply components of one massive work of art.  Human art is a means of trying to assemble reality and make sense of its intricacies.  It is the physical form of asking questions, leaving finding answers to the perceiver.  It points us to the created world in such a way as to seek truth; God’s truth.  Since we ourselves, the physical world, and the spiritual world are all works of art, seeking the deepest truths of life through human art is perfectly logical.

Art does not teach us to know, but to seek to know.  To dwell on mystery.  To ponder various ways in which reality can be assembled and look at truth from a different angle; an intellectual exercise that brings life to your spirit (Roman 12:2, Phillipians 4:8).  Listen, look, read. Attend to various aesthetic objects so that your perception of reality can be sharpened.  Every angle available from which your are able to observe truth should be utilized.  Therefore, Aesthetic Education in the Church is not only necessary, but it is essential.


Art and the Sin of Apathy

September 10th, 2010

On Monday through Friday I wake up at 7:00am, make a latte or some coffee, and spend the first hour or so of my day with God.  My wife wakes up at 8:00, I spend some time with her over breakfast and a little more coffee, and we’re both off to work by 8:45.  The job I have isn’t great, but between our two incomes we make it just fine.  Plus I very much enjoy the people I work with and building relationships with my co-workers has proven to be a very positive part of my life.  At 5:00pm I punch out and head home where my wife and I make dinner and discuss the intimate details of our young lives together.  On Wednesday nights we go to prayer meeting at our church.  On Friday nights we spend time building relationships with people in our church over dinner and games to start the weekend during which we take care of our domestic logistics and rest from a productive week of work and study (we try to learn more about various subjects with our spare time with the resources available to us).  This is the way our quiet and beautiful life together has been for some time now, and although children or unexpected changes may shape our life differently in the foreseeable future, for now things are stable and there is no reason to alter anything in any way.

For those of you who haven’t realized that I haven’t actually been describing my life, welcome back to reality.  I have only been describing the life I long for in my weaker moments.  While its a perfectly plausible and very happy reality for many people my age, I am unable to pursue it because of the task that God has clearly set before me.

Retain the image I have set before you and take it to its logical conclusion.  A happy couple with no real ambition outside of loving God and loving others.  They have a good marriage with no pressing needs or concerns; just two people living comfortable in the presence of God.  Let this comfort go on long enough and eventually their passion for life will fade.  Scripture will become words, the redundancy of work will not bring fulfillment, relationships will become stale.  How can this be kept from happening?

This is one of the best apologies I can give for undertaking this seemingly masochistic pursuit of music composition.  What better way is there to look at specific aspects of the world in a fresh way than through a form of expression that uses a completely universal and wonderfully unique method of creative communication?  What a fresh and wonderful way of portraying the noise of our distracted culture John Corigleono presented in Circus Maximus.  What a beautifully passionate and hopeful outlook on death Takashi Yoshimatsu presented in his “Fuzzy Bird Sonata”.  How do people fight their apathetic outlook without various forms of artistic expression helping them attend to existence in ways they’ve never considered?

At this point I feel the need to discuss apathy.  First of all, it’s a sinful attitude to be indifferent towards God’s creative work which is part of his glory.  If it’s a sin to be indifferent to creation, how much more to be indifferent to his word, his will, or your fellow man for whom Christ died?  Is God an apathetic being in regards to anything?  Since he is not, we cannot be either and art keeps us from this sin.  Apathy is a powerful temptation because it is a seemingly useful tool for acquiring happiness (or a cheap substitute for it).  One way to eliminate pain is to stop caring about the part of you that is in pain.  You get upset with politics so you stop caring; life gets a little easier at the expense of something important.  Thus apathy leads to bliss which is an “emotion” enjoyed by fools.

So then, apathy is to be avoided at every level.  Care deeply about God, people, the created world, and the dark powers that work against them.  Do everything in your power to maintain your passion for good.  But how?  Well, as I was saying, perceiving the world in a variety of different ways will help you to continue caring.  Keeping a fresh perceptive on the whole of life will keep you from the sin of apathy and help to bring you into a full and rich awareness of the wonderful life that God has given you.

Sorry if I sound pretentious, but the fine arts (by that I mean work that actually attempts to say something worthwhile) are more important than the football game. Spending an hour with great art will open your senses to new ways of perceiving creation, people, God, and your own life in wonderfully rich ways.  Do consider it.


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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