Professional Musicians?

May 2nd, 2010

I want to make something very clear before I start:  Some people have recently confronted me with the fact that many people don’t believe that there is a God (or that he is not who he says he is).  A few people have even unfriended me on Facebook out of anger because I say what I know to be true (How’s that for religious tolerance?  I could understand leaving my website group, but wow…).  They think that my approach to reasoning through these discourses is flawed because I assume that everyone agrees that God exists. The thing is, if we are going to be held accountable for the things we did here on earth after we die, and if God did reveal his word to us which we are expected to obey, and he did make the atoning sacrifice so that our sins could be forgiven provided that we believe and behave in accordance with that belief, then that changes everything.  To not mention God in my arguments would be to say things that I don’t believe to be true.  If you want to say anything about how to live life at all, you have to choose whether you’re living for yourself, or living for the Creator.  I happen to know God, and I happen to talk to him every day through prayer and the study of his word.  I don’t simply think he exists; I know he does and I’m in very good company.  I will never post anything outside this context.  Moving on…

Not professional in the sense that one is trained and very good at what they do, but simply in that one makes most of their income from writing and playing music.  My new CD, Purpose, is hopefully coming this June (although it may end up being later since life keeps happening) and it has been causing me to reflect very deeply on the purpose God intended music to serve.  Each purpose that I’ve considered while writing the music for this project does not seem to require the existence of professional musicians.  While the project itself proves that a very high artistic level is pleasing, it is being done by students who will probably never make the majority of their income from performing or composing.  If I myself stay the course I am on, I will never be a professional composer but I will be a teacher.  For some time now I’ve been bitter about this and have had a desire to make a valiant attempt to work out a way for professional composers to actually exist to the extent that I could hope to become one.  But I’m beginning to see that the purpose of music can be fulfilled without people generating most of their income from it.

At this point we have to establish what purpose God originally intended music to fulfill.  My subjective explanation is that the all encompassing purpose of music is to communicate difficult concepts decisively and in a different way.  For example, I was told by many people that my abortion piece provoked tears.  This indicates to me that the music effectively communicated what I intended, which was to depict abortion for what it is.  Obviously, God has blessed that work with the ability to communicate its intended message very effectively.  To me this is a clear demonstration that music can teach us things that can be difficult to express in other ways.  That piece taught me personally just how awful and devastating abortion is, and yet I’ve perceived countless hours of very good presentations devoted to the subject.  Once I finished that recording and listened to it, I understood  the situation much more clearly than I ever had previously.  “Music is communication.”

In order for this purpose of effective teaching/communication to be fulfilled, musicians being paid is not at all a prerequisite.  Replace my proposed purpose with something else and you will most likely be able to reach the same conclusion.  Extensive knowledge and skill is a prerequisite, but myself and all of the people I call my peers are already fulfilling these purposes and none of us are making a living by making music.  Apparently music’s purpose is being fulfilled without any significant amount of money being paid.

I suppose I must now address how I justify undergraduate and graduate level studies while knowing that my education is relatively useless for generating a larger income.  As believers, since when has anything God led us to do been for the sake of our own selfish pleasure?  Since when has God called us to make an enormous commitment like college in order to indulge our desire for more wealth?  My education in music composition has not been for the sake of me generating an income, but rather to serve by effectively communicating truth that can’t be expressed in any other way.  I would not be able to write like I do had I not had the training that God clearly called me to endure.  Graduate study has been the only way for me to be prepared to serve the church in the way that God wants me to serve.

Don’t just give a gift, be a gift.

The Definition of Intention

May 18th, 2009

We have established that the decision of what we listen to should not only be based on what we enjoy listening to, but also how intentional the music is.  While we may agree on this, what is still unclear is what exactly intention is and how to find it.  As always, when we are looking for a clear definition of a word it is always a good idea to start with a good dictionary definition whether you think you know what the word means or not.  (Taken from Intention – “An act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result.”  Let us first focus on the words “determining mentally”.

Music is clearly a sort of presentation that is meant to be perceived by an audience.  Therefore, determining an action mentally is only part of the process since a musician must also accurately execute his intention in his selected medium.  The composer must correctly transcribe the sound in mind, the performer must place his events in exactly the place desired, etc.  So it seems then that proficiency and intention are separate.  However, since music is a presentation, intention and accurate execution are perceived as a unit.  When an unintended result comes out of good intention the result is perceived all the same; all that results is less intention.  So when mental determination is used in the context of music, we cannot say that the resulting action was intentional unless the action matches the intention.  Thus, we may as well include the resulting action in our definition of intention:

Musical intention – an act or instance of determining mentally a musical event which is supported by a result that reflects the predetermination.

Now we are left with a more difficult and more controversial question.  I will be as unbiased as possible, however some categories of music are going to be subject to harsh criticism when these ideas are applied.  The question is “How do we find intention?”  A more blunt way of putting this is “How do we determine the quality of our music?” 

An intention has to have reason behind it, because without reason intention itself has no intention.  The stronger reason the intention has, the better the intention will be.  If an entire work is written purely without reason, the intention will be considerably low.  Conversely, a work of high intention will have a wealth of reasoning for each musical event that is placed.  A trained composer will give extensive reasoning that proves intention in orchestration based on physics, melodies and harmonies based on theory, rhythm based on human nature, and aesthetic based on science, philosophy, and/or theology.  Trained performers, sound engineers, synthesizer programers, and many other types of musicians also will give the reasoning behind their desicions.  Unless there is a possibility of giving reasoning for every decision made, the musical work lacks intention.

Some may object to this statement because many outstanding musical decisions are made every day without conscious premeditation.  But this subconscious ability does not develop without an extraordinary amount of study and training.  The ability to make good subconscious decisions is only in musicians who are also able to make guided conscious decisions about everything that they do as well.  The best musicians have the ability to analyze their intuitive decisions and give them analytical reasoning, resulting in even seemingly unexplainable intention being explained.

All that now remains to be addressed is whether or not simplicity is a way to work around intention.  Obviously when something is simple it takes less intention to raise its quality to an acceptable level.  But when you have less intention, you have less reasoning.  Less reasoning means you have less to say and should take as little time to say it as possible.  (But now that I’ve attacked something, let me articulate what I am not attacking:  Simple does not necessarily mean less musical events, but rather less complexity.  For example, performing a string quartet with synthesizers reduces the work’s complexity simply because the string family’s sound is much richer than a synthesizer’s.  The music is now simpler.  So by simple music I mean music that lacks complexity in the elements of rhythm, harmony/melody, orchestration/timbre, or aesthetic.  I will expand on this in future posts.)

Quality comes from intention, intention from reasoning, and reasoning from training and study.  If a work is not capable of being defended by reason, the work is poor.  I mentioned four things that a composer must defend in order to argue a work’s quality:  Orchestration, melody/harmony, rhythm, and aesthetic.  These elements make the foundation of determining the quality of music.

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