Pursuing the Beauty Behind Music

June 10, 2013, 11:30 a.m.:
Team East was formed, and we began by sitting in a circle backstage and then saying one interesting thing about ourselves followed by one thing we hope to get out of the summer. My second statement was this:

“I hope and pray that this summer God will show me what to do with my life.”

But God cannot be put into a box. Likewise, when we pray, He is not bound by the answer we want, or the way we want it, but by the answer He gives, and the way He gives it..

And so before I continue with the story, I will rewind to approximately a year or two earlier, when the confusion began.
(Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sounds)

I prefer the music I like. Why? It feeds what the emotions I like. Why? It has the beat I want, the drive I want, and the style I want. Of course, my taste for music ranges throughout several genres, but none the less, unless the music contains any innuendoes or swear words, I’m cool with it. So, great instrumental tracks combined with heavy rhythms and beats that make me want to hop around and pump my fists in the air.. That’s where I’m at!

But piano.. I started lessons in elementary. I was forced to practice. I quit. Things were said. I started lessons all over again in junior high with a new teacher. Since then, my parents have never forced me to practice, it’s just been a choice that’s been my own. And now, here I am. But when I’m surrounded by so many other kinds of music.. why devote myself to piano when I could engross myself in so many other aspects of music that I enjoy?

The irony? People always gather around the piano to hear me play when most of the time I feel like half of those people could be drawing a crowd of their own. They are just that good! Seriously, there are at least five other teens in my youth group who are just as able to accompany as I am, but I’m the one who plays. To me, this makes no sense.

My piano teacher has always told me this,

“If music is going to be your career, you better love it, you better have a passion for it, and you better be willing to work harder than anyone else at it, because that is what it is going to take to succeed.”

And so my internal response to this statement has always been this,

“Well how do I do that when I’m not even sure what I’m looking for in music?! Do I go this way, that way, or no way at all?!”

And so now we fast forward back to the present, which is June 12, 2013, 1:10 p.m.
(Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sounds)

After being on Team East for two days, all of the Academy of Arts Travelers sat down for a sermon on music philosophy taught by Nicole Stratton. It was long, but it drove to the core of music:

“Music is a part of God’s nature. And like everything else in God’s nature, there is a structure to it. Twist and turn the structure, and you twist and turn God’s intent for music. That is where Satan joins the picture. He is a musician, and he is good at what he does: deception and music. You go one way with music, and it becomes who you are. So go the wrong way with music, and who you are takes a wrong turn, no matter how subtle it is. If you reverse the structure of music, it impacts your emotions differently. All music impacts the emotions, but the question is if the emotions are God honoring and glorifying. Because, music, like everything else created by God, was created for His glory and not our own satisfaction.”

I won’t go into the structure of music due to the depth within it, but please bear with me.

“Music is a language. And that being said, the music beneath the lyrics is just as important as the lyrics themselves. If not, the music is more important. Because, if you listen to a song with a heavy beat and bass which makes you want to hop around, thrash your head, and pump your fists in the air, how does that line up with Gospel lyrics? And yet, there are secular artists who write beautiful masterpieces that make you want to cry, innocently dance, run for joy, or simply sit back and think. You can take a Pirates of the Caribbean song (lets take “Up is Down”) and narrate the coming back of Christ. The music lines up! Does that not make your heart yearn for His coming?! How about this, take a musically fun song and picture a bloody and beaten man upon an old rugged cross. Does that line up? No! And I didn’t even have to tell you! The music told you! Music speaks!!!”

And that my friend, is the beauty of music. It speaks when so little else can. And when lyrics are set over music, the music can either change the meaning of the lyrics, or uphold and strengthen the lyrics.

Nicole ended with these verses, Matthew 13: 18-23, and when I took these verses to heart, a war began within me. Something inside me wanted change, and I refused to rest at ease until the war was resolved.

(Side note: Fast forward four months and my music philosophy was unrecognizable. I deleted 3/4 of my music library due to the Holy Spirit’s working in my heart, and I have no desire to go back)

And so I consulted, cried, prayed, searched the Word, and the summer continued.

I wasn’t very serious about piano. I was just naturally drawn to it whenever it was empty and I had time. However, the amount of encouragement I received from everyone during the summer can be summed in these three words, “An unbelievable amount!” Consequently, I played piano for offertory at many churches along with my teammate, Alex, who played clarinet. At one point, I played piano for an invitational. In fact, at one church my team leader, Will, came up to me and said, “You’re playing for the congregation in five minutes. You’re playing these two hymns and then whatever you want for offertory. I’m going to the bathroom now. See you then.” Surprisingly, I did well, but it was all to the credit of God because there was no way I would’ve done well on my own.

Towards the middle of my summer, he told me this,

“This is my advice to you, stop trying so hard to decide what to do with your life. Just let God show you. He gives us every gift for a reason. For example, in the Parable of the Talents, the Master gave each servant a certain amount of talents so that each would invest them and then return with more. When the servant who had received one talent buried it and then returned with only what he was given, the Master was ticked! What if the servant who had received five talents went and buried them also.. How much more ticked would the Master have been?! Yeah. Embrace the desires and talents that God’s given to you and then line them up with His Word.  Just know that God does not call everyone to the ministry, but He does call everyone to a ministry, so whatever you do, do all to the glory of God and do it to the best of your ability.”

Now let’s fast forward to September 28, 2013.
(Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sounds)

As I was reading through Exodus 3 & 4: 1-17, I realized that I’m just like Moses. God has been telling me through so many things/people/events, “Chris. This is it. This is what I want you to pursue.” But my response has always been, “Yeah.. but I’m just not good enough.”, “I don’t know if I want it badly enough”, “I don’t know if I love it enough.” “I’m just too lazy.”, “Way back, he told me so and so, and I’ve just come to internally believe what he said.”, “Why me? Choose someone else!”, or just “Yeah.. but.. but.. whatever.” But if God wants me to pursue music, who am I to say, “But.” He does great things through those who chose to submit to His will, and He always provides.

But in my opinion, the most beautiful part of music is what’s behind it. And the beauty behind music is this:

Pursuit. Every beautiful/powerful/inspiring/jaw dropping/incredible song that has ever been created or ever will be created, is created by someone who loved it enough to pursue it and work harder than anything else for it. Such musicians did not just pursue the beauty of music, they pursued the beauty behind music.

The reason why music is worth pursuing is because it is a part of God’s nature, and God’s nature is simply beauty in its purest form.

That night, September 28th, 2013, I had two college students separately tell me, “Pursue it.”

And I agree.

Piano major, here I come.

piano

“We all have dreams, plans, and ambitions, but if your goal is to please the Lord, your motivation is the judgement seat of Christ.”

Around the Bonfire (Bond-fire)

My high-school (7th-12th Grade) went on a retreat. We all had a blast and we listened to some incredible sermons on “what do we love?”. As an annual tradition, on the last night of the retreat, each high-school class took 45 minutes to put together a skit and then proceeded to present it to the high-school on stage. After this was over, we all gathered around a bonfire and then gave summer testimonies. It was an awesome night.

But that night I realized something.

As my class and I were backstage getting ready to perform our skit, I began to have flashbacks. There my summer drama team stood in wait to go on stage to perform our play. With smiles ablaze and excitement in the air, we walked onto the stage, lights gleaming, music playing, as surreal as ever. But then reality hit, and my Junior class and I walked onto the stage to perform our skit.

After the skits were over, we all gathered around a bonfire, and once again I began to have flashbacks. There my summer drama team and I were, around a bonfire in Pennsylvania, sharing testimonies. We were sharing how we came to know Christ, and things that God has done in our lives through trials. But then reality hit, and I was asked by my principle to share my summer testimony. As I said, it was an awesome night. To hear what God had done through so many lives this past summer was just incredible. But then I realized something.

This is my team.

As much as I love the people I traveled with, I’ve been given a new task. My summer drama team taught me what it means to be a team, and now I’ve been gracefully handed back to my class (team) of 2015. What pulled my summer drama team together is what is begging to pull my current team together. Christ, the solid Rock, is begging for a team to stand up for Him! But then again, without Christ we’ll crumble under adversity. We will complain about homework and teachers. We will gossip about each other and backbite. We will mock the efforts of the less intellectually blessed, and then get puffed up with pride when we do well. We will focus on the shallow things of life and if worse comes to worse, we will face the danger of individually falling off the narrow road. But never the less, I’m excited to see what’s to come.

Because as long as we continue in Christ, Christ will continue to work in us.

A New Beginning

Team After Swimming

This is my team.

They are family.

Keep that in mind as you read.

“Hi, my name is Christopher Murray, I’m 16 years old (Now 22), I’m from Plymouth, Minnesota, and this is my first summer traveling with the Academy of Arts”…

I was the kid whose only home was the house that he lived in. I was kid whose only friends mostly attended his school, youth group, and church. I was the kid whose only parent figures were the two parents he had, and his only siblings were the two brothers he had. I was the kid whose only known Wisconsin and Minnesota his whole life and been out of state a couple times, but never longer than a few days, and never farther than a few hundred miles.

I had never been in a play before, nor done anything in drama. That changed when The Academy of Arts came to my school. They took a week out of my highschool’s time to teach us a play which takes place during the Civil War and is based off the story of the Prodigal Son. My friend, Rajan, played the runaway, and I played the drummer boy who challenged him with the message of the Gospel, which he accepted after my death and then returned home.

Towards the end of the week, I had an opportunity laid before me. I was invited to join The Academy of Arts Summer Drama Team program. I was initially shocked because I was the only Sophomore invited, and I saw no reason why I should be invited in the first place. After all, I had only been in one play my whole life, and yet they were asking me to travel with them for a whole summer. Yeah. Right..

But then I prayed.

I initially said no, which over the course of a week turned into a yes. My parents initially said no, which over the course of a week turned into a yes. Circumstances initially said no, which over the course of a week turned into a yes. And after a week had gone by, there I was, the Minnesotan kid sending in his application.

I was accepted, and a little over a month and a half later I was sitting in the Logos Theatre with 30+ other teens. Most of us didn’t know each other, nor did I know know anyone there. And yet there I was, in South Carolina, a thousand miles away from all my friends and family, embarking on a journey unlike anything else I had ever been a part of before. Funny how God worked that out.

After funny, serious, and rudimentary auditions, it was decided that I be put on the 2013 Eastern Summer Drama Team. Soon after, I was sitting with ten other people I barely knew. My guy leader was Will, and my lady leader was Kara. The guys were Sam, Jeremiah, Caleb, and Peter, and the girls were Valerie, Alex, Becca, and Emily. They were pretty nifty if I don’t say so myself.

But none the less, they were my team. We had two weeks of training to learn our lines, the choir songs/hymn arrangements, the play, how to set up the stage, how to set up lights and sound, how to run lights and sound, how put on makeup, how to do costumes, what to do when, where, why, how, and much more. All of this coupled with sermons, messages, devotions, and talks preparing us for circumstances/situations on the road. It was exhausting mentally, emotionally, and physically. It was those first two weeks that formed us into a team. We learned how to work together, and how to carry out what the following seven weeks would call for.

After training was over, we were sent out on the rode for seven weeks. From South Carolina, to Indiana, up to New York. Technical difficulties. Trailer problems. Team members getting sick. Churches with small stages. Family situations. Injuries. Clashing personalities. Little sleep. Hours of work. I’d say it was a long summer, but never has any summer gone quicker. As a team, we pulled together. But what set our team apart from any other team in this secular world was that we didn’t pull together and then lean on each other. We embraced each other and then pointed each other to Christ. We embraced the trials and then laid them at Christ’s feet. We gave everything we had on and off stage. We prayed constantly asking for Christ’s help. We laughed with each other. We cried with each other. We encouraged each other. We got right with each other. We stuck with each other.

But it wasn’t us that stuck. It was Christ. Had it not been for Christ, we’d have to reason to be where we were. We’d have no reason to be doing what we were doing. We’d have no reason to forgive each other. We’d have no reason to fall to our knees in prayer when everything else was falling apart. We’d have no reason to breathe. And yet Christ died for us, and who are we to not give everything in return. Who are we to not respect those people who gave everything they had for Christ. Who are we to not sincerely sing those songs which were written through tears at Christ’s feet. Who are we to not retell those miserable yet victorious stories of those true followers of Christ..

And it was for those reasons that we weren’t just a team.. we were a family. We were a family held by Christ. And as a family held by Christ, we’ll always be a family, even if we’re a thousand miles apart. They didn’t give me a new beginning, but they taught me that Christ gives me a new beginning. They taught me that to live in past failure is to live in fear of failure, and to live in past sin is to live in present sin. Who I am now does not have to be defined by who I used to be.

Because He didn’t just die for me. He rose for me.

And for that reason, I have a new beginning.

Summer Pictures