catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 8 :: 2003.04.11 — 2003.04.24


Grace in recording

I am a Christian musician. I have a few venues of earning an income with the knowledge I?ve gained through formal education and self-teaching. I am the musical director at a Lutheran church leading a contemporary worship service and playing organ at a traditional service. I gig with rock and jazz groups. I teach piano, guitar, and clarinet lessons. And I operate a recording studio. My faith is practically applied to my business dealings by trying to be fair and honest with the people I work with. Doing unto others as I would have them do unto me?that?s the idea, right?

Music seems to be a subjective field. To some, there is a definite line between secular and sacred music. Certainly, when studying the works of Bach, professors would express the sacredness of the cantatas, being sung only in churches. Conversely, the common folk music of the day would be played in pubs or on the streets. For most of us, it?s pretty obvious what audience a composer has intended his or her work to be heard by. If I write a love song, it?s probably going to be for my lover. If I write a contemporary praise song, it?s probably intended to be heard in church. If I write a tune for a jazz quartet, it?s probably intended to be heard at a nightclub.

Is all music a gift from God? Can music venues be considered holy or unholy? The earliest performing I did was at my church, but as I grew older, my venues diversified. My father, being a Nazarene minister, was the first to challenge my musical growth, which had led me into smoky bars, dance clubs, theatres and stadiums. I was playing with a classic rock band. My ear was pierced. I was getting home late.

?Son, are you still a Christian?? I was asked. This was a tough question. I had been raised feeling that it was a sin to smoke or drink, go to a club, watch movies, play with cards, pierce a body part, etc. As a matter of fact, I was feeling quite guilty for hanging around with guys who used frequent expletives and drank heavily. As I dealt with this question, I had to ask myself if I did still believe in God. Was I following the example of Jesus? What kind of witness was I offering?

After much struggling, I determined that I could still be a disciple and associate with people who didn?t act at all like ?church folk.? I did not feel like I was losing my faith. After all, didn?t Christ hang out with tax collectors, prostitutes and the like? Truthfully, I have felt challenged by both non-Christians and Christians, but I?ve come to approach people who don?t share my faith with my own questions: what can I learn from this person? How are we similar? Where do we differ? I don?t want to hold someone at arm?s length just because they are tattooed or have a bottle in their hand. In my experience, I?ve been more outraged to share a church platform where a message of Christian superiority is proclaimed than to be onstage with a performer who tells a tasteless joke or can?t sing a tune because he?s too drunk.

One of my greatest challenges working in the recording studio has been the lyrical content of some clients? music. I certainly have questioned my willingness to record explicit lyrics. I?ve tried to justify it in many ways. Could I work at a grocery store that sold pornography? Could I work at a record store that sold hardcore rap? Could I work at a toy store that sold products made with child labor? I probably would?I want to pay my bills, feed my family, support the church, and have the ability to address the needs of others with my finances and time. Do you think the ushers are going to give my offering back to me at church because I made money off recording a gangster rap record?

Still, I can?t help but wonder if I am simply a body filling the space with my service and equipment. While I enjoy working with nearly every client, it?s difficult to feel invested in a lyrical product I disagree with. To this point, I?ve taken all of the work that I am capable of doing, regardless of content. So, to answer my own question, perhaps I am just an impartial engineer, doing what the client asks of me, offering a suggestion here, a compliment there. But I?d be lying if I told a client that I think it?s great to say f**k every other word in a song. I?d also be lying if I told a Christian singer it?s great to degrade other world religions and their founders. I can tell the client, however, that if they?ll step closer to the mic, I?ll get a better signal-to-noise ratio. I can tell a client that the line, ?This is f**king off da hook? may sound interesting if we processed it to sound as if they were saying it through a telephone receiver.

I?ve come to the conclusion that God have given me a gift to appreciate and (hopefully) to make good music. I may disagree with the content, but I know I?ve tried to realize my clients? visions. When they are happy, I?m satisfied as a professional. If along the way my personal or ethical opinion is asked, I will gladly share it honestly and without judgment.

What would Jesus do? I am left to answer this question in my own humanness. Would it be best to separate myself from that which I oppose? Or is it the most Christ-like action to offer the same respect to others that I desire for myself? In the measure it has been given me, I choose to err on the side of grace and hope that I might treat all people I encounter as the valued and cherished children of God that they are.

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