twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

tuning the banjo

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I’ve been trying to play my banjo all weekend. It’s been a few weeks since I really sat down and let loose and played. And while my fingers still remember the chords and the picking patterns, until this afternoon, nothing sounded quite right.

I have a tendency to be a bit proud with my banjo. I was trying to tune it by ear, based off an online tuner that simply dictated the right notes without any sense of feedback, leaving my innate sense of pitch to guess as close as I could. And to be honest, this morning it sounded pretty awful.

This afternoon, I finally used a tuner from the internet that fed through my laptop microphone, precisely analyzing every pitch and letting me know how close I was to the correct note and what steps I needed to take to get all my strings in harmony.

And let me tell you. The little guy sounded incredible.

As I often like to say, I think there’s a lesson in that. As the afternoon progressed, the reminder to “remember to tune your banjo” kept rolling over and over in my head.

I can see places in my life where I’ve been trying to hammer things out based on already established technique and personal proficiency. It is easy to approach a challenge, a problem, or even a celebration and say “Of course! I’ve learned how to do this already. Hand me the instrument and I’ll crank out that tune for you.” This often leads to a firm grasp that threatens to overshadow the delicacies and beauties and quirks of the individual instrument, assuming that what has once worked will always work, and to simply keep hammering even as the instrument groans with a desire to be more fully tuned before such a difficult melody is attempted.

It is much more challenging to approach the instrument with trembling hands and say “Yes. This is something I once knew how to do. I can be part of creating beauty here. The patterns and chords and melody are all familiar to me, and I know what this beautiful instrument should sound like at its best. But before we even start, we have to take time for the strings. We have to check each one, slowly and carefully, and make sure that it rings true, pure, and clear.” So often, in seeking to create and dream, live and hope, challenge and encourage, we skip the tuning step. We forget that it does not matter how many patterns and progressions and theory we know. If the strings have not been tuned, our music will always be devoid of beauty and clarity.

And so, in seeking to continue moving forward, I am reminded that the life patterns and technical proficiencies and skills I have acquired on the journey will mean very little if the strings at the heart of the instrument have fallen out of tune. Slowly and deliberately, I want to retune every string so that it rings true with the heart of the Creator whose song is the only true melody in my soul. I pray that as the tuning draws closer to the intended notes, the song which bursts forth would surpass the dull plodding of answers and routines, muscle memory and technical knowledge, and begin to glow with the bright hope of a sure heart and a resounding joy.

 

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Written by Taylor Webster

September 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Where There Is Darkness, Let There Be Light

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Wake up, wake up, Oh sleeper from the dead, Wake up
Rejoice you lonely and lost, you sick and despised, all will be made right.

Our cultural mythology is saturated with images of awakening what has long been asleep, welcoming home the lost and lonely, and reclaiming beauty from dust. When I saw Gungor in concert at the House of Blues in San Diego, the senses of awakening, welcoming, and reclaiming were powerfully present. It ranks as one of the most beautiful live entertainment experiences I’ve ever had. As I was riding home from the concert, there was so much in my head and on my heart. I struggled earlier in the night to find words to tell my friends how I was feeling, so I searched my purse for a pen, and unable to find one I began writing a text to myself in a desperate effort to express myself. Here’s what came out. It’s a bit raw, but I think it says a bit of what I mean:

The sheer joy of joining with the original creator(s) in the live act of creation. The redemption of all things. The pain of years of awful music, the ache of years of empty art. A celebration in the most beautiful way of the God who enters into relationship with our despicable broken selves. The pure heart of one whose scars speak of healing and restoration, of making all things new through the grace at the foot of the cross/throne, the message that it didn’t end with it all being easy or clear or resolved, but with a profound sense that it had all been worth it. The art elevated it above other experiences, and the passion to partner with Christ in creation was awe inspiring. The willingness to lay such powerful and profitable gifts at the foot of the cross was more than they could have easily been asked to give. It’s not about celebrity worship, it’s about welcoming the estranged patellas back into the body and giving the stiffened limbs freedom to move, to once again dance with joy and passion before the king.

To me, this somehow managed to say everything it needed to say. But for those who don’t live inside my mind (ok, that’s everyone!) I’d like to explain a bit more.

This concert spoke to aches and deep pains I’ve carried for a long time. I’ve written before about how I’ve often been frustrated with the quality of musicianship in church music. I remember going to churches growing up and coming home in tears because the music was so far from reflecting the passion and beauty that was the God I longed to see. On the other side, I’ve gone to dozens of “secular” concerts and been floored by the quality of the music and production, but ultimately left feeling unfulfilled. The music awakened an ache to connect to something beautiful, but never quite followed through with an answer. To see the band which has made some of the most beautiful worship music I’ve ever heard playing in a mainstream concert venue like the House of Blues was wonderfully redemptive, speaking into the desire to see God and music working together rather than being at odds with each other.

Why see this concert live, rather than just keep listening to the CD by myself? Partnership. Community. A sense that something beautiful was created in that moment, never to be replicated, and that the live act of creation was a partnership between the band and the audience and the creator of all things. And being able to witness the incredible musical gifts of the entire band (lead guitar, bass, drums, banjo, cellos, violin, keyboards, glockenspiel, and all the other cameo instruments) made me realize – they don’t have to be doing this. All of these people are talented enough to be able to headline a successful indie rock band if they were willing to live under a different banner, write songs about relationships and why they’re great and why they’re tough and why bars are awesome. But that’s not the life they chose. They took their gifts, and they did something that mattered. That was humbling and inspiring.

The structure of the concert – four movements from Creation, The Fall, The Bride, and Re-Creation, was a powerful heart journey. Not all of it was easy to swallow. The beauty was present, but so were the scars. The journey through our triumphs and failures made it clearer to see that every part had been absolutely essential to the whole, worth the pain even. By the time they returned to sing “Beautiful Things” as an encore, I had a new understanding of what it means to be in relationship with a God who makes beautiful things out of us. How even in the midst of the most acute awareness of our brokenness, He is creating life out of chaos, reminding us that this is not the end, and guiding us to the messiah who will make all things new.

When I was first writing I didn’t know why I picked the patella for an analogy, it was simply the first part to come to my mind. As I continued tapping letters into my phone, I realized that in many ways, the patella is exactly what the arts often become to the life of the church. A body part that is never the first to come to mind or the one all the heroic stories are written about, but which serves a beautifully vital role in the life of the whole. Yes, we can clump around on our stiffened limbs all we want, plodding through life in a utilitarian, functional manner, pretending we never feel the urge to bend. But isn’t life so much more beautiful when we bend our knees? Beautiful music bends our knees in all sorts of ways – calling us into reverent moments of awe and wonder, and giving us the freedom to dance and allow our bodies to say what our mouths cannot. My prayer is that we will not simply keep music as part of a checklist, or ever take it for granted, but that we would allow it to call us to bend our knees, in reverence, and in joy.

And that the music would always be there to remind us that this is not the end.

Written by Taylor Webster

March 19, 2012 at 11:28 am

Three Album Heart

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I think a lot about art and faith. How our culture mashes them together, and how it tries to tear them apart.  While writing this I went to the website of a Contemporary Christian Music radio station, and was greeted by a  challenge to listen to nothing but “Christian” music for thirty days and see how my life would be uplifted and inspired. And I thought “Oh. Ok CCM station. You tell me exactly what Christian Music is. And I’ll totally do it. Can I still listen to Sigur Ros? The Decemberists? Mumford and Sons? What about LMFAO in hip-hop class? Or Taylor Swift with my pals who have an inexplicable love for sappy country ballads? Or those Guinness-swiggin’, kilt-wearin’ heroes of Irish Rock, Enter the Haggis? Where do I draw the line?”

Because here’s the danger with labels. They’re exclusive. Anytime you try to define what something is, you usually define what it isn’t. So when we say that there’s one radio station on the market playing Christian music, we’re also automatically saying that whatever we exclude from the station isn’t Christian. Whatever else out there is dangerous, so you better keep the dial on CCM109.3 24/7. And that’s just not the way music works. A desire to engage with the arts should come from a desire to expand your horizons, not to narrow them.

This post was inspired by my attempt today to sum up the music I love as a gift for a dear friend. Because she doesn’t buy much music for herself, I had to make  three CDs to cover all I wanted to share. Each volume came out to a particular theme. Yes, theme as in label as in what I ‘m railing against. But people like categories. So stick with it.

The first volume was called “Church Music.” It had all of that that big, sweeping, anthemic, super-chorus stuff we love to sing really loud in big groups, and which could probably be found on a CCM station and in the Sunday service of many an American church. And I do love that stuff. I do. There’s nothing quite like corporate worship, gathering to loudly declare who we are and what we believe, in waves of stirring, encouraging affirmation. This disc had tracks which have all been close to my heart and lead to intimate moments in a corporate worhship setting. Some favorites are Mighty to Save by Hillsong United, You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham, and of course, How He Loves by John Mark McMillan. These songs are beautiful, passionate, and inspirational, most with a decided and intentional upward swing. And they’re written to be sung by groups of people who are reading the lyrics off of a slide projector, often led by a band of volunteer with a basic guitar/bass/drum set up. In short. They’re written to be sung on Sunday morning. And just as the world has always needed psalms and hymns, there will always be a place for church music with memorable choruses and poetic verses. It can truly be a beautiful experience.

The second volume was called “Heart Music.” It featured the songs which have been closest to my heart in the last few months and may never have been played on any radio station that isn’t publicly funded. These songs met me in dark places and spoke hope, reassurance, and solidarity into my heart. Some are by Christian artist. Most aren’t. But all are remarkably honest and beautiful in their own way. From unreleased Mumford & Sons gems like Sister and Lover of the Light to the folksy brilliance of Wagon Wheel by OCMS and Down in the Valley by The Head and the Heart, from the ethereal, hopeful wonder of Med Sud I Eyrum by Sigur Ros to the deep faith of  Audrey Assad’s piano ballad, The House You’re Building, this playlist is much more sonically diverse. The musical styles don’t all quite match up. Some sing about God directly. Some indirectly. Some not at all. Some of the lyrics speak of being lost and sad and alone. But somehow, because they dare to encounter these lower depths, their ascent to the highest, most exuberant peaks seems more honest. More real. More like the life I encounter every day. The raw human desires for peace, belonging, homecoming, and acceptance pervade the work of the many secular artists I grew up listening to. Everyone’s heart music is different, but there’s something about music that we allow into places of our self that nothing else can touch.

I made a third CD, filled with music that couldn’t be confined to either of the previous discs. This one was simply called Gungor. Partially because I wanted my friend to have the entire Ghosts Upon the Earth album and couldn’t bear to parcel out the tracks, but also because what I think Gungor is trying to do is vitally important. They’re looking to a generation of folks who were raised to distrust the musical shallowness and dishonesty they’ve encountered in radio-driven tunes (this isn’t just in CCM. Think about Top 40, country, hip-hop, pop, rock….they’ve all had their insipid moments) and who have turned instead to the honest creativity of  independently-fueled heart music. This generation is serious about God, but also knows that a lot of CCM stops short of what music can be. We long for music inspired by an infinite, passionate, overwhelming creator to hint at the redemption we have yet to fully experience. We ache for music written by other people to explain to us what it means to be human. And we gravitate towards music which tells the story of the interweaving of God’s beauty and our brokenness. To me, that’s what Gungor is all about. It’s not just the brilliant musical composition and deeply insightful lyrics. There are several bands I revere for those qualities. It’s that the music takes me beyond worship of the art itself into the vibrant, living presence of the eternal creator who made all things possible.

Music, like all art, isn’t inherently good or bad in and of itself. It is a vehicle which allows us to unleash and connect with a transcendence it is harder to encounter in an artless world. It is a tool. And, like all tools, the responsibility for damage or edification lies with the user. So I’m going to be a responsible consumer. I’m still going to listen to church music. I’m still going to listen to heart music. I may even get my groove on to some radio Top 40 every once in a while. And if I’ve learned anything from my encounter with Gungor, it’s to appreciate God flowing through all of it, transcending time and tempo and tradition to connect our hearts with His. And that’s worth celebrating.

(Michael Gungor’s  blog post, found here, inspired a lot of this line of thinking. Check it out. http://gungormusic.com/#!/2011/11/zombies-wine-and-christian-music/)

If you’re throwing a party – here are my “Heart Music” and “Church Music” Playlists.

HEART MUSIC

1)      Don’t Carry it All…………………….…….The Decemberists

2)      Helplessness Blues………………………………..Fleet Foxes

3)      Lover of the Light…………………………Mumford and Sons

4)      New Earth……………………………………….…….Zerbin

5)      Sister………………………………………Mumford and Sons

6)      Home is Not Places………………………..The Apache Relay

7)      The House You’re Building……………….……..Audrey Assad

8)      Down in the Valley……….………….The Head and the Heart

9)      Slow Your Breath Down………..………….Future of Forestry

10)  Orphan Girl……………………………………Horse Feathers

11)  Timothy Hay………………………..…………mewithoutYou

12)  The Perpetual Self, Or

“What Would Saul Alinsky Do?”……………….Sufjan Stevens

13)  Hold On to What You Believe…………….Mumford and Sons

14)  Wagon Wheel………………………Old Crow Medicine Show

15)  He Woke Me Up Again…………………………Sufjan Stevens

16)  Med Sud I Eyrum…………………………………….Sigur Ros

17)  Timshel……………………………………Mumford and Sons

18)  Sons & Daughters……………….………….The Decemberists

19)  Old Joy……………………………..…….Noah and the Whale

 CHURCH MUSIC

1)      Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) ………….Chris Tomlin

2)      Our God………………………………..……….Chris Tomlin

3)      Manifesto…………………………………..The City Harmonic

4)      Give me Faith………………………..……..Elevation Worship

5)      How He Loves……………………….…..John Mark McMillan

6)      I Will Waste My Life…………………….……..Misty Edwards

7)      You Won’t Relent………………………………Misty Edwards

8)      Marvelous Light……………………………..……Charlie Hall

9)      Mighty to Save (Live)…………………..……..Hillsong United

10)  The Stand (Live)…………………….……..…..Hillsong United

11)  You’re Beautiful…………………………………Phil Wickham

12)  Twenty Three………………………….……..Aaron Strumpel

13)  Centuries……………………………….…….Aaron Strumpel

Written by Taylor Webster

January 4, 2012 at 12:50 am

New Music Monday!

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Listening to banjo music and dreaming of Kentucky. It’s only 40 days away.

Thank you, Horse Feathers, for providing an excellent dose of perspective and some lovely study music.

Written by Taylor Webster

May 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm

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As promised, it’s New Music Monday!

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It’s been a while. But it seems the general theme of New Music Monday used to be hope. So we’re going to continue in the vein. It’s nice to see an almost entirely hopeful album from a band that’s written some of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard.

This one’s called “Waiting for my Chance to Come” by Noah and the Whale.

Enjoy

It’s encouraging to hear, especially going out into a summer that’s a blank slate of possibilities and unknowns.

Well it takes real guts to be alone
Going head to head with the great unknown
But there is no sweeter sound, on the kings round I’m bound
And just waiting for your chance to come

Your immortal smile is burned in me
When I close my eyes its all see
Among the canyons and the stars
You’re the guide inside my heart
I’m just waiting for my chance to come

Written by Taylor Webster

April 25, 2011 at 10:57 pm

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New Music Monday!

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Sorry I missed last week. I didn’t have internet. To clue you in as to where I was…

This song defines the last week of my life. I’m working on a post to describe the incredible things that have been happening, but in the meantime, this song is the closest thing to doing it justice.

I present: Festival by Sigur Ros. One of the most beautiful musical journeys I’ve ever taken

I’ve confessed to being a lyrics person. For those of you who are, and may not connect to the Hopelandic tones, I urge you. Listen to the whole thing. Don’t skip ahead. Don’t stop halfway through. Just put your headphones on and close your eyes for ten minutes. Feel the meaning behind words you don’t understand. See the piece as a journey. I see it as mine.

For me, this song and its place in my heart can be summed up by these words:

Your grief will turn to joy. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy. – John 17: 20,22

What a thing to hope for, isn’t it?

Written by Taylor Webster

March 21, 2011 at 11:02 pm

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New Music (Tuesday!)

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Trying to get back on the bandwagon of sharing music as I find it, I’d like to post a song I found today. It’s been out for a couple of years. When I heard it today (I’ve been linking through Americana-Style music videos, wistfully imagining what life could be like if I was able to attend the Railroad Revival Tour  http://railroadrevivaltour.com) I was struck by the honesty and simplicity of the lyrics. If you haven’t caught on yet. I’m a lyrics person.

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
And in the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

I’m also really big on hope. What I believe is key to remember is that there are those who don’t see the darkness, those who are filled with doubt and see their dreams in cages. But there are also those who flood the darkness in light, demand the birds be free, and fight despair at all costs. There are two sides to every story. A battle is constantly being fought. It’s easy to forget that when you’re in the middle of one, but it is really, vitally true.

I present Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise, by The Avett Brothers:

Written by Taylor Webster

March 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

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