Music-making

When the new semester started a few weeks ago, I thought I was going to hate Tuesdays.

Wake up at 7:30am, hour-long commute to school, piano lesson at 10am, 2-hour studio class at 3pm (almost entirely in Korean), then hour-long commute to the prayer tabernacle to practice and then serve from 8-10pm.

But after “enduring” two of these Tuesdays, I have to say that I love/hate Tuesdays.

I was pretty much as exhausted as I could possibly imagine being this past Tuesday. I literally couldn’t stop my eyes from closing as I leaned against a conveniently located tree while waiting for the bus at about 6pm. And when I finally got home sometime after 11pm, I was so tired, I couldn’t go to bed right away. (Does anyone else ever need to unwind from their exhaustion?)

But in the midst of all that weariness, I felt inspired and alive.

It’s because Tuesdays are my music-making days.

First I get to make music in precise, do-exactly-what-is-indicated-in-the-score classical music mode, then I get to make music in free-flowing, spontaneous worshipful improvising mode. So completely different, but both so awesome. And each helps me be better at the other.

After (almost officially) setting a date for my Spring piano recital, I was getting stressed out last week. I felt like I wasn’t going to be ready. Not giving a recital began to seem like an appealing option. Better to not do a recital if I couldn’t do it well.

I had to ask myself: What level of excellence in music is “good enough”?

I got clarity on Tuesday. (Surprise, surprise.)

During studio class, my teacher said that music is 감동 (gam-dong).

Gam-dong is feeling or emotion. Music is supposed to move people. If it’s not evoking some kind of emotion, it’s not really music.

Once she said it, it seemed obvious. But sometimes when you are too close to something, you lose sight of what it actually is.

So I adjusted my view of my recital: I needed to master my pieces well enough that I didn’t need to focus on the technical aspects and I could simply make music. The standard was still high. The standard was still subjective. But somehow I felt encouraged. This standard was worth working for.

It wasn’t about my reputation. It wasn’t about appealing to my audience’s tastes. It was about the truth and power of the music itself.

I was motivated afresh to pick apart and perfect every detail of my pieces.

Then I went to the prayer tabernacle and sang up front for the first time.

I should have been nervous. I could have been terrified. What the heck am I doing up here singing spontaneous songs to God? But instead, I felt at peace, because I knew exactly why I was there.

I was ministering to the Lord.

 

Knowing that set me free to enjoy myself. Quite a lot.

Making music with other people is so refreshing for a solo pianist. And singing whatever melodies and words came into my head completely spontaneously (but in the flow of what the other singers and musicians were doing) was incredibly fun.

I was relying solely on my ear and my intuition. And good stuff was coming out. It was really cool. (I want to take some of that back to my classical piecesㅡI should play with as much freedom as if I were spontaneously writing the music.)

And then not only that, but we were singing out truth and worshiping the God who is worthy and inspiring each other as we sang.

The exhilarating part of music-making is the unexpected discoveries.

Even when all the notes are written down on the page ahead time.. you play them, and something touches you in a surprising way. Even a melody you have heard a hundred times.. you get in the flow, sing it with all your heart, and new understanding floods you. (Not to mention how other people can get unexpectedly touched listening to the music you are making.)

Sometimes, because I was a music major and had to give recitals and pass adjudications, I start to see music as a job, as a series of tasks. But it’s nothing like that. Discipline is required for excellence, of course. But music is so much more than something you master.

There is something magical about music. And I will never cease to be amazed by it.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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