When the semester started a few weeks ago, I thought I was going to hate Tuesdays. Wake up at 7:30am, hour subway/bus commute to school, piano lesson at 10am, 2-hour studio class at 3pm (in Korean), then hour subway/bus commute to the prayer tabernacle for practice, then serve at the prayer tabernacle from 8-10pm.
After “enduring” two of these Tuesdays, however, I have to say that I love/hate Tuesdays. I was as exhausted as I could possibly imagine 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 around 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 find they 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 classical music mode, then I get to make music in free-flowing, spontaneous worshipful improvising mode. So completely different, but both so awesome. And both make me better at the other.
Recitals, Stress, and “Excellence”
After almost officially setting a date for my spring piano recital last week, I got stressed out. I wasn’t going to be ready. It was going to be a nightmare. Maybe I shouldn’t give a recital at all. I asked myself a familiar question: What level of excellence would be “good enough”?
I got clarity on Tuesday. (Surprise, surprise.)
During studio class, the professor said that music is 감동 (gam-dong). Gam-dong: feeling or emotion. Music is emotion. Music is supposed to move people. If it doesn’t evoke emotion, it’s not really music. Once she said it, it was so obvious. Sometimes you get too close to something to see what it actually is.
So, I adjusted my view of my recital: I needed to master my pieces well enough that I could make music, that I could convey emotion. That’s it. The standard was still high. The standard was still subjective. But somehow I felt encouraged. This standard was worth working for. This 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. I was singing to God alone. Knowing that set me free to enjoy myself. Quite a lot.
Making music with other people is refreshing for a solo pianist. And singing whatever melodies and words came to me, spontaneously but also in the flow of what the other musicians were doing, was incredibly fun. The structure was removed, the stringent standards gone. My ear and my intuition were in charge. And good stuff was coming out! It was really cool. It made me want to bring that feeling of spontaneity into my classical pieces.
To top it all off, we were declaring truth and worshiping the God who is worthy of the most creative, beautiful, heart-felt songs we can make. What could be better than that?
The exhilaration of music-making is the unexpected discoveries. Even when all the notes are written down on the page ahead time, as you play them, something touches you in a surprising way. Even a melody you have heard a hundred times can seem new. You get in the flow, pour your heart into it, and new understanding floods you.
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 while discipline is required for excellence, music is so much more than something you master.
Music is magical. And I will never cease to be amazed by it.