Reflecting on music and faith

As someone who’s recently signed up as a new FiSch Fellow, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and my interests. I’m a musician and music lecturer based in York, and I enjoy the kind of ‘portfolio career’ that’s becoming increasingly common for those involved in academia, and especially in the arts. I work variously as a music lecturer, piano accompanist, instrumental teacher, ensemble coach and oboist, with an assortment of other music-related odd jobs popping in from time to time as demand dictates. Demand is high at the moment, as the university’s end-of-term concerts loom, marking starts to build up, pupils enter for summertime instrumental exams, and students gear up for final recitals, hunting around for a pianist willing to accompany them. ‘Scholarship’ for me thus covers a broad range of activities: as well as reading, writing, thinking and teaching, it involves the day-to-day physical activity of practice, rehearsals and performances, as well as listening to, arranging and sometimes composing music.

It’s good to have a moment to step back from this day-to-day activity and think about what it really means to serve God as a musician – and particularly as an ‘academic musician’ (or a ‘musical academic’, or a ‘musical scholar’ – I can’t say I’ve got the terminology sorted yet!). I find the challenge when things get busy is to keep an awareness of the connection between all these different activities, and their basis in the gifts and calling of God. Rather than resenting yet another rehearsal because it takes time from my writing, it’s important for me to remember what that a rehearsal is a gracious, communal act – a musician putting in time to help to serve the composer whose music they are playing. The same goes for performance – part of a musician’s calling to serve their community by sharing their gifts with them – and, more obviously, for teaching. Of course, as someone called to make music for Jesus, it’s not really surprising that when I am able to engage with these activities with the right kind of mentality, I find that it has a positive knock-on effect on my other scholarly activities, too.

I’m looking forward to being able to reflect further on serving God in the field of arts scholarship in future blog posts here, and in the process to get closer acquainted with some of the most important recent writings on theology and the arts. A few questions that I want to think about more as part of these blogs:

How does modern music, and modern art more generally, fit within a Christian worldview? (My PhD study revolved around recent music from a loosely avant-garde tradition, so it makes sense that this question would be important to me.)

What role(s) can artistic activity and artistic scholarship play in building the Kingdom of Heaven?

How can the common Biblical connection between music and communal worship feed into my musical activities day to day?

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on these topics, too, and other questions about the arts, music and faith that need considering.

Comments

Hello Mark
Thank you; its good to hear from an artist postgrad. I am a visual artist and I have just been listening to an interview ( I-Player BBC Radio 3, Music Matters Sat. 20th June, 12.15) with Murray Pariah who tells something of his journey relating it to modernism and tonality. The questions you raise at the close of your blog are in some way addressed, within the confines of a short interview; questions which any artist will be excited to wrestle with.
Regards,
Chris Murray.

Just left a comment and think i may have spelt Murray Periah’s name wrong!

Hi Chris, thanks for the comment – that’s really great! I’ll have to have a listen to that snippet of Murray Perahia (it’s a hard one to spell, isn’t it!) – I think it’s definitely a struggle many musicians and music-lovers can relate to, and one of my interests as a researcher is in the various ways that different composers have responded to the challenges of modernism and different approaches to tonality in the last 20-30 years. There’s some interesting links there with questions of faith and of the role of modernism within a Christian worldview too, and I’m hoping to explore those further in the future (possibly with reference to some interesting books on my shelf by Calvin Seerveld, Hans Rookmaaker and Jeremy Begbie!).

Look forward to exploring this.

With a view to the interests you mention in this blog, I guess you’d like one or two of the posts in a recent string of emails on ‘Thinknet’. It’s the latest from Janet Danielson that prompted this comment. She’s the author of a chapter (“Beautiful Harmony: Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and the American Musical Avant-Garde”) in Vol. 3 of the Kuyper Center Review and she teaches in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I’ll forward the string to your email address.

Great to learn about your callings, especially now that WYSOCS may call you a FiSch Fellow! Our Events team hopes to draft a plan for the year ending July 31, 2016. Would you ring me about our LifeMatters programme – and supper?

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