The Language of Heaven

I play in a crazy/chill/fun/usually-low-stress community orchestra at my university.  It’s entirely student-run, and rehearsals are not even remotely “mandatory,” so the quality of performance can be…interesting…at times (eg, when the pianist gets a measure ahead for twenty whole bars, completely ignoring the conductor’s frantic attempts to rein him in.  Or when there are three trombones, but one of them–me–is actually a euphonium, and all of them refuse to play the first trombone part because that would entail practicing.)  I could have auditioned for the “real” orchestra or for the concert band, but a) I don’t like having to prep for auditions/performances b) My primary is euphonium, not trombone or tuba (and certainly not trumpet), which can be a problem for voicing c) I have a penchant for not practicing as much as I should and d) music isn’t exactly my biggest strength, so I end up needing to practice more than some people.

As I’m thinking about it right now, I’m just so happy that I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn pretty much whatever instrument(s) I’ve desired (or not desired so much, as it were with piano when I was little).  I’m so thankful that my mother put up with her little Asian daughter wanting not to play flute or something decent like that, but trumpet…and then euphonium…and then tuba (On top of having pneumonia, I might add.  Yes, I had pneumonia during my first month or so on tuba.  I lost the second half of my cross country season to the darn bug, but it didn’t stop me from forcefully expelling air into a large piece of metal.)  I do wonder what she would have said if I’d wanted to play percussion, though.

I’m happy where I am, though, even if it does sound less cool to tell people that I’m in a not-for-credit student-run community orchestra than in the symphony orchestra or whatever.  For example, we get to vote on our music.  That means we get to play all the fun music we didn’t get to play in high school because the band director didn’t like the composer (eg, music from The Lord of the Rings).  (Don’t get me wrong, I had a great high school band experience.  I just really, really, really wanted to play LOTR, but the teacher didn’t like the soundtrack for some reason).  Last night we played music from Pirates of the Caribbean, and were accompanied by two members of the fencing club who staged a sword fight in front of the stage.  (The last time they played Pirates, apparently they had all the members wear eyepatches.  Unfortunately, they hadn’t rehearsed that way before, and it turned out that it’s actually quite difficult to read music and watch the conductor with only one eye.)

I actually played really well at the dress rehearsal and concert last night.  Music doesn’t always work out that way: your peak performance doesn’t always land on the right day.  Sometimes it just never really comes together for a piece.  But despite only going to about half of the sixteen or so rehearsals this semester, I feel like I played pretty well.  Mostly, though, I felt like I was in the presence of God.  I don’t know why, because nothing we played was even remotely religious and our intonation wasn’t exactly angelic, but playing/hearing as everything came together honestly felt like a time of worship.  I don’t really know how to describe it, except that I think that music is the language of Heaven come down to earth.

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“If You Want Me To”

The pathway is broken and the signs are unclear
And I don’t know the reason why You brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do
I’m gonna walk through the valley if You want me to

‘Cause I’m not who I was when I took my first step
And I’m clinging to the promise You’re not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
Then I will go through the fire if You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that’s not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I’d never go alone

So when the whole world turns against me and I’m all by myself
And I can’t hear You answer my cries for help
I’ll remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will go through the darkness if You want me to

When I cross over Jordan, I’m gonna sing, gonna shout
I’m gonna look into Your eyes and see, You never let me down
So take me on the pathway that will lead me home to You
And I will walk through the valley if You want me to
Yes, I will walk through the valley if You want me to

~Ginny Owens

Prayer of the Children

A further reflection the events of the past week.  This song was written by Kurt Bestor who served as a Mormon missionary to Serbia in the 1970s, one of the many periods of conflict and violence throughout Eastern Europe.  Lyrics follow.

Can you hear the prayer of the children?
On bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
Turning heavenward toward the light

Crying Jesus, help me
To see the morning light-of one more day
But if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take

Can you feel the hearts of the children?
Aching for home, for something of their very own
Reaching hands, with nothing to hold on to,
But hope for a better day a better day

Crying Jesus, help me
To feel the love again in my own land
But if unknown roads lead away from home,
Give me loving arms, away from harm

Can you hear the voice of the children?
Softly pleading for silence in a shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
Blood of the innocent on their hands

Crying Jesus, help me
To feel the sun again upon my face,
For when darkness clears I know you’re near,
Bringing peace again

Dali cujete sve djecje molitive?
Can you hear the prayer of the children?

Second Sunday of Advent: Christmas Music

One thing I miss about my high school is teachers saying, “I’ll pray while you start the test” or “Let’s pray before we start lecture” or “Come on, stand up, they’re about to do the Lord’s Prayer on announcements.”  Every once in a while, a professor here says something that reminds me of the way a teacher would get ready to pray, and it throws me for a loop.

Another thing I miss is getting to play real Christmas music in band.  I’m in a community orchestra now, and in our concert yesterday, we played music from Titanic, Michael Jackson, and The Lord of the Rings, as well as some classical pieces like “Pines of Rome” and “Berceuse and Finale” (coincidentally, they’re both in the 2000 version of Fantasia–the whale scene and the after-the-volcano scene, respectively).  The only vaguely Christmas-y thing we played was the suite from “The Nutcracker.”  I miss getting to play things that talk about what Christmas actually means, even if obtusely.

Yesterday was a busy day musically.  Before my orchestra concert, I played in a TubaChristmas concert, which, as I mentioned in last week’s post, includes a lot of religious music.  As I play, it was incredible to think about the words behind the songs–and how people of so many different religions, creeds, worldviews, and belief systems around the US and around the world were playing that exact set of music. I wonder how many people knew the words, or what they meant.

TubaChristmas 2012

TubaChristmas 2012

The concert itself probably sounded interesting.  110+ tubas, baritones, and euphoniums, plus one sousaphone and an antique helicon played by musicians ranging in age from eleven to 76 made for an interesting choir.  The facts that half the people there probably hadn’t played since last year’s TubaChristmas and that we performed in a noisy mall with a three-story vaulted ceiling made life a little more exciting.  But one of the coolest parts was the people I got to meet.  I went by myself, which meant that I got to interact with a lot more people than had I gone with a little group of friends.  In rehearsal, I sat next to two seventh graders, one of whom appeared to be adopted from Asia and reminded me quite a bit of my own seventh grade self.  I met a nice gentleman and his wife who looked to be in their sixties who gave me a lift as I was walking with my euphonium and they were lost looking for the rehearsal building.  (Yes, I know, I know–don’t accept rides with from strangers.  But when it’s an elderly couple and there’s a tuba visible in the back seat and you’re carrying a euphonium case and you’re looking for a tuba festival…it’s probably an okay time to break the golden rule of stranger danger.)  As I walked from the rehearsal site to catch the metro to the performance location, a band director with three girls from her high school band picked me up. (I did recognize them from the rehearsal, so it seemed safe enough).  One of the girls played tuba, one played euphonium, and one was just there for moral support for her girlfriend (the euphonium player).  The first two were seniors and the last had graduated either last year or the year before.  I ended up spending my lunch break with them, and they turned out to be pretty cool people.  Apparently, they’ve been going every year since seventh grade.  The tuba player had a chronic case of the hiccups and apparently needs to get an MRI to make sure she doesn’t have a tumor on her brain stem (or something like that).  I have no idea how she plays tuba with the hiccups–I’ve tried, and it’s really, really difficult.  The euphonium player wanted to go to Claire’s to get earrings, for some reason.  The girlfriend had a great sense of humor.  After carrying the tuba around the mall to the food court (the rest of us had cases and left our instruments in the staging area), we sat and adorned it with lights, pipe cleaners, and ornaments for the decorated-instrument competition (it won, quite deservedly).  I’m not sure why I told you all that, except that it was amusing.

So I guess this post was a lot less deep and a lot more rambling than last week’s.  I’m getting together a good one (I hope) for next week, though, so stay tuned.

First Sunday of Advent: What Child is This?

My goal for this Advent season is to post each Sunday.  We’ll see if that actually happens…

I’m playing in TubaChristmas, which, despite being a “secular” event, features a lot of religious Christmas carols.  I was rehearsing the music and came upon “Greensleeves,” also known by its lyric name, “What Child is This?”  That song has become a sort of recurring theme over the past few days.  It’s been played on the radio, on my Grooveshark station, in church.  I’ve always been fond of the tune (I’m a sucker for traditional melodies), but I’ve always sort of brushed the lyrics aside.  To me, “laid to rest” is the phrase you use when someone dies and the word “ass” brings back memories of giggling in church during junior high.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about it more.  One thing I noticed when I looked up the lyrics to post here was that most renditions remove the lines “Nails, spear shall pierce him through, / The Cross be borne for me, for you” and replace them with something more Christmas-y.  I knew this was a fairly common practice (for example, “We Three Kings” usually has verses sung about gold and frankincense, but rarely myrrh–turns out, the verse about myrrh talks about “gathering gloom,” “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,” and a “stone-cold tomb”), but I wasn’t aware it had been applied to this carol in specific.  I’m not sure whether I like that, though.  I understand: this is Christmas, not Good Friday.  We want Christmas music to be happy and Good Friday music to be somber.  But Christmas means nothing without Good Friday.

Another thing I’ve come to realize is that a lot of people really do ask “What Child is this?”  My life thus far has had a fairly Christian background–church, Christian neighbors, Christian school, Awanas, a lot of Christian cross country friends, etc.  I’ve had people tell me about their experiences with college roommates or other peers who are into Christmas but truly don’t understand its meaning (e.g., asking a Jewish person, completely naively, why they don’t celebrate Christmas).  I believed them, but it seems that I didn’t fully understand what they meant.  I do now.  People love the presents and the food and the family and the shopping and the vacation time and the whatever else–but they don’t love the Cause.  They don’t know who/what the Cause is.  They don’t know the Cause.  I can’t claim that I fully know Him either, but I know who He is.  Truly, they are asking “What Child is this?”  I can only hope that my life reflects just a little bit of the answer.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh
Come, peasant, king, to own Him!
The King of Kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!
Raise, raise the song on high!
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy! joy! for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Apparently, nobody sings the verse about nails and a spear, so I settled with my favorite interpretation.

On another note, I find the adapted lyrics by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to be quite thought provoking.  I’m not including the narration, just because it’s so long, but without context, it’s hard to appreciate the lyrics of the melodic portion, so here’s a link.

What Child is this
Who laid to rest
That I now find here sleeping?
Do angels keep the dreams we seek
While our hearts lie bleeding?

Could this be Christ the king
Whose every breath the angels bring?
Could this be the face of god, this child, the son i once carried?

What Child is this
Who is so blessed he changes all tomorrows?
Replacing tears with reborn years
In hearts once dark and hollow

Could this be Christ the king
Whose every breath the angels bring?
Could this be the face of god, this child, the son i once carried?

In the dead of the night
As his life slips away
As he reads by the light
Of a star faraway

Holding on
Holding off
Holding out
Holding in

Could you be this old
And have your life just begin?

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day

Tell me how many times can this story be told
After all of these years it should all sound so old
But it somehow rings true in the back of my mind
As i search for a dream that words can no longer define

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
And the time
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day

And the time and the years
And the tears and the cost
And the hopes and the dreams
Of each child that is lost
And the whisper of wings
In the cold winter’s air
As the snow it comes down
And visions appear everywhere

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
In the air
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day

In the dead of the night
As his life slips away
As he reads by the light
Of a star faraway

Holding on
Holding off
Holding out
Holding in

Could you be this old
And have your life just begin

Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins
Reading by the light of a lost Christmas day
It begins

Uncertainty

Tell me when the time we had slipped away
Tomorrow turned to yesterday
And I don’t know how
Tell me what can stop this river of tears
It’s been building up for years
For this moment now

Here I stand
Arms open wide
I’ve held you close
Kept you safe
‘Til you could fly

Tell me where the road ahead is gonna bend
And how to harness up the wind
And how to say goodbye

Tell me why
Why does following your dreams
Take you far away from me
And I knew that it would

Tell me how to feel the space you left behind
And how to laugh instead of cry
And how to say goodbye

Here I stand
Arms open wide
I’ve held you close
Kept you safe
‘Til you could fly

Tell me where the road ahead is gonna bend
And how to harness up the wind

~Michael W. Smith, “How to Say Goodbye”

This Is Not the End

This is not the end, this is not the beginning…
we’re holding onto something that’s invisible there…
Until we dead it, forget it, let it all disappear
Waiting for the end to come…
It’s out of my control
Flying at the speed of light
Thoughts were spinning in my head
So many things were left unsaid…
I know what it takes to move on…
All I want to do
Is trade this life for something new
Holding on to what I haven’t got
Sitting in an empty room
Trying to forget the past
This was never meant to last
I wish it wasn’t so…
What was left when that fire was gone
I thought it felt right but that right was wrong
All caught up in the eye of the storm
And trying to figure out what it’s like moving on…
So I’m picking up the pieces, now where to begin
The hardest part of ending is starting again
~Linkin Park, “Waiting for the End”

You might say I’m a control freak.  I’m a quiet person, never the sort to run for student council or be on a leadership committee (I tried once, it didn’t work out very well), but I like being in charge.  I like bearing myself with an air of confidence and a (slight) carriage of arrogance.  How much of it, though, is merely a façade meant to cover my deficiencies and insecurities?

Do you know what’s worth fighting for?
When it’s not worth dying for?
Does it take your breath away and you feel yourself suffocating?
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?…
When you’re at the end of the road
And you lost all sense of control
And your thoughts have taken their toll
When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul
Your faith walks on broken glass and the hangover doesn’t pass
Nothing’s ever built to last
~Green Day, “21 Guns”

Everything is changing.  I leave for university in less than 48 hours (Ahck!  I have to pack!).  So much of what I’ve built up in the past eighteen years is being pulverized to sand.  Relationships, places, ethos, memories, habits.  What of that which I have made has any worth, any inherent meaning?

Just because everything’s changing
Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
As you head off to the war
Pick a star on the dark horizon and follow the light…
Now we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes
You’ll come back when they call you
No need to say goodbye
~Regina Spektor, “The Call”

Ground into sand, perhaps.  But what I’ve had and who I’ve been still exist, albeit in a state of metamorphosis.  Tested in the fires of the kiln of transition, some of the sands will survive, heated into white-hot liquid, one day to be cooled into burnished glass.

I’ve become who I am–confident and deficient, arrogant and insecure–not only because of the choices I’ve made, but also because of those who’ve surrounded me and the atmosphere they’ve created.

I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason.
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are lead to those,
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return…
So much of me,
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me,
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end,
I know you’ll have rewritten mine,
By being my friend…
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better,
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
~Steven Schwartz, “For Good”

Thank you, thank you so much, to those who have touched my life in the past eighteen years, the past thirteen years, the past four years, and especially this last year.  Thank you for the times you’ve laughed with me and cried with me (metaphorically, anyhow, at least on my part), struggled with me and yelled at me, listened to me and talked with me, encouraged me and advised me; prayed with me and prayed for me.  Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself; thank you for covering my back when I couldn’t do so for myself, much less for anybody else in return; thank you for correcting me when I was wrong; thank you for loving me when I was a jerk; thank you for trusting me when I wasn’t trustworthy; thank you for letting me trust you when I was too afraid to trust anybody–and for not being offended when it was obvious that I didn’t trust you, either.

For my own lack of eloquence, perhaps the words of others best describe my sentiments.  I went out for coffee with a friend yesterday, and what she said encapsulates my vision of friendship: “I’m here for you.  I’ll be here to be quiet when you want, or to talk at you when you want.  No judgment, only love.”  And, though, I know it’s hokey to quote (what is essentially) a soap opera, in Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith tells Cristina, “I know you that don’t want to talk about it.  But I’m here, so I just want to stay on the phone with you until you want to hang up.  I’m here.  I’m here.”  I, for one, rarely want to talk about whatever the current “it” is; thank you, to those of you who have been my Meredith.

This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider
And you know you’ll be alright
~Gungor, “This Is Not the End”