Music is not enough: a strange tale of three musicians

Twenty-one years ago, despite my having strong support from the Head of Keyboard and the Head of Woodwind, Brass and Percussion, I was rejected by the Director of Music for entry into the sixth form (this is two years before university here in the UK) at Chetham’s School of Music. The name of the man who rejected me? Michael Brewer – currently serving a custodial sentence for the sexual abuse of some of his former pupils and stripped of his OBE.

Imagine: I would have been one of his former pupils; one of his protegés. And my heart goes out to all the many excellent musicians who really and honestly thought that he was a good guy; those who were given opportunities to grow and develop and fulfil their potential as musicians under his guidance – and especially at Chets. As it is, Michael Brewer is only a part of my story in the sense that his belief that I was not good enough to be with the other pupils that were going into his sixth-form that year meant that I ended up going to another school that I might not ever have considered – and my life has been so much better because I went there instead. My development as a musician would have been very different if he had said ‘yes’ – exponentially more focussed – but God has called me to do more than just be a great musician. But at the same time, He has also called me to be the best musician that I can be.Which adds to the strangeness of this tale.

~

In 1998, I took my very first trip to New York City for the sole purpose of spending time checking out the jazz scene. And I had the privilege of meeting a great number of my heroes in the music. One of them was the great piano player Kenny Kirkland – and I had no idea that four months later the ‘Doctone’ would be dead. It was not an overdose. It was not suicide. It was a complex physiological breakdown with heart failure at the centre. And this breakdown was due to the fact that he was a serious drug user – one who had refused medical attention despite the earnest entreaties of those closest to him in the music.

When he died, I went into mourning. And the hardest truth for me to accept was this: the music was not enough. The music was not enough. Despite having the level of artistry that feeds both heart and mind, he still needed dope, and did not see that he could ever be free.

~

Fifteen years later, the third musician of this strange tale took her own life after testifying against Michael Brewer. Her name: Frances Andrade, and she was by all accounts an amazing violin player. Raw and untutored, Brewer said ‘yes’ to her and his decision was vindicated. But it was not enough for him to be a teacher and mentor. He saw something in this girl that pushed buttons within him, and despite being married – and she being below age – and vulnerable in many ways due to the difficulties of her own earlier childhood – he followed his lust-fuelled sexual gratification and took the most precious gift a girl has – her feminine innocence – and gave her a tawdry substitute for affirmation and love.

For Michael Brewer, music was also not enough.

But for Frances Andrade, despite becoming a wife and mother of four children, and doing wonderful things as a violinist, playing amazing music with amazing musicians, the scars that were caused by the abuse inflicted upon her by Michael Brewer were just too much. But one of the worst things about her sad story (as far as I am concerned) is this: although she took her life two years ago, an investigation has shown that (yet again) the mental health services failed someone vulnerable and that her suicide was eminently preventable.

But as more and more people learn more and more about the healing propensities of music, the question can now be asked: surely, there would have been something therapeutic about being involved in such an amazingly emotive  – and spiritual – activity such as music?

Frances Andrade is dead – 35 years after she entered Chets thanks to Michael Brewer. She was two years short of her 50th birthday and now a family has lost its wife and mother.

Music was not enough to tame the savage passions of Frances’ abuser.

Music was not enough to heal and sustain Frances herself. It was not enough to keep her emotionally – and mentally. It was not enough to overcome the horrors of what she experienced. In my case, I was a 15-year-old who was not as advanced as pupils of that same age at Chets, and Michael Brewer said ‘no.’ For Frances, she was a 13-year-old who was not as advanced as pupils of that same age at Chets. Michael Brewer said ‘yes.’

Frances Andrade may well have been exponentially more talented than myself. I’m not getting into that. But I can only wonder – if Michael Brewer had said ‘no’ might she still have been alive today? Her gift for music opened a door for her. Michael Brewer – faced with the same type of decision that he had to make for me – gave her the gift of entering a music institution which recognised her talent and let her shine. But he took something essential away from her, and all those years later, even as she faced him in court, even if she embellished some aspects of how this abuse took place, the fact is that walking into Chets may have been the worst thing that ever happened to her. Without Chets, she may never have learned the Sibelius Violin Concerto or Ravel’s Tzigane. She may never have known that she could have been that good. But she may still have been alive.

Music was not enough to keep Kenny Kirkland away from drugs. It was not enough to live for. He refused to get help. Death came as a release. Whatever was in him, he was at his best playing the music. Only then was he free. But that ‘freedom’ was not enough.

~

I didn’t go to Chets. I didn’t get that musical education that I craved. And even after all these years, I have certain musical weaknesses that would not exist if I had been able to build a more solid foundation in terms of music education when I was still of school age. These days, I conduct the very music that Michael Brewer never thought I would, and for a long time I thought that I would give up jazz forever. As a result, I still have some unfulfilled business as a jazz pianist. I listen to Kenny Kirkland and realise how much work there is to do. If I live another decade, I will have lived longer than he did. But while he could never be a role model for young musicians as a wider human being, his essential faithfulness to his craft remains a rebuke to many of us jazz musicians.

I don’t have the baggage of Class A drug addictions. I don’t have the baggage of having had a patron and mentor who turned out to be such a terrible human being. But I know that not all of those who have been good to me have done right by other people in their lives. I have made many mistakes in my own life. God knows. Musicians know. People know. But for all the problems, there has been so much positivity and so much joy. And yes – success too, if not in ways that everyone would understand.

~

The most important lesson I have learned is that the music is not enough. BUT – the greatness of the God who has saved me from each of the fates that have befallen the three musicians in this story now means that I must leave no stone unturned to become the best musician that I can be – in the context of being the best version of me that I can be. That is the greatest ‘thank you’ present that I can give to God, and that He gets to be part of making it happen is even more special.

God will do that for you too – if you will let Him…

Would your defense stand up in court?

There is an old saying/question-type-vibe in the Christian world – and my version of it (today) goes thus:

“If legislation was passed within two minutes from the end of this question that I am now asking that made Christianity illegal, and withing three minutes of that law being passed the secret police were letting themselves into your living quarters to investigate you – would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Now, I am perfectly aware that this question is not analogically perfect.  Some of us have so much ‘Christian stuff’ that five minutes would not be enough to clear it before the “Gestapo” arrived. Others of us may be poor and not have much at all in the way of possessions – maybe only one Bible. And since when was a houseful of devotional books and commentaries a guaranteed sign of true Biblical Christianity? Or ‘holy’ objects?

To enter into semantic arguments about the universal applicability of this question is to miss the point of it completely. I will return to this question later in this post. However, please bear in mind that I am not engaged in academia in this moment; I am engaged in homiletics. I was doing my devotional earlier this morning, and I have come to share some of what came to me with you.

Now, there are many who do not like Ellen White – and that’s inside Adventism as well as outside. No problem – in that your position is your own prerogative. Skip to the next paragraph right now. But those interested, try this for size:

“Those who have not moral power cannot stand in defense of the truth…” (MYP 88).

Now, A.W. Tozer’s ministry output has been featured prominently here at the theomusicology blog. And when I read the sentence above this morning, I was reminded of something that I read in an absolutely incredible book called God’s pursuit of Man. At one point, Tozer quotes John Smith, saying that the “old divine [Smith] held that a pure life was absolutely necessary [my emphasis] to any real understanding of spiritual truth:

‘Divinity is not so much perceived by a subtle wit as by a purified sense.'”

Tozer continues by invoking Athanasius (google him), who closed a monumental treatise entitled The Incarnation of the Word of God in which he boldly attacks the difficult problems inherent in the doctrine of the incarnation. Tozer goes on to say:

“Yet so little does he [Athanasius] trust the human mind to comprehend divine mysteries that he closed his great work with a strong warning against a mere intellectual understanding of spiritual truth. His words should be printed in large type and tacked on the desk of every pastor and theological student [suddenly, I’m both of those] in the world:

‘But for the searching of of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, insofar as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mined and a modelling of life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints… He that would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul.'”

~

Look at what Athanasius is saying! “Honourable life” – “pure soul” – “Christ-like virtue” – that is the standard for those who would work in the ministry of the Word.

Oh, but wait…was not the Protestant Reformation founded upon (amongst many other things) the concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers?’ [There is a biblical and theological relationship between Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9 that needs its own post, but please go take a look at those texts if you don’t know them!]

Here’s where I’m going – the standard spoken of  by all those whom I have quoted applies to us all. There is an incredible text in 1 Peter 1:

22Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently,

23being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever;

So let’s now go back to Ellen White, who in relation to dealing with and relating to unbelievers, counsels:

“If you argue with them, they will have arguments with which to meet you, and nothing you may say will touch them; but if you live for Christ, if you are firm in your allegiance to the God of heaven, you may do for them that which argument will fail to do, and convince them of the fallacy of their doctrines by the power of godliness” (MYP 88).

Now – let’s be clear. Tozer is not saying that basic theology cannot be literally comprehended cerebrally by an ungodly person. James 2:19 smashes that. But knowledge about and knowledge of are not the same thing! Ellen White may seem to say in this moment that there is no point in having any ability to reason through questions of faith with a skeptic. But other statements she makes elsewhere shows that she cares about people being able to articulate Christian faith properly. So what IS she saying?

However fine your arguments, it is not the actual argument ITSELF that will bring about conviction. It is the work of the Spirit in the life of the one making the argument! A clever and convincing argument for Christian faith given by an ungodly person has less impact than the same argument given by one who has abandoned walking in the flesh for the higher walk of that in the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

So, the question – if you are a Christian who is called upon to defend the faith – would your defense stand up in court?

If you offered the fruit of your own life as a Christian as proof of the seriousness and validity of the gospel message, would that stand up in court? You might have more Bibles, commentaries, sermon DVDs, evangelistic leaflets and whatever else than some small churches. Your calendar may be filled with Christian activities. Your emails may be peppered with Scriptural references. But are people actually growing in their faith because of your influence? Are people coming to faith because of your influence?

Do you say one thing and do one thing in public, and another in private? If so, you are hurting your ministry. And if you hurt your ministry, you not only hurt those whom you might helped – you hurt yourself – because God will ask you account for the influence He allowed you to have with your fellow human beings!

I speak to myself even more than I speak to anyone else. I have been on this journey for some time, but like so many biblically-conservative Christians, I have frequently prioritised the intellectual over the life-changing. I look at the ways in which my ever-increasing grasp of truth has not always been accompanied by deeper spirituality. And so, today, I charge myself – and each and every person who reads this post who claims to be a believer – to strive in Jesus’ Name for a far higher standard of personal morality than ever before.

These are serious words. I’m actually scared to write them and publish them. I cannot measure up. I need God’s help more than ever before. The closer we get to God, the more we see how far away we are. But I REFUSE to go another step on the journey towards greater theological and philosophical and biblical knowledge without taking my personal practical life as a Christian up some gears. I do not want to be seen as a clever dude and great musician with a lovely ‘passion’ for his faith. I want to be a conduit used by God to see lives change for good.

So, if I had to answer my own question, I would like to be condemned by those who are hauled into court just after I am brought in – charged with following the teachings of Jesus as a result of my influence.

And as for what follows – that is God’s call, and like the three brethren in Daniel 3 – I pray that our defense of the faith will be the fruit of our lives. Yes, we may do like Peter and deny Christ at times of weakness and confusion – but even he was restored and in the end, he gave his life for the Truth.

We don’t have to be martyrs to do the same.

Peter had already surrendered his life, so when they took it, they did not take what belonged to him – they took what belonged to God!!!!!!!

One day, Michael Himself will stand up and demand an account. Please, I beg you, make sure you are on the right side of judgement when that day comes.

Up above my head…

This post is in response to a previous request to elucidate on some comments I made regarding a song with the title of this post as the opening line – not just any old version of this wonderful African-American spiritual. And, even as I type these opening lines, I’m listening to this track and turning up the volume and getting excited – the praise going on here is in fact very serious. I’m talking about the Kirk Franklin and God’s Property version of this spiritual. I really need to arrange and direct a version of this track as soon as God wills, because I think we could do certain things chorally that would bring the spiritual message out even more strongly…

Let’s start with the lyrics:

Up above my head I hear music in the air
Up above my head there’s a melody so bright
And fair
I can hear when I’m all alone
Even in those times when I feel all hope is gone
Up above my head I hear joybells ringing
Up above my head I hear angels singing
There must be a God somewhere
There must be a God somewhere

I hear music in the air
I hear music everywhere
There must be a God somewhere

There must be a God somewhere
There must be a God somewhere
There must be a God somewhere

~

Martin Luther wrote:

“Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate — and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the
emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find?”

Readers of the last post will recall having been introduced to Sir Colin Davis, the uber-renowned British conductor who is fast becoming a hero of mine, as he also seems to be for one of my own great teacher/mentors. He has some very serious things to say about the power of sacred music – he recently conducted one of the hardest pieces of classical music ever written, a major choral/orchestral work called Missa Solemnis by Beethoven  – that little-known composer who may or may not have written something called the Moonlight Sonata…

Now, if you are a honest church musician who has not really ever properly considered the effect that sacred music can have on those who do not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – and that God exists – take a very good look at what Sir Colin has to say:

“That piece is a hell of a task: it’s so difficult for the orchestra to play and the chorus to sing that performing it is like failing to reach the top of Mount Everest. I think it’s one of the great statements of any time… At the end of the piece, in the final movement, the Agnus Dei, Christ has gone back to heaven, and Beethoven gives us this image of humanity left behind, crawling about in this mud, loaded with sin. The music is saying that humans cry for peace – and make war. That’s what Beethoven means. It’s absolutely clear. The music reaches an intensity of protest which is almost unbearable. And yet, there’s the power with which he sets the words: ‘Credo in unum deum!’ [I believe in one God!] You’d better believe him when he says it. And I do. I believe every word of the Missa because Beethoven makes it possible. But when I’m left alone, I can’t believe anything. So it’s even more poignant for me. But for that brief hour and a half when I’m conducting the piece, I do.”

Now, I had – and still have – the huge privilege of being able to come to the conducting table of European sacred music with a rather greater technical theological knowledge than most conductors. It was absolutely amazing to have had the opportunity to study this work even briefly as a conductor. I have found that many of the finest conductors do in fact get their theology confused and muddled at times (well, they are not Christians or theology students and not claiming to be), but their sincerity about getting the best interpretation that they can is in fact humbling. There is also the fact that Beethoven did indeed do some very, very unusual things in this particular piece – but I don’t want to be too distracted by those technicalities at present. It is the essence of what Davis is saying that matters right now –

– namely, that the spiritual power in this piece of music is so great that for the duration of it’s performance, he actually suspends disbelief in order to faithfully conduct the work. The Missa Solemnis is actually pointing him towards God!

So then: are we suggesting that only the very grandest music points to God? Is it only classical music from the proto-European vanguard that can bring people face-to-face with the idea that God really might just be real? Or can this happen with other music as well?

Liturgical musicologist Mary McGann writes the following:

“A Latino community singing cantos, accompanied by a conjunto or Mariachi ensemble; an Indian assembly singing bhajan to the accompaniment of a tabla and harmonium; a Vietnamese assembly chanting sacred texts and prayers in doc khin – an a capella form of chanting based on the tonal scale of the Vietnamese language. Each idiom is not only an acoustic/sonic tradition, but a carrier of social customs, or ritual expectations, of spirituality, and of cosmology.”

Now, that might be a little bit harder to unpack, but what she is saying is that each of these different religious music traditions is more than just a music tradition or style or genre – they are actually carriers of spirituality itself, and of spritual worldview!

So there are two massive implications for us:

  1. When we hear music, it really can and does point us towards a reality beyond itself. The question is: which spiritual reality are we being drawn towards? Music can make us feel so much and so deeply that we can be fooled into thinking that the sense of fervour aroused within us is the worship of the true and only God, when in fact we have only tapped into the inherent spirituality of the music itself! People can hear music and be drawn towards (and closer towards) God – but they can also be drawn towards (and closer towards) the enemy himself! But ultimately, the kind of music – be it vocal or instrumental – that actually truly lifts the spirits and brings peace to the soul and mind can only come from one side – the side of Truth – as in, the person, not the concept…
  2. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all true Christian believers made a firm commitment to never ever perform a piece of music other than as praise to God?! Whether secular or explicitly sacred, such a policy would have a huge impact on the choices we make as Christian musicians…

I know that I have experienced the positive truth of someone hearing my music and knowing something different about it – it pointed them to the truth. They HEARD it in my playing – no words – no Bible – no theology. Just the music itself carried the spiritual content that made two unbelievers think that there had to be a God somewhere. That was a moment which changed my life as a musician forever.

I didn’t do that. The Holy Spirit did. And now that I am in ministry, sitting in my house in this first phase of Sabbath, preparing to serve as Worship Pastor in my home church tomorrow, I am desperate to be filled with the Spirit so that everything that I do as a musician for the rest of my days on this earth will point someone to God. If Beethoven could explore faith in music to such an extent that an agnostic like Davis is intellectually persuaded by the music itself – even if only for the duration of the music in real-time performance – then it is possible – absolutely possible – for any seriously committed and well-trained Levite to sing, play, direct, conduct, compose and arrange music in such a way that folk will say…

THERE MUST BE A GOD SOMEWHERE!

Believe it.

That is the only reason I am in music – to offer the highest level of praise that I can to my God – and to share faith. Music means everything to me for one reason only – it has helped me to worship God in ways that transcend language, and through it I have learnt what it means to “make melody in my heart unto the Lord” (EGW). God has used music in a powerful way to help me on my spiritual journey and so I can only give it back to Him. It is the highest privilege a musician can have – to praise God in music.

~

I hear music in the air
I hear music everywhere
There must be a God somewhere

~

Music really is one of the ways in which we KNOW that there is a God. What are you going to say to Him today?