I’ll never forget the first time I played a guitar. I was hanging out in the school band hall when my buddy, Jake, found a long, rectangular box in one of the practice rooms and found a guitar inside. He started playing and I immediately begged him to teach me. We started hanging out in that practice room every day, making music and rocking out. The ability to create moods and ideas with these instruments was our journey and we never looked back.
I knew that I wanted to make music for the rest of my life. My band director had helped me to become a darned good trumpet player, and by the time I was in high school I found myself pouring over music theory books and learning to play every instrument I could get my hands on. (Yes, there are some people who will read a theory book like it’s Harry Potter.)
Reality came crashing into my life when I learned that there aren’t many ways to make a living at music. The artists who are successful are the ones who can afford to market themselves, and if you don’t look like a model you quickly learn that no one cares about your art. (The picture I’ve attached should easily demonstrate why I’m not a household name.)
The people who run the music labels are not concerned with making quality music, preferring to give pre-written songs to good-looking people that they parade around like in front of cameras. It’s worse for the ladies; the entertainment industry is entirely dependent on its ability to exploit young girls, and few women become celebrities without taking off their clothes.
I also noticed that no one liked music the way I did. The crowds wanted celebrities and dance parties, not six strings and the truth. It dawned on me that computer work was my future, not music, and that it didn’t matter if I was any good, because no one wanted to hear what I had to offer. To put it bluntly, no one cares about music. (Don’t believe me? Ask someone who their favorite guitar player is. Most people can’t think of one.)
Then I found a small church that needed an electric guitar player and wanted to know if I could help. It was exactly what I needed. I spent weeks designing and building a new pedal board and proudly played my semi-hollow body Epiphone with the church band. I added blues solos to songs that obviously needed them, and my groovy, psychedelic effects transformed boring songs into deep meditations. I was playing my overdriven guitar as loudly as I could, and the congregation loved it.
I had to move on, but my next church (where I’m currently serving) had even more challenges for me. Musicians love challenges. I have sat at the piano and found new melodies for old songs, and I’ve brought my mandolin on stage to bring an upbeat, old-style feel to familiar music. These days, I’m usually playing the bass, an instrument that can change the course of a service with a single note, and looking down a that instrument I am easily reminded of how I felt when I first picked up a guitar.
In our most recent Christmas season, we worked hard to create dark, somber music that brought out the intense feelings of longing so we could remember our need for redemption. Shaping songs like this is exactly why I fell in love with music, and church is the only place where I’ve ever been asked to do it.
I’m not a celebrity, and I don’t make any money with my songs, but I do have a regular music gig that’s incredibly fulfilling. Every week I play to a captive audience as we explore music, together, in a way that leads us to a better understanding of God. I no longer consider myself a frustrated musician, because I found what I was looking for on a small, local stage.
(For the curious, my friend Jake – the one who taught me to play – has an interesting story you may want to read.)
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)