A year or so ago, I was riding in the car with one of my friends who has the same first name as I do. I don’t remember the exact sequence of the conversation, but I went from talking about God to talking about one of my music composition projects. “Gee Jen, ” she said, “I am surprised you don’t write religious music.”
I always wondered that myself. Honestly, I never wrote anything that would be considered religious. I never wrote a Mass or anything like that. Many of the great composers have already written such wonderful works, so I never felt the need to write any sacred music myself. I was always trying to find my own voice and do something different. The fact that I had not written or was even considering writing any sacred music seemed quite bizarre to me. After all, I am active in my church’s music ministry.
The topic of music and God, also came up in a discussion I had with my spiritual director some time ago. She mentioned how music can be a form of prayer and worship and used King David as an example. While The Ark of the Covenant was being brought to Jerusalem, he danced before the Lord .
“As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord;”2 Samuel 6:16
“Oh, but I don’t compose religious music,” I told her, “and much of the music I play would be considered secular.” She had told me that my performance and compositions didn’t have to be of a religious nature to be considered a form of prayer. It seemed really strange to view my own music as a form of prayer or praise to God. I have studied music written for The Church, is considered sacred since it was clearly directed to our Lord. However, when I began to think more about the process of composing and the art of performance being forms of prayer, the more it seemed possible.
God is the source of all creation and I believe all things come from God as well. For example, I just finished recording a CD of original piano music that will be coming out next month. If at least one of the compositions would be called “good,” I couldn’t take all the credit. The closest sacred work that I have composed that is included on the disc is Images, a collection of seven piano pieces inspired by my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Each piece was inspired by either a specific place, moment or feeing during my visit. It isn’t written for the Mass or anything like that, but I would consider it sacred because it was inspired holy places and spiritual experiences. It is a trip that transformed me in many ways. The scriptures came alive and I felt it brought me closer with the Lord.
For me, the art of composing and performing is a spiritual collaboration between man and God. Sometimes the two can be completely in sync with one another where the music just flows freely and effortlessly. This rarely happens to me, but when it does, the experience is awesome. An examples of this happened to me in 2011 when I was writing a piece for the North/South Chamber Orchestra called Revelations. The ideas for this composition seemed to pour out into my head and I simply followed where the music led me. There seriously had to be strong Divine Intervention for that work. I called it Revelations because it literally was revealed to me. Was it revealed to me by God? I would like to think so!
As for performance, the mind is truly in the present moment and only when the mind is in the present moment can one be in the presence of God. I can recall many performances in which I felt very well connected with the piano and truly in the moment where I was able to connect with the audience and other musicians who were performing with me. This is what I love about playing chamber music, there is more of a sense of community, a kind of joining together in group prayer. In my best performances, all sense of time is lost because I am completely immersed in this heavenly world.
Much of my music comes from my own personal experiences, and even though I have free will, God is still the author of my life since He created me and knows everything about me. Much of my music is inspired by my two avian companions, Sunny and Nikki, and who created them? I think our Lord smiled when He imagined those two! He seems to work His hand in everything. Man may have built the first piano, but who created man and gave him the ability to imagine such ideas? Our ability to create comes from the Creator. After all, we are made in His image. Therefore, when anyone creates a something that would be considered beautiful, powerful or a masterpiece, it is not simply just a human effort, but a collaboration between God and man. Where there is collaboration there must be a dialogue of some kind, and when one engages with a dialogue with the Lord, that is called prayer.
As I write this, I recall a gift my mother gave me one Christmas. I was a pillow that read the following: “Music, a Celebration of the Soul” I couldn’t agree more, for when the soul is in perfect alignment with God, it truly has a reason to celebrate.