Author Archives: michael

Goodbye, Addison Road

On March 1st, Addison Road will be officially archived. It has been about 2 years since this place was really alive, but it deserves better than to fade away into the darkness. It deserves a dignified death. It deserves to be laid to rest.

For those of us who used to hang around here, the blog served as an ongoing diary of the end of our youth and the beginning of our adulthood. Between the years of 2005 to 2010, we blew into our 30s, bought homes, had kids, changed careers, and started the business of building roots and a sustainable future.

It served as a record of our evolving faith, grappling with theology and church life, sorting out how to have careers in ministry in the midst of being perpetually disappointed by the institutions we were serving. We became parents, and started to see the world through that peculiar lens. We became more conservative in some ways, more liberal in others, and more confused in almost every area. We made some music. We made some art. We wrote some prose, and some poetry, and some prayers. We poked at the larger world to see what it was made of.

If you want to start at the very beginning, the first post on the whole site is from April 8th, 2005 and you can find it here: Opening Salvo. If you want to read through the whole history, you should set aside 2 or 3 days. The search bar on the right will take you to a google search of the whole site, or you can poke through by categories. Maybe some of you will link to your favorite posts in the comments (or ask us to link to them, Sharolyn).

I’ve always thought of this place as a perpetual backyard BBQ, where you hang out with friends late into the night, and talk about things both stupid and life-altering. We don’t do that as often, even in our real lives, as we did 5 or 10 years ago. That space has been filled up by other things, maybe to our detriment. I want to find out where it went, and make a place for it again, but I don’t think that will happen here. The season of Addison Road being that place has ended.

Here’s what will happen on the technical side. The site will still remain intact, but instead of being alive and breathing, everything will revert to a static page. You will no longer be able to post new content. It will remain online as an archival record, but you won’t be able to post any new comments. I’ll remove the WordPress software and the database (which have become perpetual targets for hackers and spammers), and the site will remain in it’s current form for the forseable future.

To all of you who made this place what it was, thank you. I appreciate the time and thought you poured into it. That you decided to take this little corner of the internet seriously (and not so seriously) meant more to me than I can say. I’d like to think that someday our kids might pick their way through some of this stuff, and it might help them understand a little better who their parents are, and how they came to be that way. And if it’s you kids reading this, be charitable, be gracious, and think of it as a time capsule recording the steps we walked into the grownup world.

Until then, farewell. God go with you, and fill your life with blessings. May your table always be full, may you walk with friends beside you, may you work hard at something worthwhile, and may the world be a better place for your having passed through.

Goodbye, Addison Road.

Art Is Its Own Purpose

I am in the midst of a project right now that, I am certain, will be the purest artistically motivated thing I do. Not for me, mind you. I’m being motivated by the promptly paid invoices.

The artist at the center of this, however, is creating something based solely on his internal imperative. He has a concept, and he has arrived in his life at the fortunate place of being able to hire an army of people to construct that concept. I’ll share more with you later, but the lid is pretty tight on it until after the public debut.

Here’s the overall conception: he has become disgusted with the modern world’s relentless pursuit of easy and fast. In response, he is creating 35 different large-scale projects (and I do mean truly large) that are all inherently hard. Hard to design, hard to execute, and impossibly difficult to grasp and understand as an observer. They are projects that invite you to spend some time in the midst of them, knowing from the very beginning that there isn’t enough time in your life to even observe the entire project, let alone understand it.

Nothing is for sale. Nothing is entertaining, except incidentally. There is nothing in this project that does not begin and end with the artist’s aesthetic conception. It is, for better or worse, the purest piece of art that I’ve ever encountered.

I’ve been remembering this quote, that I think is from the introduction to Rimsky-Korsakov’s book on orchestration, but it’s also possible that I just made it up and have been attributing it to him.

“Art is its own purpose. If it assumes any other purpose, then it descends into mere politics and commerce.”

Prayer for Independence Day

God our Father,



By Your providence You have formed this, and all nations, intended as instruments of Your common grace.

With humble gratitude, we thank You.

For the freedom to gather as Your people, and openly worship together,
We give You thanks.

For the freedom to speak the truth in Your name, without fear or hesitation,
We give You thanks.

For the men and women who, for the sake of liberty and justice, stand willingly in harms way,
We give You thanks.

When we have failed to live out the high calling of our founding principles,
Grant us mercy, O God.

As our leaders guide this nation in the course ahead, may they be held true by the law that You have written on the hearts of all people;
Grant us wisdom, O God.

Though the injustice of this world may, at times, compel us to take up arms, may we ever be slow to anger and guided by justice, looking forward always to that coming day when You shall end all wars;
Grant us peace, O God.

Holy God, You are the source of every blessing that flows from free and prosperous lives, sustained by the imperfect virtues of this great nation.

May our strength be guided by justice,
May our justice be guided by compassion,
May our compassion be rooted in love,
May our love be the fruit of our freedom,
And may our freedom be yielded to you.

May Your strong right arm

So order all things

Amen

The One-Another Life

Well friends, it’s time once again for you to do my homework. I’m back at Christ Community Church this Sunday, this time in the pulpit instead of behind the piano. The message topic is “The One-Another Life”.

I started scanning through the New Testament, and pulling out verses that command us to ______ one-another. There are roughly 600 million of them. Love one-another, pray for one-another, encourage one-another, forgive, be at peace with, serve, be kind to … it’s a catalog of instructions for how we should live together as believers. Or, as people even. So, some scattered thoughts that are coalescing into a message:

  1. Very few of the Christian Virtues (patience, compassion, gentleness, humility) are solo endeavors. They require another person to be put into action upon.
  2. The one-another commands are practical application of internal virtues. The act of patience toward someone else exercises my humility muscle. Humility muscle. That sounds weird. I’ll probably phrase that a little differently.
  3. The church is a practical workshop for training up virtue by means of community interaction. It’s where we practice the best expressions of ourselves. I don’t mean this in an exclusive way, that we save the best of ourselves for making the club a nice place to hang out. More like a gym, where we build up the strength that we then use to do the things we ought to do when we go out into the world.
  4. This kind of one-anotherness requires messy and intrusive relationships. In any room full of 100 people, there is somebody who badly needs a mentor, somebody else who needs help watching the kids while they go to school at night, somebody who is struggling with the same failing sin over and over, and needs somebody to step in and call them on it. All of these things require us to be close enough to each other that we get to peak into private spaces. Peak into private spaces. That sounds awkward. I’ll phrase that differently too.
  5. The thing is … I don’t like that idea. I like space. I often feel like I don’t have much in common with “church folk”, and the idea of letting them into my life far enough to practice the one-anothers in a meaningful way makes me uncomfortable. Like, really, really uncomfortable. I don’t like small groups or home churches. They are, well … weird.

Thoughts? Input? Suggestions? Angry personal slurs? Let ‘em rip! P.S., if you don’t have anyplace to be this Sunday, head on down to Christ Community Church at 10:15. It’ll be a hoot!

Hey Band Nerds!

All you squeakers and squawkers out there, reed, double-reed, no reed, brassheads and trash can bangers, looking for some help here. I’ve been asked to write a piece for symphonic band, which is a genre I haven’t touched since … let’s call it 20 years. So, here’s my question for you:

Is there a piece of literature for symphonic band that really, deeply moves you? Anything you’ve listened to that just left you breathless? The only one I can remember is Bukvich’s Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam, Dresden, 1945). Anything else that comes to mind?

The Swamp Effect

I have a horrible habit. At some point in every project, things start not sounding … right. Good. Emotional. Whatever. The train has jumped the track, and is off wandering through antique stores on State Street. I’ve lost my way.

At this point, I do the same thing, every time.

I do more. I do everything. I take every idea, and make it louder. I double it. I do it in octaves. I do it with a triplet backing rhythm. I add 3 string samples and 2 pads, on top of 3 more loops and a delay. I start putting out frantic midnight calls for friends to play overdub parts, stacked, with overdrive and double-stops.

I add piano, add flamenco guitar, add horn swells and swirly synths, a B3 solo, 6 passes of backing vocals, and a Taiko. With reverb. Then a reverse Taiko with even more reverb.

Then I put a limiter on the main bus, a 6:1 multi-band compressor, then another limiter. Then I turn my mains up. I turn on the sub, then add another low string sample.

The swamp effect takes hold, and whatever spark of inspiration birthed the process has been completely, utterly, horrifically buried in a morass of crap.

Save as.

Rename.

Delete.

Repeat.

The Good Kids

As I was driving home from a gig yesterday, the LA sun painted the San Gabriel mountains with just the perfect Tuscan hues, and it got me thinking about June and Stick moving back to LA, because how could they not? and that got me thinking about our secret long-term strategy to marry our two great houses together. Sophia and Zane, or Sophia and Nate, we’re fine with either. And that got me thinking about our kids. It got me thinking about Ella, and Z, and Nate and Zane, and Camille and James, and all the other little munchkins that are trolling along behind the Addison Road crew.

There’s a good chance that none of our kids will end up married, although I will lay a $200 bet that Ella is going to be Josiah’s first heart-breaking crush. Although nothing would thrill me more than to look across the aisle on that sacred day and see one of y’all sitting there, parents don’t really get to plan that kind of thing anymore. Still, the thought of it gave me hope.

The reason I would love to see any of my kids with any of your kids is because I’ve seen how you are raising your kids. I can see the trajectory you’ve set them on, and 20 years from now, they are going to be incredible people. And it gave me hope, that there are people in the world who value the things we value, who are teaching their kids to be respectful and curious, joyful and passionate, hardworking and generous. And if you guys are doing it, then other people are doing it to, and if there are such people out in the world, then there is a chance that my daughter will arrive at 26 and find that there are men in the world worthy of her attention, and my son will find that there are women who will make him want to grow up and become a man worthy of their attention, and that thought gives me hope.

Carry on, good people, your sacred mission of stewardship, so that our charges will burst into the world full and glorious and bright, and will charge the heights in the company of good and worthy friends, well-suited spouses, and a cloud of witnesses to give them strength. Carry on.

Ender’s Game – Thesis Project

So, my Masters of Music thesis project is in full swing, and I thought I’d cross-post some of it here. I’m taking 4 books that haven’t been turned into films, and writing scores that would fit if they ever were turned into films.

The first book up is Ender’s Game, one of my all-time favorites. You can check out the work so far here:

Ender’s Game Thesis Project

The Sound of Light

I was recently a guest in a classroom (not at APU) and listened to a fantastic composer and beloved professor tell a room full of eager students that the reason florescent lights buzz when they start to go bad is because some of the light is slowing down, and the frequency of the light is getting so slow that it becomes a sound wave instead of a light wave, which is why the buzz is at 60 Hz.

Nobody in the room contradicted him. Nobody. After about 30-second of dumb disbelief, I protested, and the whole class turned on me as if I were an idiot, daring to argue with this obviously brilliant man.

This brought to mind 3 things:

1. An expert in one area is not an expert in all areas. If you are a teacher, be sure you communicate to your students when you are speaking from your area of expertise, and when you are speaking out of your nether regions. If you are a student, become critically aware  of the difference. 
2. Intellectual authority comes from being right, not from being in a position of authority. Don’t be afraid to challenge professors when they are wrong.
3. In a room full of 20 people, I can’t believe nobody knew enough about light, or sound, or electricity to contradict an obviously absurd assertion. I’m worried that we’ve come to just accept general ignorance about how the world works.

So here’s today’s extra credit question. Help me restore my faith in the world. Without heading to wikipedia or google, with just your general knowledge of physics, what would you have said to the man to demonstrate his error?

Anthony Griffith: Best of Times, Worst of Times

I listen to a podcast on iTunes called “The Moth“, where people tell true stories to live audiences. It’s powerful, funny, very raw, and sometimes just incredible.

This morning as I was driving to work, I heard what has to be the most overwhelming 10 minutes of storytelling ever delivered. I was sobbing by the time I got here, and had to stay in the car in silence for about 20 minutes just pulling myself together.

It’s the story of Anthony working as a comic, performing on the Tonight Show, while his young daughter is dying of cancer. I think you should listen, but you should prepare yourself before you do.

Anthony Griffith: Best of Times, Worst of Times
(Note: this site will comply with all DMCA take-down notices. If you are the copyright holder for this audio, and do not want it posted here, please email me immediately. Thank you.)

It’s Friday, Friday

So, a few weeks ago, ARK music productions unleashed what is, unarguably, the worst pop song ever inflicted upon a listening public. That song is called “Friday”. It has been watched by 34 million people. 34 million.

What I offer here is a bit of musical sorbet, a palate cleanser if you will, to remove the fetid taste of bubblegum ice cream from your mouth. Here are the days of the week, as they deserve to be songified.

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

The Days of the Week

Doxology

You know how sometimes you just find yourself needing random things, and so you make them, and then you release them into the wild on the off chance that other people might need those same random things?

Here’s a 4-part hymn voicing for the venerable Doxology. Share and enjoy.

Free as in Speech

I hold Westboro Baptist Church in the greatest contempt. They are hateful, graceless, and they shame the name of Christ. That said, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld their right to speech, even hateful speech.

The debate over the 1st amendment often gets mired in detours over sexual content and entertainment, over content distributors editing TV and films to increase market share to cries of “censorship” from the content creators.

It’s easy to forget that the original intent of the 1st Amendment was to protect political speech, and especially political speech that is unpopular and confrontational, even hateful. It is a shield that protects not only the speaker, but that protects society from a barren marketplace of ideas, where the monopoly of populism silences all other voices. Whatever else it is, the actions of Westboro are political, ideological expression. They are exactly the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was written to protect.

You may not like the kind of speech that Westboro engages in – I don’t know anyone who does. Even so, we should be proud of a legal and political system that protects their right to freely speak.

And, once we have patted ourselves on the back, we should use every other means possible to shout them down. We should not use the law to silence public speech, but we should absolutely use public speech to shout down horrible ideas.

Transition

Earlier today, Gretchen and I stood up in front of the church and announced that I would be stepping down from my position as Worship Leader at Christ Community Church.

A Little History

About 9 years ago, I was the worship leader for a small church plant in the Inland Empire. It was not a good experience. The leadership was not supportive, our relationship with the pastor was demeaning, and when we left we shook the dust off our feet. I had no place to go, no obvious means of income, but we had to get gone.

We bounced around for a few months, moved to Burbank, and then out of nowhere I got an email from Doug Scholten, the pastor at CCC. Their worship leader had left with two weeks notice, and Doug was scrambling to find an interim who could hold down the gig for a month or so while they looked for someone to take the position. We met, it went well, and I agreed to cover the gap. Mother’s Day of 2003 was my first Sunday at the church.

As they looked at candidates for the position, they asked me if I was interested. I kept saying no – I wasn’t interested in a church gig, I didn’t want to get back into that mess.

After 6 months, Gretchen and I realized that we did, actually, really want to be there. The people were warm and welcoming, the position was well-defined and well-suited to my abilities. More than that, Doug was the kind of pastor that all church musicians hope for. He respected music and the arts, was willing to try new things, and was able to step back and allow me to do my job. I submitted my resume, and they hired me as the Worship Leader.

Some Highlights

In my first year at CCC, Doug asked me to preach. It was the first time I had been asked to preach anywhere. It was an overwhelming and awe-filling experience, and one that I came to both dread and relish.

We have a seasonal choir at CCC, but most of the choir lit wasn’t appropriate for our group. I started writing and arranging music for our choir, and as I’m sitting here looking at my scores folder, over 8 years I’ve written or arranged 30 pieces of choral music for this choir. There’s nothing quite like the relentless necessity of Christmas and Easter to force you to build a catalog of work!

Good Friday has become a tradition of experiential risk-taking for us. One year we created an immersive environment with 30 laptops projecting photos and videos, and live-blogging stations for people to record their reactions. Last year we booked a string quartet to play a meditative concert of challenging contemporary music. The path from “What if we …” to “Let’s try it!” was well-worn.

A few years ago, we added a Classic service at 8am on Sunday mornings. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea initially, but it has become the perfect way to start the out the Sunday haul. Instead of jumping right in to running charts, setting tech, rehearsing the band, I get to start the day by sitting quietly and playing through two hymns with a small congregation. It’s a brief meditation for me, and has become one of my favorite things.

In the time I’ve been at CCC, we’ve had about 12 students from APU come through and play with the team, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for much longer. It’s been a place where some of the things we talk about in class can be worked out very practically, like a “lab” extension to the lectures.

Both of our children were born and then dedicated at CCC. I love that we gather around and lay hands on new parents, commissioning them to the ministry of parenthood.

The Transition

In the last few years, Gretchen and I have been feeling a strong pull to find a local church. We love many things about CCC, but the drive is 45 minutes on Sunday morning, and an hour and a half during rush hour. The time and distance mean that we can’t be part of the community of Christ Community Church. Our kids can’t be in the children’s choir, Gretchen and I can’t be in small groups or make it out to social functions.

We believe in the mission of the church. We believe that it has the power to change lives and communities. That power, though, is worked out through the relationships within the church, and between the church and those in the community around it. If you’re only present for Sunday morning, if you are forced by time and distance to stand one step removed from the other people in the congregation, then you might be “going” to church, but it is impossible to participate in the transforming power of church. You can’t serve the mission. You can’t be served by the mission.

So, we starting praying and looking for a chance to make the transition to a local church.

The Road Ahead

February 27th will be our last Sunday, after which I will step down from my position as worship leader. March 6th I’ll begin leading a small early morning chapel service at a large church in the Irvine area. It’s a traditional music service, with piano and organ, along with the occasional string quartet and guest soloists. It’s early in the morning, and so I’ll be home in time for us to find a 10:30 service at a local church, where we can attend together as a family.

There are many things we will miss from the last 8 years, but there are also some things we’re looking forward to.

We’re looking forward to sitting together during a worship service.

We’re looking forward to attending a small group or bible study together.

I’m looking forward to being that guy every worship leader dreams of, who walks up after the service and says “Hey, I’d love to sub on the worship team sometime if you need someone to cover keyboards,” and then can actually play!

I’m looking forward to a smaller scope of responsibility, to a simpler service. I’m looking forward to Easter and Christmas being seasons of joy, instead of dread.

The seed that was planted with the hymn service at our church has blossomed. I’m looking forward to playing music from the deep and rich tradition of the church.

I’m looking forward to volunteering for things … or, saying “no” to things!

Leaving Well

There are so few times in Church when we are able to leave well. It seems like most transitions happen because the church is unhappy, or there is conflict with the leadership, or character issues, or because someone leaves for a better gig, or more money, or … anyway, we as a church have a bad history of ending ministries well.

This is a good transition. Hard, but good. We are leaving a healthy ministry behind, we are leaving with the blessing and goodwill of the congregation, and we are leaving for the best of reasons.

This is a good thing.

Generousity of Spirit … and Legos

My son did something beautiful this Christmas. He gave a simple, pure, thoughtful, costly gift to his cousins.

Josiah loves Legos, because he is alive and a boy and because they are awesome. About a month ago, he also started getting really into rockets. Not sure what triggered it, but they too are awesome. So, he takes his Legos, and stacks them up into big tall towers, and they are rockets, and he flies them around the house.

A few weeks ago, he stacked up 3 big towers of Legos, and asked Gretchen to help him wrap them.

“Why?”

“This one is for my Zacky, this one is for my Jacob, this one is for my Joshua, these are for Christmas.” He wanted to give his Lego rockets away to the three boy cousins we would be seeing over the holidays.

For three weeks, we kept asking him if he still wanted to give them away. We wanted to make sure he understood that giving a gift meant the person gets to keep it, and you don’t have it any more. They were his Legos, he could give them away as presents if he wanted to, but if he did he wouldn’t be able to play with them anymore, they would belong to his three cousins instead. We weren’t trying to talk him out of it, but we did want to make sure he understood what he was doing.

He did, and he was unwavering. He wanted to give them away. So, of course, we let him.

And so, on Christmas Eve, he gave the most precious thing he owns away to his cousins, so that they could have rockets.

The last three months have been rough with him. He drops tantrums like crazy, and there is a defiant streak running through him. But there is also a purity of spirit, a part of him that acts without pretense or calculation. At the end of a hard few months, the gift of Legos was a gift to Gretchen and I too; it was a chance to see our son at his best, and draw renewed strength from that simply act of generosity.

Toxic

Christmas music is in the air, and so what better time to drop the awesome bomb on ya’ll. This is an arrangement I did last year for the Cal State LA master’s program, and I never got around to posting it. The assignment was to take a well-known song, and arrange it in a style totally unrelated to the original. Behold what I hath wrought!

Toxicity