Category Archives: featured

I Quit.

I’ve smoked cigarettes for 16 years.  I’ve averaged about a pack-a-day since 1993, when I first started at the tender age of 15. Here is some basic math to give you an idea of what I’ve done to myself:

I’ve smoked a pack of cigarettes every single day for 5936 Days, and counting.
I’ve smoked about 119,000 Cigarettes.
I’ve easily spent a little more than $20,000 Dollars on cigarettes. (If I average the per-pack cost to $3.50) 

I’ve been a smoker longer than I’ve been anything else. It’s literally defined who I am. 

In 16 years, the longest I’ve ever gone without a cigarette (aside from sleep, of course) is 5.5 hours – the duration of the average Los Angeles to New York flight.  I estimate that I’ve easily knocked a solid year off of my life. Granted, it’s most likely the year that I’ll be yelling at kids to get off my porch, and/or putting my dinner in the blender, but I think I’ve made my point.  I’ve never had a reason to quit, until now…

I promised the love of my life that she wouldn’t marry a smoker.  It’s just that simple.  My fiance has dreams and goals and expectations that don’t include marrying a smoker, and I have an absolute understanding of that. So, April 27th, I am quitting smoking. 

I have an appointment scheduled at Freedom Laser Therapy. Hopefully, their plan includes giving me high-powered lasers to distract myself from the nicotine withdrawal. Maybe they’ll shoot ‘em into my eyes Clockwork Orange style.

Lasers! FUN!

Lasers! FUN!

Who knows. Honestly, I don’t care. You see, I’ve never had to experience withdrawl….from anything, substance or otherwise. I’ve never denied myself anything I’ve liked. Fast cars, sure. Motorcycles, uh huh. Fatty foods, (nods head, mouth is full). Booze, bring it on. Excess, oh hell yes. 

This promises to be an interesting experiment. I’ve know that nicotine is one of the most powerfully addictive drugs on Earth. But I’ve heard that it only takes a week or so to completely expel all the nicotine from one’s body.  But I’ll need your help…

I’ll need to remove any and all “triggers” for a while. A “trigger” is any activity that reminds you that you’re a smoker. Here’s a list of the things I won’t be able to do while quitting:

1. Any Social Event, Regardless Of It’s Size, Duration, or Location
2. Everything Else I’ve Been Doing For The Past 16 Years

As you can see, this fairly limits my activities. There’s a good chance you won’t see me in person for a while. Don’t take it personally, but you’re all dirty “triggers”, and I’m a no-good “trigger-lover”.  

After April 27th, I’ll see you all on the other side…

re:write

The goal of my music and ethics class is to have the students write a thesis paper, 25-30 pages of well-developed argument. I set milestones along the way: by this date, you need to have a thesis selected, by this date you need to show me ten pages of writing, by this date your draft needs to be ready for peer review, that sort of thing. This week is one of those deadlines, when I meet with the students to review the first 10 pages of their paper and a fully developed outline of their argument.

thesis-papersI ran across one of the students in passing, and he mentioned that he didn’t have anything to show me (I wish he were the only one). He then mentioned, rather flippantly, that he wasn’t all that worried, because he knew that he could knock out a “great paper” in no time once he had finished his research.

I left the encounter feeling very frustrated, for two reasons.

First, nobody can knock out a great paper in no time. The best anyone can do is knock out a great draft of a paper, a first writing. This is a recurring theme from my students; I keep getting first drafts handed in as final papers, because they’ve waited until the last possible moment to write them. When there are obvious errors, errors that any decent editor would have caught just by sniffing the ink, I know that nobody has read this paper but you. Nobody has edited for you. Nobody has done a critical review for you. Which means you’re handing in a paper expecting me to do it. Well, I will, but I do my editing with a red pen in one hand and a gradebook in the other.

Flip open any great book, any well-crafted work, and you will find the author thanking a whole list of people who graciously interposed their critical eye between the author and you, the reader. They are friends and colleagues, loved ones, and professional editors, all of whom serve the monumental and laudable goal of making sure the author doesn’t look like an ass. As a student, you have access to all of those same tools – peers, friends, family, a writing center staffed with editors. Their goal is make sure that your ideas connect to your reader with minimum hindrance by the medium. Writing is not a solo endeavor, not really, not at its best, but when a paper rolls off the printer 10 minutes before it is due it must be. And as a result, I end up grading your first draft.

My second frustration goes much deeper. In 16 years of schooling nobody, including me apparently, has managed to communicate to this student the actual value of writing a long format paper.

I don’t care about the paper. Really. The ink is pointless. I care very deeply about the process of writing a paper, because I believe that it is still one of the best ways to organize sustained, focused, rational thinking about complex topics. I care very deeply that you learn how to do that kind of thinking. The reason I was so frustrated by the student’s response is that the most important part of that process happens after you finish writing the paper.

Writing the paper is a prolonged period of pressure, cramming ideas into your brain, fighting to make logical connections between disparate bits of data. The intensity of pushing all of these ideas into a coherent, organized stream of thought requires reduction, and is mentally exhausting. You finish, hit print, the paper is done, run to class, hand it in, head home, take a nap, and then something magical happens. All of those ideas that you have been pressing down on begin to float freely. They start to shake loose from your organized stream of thought, loose from their moorings, and they rise. They bump into each other in new and interesting ways. They reorganize, like water molecules crystalizing together in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. You begin to understand things in new ways, ways that you were prevented from seeing before because your brain got in the way.

Two days after you finish writing a paper, the ideas you spent so long collating will have reorganized into something that really makes sense. Brilliant connections emerge. Small threads that barely emerged in the initial reading take on new significance as your brains chases them down in the noise beneath conscience thought, using the mental energy recently made available by the lifting pressure. That’s when you sit down and rewrite.

The way to make a writing project really useful is to research, write, release, rewrite, research, rewrite, release, rewrite, continuing the cycle until you arrive at conclusions that have the inevitability of all great ideas. That’s the way to arrive at mastery of a topic. When the topic at hand is your own value structure in an ethically complex situation, that kind of clarity is essential.

It matters to me. What you think about these topics matters to me. How you arrive at your thinking matters to me.

You will stand in front of a school administrator and have to argue that the purpose of education is the development of persons, not the development of merely useful skills, to argue that cutting music education is a dereliction of duty, and it is vitally important to me that you do it from a place of deep knowledge and the passionate conviction of rightness.

You will hold the phone in a long pauses, knowing that you cannot possibly agree to play under the circumstances being presented, also knowing that it is real money you are turning down, and it is important to me that you know why you are saying “no”, or that you know what it will cost you to say “yes”, and that the knowledge be more than merely notional, that it be the result of sustained and careful thinking.

You will run down your list of players to contract for Easter services, and you will skip the names of better players to hire those share your faith (or you won’t), and it is important to me that you have grasped with full rigor the tension between art-as-art and art-as-function when you make that choice, that the conversation between theology and aesthetics has taken place in your mind before you make your calls.

It matters to me how you have arrived at your thinking on these, and the dozens of other topics that emerge as thesis papers.

There are other ways to do this thinking, but this is the way that has been placed in front of us, for now. If it matters to you like it matters to me, embrace this process of read/think/write/rethink/rewrite. Don’t cheat it by counting words and chasing ink. Give it the time it deserves.

Of Kings and Kingdoms

So. Kings. Oh my holy freakin …

Silas is King in Shiloh, and his nation is at war. A young farm boy, the youngest of Jesse’s 7 sons, travels to the front, boldly confronts the enemy, and wins the heart and attention of the nation. He becomes pawn and party to the political maneuverings of the royal court, as the king becomes keenly aware that his young hero might be a legitimate threat to his own tottering throne.

Sound familiar? Yup. Kings is a modern day retelling of the story of Saul and David, with all of the sinewy mass and epic personalities of the original. Silas (Saul) is poised and articulate one moment, a snarling dog the next. For fans of Deadwood, Ian McShane brings a similar kind of larger-than-life swagger to this role that made him so perfect as Al Swearengen. David is the hero, the poet, the champion of the common man, but some of the dark tragedy of his broken soul is already poking through. Samuel … oh man, you just have to see it. Samuel is perfect.

It’s not exactly the story of Saul and David. There are changes, some big, some small, enough that it’s not just a retelling. It’s a … I’m not sure. A re-narrating maybe? A re-wrighting? If you know the story well, there’s an added dimension of anticipation to watching the show. You find yourself constantly fitting together the new pieces of the the puzzle with the old familiar story. Who is this character? Oh, that’s Michael, Saul’s daughter. Who will be Saul’s Abner? … ah, there he is.

As I was watching, I thought about the first audience to Homer’s great epic poems. Homer wove together well-known stories, characters that everyone had grown up with, events that everyone could recite from memory: no listener would be caught by surprise when Achilles falls. Yet the telling of it, the recasting, the re-wrighting brought a new vivaciousness to the themes. Because the unfolding events were familiar, at least in broad strokes, the listener is freed up to listen more deeply to the story, to watch the characters (who do not know their own story) march through their fated steps alternately succumbing to and rising above their own fatal flaws.

I think this is a bold thing that NBC is doing, embracing a show like this. It’s a little risky, not because it’s biblical (it barely is, though probably enough to scrape a few good sermon clips). It’s a risk because by retelling an old story, they raise the stakes on the storytelling. They give up the right to hold an audience by serial suspense, the way Lost does, and they push in their chips on a bet that they can capture and keep an audience by the force of sheer storytelling, in the grand Homeric tradition of the word.

I hope the show sticks around. If for no other reason, I can’t wait to see how they handle this scene.

kings-nbc

Mixing Metaphors on iTunes

Well, the fruit of our labor is available for general consumption.  

I invite any and all of you who cannot come to the CD release show on March 7th to go and invest your $9.90 in our record.  It’s a really good work, and we’re proud of it, and we think it’s worthy of your dollars and your listening attention.  

If you do like it, how about a review?  

Blessings to all of you.

Wanted: Tech Director who will do what I’m thinking but forget to tell them.

Hey, so, our church is hiring a sound guy .. I mean, a tech director. We had one candidate that was very close, but at that last minute withdrew himself from consideration. So, I’m kicking this out to you all. Do you know anyone who might be a good fit? Here’s the job description I posted on Craigslist:

Christ Community Church in Buena Park is searching for a qualified technical director. The primary responsibilities are running sound for two contemporary Sunday Morning worship services, setting up slides (sermon powerpoint and song lyrics) in Media Shout software for the service, some website content updating, and managing a team of technical volunteers in supporting roles.

This position requires about 10 hours of work per week, most of which occurs on Sunday morning. Compensation is fixed at $150 per week. Candidate must be a practicing Christian of any denomination, with experience in mixing live sound for contemporary bands.

A full job description is available at the following link:

http://cccbpmusic.com/tech-director.doc

Interested candidates should send a brief email describing how your experience fits the job description.

If you know anyone who might be right for this, have them drop me an email, michael [at] addisonrd [dot] com. We have an interim helping us out, but he leaves in about 3 weeks, so time is short. Any and all help is appreciated.

Faith = Doubt

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Webster’s defines the word “Faith,” as follows:

1a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one’s promises (2): sincerity of intentions 2a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b(1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust 3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction ; especially : a system of religious beliefs

I hadn’t looked up this definition when I started crafting this post in my head. I was hoping against hope that there would be something like the, “Firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” statement. I was immensely gratified to read it, as it props up my little thesis.

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

Near the very end of the last Gospel, in John chapter 20, we find the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the Apostle who wasn’t buying the news that Jesus had been resurrected. He was rational, cool, and frankly, pretty well reasoned in his statements.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Downright reasonable, if you ask me.

A week later, Jesus shows up, and has Thomas go ahead and get a nice, long feel on those scars. Thomas falls to his knees and exclaims, ”My Lord and my God!” Jesus, being Jesus, has this awesome little zinger for him.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I haven’t seen Jesus. I haven’t put my hands on his scars. I didn’t see Him forming the foundation of the earth. I don’t know how it will all shake out in an end times scenario. I am not certain that every Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, and Democrat will all burn in eternal damnation. I have a sneaking suspicion that God is greater and kinder than our little, offensive value judgements. I have also, in my darkest moments, been terrified that this whole Jesus thing is just a big sham, a human construct to give some meaning to our random, miniscule existence.

But still … I believe.

At the end of the day, I cannot shake the feeling loose that the words and teachings of this Jewish carpenter are not from this world. At the end of the day, I calculate my doubts, and I calculate the evidence, and realize that this equation will simply not balance out, and I take a deep breath, and make a choice to hold some things in a state of unresolved tension, and I simply… believe.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega, said that I will be blessed in the presence of my fully reasonable doubts, for I am a man of faith.

Finishing Work

I am in desperate need of two things: first, a good music editor. Someone who can proof-read scores, who can find all of the small little errors in notation that need to be ironed out before a piece is handed off to the performers. Someone who is so good and creative themselves that they can figure out the distance between what I meant and what I actually wrote. I need an Aly, but for scores. Actually, Aly can probably kick ass at that, too.

Next, I am realizing that I am in desperate need of fixed deadlines. I went to final print today on the piece Our Father, Vindicate and copies are being handed out to the choir next week. I was sitting there next to the printer literally marking out edits and making changes as the sheets were printing out. If it were only up to me, I would probably spend another 600 hours on the things and still not feel done. I need someone who has the power to rip things from my hands and say, “You’re finished. No more.”

Escrowlicious

So, Zack was right; escrow is soul-destroying. The sheer number of things that have to get done, and in order, is overwhelming.

Income verification. Tax records. Account statements. Home inspection. A second home inspection by someone who just does chimneys. Termite report. Injunction to invalidate the termite report and force a new one because the first one didn’t note wood rot that the home inspector found. Request for repairs. Resubmitting the income verification, tax records, and account statements because our broker found a better rate with a new lender. Hazard insurance. Title records. Title insurance. Whiskey. And that’s just week one.

When we signed our offer, we asked for a 30-day escrow. We felt ready to move quickly, and wanted to make the offer as attractive as possible. Now, 30 days feels like an impossible deadline. Neither of us is sleeping at night. Our kids have keyed in on our frustration, and they are running on full overdrive all the time. We’re both taking on a ton of extra work right now to earn as much as possible before it comes time to pay for closing costs.

All that to say, buying a house sucks. I hope owning a house is worth it.

whiskey blues

Reviews: The Dailies “Mixing Metaphors”

Let’s go ahead and get this out there: I might be the worst person to review this record. I’ve known Chad since we were about 16 years old. I watched him grow out of teen theater, and into Diesel Jeans. I’ve listened to the progression of his songwriting from his parents garage, to the studio, and even back to his folks house. I recorded some of his first pop songs. (Houseblend, anyone?) I saw the transformation from singer to songwriter, to artist, first hand.

I’m biased, if that’s not overwhelmingly obvious.  But whatever.  This isn’t about Chad. This is about The Dailies, which is a completely different thing entirely… 

From the opening track, “Signal Chain“, the band does an impressive job of separating themselves from their debut record, “What It Is“.  The first note imparts an urgency - unapologetic and confident.  But right away, the smoky Rhodes and the timber of two partnered voices soften up the listener.  You ride that airplane for a while, and then try to hang on as it soars through the chorus. This first track almost serves to introduce the listener to the band - I can practically see Rosy’s pursed lips and flailing arms as his snare drum introduces the bridge, Mike drops single notes on the piano that cut through the verse appropriately while Corey’s arpeggios return the favor. It’s like a conversation between musicians. At first, I thought this was a bit glaring. But after multiple listens to the entire record, it really works for the opening track. Not to mention, the mix of this track seems to serve the “introductory” purpose – a sound that isn’t embraced as much for the duration of the record.  

To this listener, “Mixing Metaphors” is about growth. Like I said, it’s a biased opinion. Gone is the sound of the “All-To-Well-Thought-Out” chart and recipe. These songs seem to have a life of their own – with the exception of a few songs on their previous record, it’s a life that wasn’t present on “What It Is“.  ”A Sovereign Nation” discusses the idea of conflict within a committed relationship – something very few songwriters are willing (or able, really) to tackle. The chorus pleads, “I don’t wanna go to war with you“, a defeated feeling all to familiar to the married/committed set.  

Speaking of growth, during the recording of “What It Is“, I couldn’t imagine Chad and Erica letting Mike Lee “chase the rabbit” on “The Science Project” – an unforgettable moment on the record, where Mike was allowed to shape dozens and dozens of individual takes and tracks on a single piano. Playing the keys, brushing the strings, and slamming the lid.  Letting Mike loose in the studio is a good idea. What follows is a sparse, haunting, and beautiful introduction to “Kiss Us Goodbye” – a clever and pretty song on it’s own, but Mike’s introduction softens the palate, and prepares you for the track. Somehow, I don’t think the song would work without it.  I’ve heard that Erica spends quite a bit of time “editing” these songs, throughout their birth and growth. If that’s the trick that separates this record from the first, then please, keep it up.  

Recording studios are very strange places. To the uninitiated, they’re nothing more than old Persian rugs, stale smells, and skinny Emo engineers seated behind rows of blinking lights. But to the artist, these rooms breathe. One inhales years of talented dust, and exhales something else entirely. What lived in your head and heart for weeks, as nothing more than time signatures and notes, eventually morphs into something unexpected – no doubt fertilized by the chemicals that are recording studios.  ”She Goes” and ”Feel Good“ sound like they was written in the studio.  They sound like sweet lil’ tunes, that chewed the old paint of the studio, and were shaped into something different.  ”She Goes” is rife with metaphor and rhyme. It’s predictable. It’s pretty, to say the least.  But to me, it sounds like the studio changed this song into something much more earnest and meaningful. It’s a true standout on this record.  Corey and I first discussed the idea of this session being referred to as, “organic”, and this song seems to define that theory.   “Feel Good” does exactly that to the listener – something that’s rare in the Smart-Pop genre. 

We all know Chad can sing.  Spend more than 5 minutes with him, and you’ll be well-versed in this talent.  If not, google that shit.  But Erica has pipes you’d not believe. In fact, if I have one overall complaint with this record, it’s that I don’t hear her as much as I’d like. “Love Brought You Here” has a cadence that is sweeping and lethargic at the same time. Don’t be fooled by it’s rather abrupt opening – this song quickly becomes something very unexpected.  Erica’s vocal builds slowly, from something basic and essential, to something urgent and desperate. It’s a really wonderful progression, and a true test of her vocal meddle. “Love brought you here…I know you don’t see, but in time it will all be clear…”  Simple and beautiful.  Look for Erica Reisser’s solo record sometime next fall. (I’m pretty sure that the usual suspects would be involved, too – Mike, Rosy, Dana, Corey, etc…) Kidding. Maybe…

Young Man” is the best song Chad has ever written. If you don’t agree, you’re wrong. It’s just that simple. For many years of listening to Chad’s music, I’ve been able to identify moments where I felt like he had a decision to make. Which chord to switch to, which solo to hide under, etc.  ”Young Man” has none of these moments.  It sounds pure, and unobstructed. Were there simply no decisions to be made? Or were all the right choices made, rendering the decision transparent? I don’t know. I can’t compare Chad’s writing to that of Springsteen (for many reasons, including the total lack of any drug addition, or working relationship with a Soprano) but this is Chad’s “Born to Run”.  The story is clear, precise, and relevant. It’s relatable, in a time where most music really isn’t, and it paints a perfectly clear picture. It’s very organic songwriting, and feels like a real departure from his normal style. Ever heard Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Satisfied Mind“?  It’s easy to hear that particular influence on “Young Man“. Kudos to Stick for a fantastic mix on this track. Upon first listen, you feel as if you know this road; you’ve driven it before, and you know which turn is coming next.  But this song hangs on the precipice. You’re always right at the edge. You can either stay and listen, or you can jump off the edge and miss it entirely. 

The Tide” brings us home. Throughout the record, we’re treated to the multiple talents of The Dailies; each track is a showcase of individual feel and contribution. The last track on the record, “The Tide” is simple and direct, and brings the listener back into the room with the band.  ”The waves roll out, and crash back in…and I am somehow comforted by their indifference“.  It’s thick and hearty through the chorus. Jangly guitars, chunky distortion, a bass line that won’t quit. The ride cymbal carries us out of the bridge, and back to the ground.  

Whether or not they planned it, “The Tide” reminds us of who the Dailies are.  They are singers and songwriters, and also students of the craft. They are mothers and fathers, struggling to be adults themselves.  They are evolving and growing, and the tide of the audience will forever rise and fall. No matter what is learned in the songwriting process, they’re never finished.  ”Mixing Metaphors” is very much a snapshot in time; a “Frozen Man” of sorts.  I’m really looking forward to the next chapter, and the snapshot that follows.

Clergy love.

Disclaimer: My thoughts on the following topic are not my most articulate.  Please do not throw tomoatoes.

On New Year’s Day, a white BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer fatally shot a black man after a fight had broken out.  On Wednesday night, riots in Oakland destroyed the businesses of, ironically, black people.

The officer who shot the bullet resigned his position just before he was otherwise required to issue a statement.  One of many theories is that he thought he was reaching for his gun-shaped tazer.

My heart breaks for everyone.  The victims and the shooter.  When I read that dozens of clergy were willing to meet with the officer, I thought, That is a step in the right direction.  That guy needs some love.

Then I read that the clergy were outraged with him, “demanding answers”.  At that point, they were no longer “clergy” to me.  I could not distinguish them from “everybody else”.

One of my earthly heroes is Sister Helen Prejean.  She came to speak at St. Mary’s College when I was a student there, and she revolutionized the way I think about our justice system.  One idea she has shared is:  “The only way I know what I really believe is by keeping watch over what I do.”  She is beautifully and artfully able to entwine herself in complicated and tragic situations, loving the victims and the accused.  In my heart, she has earned the title “clergy”.  Clergy love.

iTunes, without the ball and chain

Apple Fanboys had their orgiastic expo-tacular today, where new products are typically unveiled by His Steveness. Steve was absent today, part of the ongoing effort to confirm the internet rumors that he died in March of last year.

Nothing big was announced: a new laptop, upgrades to popular software suites iLife and iWork, pretty much what was expected. The big surprise for me was the announcement that iTunes would be going DRM-free. For those of you who don’t take the time to memorize every TLA that you come across, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s the thing that prevents you from emailing a song to a friend, or playing it on another computer, or taking advantage of any of the awesome powers granted to us by the digital era. It’s the industry’s lock and key.

I haven’t bought anything on iTunes for about 12 months, and DRM is exactly why. I love everything else about the Apple model, but I can’t abide having my audio files locked away, preventing me from doing things that are well within my legal rights to do (like playback on any device I own). I switched to the Amazon MP3 store because they offered a universal file format (mp3), and no DRM lockdown.

In some ways, I think Apple was paying the penalty for being first to market. They made a deal with the devil to get major record labels to agree to release their catalogs to the iTunes music store, and the price was DRM lockdown. Once the model proved successful, other distributors (amazon, for example) were able to negotiate much more favorable terms for their own download sales. Steve Jobs said as much almost two years ago.

I’m glad to see Apple unchain their content. I hope this marks a step forward into a new model of distribution for all kinds of digital media, from video to software.

I dream of a wireless, portable, personal, and highly fungible digital future, where my data moves with me and works for me, without barrier or constraint.

What Africa Needs Now

An atheist ex-pat from Malawi writes about how important Evangelical missionaries are to the future of Africa. Not just the work they do, but what they believe. I read it from a position of ignorance, but I hope that he is right. Looking forward to discussing this with my brother-in-law Scott, a missionary in Tanzania.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Read the rest of the article here.

I know some the folks who hang out here have some unique insight into this issue, and I’d love to hear it.

10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

[flashvideo filename=http://addisonrd.com/WordPress/wp-content/video/charlie-brown-christmast-linus.swf /]

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

How much did Mary know about the things that were happening in her, and through her? How much of Isaiah and Micah had percolated into her understanding from brother or father, some man who had received some formal training, who had been taught to read the texts? When she breathed the word “Messiah”, what collection of ideas did that word stand in for?

Mary treasured up these things, and pondered them.

I would love to know the pathways that her mind ran down as she marveled. The months between the angel and the birth must have seemed an eternity – certainly long enough for doubt to creep in. Did he really say … does this really mean … will he really be …

When the shepherds arrived, with stories and songs, it must have been a flood of emotions, confirming everything that Mary had been told.

Unto you is born this day a child, and He is Christ the Lord.

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

What an absurd celebration we have embraced to remember the incarnation.

We celebrate by filling up. Calendars, full. CD players, full. Gift lists, full. Credit cards, full. Belly, full. Every moment of this season is dedicated, months in advance, to being filled up. Not all of the filling up things are bad things – time with friends and family are good things, gifts given out of selflessness and friendship are always a good thing.

But taken all-together, the result is a season that is every moment filled up, without a second to breathe, and no time to think or reflect.

What an absurd way to celebrate the incarnation. I wish we could push all of that to Easter, the great celebration. Let’s move our Lenten fast to Christmas, and celebrate the incarnation by imitation.

Who, being in very substance God, did not consider his divine prerogatives as things to be gripped tightly, but emptied himself. Made himself nothing. Humbled himself.

This is the Christmas story that has captured me. The folding down of the divine person into the frail and corruptible human story, the setting aside of every perfect glory to take up this mundane flesh. All the redeeming that is to come begins in that moment.

Christmas is the great emptying out.

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

As sung by the APU Men’s Choir. Sorry this link will only work if you have a facebook account, but it is so amazing, it might be worth signing up just to hear it. We saw this concert live twice, and got a little weepy both times.

UPDATED: Here’s the same thing, now hosted on YouTube for all to hear.

Of The Father’s Love Begotten
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

We don’t know if Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. We like to think she did, because what kind of a jerk would make his pregnant wife walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

But that raises a different question, one I haven’t heard much about. Why did Mary make the trip at all? The census (maybe, probably) required only the male head of household to register, so Joseph could have legally made the trip alone.

I don’t know much about 1st Century Judean birthing practices, but somehow I don’t picture the husband hunched over the birthing bed, coaching his wife through her Lamaze breathing. I’m going to rely on the evidence of pre-1980′s world-wide cultural norms here, and say that most of the time the husband waited in the front room smoking the hookah with the fellas while the women of the family (and maybe a trained midwife) coached the mother through her labor. The husbandly role, throughout history, has been to fret nervously in a different room, then boisterously take credit once the child is born. Mary didn’t need Joseph around during the delivery, she needed her family, her female relatives, the local support network. Why go to Bethlehem?

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles, through some rough terrain, and the hill country along the way was constantly populated with bandits (the parable of the Good Samaritan starts with a man being mugged along some of these same roads).  I got nervous when my wife walked a few miles through Rome on a hot summer day while pregnant. I can’t imagine Joseph’s stress over Mary making the trip with him through that rough country. Again, why make the trip? Why not leave Mary in the care of her family while Joseph went to fulfill his legal obligation.

Luke tells us why Joseph went to Bethlehem. Why did Mary go?

There are a few possibilities, I guess. Maybe Joseph was a thoroughly modern and sensitive husband, and just couldn’t stand the thought of his wife giving birth without his support. Maybe Mary was a rock-hard badass, and the thought of grunting out our Lord and Savior un-aided in the barren rocks above Jericho just made her shout, “Bring it on!” Maybe Luke invented the census and the trip to Bethlehem in order to make the birth narrative fit Micah’s prophesy, in which case of course Mary had to go along.

There is another possibility. Maybe Mary had no reason to stay. Maybe the embarrassment of the pregnancy left her estranged from her friends and relatives, with no support and no family. Maybe nobody had added up the dates yet, and everyone was assuming it was Joseph’s child. Perhaps Mary was eager for a chance to get out of town, and give birth away from the chattering gossips and back-biting spinsters, away from the prying questions that an actual birth date would inevitably give rise to.

I don’t know. Maybe you have some better ideas.
laboroflove.mp3

labor of love
photo by introspectre

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Virtue – Oh So! (get it? Like a pun)

I was introduced  last week to the musical work L’Histoire du Soldat by Stravinsky. It’s a theatrical setting of a soldier’s story, there’s a narrator, the soldier is making deals with the devil, there’s a fiddle involved, and several un-marchable-to marches. I guess I probably should have encountered it sooner, but let’s be honest, I spent most of my time in music history class drawing dirty pictures of buxom ladies in superhero costumes (this was before wifi, and WAY before facebook).

I loved it. I loved it even more when I realized, about mid-way through the second piece in the work, that I was not listening to two violins, but to one almost unplayable violin part. The work is written for a small chamber ensemble, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, percussion, violin, and bass (acoustic bass, not awesome bass). Every part in the ensemble calls for a virtuoso; it’s some of the most difficult writing you’re likely to every see for those instruments. You can watch a full version of it online, conducted by Esa-Pekka and played by an amazing collection of musicians.


(the work begins at 10:40. Direct link here)

It’s technically challenging, it’s also hauntingly beautiful and musically thrilling. I’ve been talking to different players about it, and the reaction is almost always the same; a wistful look of longing, some combination of words that boils down to, “I’d love to be able to play it. I’d love to be able to play it.”

It was the perfect time for me to encounter the piece. Earlier in the week, I did a reading workshop for my own piece, Our Father, Vindicate. The reading workshop is where a bunch of musicians get together, perform the work, let me stop and start them at whim, let me make changes to the score, basically they become a huge sequencer for me to work through some final decisions in the piece before committing to final ink. It was a wonderful experience (that’s a whole other post), with a group of our best students and a few professional singers reading down the parts. As good as they were, the piece was still almost unsingable at times.

I am not Stravinsky. Clearly.

But the combination of hearing great singers struggle through my piece, and then hearing world-class players grapple with the fist-full of notes in Stravinsky’s piece made be think about the obligations of the composer to their players.

I think there are three obligations that a composer has to their instrumentalists, when they decide to write technically challenging material.

First, it should be only as difficult as it must be to achieve the desired musical effect. This is the obligation not to write difficult music for the sake of the difficulty. There is no virtue in awkwardness, only in the musical effect.

Second, and this is where most young composers fall short, the composer has an obligation to understand the instruments they are writing for. If I am writing for violin, I should understand the instrument well enough that I can physically mimic how the player will approach the part, and can identify technical hurdles before the player ever sees the piece. This allows the composer to make informed decisions about the first obligation, to only write difficult passages when they are required. If moving the piece up a whole step places my violin double-stops on open strings, I should know that, and should be able to give a musical justification for why I decided to leave it in the more difficult key. Technical difficulty should never be the result of the composer’s arrogance, ignorance or apathy.

Finally, and most importantly, it is the obligation of the composer to ensure that the work justifies the challenge. This is the obligation to write well. If I’m going to give musicians a piece that requires substantial rehearsal, mental and emotional effort on their part, I better make sure that the end result justifies the work they are investing. Performing virtuosic passages requires the musician to internalize the music, to prepare it so well that it no longer comes from the page, but from the player. A musician who agrees to perform a work at that level is giving me access to their musicianship, allowing me to weave my musical ideas into them. That is a deep level of trust, and it obligates the composer to write up to a level that deserves such trust.

Toward the end of the week, I sat in and listened to a composition jury, where student composers preset the works they have written over the semester. It reminded me of how badly I’ve broke all three of these obligations in the course of my writing career. These thoughts have been rolling around in my head for a while, but the combination of these three experiences, Stravinsky, the reading workshop, and the juries, crystallized them into something usable.

I’m writing more difficult music today than I have before, but I hope I’m doing it for the right reasons. I hope I’m meeting these expectations myself.

I’m interested in hearing from those of you who are composers and performers. How does this fit with your experiences performing technically difficult works, or with writing challenging pieces?

335149139_21240cc7a3_b

Mike’s Hottness, or Why Young Bohemians Need Dudes with Mortgages in Their Band

Ladies and Gentlepersons,

Last Saturday night, We witnessed an hour of great music. There have been offhanded references over the years to our friend Chris Steffen, who is the house engineer at El Dorado Recording studios. His girlfriend is named Abby Miller, who with her friend Jen Trani form Jen And Abby.

Chris helped them record their album, working his magic at El Dorado. He invited Mike to come and participate in the recording process sometime early last summer, and all went well, as reported by all parties.

Several weeks ago, Mike played a gig with them at a place called The Hotel Cafe. The Hotel Cafe has become something of a flashpoint in Los Angeles, a throwback to the days where playing a good set at the right joint could actually launch your career. Several well known acts, like Sara Bareilles, and The Weepies, and Ingrid Michaelson, and Meiko, have been broken in part because of their exposure there.

It’s the kind of joint that I thought didn’t exist anymore.  One where you can show up on any given night and catch not one but several good sets of music.  A joint where the audience has come to actually hear music, remains quiet and focused, and is self-regulating.  A place where the food and spirits are actually reasonably priced.  Hotel Cafe has become a brand of sorts.  You might think of music that could be played over an iPod commercial, and that’s sort of the sound.  It’s a place that The Dailies will play in 2009.  I’m word faithing, here.

Anywhoo, back to Jen and Abby, and Mike.  I actually don’t know how old the ladies are, but let’s face it… they look younger than us.  Mike and I are both keenly aware of the fact that we’re no longer in our 20′s.  We’re also growing keenly aware that cruel, cruel father time didn’t see fit to allow us to hit pause at 30.

Mike tells a story of the 1st time he sat in with Jen and Abby.  He told me that as he was leaving the stage, and passing through the crowd, Abby said something like, “Let’s give it up for Mike Lee, wasn’t he wonderful,” just as Mike passed what looked to be a tragically hip young lady in her early 20′s who, at that moment, looked right at him and said… “Meh.”

Aaaah, youth.  The freedom to be a total a-hole and not feel even remotely remorseful.

So, back to last Saturday.  Erica, Gretchen and I sidle up to the very front of the room as the sets are swapping out and people are making potty and beer runs.  We were mere feet from the performers as the set began.  The other band members all had that tragically hip vibe, all looking to be in their mid to late 20s, all cool and stuff.  Lemme put it this way, there was exactly one pair of hands on that stage who looked to be regularly wiping poop off of toddler’s bottoms, and that person was Mike.

I’m convinced that having kids ages you.  People who are my same age but don’t have kids seem younger to me, and I in no way mean this in a derogatory fashion.  It’s not even a physical appearance or beauty thing, either.  It’s just…  intangible.  Kids, should you choose to actually raise them, make you grow up.  I think and hope that Mike won’t be offended if I say that he looked a little out of place on stage at The Hotel Cafe, at least on the surface.

But then the set began.

First, a little bit about the rest of the band.  Abby is a great frontwoman, a delightful mixture of vulnerability, cute-girl-giddiness, and strong-willed assertiveness.  Jen sticks with her Martin acoustic most of the time, standing at all of about 5 feet with her strong features and straight hair, with that dreadnaught looking almost too big for her to handle.  Of course, it takes but a few strums for her to show you that she’s fully in charge of her instrument, thank you very much.  The bass player was a girl that I’d never met, but did a great job doing what the bass player is supposed to do, which is groove to death and never, ever miss a note.  The drummer was wonderful, tasty and tight, moving between mallets and sticks for effect and throwing a shaker into the mix when appropriate.

And then there’s Mike.  Within the space of a few bars of music, dear friends, our humble professorial hero transformed into a churning, hemi-powered, fuel-injected, tricked-out, hipped-out force to be reckoned with.  You have to understand that Mike is fully incapable of keeping his ass planted on the seat when he’s feeling it.  Oh, he might be sitting at the beginning of the phrase, but then by the end he’s halfway up and hunched up and over the keys.  Then, he’ll get out right as the 2nd verse drops, sit back down, and exchange one of those, “Oh hell yeah that chorus was happenin’” look with the drummer, who himself is wearing the unfaked grin of a musician who’s got his own mojo workin’.

Mike’s energy should in no way insinuate that he was out of control, or overstepping his musical bounds.  Quite the opposite, which is why it was so damn fun to watch.  For 7 1/2 bars, lets say, getting through a prechorus or something, he’d just be perfectly content to lay out, or comp chords that blend into the picture.  Then, in the last 2 beats, just as the drums start to fill and the chorus is a-comin’, he’d just go ahead and drop a little tasty treat into the whole mix, which would then just lift the whole enterprise up another few percentage points.

Again, this isn’t a story about how my buddy totally saved the day for this band that didn’t know what the hell they were doing.  This is a story about how things aren’t always as they seem.  This is a story about a couple of artists who already have a great band and great songs and a great vibe who have stumbled across a great sideman, and I can tell you from my own experiences that truly great sidemen are hard to find, and are even harder to get along with.

Anyways.  It was a great night of music, and I knew Mike wasn’t gonna brag on himself… at least this time.  Congrats, Jen & Abby, on your success.  It deserves to continue.  Also, if you try and steal Mike from The Dailies, I will totally fight you both in a dark alley.