A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvellous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.
I would imagine, and indeed hope we are all nodding vigorously in agreement to Luther’s thoughts; music is a marvellous creation, devastating in its ability to move the soul and seemingly boundless in it’s depth and richness. It is these qualities, among many why humans dedicate their entire lives to it’s study and mastery; both theoretically and instrumentally.
However, for those who’s privilege it is to study music, they know that beneath the romanticism of attempting to be ‘an accomplished musician’ there lies a hard truth; studying to be a musician is tough. Very tough. The early morning practice, the everyday struggle to find a practice room, the countless commitments; solo, chamber, band, choral and orchestral, (take your pick!) The soulless technical exams, nerve jangling public performances and the very real internal struggle of worrying you’re not good enough to cut it in the profession. All before tea time on a good day. It is under these circumstances that one might look at the idea of a musician serving their CU as laughable. Where’s the time? What’s the point? And yet, the opportunities presented to CUs are simply too good to turn down, whether in musical academies or not. Studying at university is still the 'Last, best opportunity for students to hear the gospel.'
So how are we to square this circle? How are we to commit ourselves to the rigours of musical education whilst also serving our local CU with integrity? A few principles to consider…
1. Give generously
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
As Christians, we’re called to be generous. Both to one another and the world around us. We often look at generosity through the lenses of wealth and monetary giving, however we’re also called to be generous with our time. Time is a precious commodity amongst musicians which we should, as we shall see, steward well. However, I think as a consequence, we have the tendency to become over-protective with our time. Yes, the demands for the musician are multifaceted, but that certainly doesn’t mean there is absolutely no time for you to be actively involved in your CU. To say that my student life is completely given to the practice of my art, of which there is no room for other interests is not only unwise it’s also unrealistic. Research into the field of practice has shown that there is a limit to how much we can learn and progress in a day (For more information on the subject I recommend Musical Excellence by Aaron Williamson - a tremendous book). To say that time not practising is wasted time is not only untrue but potentially detrimental to a musician’s progression, whether through physical injury or mental fatigue. It seems we need a more rounded and holistic approach to our studies, one that takes advantage of the unique opportunities available to CUs on campus. One of the best ways you can serve your CU is to give generously of your time. Conservatoire CUs are predominantly small, and so the need for fully committed members is all the more urgent. CUs in non specialist institutions are often short of able musicians who can use their talents to put on excellent events. Such commitment doesn’t happen by accident, which brings me to my next point…
2. Give wisely
Wherever you are, be all there.
If we’re going to serve our CUs through giving generously of our time then we must intentionally organise our diaries that allow us to be at the centre of CU activity whilst studying our craft with integrity. To serve our CUs well we must give wisely. In my first year of study, I was THAT naive fresher who threw himself into everything; the CU, small groups, church, the student-led orchestra, 4 or 5 chamber groups, SU events along with my actual course commitments, solo recitals, orchestral projects and theory classes. I did many things. But I didn’t do many things well. By my fourth year I was so reluctant to commit for fear of overloading myself with burdens that would effect my academic studies I was almost completely absent from my CU. I didn’t need more time, I needed to use the time I had wisely. As creative minds, we must arrest our often disorderly lives and intentionally organise ourselves in order to serve our degrees and mission. Early morning practice, booking rooms in advance, looking ahead to pinch points like orchestral weeks and recital dates, committing to certain CU events and serving them well. These are just a few easy steps we can take which will enable us to serve our CU and universities/colleges well.
3. Give radically
Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Finally, we give radically. The joys of being a Christian is that our identities are not fixed in our instrumental proficiencies or our pecking order amongst the heads of schools but in Christ. An identity that is secure, unwavering and liberating. Liberating because we are not shackled to the insecurities of our ability amongst our peers, yet are free to work at our craft as hard as we can, satisfied in the incremental improvement in our trade, to be immersed in but not defined by it. Instead, we are free to delight in music for the wonderful creation that it is, just as Luther did. It liberates us to give generously of our time, talents and energies to other endeavours. In the world of instrumental study, where to be successful and accepted is to be a slave to it’s demands, living for something else is powerfully radical. It points to the actions of a man, that though God, sacrificially gave of His time, energy and love to the people around Him, admirers and haters alike, in order to fulfil is mission.