On Saturday 29 October, around 25 students and CU staff workers met up in Birmingham for the Music Network’s Autumn Gathering 2022. We spent a day unpacking the theme of ‘Identity’ and how it relates to our lives as Christians and music students. It was a wonderful day of faithful Bible teaching, fellowship with like-minded students, and lots of fun and happy memories.
The identity issue
As musicians we tend to put our identity in what we do - e.g. the instrument we play, or our ability as a composer, etc. Sure, I may say 'I am a music student', but actually when I say 'I’m a violinist', that gets far deeper into who I am. However, this is very problematic - for example, what happens when we see all the people better than us? We will quickly feel a sense of imposter syndrome.
The Bible has much to say about our identity, and looking through the lens of its overarching narrative of creation, fall, and redemption, we can be liberated to live as musicians for God’s glory.
So, Music Network co-ordinator Tom Chevis showed us how being made in the image of God in creation means we are made to be creative and relational beings. We are designed to reflect God’s beautiful image in all that we do. The fall, however, has led to the marring of this image, and in our pride we seek to assert our own image. However, in redemption, God in His great mercy has saved us through His son Jesus, restoring our image back to one of 'humble dignity'.
This phrase ‘humble dignity’ really struck me. It's 'humble' because we are only an image - we are not God! And it's one of 'dignity' because that image is nevertheless the image of God - this is a privilege only humanity enjoys. And what a beautiful image we are made in!
Applying this to the world of music
The humble dignity of our identity in Christ means so many things to us as musicians. In the practice room we can be liberated from feelings of inadequacy and frustration because we’re not living for our teachers or for our own ego. Instead, we can offer our music as an act of ‘true and proper worship’. In auditions we need not fear or be devastated when we don’t get into that orchestra or jazz band. In this world there is only a limited amount of good (e.g. a limited number of places), and that makes us feel threatened by, or jealous of, others. But in God’s economy there is unlimited goodness, and in Christ, our identity is secure!
Personally, I’ve been challenged by the way musicians put on a show of false humility. We often publicly say small critical comments of ourselves and yet are in reality fishing for the compliments and reassurances of others. Similarly, in university settings where the course is varied, we might try to bolster our own confidence by saying 'they might be good at that module, but I’m great at this module.' But in Christ, we can know that God’s grace and blessings are sufficient in all circumstances. Our identity needs no boosting from being good at this or that module - in Christ it is as rock solid as it ever can be.
Music is a gift from God. As a violinist I need not despair when I see others far better than me. As an academic I need not be vain if my essay gets a good mark. Instead, I can have humble dignity knowing that we are made not to wallow in self-pity, or boast in achievements, but to rejoice in reflecting God and in being satisfied in Him.
Embracing life-changing truths
On a day full of talks it’s easy for these to appear as academic concepts to be understood rather than life-changing truths to embrace. Wonderfully, the Music Network is keen to be doers and not just hearers! We had times of quiet reflection and individual prayer. We read aloud as a group all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. And we sung. Oh, did we sing! When you put 30 people in a room with no instruments, but all musicians, you achieve the most glorious singing in beautiful harmony!
The day finished with a meal at a local Greek restaurant (thanks to UCCF for the £10 subsidy!) It was a joy to chat further with a wide range of students - freshers and post-grads, university and conservatoire students - about their experiences, encouragements, and things that have been hard too. It’s so heartening to know that there are lots of other Christian music students tackling the same issues and yet still seeking to exalt Christ.
The Autumn Gathering was my third time at a Music Network event following Word Alive and Forum. It was great to see old faces again and meet new ones too - I can’t wait for the next one!