Last Saturday, I did something I haven't done in about a decade - I stayed up 'til nearly midnight writing...music.
A little background: I have played the piano since the tender age of three. As a student musician in middle and high school, I added trombone, trumpet, french horn, and percussion. My old didgeridoo is currently leaning in the corner upstairs in storage. (It cracked; it doesn't sound right now.) As a high school student, I started playing around with composition and have three or four minute-long pieces and a couple of full-length things. One of my earliest works - a percussion trio called "Perc Up" - fared fairly well in competitions and was a hit at our spring show, maybe because it's about more than the music (it's a visual piece that features the interplay of dueling xylophones above a background of timpani). Suffice it to say - I love music.
About a year ago when I began work on Prayse, my heart started singing this song I'd never heard, something that was building inside of me. I pushed it aside to get to the kind of writing I was really interested in at the time (the Prayse project), but that song never let go of me. It's country in my head, so that's how I'm going with it, but there are days I wonder what my brother and awesome musician friend Terry Waggoner could do with it in a worship style. Because I think it would work there, too.
Saturday night, I was in a mood. I mean, a mood. Pure joy. Couldn't stop laughing for no reason. Don't-want-to-go-to-bed-because-times-like-this-are-rare mood. So I started picking away at my virtual piano and finally penning a few notes for the song of my heart, to go with the lyrics I couldn't let go of.
Hours later, I have a one-note, melodic chorus mapped out.
Yes, that's all I have to show for literally almost four hours of work. About 18 bars of one-note chorus.
Which answers the question of why I don't write music more often.
Music is a challenge for me in an entirely different way than writing. When I'm writing something like Prayse, or even this blog, I often make a giant mess and then try to work my way out of it. I get these grand ideas all at once and then spill them out in rapid-fire, then methodically start working my way through to polish them up. I rather enjoy the challenge and the discipline it takes to make writing work for me, and I am constantly amazed at the way God works it all out and always finds a usable word.
When I'm writing music, though, what I start with is comically simple and it takes an agonizing amount of time to get there. It's the precise opposite of writing in word, and that frustrates me. I mean, that really frustrates me. Because usually, it's the same motivation as word - I have this whole song in my heart - but I don't have the skill to get it out as quickly. I can't make it work as fast, and who has the patience for such things? Yet when I push through and start adding one note at a time, I find that here, too, I am constantly amazed at the way God works it all out. Although I wouldn't be looking for my name on the Top 20 anytime soon. Or ever.
The common gift inside of me is rhythm. I have always told people that rhythm is my first language, and I think that is why I find such pleasure in writing. It's all about cadence. It's about the way things sound. Most people don't realize when they're reading, but the way something is written can make it speak to your heart or fall on deaf ears, and it's that subtle bit of rhythm that makes writing either good or...something less. It is this rhythm that enables me to write the way I do. It is this rhythm that lets me love the way the sun shines, the small little pulses it gives off as it lights a new day. It is this rhythm that lets me appreciate the sound of the rain and the tide of the waves. It is this rhythm that helps me worship outside of music.
And it's this rhythm that inspires me to keep trying my hand at the written note, rather than settling for the song of the written word. Because truth is, I love music. It's a harder discipline for me than the writing. It may be one of the hardest things I ever do. But I believe we have to make space in our lives for some of the things that are frustratingly hard. There's something good in that.
There's discipline to learn. There's patience to gain. There's ache to endure. There is joy to be found. (Saturday night was an absolute blast!)
And maybe there's a song to sing. We'll see how that works out.
In the meantime, enjoy these lyrics from the now-one-noted chorus:
Did I say 'amen'?
'Cause I just thought of somethin' else.
If You have another second, Lord, let me add on to my prayer.
I could pray all day
And tomorrow, pray again
And still have more to say, Lord,
But did I already say 'amen'?