'God is interested in excellence'

"'God is interested in excellence'" Continued...

Issue: "Berger can't keep a secret," July 31, 2004

Bethany Brestel, a young clarinetist, told WORLD that a friend in her church said to her that if she wasn't using her musical gifts for the church, she was sinning.

Mr. Kavanaugh says that many Christian musicians, from successful , acclaimed professionals to young people just discovering their musical gifts, struggle with guilt, as if the only way to serve God is in "church work" professions. That is nothing more, of course, than medieval Catholicism, in stark contrast to the Reformation teachings that God also calls and equips Christians to serve Him out in the world.

Churches that want their members to spend all of their talents in the church are, in the words of Mr. Kavanaugh, "putting the salt back into the salt shaker." God wants Christians to be the salt of the earth, to influence and evangelize beyond the walls of the church building. Another point of frustration is that churches often show little understanding for what Mr. Kavanaugh calls "biblical excellence."

In order to break into the ranks of the professionals, a musician must be very, very good. MasterWorks insists on high standards, and their standards are climbing higher every year. More are turned down than accepted. Whereupon, Mr. Kavanaugh hears from the pastors of those who did not make the grade. "How can you call yourself a Christian organization," they say, "when you don't let everybody in?"

True, it is usually not necessary to pass an audition in order to sing in the choir. But objective standards are something Christians should believe in.

John Kasica, the principal percussionist for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at MasterWorks, stresses how important it is to help Christians understand that "God is interested in excellence."

Mr. Kavanaugh considers CPAF and MasterWorks missionary organizations, operating "vocationally rather than locationally." The young musicians do talk about winning other musicians to Christ. Excellence with their instruments is a way to break into this closed community and to gain respect and a hearing for the gospel. As Titus Underwood, an oboist from Florida put it, "They don't want to hear you if you don't sound good."

And the music world needs saving. "Music is a very dark place," said Tate Olsen, a cellist from Pittsburgh. It is not just the secularism and the moral permissiveness of the art scene. Being a musician, especially being a great musician, has temptations of its own. Musicians tend to be egocentric, he explained. "It's all about you taking the spotlight." As Jennifer Peck, a flautist from Oklahoma put it, accountants don't get applause for a good set of books. Musicians live for applause. This feeds pride. And yet, the music world tears down the self, just as it builds it up. There is no more competitive, dog-eat-dog profession than music, where 200 people might try out for a single opening in an orchestra. The stress and the wear and tear on self-esteem can be unbearable.

At MasterWorks, the spirit of rivalry fades. There is still competition for parts and solos, but, said Megan Gilmore, a trombonist who became a Christian thanks to MasterWorks, "Everyone is cheering for everyone else. We are so happy to see how the Lord has blessed others in their talent."

The students admit that there is no particularly Christian way to be a musician. "The only difference between us and a non-Christian is that we know Jesus. That's it," said Jason Niehoff, a percussionist. But there is a difference in attitude and motivation. The Christian knows that "it's not about me on stage. God has given me this talent and enabled me to use it." Getting the self out of the music helps them as performers, several of the students told WORLD. The pressure eases. The worry about what other people think of me fades. The joy is found in the music itself. Performing becomes an occasion to glorify God.

Elizbieta Brandys, a flautist from Poland, asked, "To whom do we play our music? For ourselves or for God?" Music is created by God. "We are the tools to express that music."

The students saw the music world not just as a mission field; rather, music is valuable in itself as a gift of God. Said Robert Nicholson, a Florida cellist, "The beauty that we like points us to God, the author of beauty." Not just explicitly religious music like masses and requiems, but all great music, even that written without a religious intent or by non-Christians, owes its beauty to God. "Even if the composer didn't connect it to God, we can," said Kristina Lobenhofer, a pianist from Ohio. "A good performance can."


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