March 19, 2009

Music and Mission, part I: Terra Nova I

This is a story of discontents, of how one discontent after another led me to where I am now. I know it's a long story, but if I'm going to get to the bigger picture, this is necessary material. I hope it's not TOO boring, but bear with me.

I suppose I should start by saying that this is not exactly the path I had planned. I know that everybody says that, but in my case, it's pretty easy to tell. See, when I was a kid, everybody knew I was going into science. I excelled in all of my science courses, pursued science on the side, ate, slept, and breathed science. Biology, in particular, became my biggest obsession; living systems fascinate me. I couldn't decide between biochemistry, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology - they were all fascinating. Eventually, however, neuroscience won out, and I enrolled at the University of Rochester, one of few universities in the US with an undergrad neuro program. Everyone expected great things.

Somewhere in the midst of my freshman year, though, I started to have doubts. I know everybody does, but these were on a more fundamental level. I was doing pretty well in my classes until my advisor, a geologist (who knew nothing about neuroscience) advised me to enroll in an advanced biochemistry course in my second semester of college, a course that required organic chemistry, which I had not yet taken. Needless to say, I tanked it with a D, something I'd never done before. It threw me for a loop, but it was the wakeup call I needed. I had always enjoyed working labs for science, but they were controlled labs with predictable results; I started wondering if I really wanted to do true research, the kind where I had to invent the experiments myself, the kind where I had to spend my every waking moment in a white polished room in a jacket with goggles on.

I hated the goggles.

By my sophomore year, when I realized how terrible I was at memorizing chemical formulas in organic chemistry (using them was easy, but remembering what they were to use them was another matter), I realized that R&D wasn't my thing. I briefly toyed with the idea of changing to Evolutionary Biology, but my parents convinced me I shouldn't do that (although I still don't know why it was such a big deal to them). My music minor suddenly started looking more and more promising; I've always been a musician, but never had it pegged as a career simply because everyone told me it wouldn't help me earn a living.

Apparently, artists only get paid, like, a dollar or something.

Still, the idea of excelling in something that might not earn as much money beat trying to be mediocre in something that might pay more. I changed my major a week later. But something was still missing. It was when I realized that I play too many instruments that I couldn't focus exclusively on music; I'm sort of a "jack of all trades, master of none" sort of guy; I'll play what I play decently well, but I'm not exactly Dave Matthews on my guitar, Kenny G on my saxophone, etc. I can't even name a famous horn player, but I wouldn't be him either.

But I really, really liked leading worship. I had started a worship team for Campus Crusade in my sophomore year at the urging of my friend Rob. I'd never realized how much I liked it, how much the glove fit, as it were. I signed up for an internship that summer at a local church, and after that summer, I was hooked.

Sort of.

So I'm wishy-washy. Fine, I'll admit to being occasionally dissatisfied with the status quo, but it's worked in my favor so far. I wouldn't be where I am without what I hope is a healthy discontent with mediocrity.

I loved my music theory classes, but the history courses were tailored for music education majors; I wasn't one. I finished two of them before I couldn't take it anymore - and not for want of a good professor either, Dr. Meconi was a wonderful storyteller and very encouraging of my interests. Still, something just didn't sit right, and it was then that I "happened" upon a unique program at the University of Rochester: the Department of Interdepartmental Studies.

That's right, it gets a whole department.

Basically, it's a cross-disciplinary program that allows students to build their own majors. The idea is that since the world is becoming increasingly specialized, the students shouuld be allowed to pursue specialized interests from the start and not "waste" time on parts of majors they don't need. For example, if one wanted to major in music recording, one need not waste time with a lot of music history, and can instead take extra courses in recording; my friend Steph did that.

In my case, I decided to build my own worship arts program at a secular university. I called it "Music in Christianity" and it combined courses in Christian history with music theory, and tied it all together with an eight-credit thesis project. In the course of my study I'd come across a word that I couldn't shake from my mind: postmodernism. It kept cropping up everywhere, but nobody seemed to know what to do with it, especially my Christian friends. So I decided to do my research thesis on this "postmodernism" idea, and since I had to talk about music too, I decided it was the perfect chance to talk postmodern music in the Christian sphere - where did postmodernity come from, and how has it influenced Christian music.

I graduated with a 95 page paper in one hand and an honors diploma in another. I had every intention of going to grad school somewhere with a worship arts program, when God once again stuck his nose in the mix. This time, it came in the form of an invitation from a friend of my wife. Ruth wanted to know if Liz and I wanted to take a year and help them plant a church in Melbourne, Australia.

And how do you say no to something like that?

(to be continued)


Dan said...

Chris - is that you with the long sideburns in the picture? Let's bring that look back!

Dan said...

okay, at second glance, it looks like a shadow, so maybe I was mistaken?

Chris said...

No no, see, what you're seeing is my awesome Brittany Spears mic that somebody thought was a good idea for the guitar player. Oh wait, it was me. Now I use a stand mic, because they're ACTUALLY good and not just "convenient." Also they look better ...

tart noir said...

They so weren't geared towards MUE majors! The ESM history classes that those majors had to take were 9 credits total, I believe. If you'd like to replace MUE with musicology, then I'd agree. Kowalke's history classes were as intense if not more than my grad seminars in MUE. ---acb

Anonymous said...

I grieve for the evolutionary biologist that never was. None of the ones I know wear goggles or lab coats. alas...
Anyway, there are plenty of non-virtuoso musicians-- many with way less talent than you who have inexplicable success out of proportion to their talent. Just do it --"...with FEELING."
Worry less about perfection .. OK that's probably enough from your A. Annie -- Hang in there.