Friday, April 29, 2016

When the Office Became a Place of Worship

I have a soft spot for young people who sense a call into ministry as worship leaders, yet struggle with their own insecurities and feelings of inferiority. I suppose it is because I can relate personally to their struggle. As a teen, I first sensed God's calling to use my talents in music in the area of worship. There was no one nearby to mentor me in worship ministry -- an area of ministry that was just coming into its own in the late 1980s in my church. Between the questions from adults about what worship ministry would look like and my own self-doubt, I was scared to pursue my calling. You see, I'm not a gregarious person. Honestly, I prefer to be alone than with other people. Eventually I would learn that often God's calling places us in uncomfortable situations where our weaknesses are evident so His glory can be portrayed through our faltering efforts.

Now that I have served as a worship minister for almost 20 years in various congregations, I cherish getting to watch young music ministers develop into the leaders that God intends them to be. Sometimes what I witness seems so natural for them. At other times, what I witness can be described as nothing other than a "God moment," where His hand is clearly at work in the life of a young person and their calling is evident to everyone who witnesses it. I was fortunate to witness one of those "God moments" in the unlikeliest of places recently.

I entered a voice studio where the weekly lesson of a young struggling singer was already underway. She is confident of her calling to music ministry, yet struggles to see how things are going to turn out due to her lack of training and hurtful comments by peers. In this particular week, the lesson focused on a charming piece which quotes a scripture passage of reassurance spoken by God Himself over His people. Her initial performance was shy, reserved, and somewhat apologetic. When asked if God is apologizing in this passage, the student shared a beautiful testimony about her own journey that has led her to this place, her desire to be faithfully obedient to God's calling, and what the lyrics of the song have spoken into her spirit recently.

Now that she had expressed her thoughts and statement of personal faith so simply, the young singer began the song again. The difference in sound was amazing. It wasn't louder nor did it suddenly sound like a new voice. Instead, in the simplicity of her pure sound, confidence and worship was pouring out of her heart. The small voice studio was transformed into a sanctuary in that moment and God's presence was evident. I felt as though God had arrived in that temporary place of worship to intimately receive the worship that was being offered while affirming the divine call upon this young life. All those in the room could only respond with tears; we were overwhelmed by this time of worship and the closeness of God's presence.

Over the years, I have been involved in the lives of lots of young worship leaders and have mentored several of them personally. I can safely say that I have never witnessed or experienced anything like this before. The rest of the people in the music building in that moment had no idea what was going on in the studio in the middle of the hallway. It was such a profound moment of worship that those of us that were there will never forget it -- and I, for one, will never view the work that happens in the studio in quite the same way.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hits and Misses (April 17-23)

Here's a look back at the week that was.....

  • In the midst of a very busy season of playing and rehearsing, I simply haven't had time to learn the repertoire for my scheduled Duo Piano recital as I would have liked. Honestly, I was getting quite nervous and wasn't excited about the possibility of putting up a short program. So I was thrilled when we decided to postpone the recital until next school year. Yeah!
  • Of course, this is also the time of year that we begin talking about upcoming recital projects as well. There are a couple that are in the planning stages for me and sound as though they will be very exciting and a pleasure to prepare.
  • On Thursday afternoon, the School of Music announced the fall musical. I'm looking forward to diving into the score of Little Shop of Horrors this summer in preparation for rehearsals. The show will be mounted in Plainview over the weekend leading up to Halloween, ending with a late night performance on the spooky evening. I'm so excited to get back to my musical theater has been far too long!
  • Friday afternoon brought an excellent recital experience as I performed on the junior recitals of Jonathan Trevino, clarinet, and Heather Miller, trumpet. Even though I did have to fight with the air conditioning during the performance, I was pleased with the final outcome. The smoothness of the recital just goes to show what preparation and adequate rehearsal can accomplish.
  • No matter how long I perform, it's still nice to get unexpected compliments. My colleagues complimented me on various technical aspects of my playing as well as the "aggressive" passages that they had not heard from me before. As I was exiting the building, a parent stopped me to tell me that while the student performers had done an excellent job, "they couldn't have done it without your outstanding playing." I was humbled that a non-musician recognized the work that had gone into making the performance the best it could be.
  • Monday night was a restless night for me. When I arrived to work on Tuesday morning, it became obvious that I wouldn't have many students in class due to the UIL Band competition that WBU was hosting that day. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was doing a pretty good impression of Oscar the Grouch most of the day. The only thing I was missing was the trash can. Needless to say, lack of sleep is never a good look on me.
  • Ant hills are popping up all around my apartment these days. It seems that the largest are appearing in sidewalk cracks. I didn't really notice them until I stepped into one in the dark as I was coming home. I quickly made my way to the shower and started to become more conscious of the ground as I was walking. Now that I'm looking for them, I'm seeing that they are EVERYWHERE!
  • I simply have to laugh when I realize that I'm too tired for phone calls. I realized that my friend was celebrating her birthday on Wednesday. I contemplated calling her that night, but decided my bed was much more compelling. (Happy belated birthday, Tiff!) On Friday evening, my mother called to catch up. After a full day of rehearsals and the recital, I was in no condition to carry on a conversation. I told her I would call on Saturday......oops.......sleeping in, resting on the couch with a novel, and an evening performance got in the way again. (I'm such a bad son!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What Are Your Hobbies?

A few days ago, I was having lunch with some friends and colleagues when the topic of hobbies came up. Those with me shared their passion for coin collection and cars. When the question came to me, I stumbled a bit before responding with the joke of "sleeping." Someone commented that blogging could definitely be considered one of my hobbies, but it got me to thinking about the non-musical activities that I enjoy that are my hobbies. Here is the list I came up with when I asked myself this question.

  • Reading. When things aren't crazy at school, I really enjoy settling into an oversized chair with a good book. I try to maintain a reading schedule during the school year, but the pace is much slower and I simply do not allow myself to become engrossed in a book. Most of the time, I find myself reading contemporary fiction -- authors Brad Thor and Jodi Picoult are favorites -- with the occasional classic novel sprinkled in. I'm finding myself enjoying memoirs more and more, especially when they are about great books or an individual's reading adventures. I'm also fascinated with the WWII era....historical novels and memoirs from that time period are always a hit.
  • Television. I know it's often mindless programming, but it's also very relaxing after a hard day of rehearsing and performing. Since childhood, I've always been a fan of game shows. During the summer, it is not surprising to find me watching hours of old shows on Game Show Network. Currently, Jeopardy and Hollywood Game Night are two of my favorites. I'm also a sucker for an intriguing dramatic series. Don't bother trying to contact me if it's time for Scandal, Nashville, or How to Get Away with Murder. I won't acknowledge you exist until the program has ended and I've had my weekly fix. When my series diet is stalled after the season finales, I turn to my DVD. I'm especially fond of Lost, Desperate Housewives, and The west Wing. During the summer (mainly), I supplement my viewing with Reality TV. My niece and I have detailed conversations during Big Brother each summer. I'm also an occasional viewer of Survivor and Top Chef.
  • Movies. I don't get to go to the theater as often as I would like -- it takes so much effort to get there in time for the previews -- but it's definitely an activity I turn to when I'm feeling most stressed. I am much more likely to watch a drama than a "stupid" comedy. Every once in a while, I'll go for an action long as there is not too much blood involved. (In case you didn't figure it out -- horrors are a "no go" for me.) I'm never sure about the latest thriller; I enjoy the suspense on one hand, but I'm never a fan of the jolting surprise that results in me jumping in my seat.

Those are the main things that occupy my time. When I have extended amounts of free time, there are a few other things that I turn to for entertainment. I wish I had more time for them, but enjoy them when I can.

  • Road trips! All of my college buddies know that I'm the first one willing to hop in the car and hit the open road. Anyone ready for a trip to Vegas? I'll drive....or meet you there!
  • Cross stitching. What began as a way to keep my fingers moving after a childhood surgery became a hobby I continue to enjoy. My only problem is that I'm never able to finish the projects in the amount of time I have available.....because I don't like the simple little projects. The bigger they are -- and more complicated -- the more likely I am to dive into them. The more likely they will never get finished too....but that's another story!
  • Board games and jigsaw puzzles. I love sitting around a table with friends while playing a game or solving a problem. I suppose it's a result of being the last child in my family -- that was more like being an only child than anything (there's 10 years separating me and my nearest sibling).
  • Shopping. You can't always tell by looking at me, but I do enjoy shopping. It's not really clothing that I'm after though. I like to go to bookstores -- old and new -- and see what treasures I can uncover. I'm obsessed with home goods too -- one of the reasons I really hope to get into a house eventually instead of my tiny apartment.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hits and Misses (April 10-16)

Here's a look back at the week that was.......

  • This week looked as though it was going to be a very busy week of playing for me, so I was very happy to see that I had no midweek rehearsals this week. Most weeks I enjoy these short commitments in the middle of the week with my church family at College Heights, but when things are going crazy at school....the break is nice. (I'm just wondering if EVERYONE freely admitted that they didn't have rehearsals this week -- or just managed to use the standing commitment to avoid other rehearsals. Things that make you go "hmmmm....")
  • This week brought the return of more instrumental collaboration to my life. Vocal collaboration will always be my passion, but I do have a blast getting to play with instrumentalists as well. I've been doing a lot of work with clarinet and trumpet recently. I've got several works with trombone and euphonium coming up. That must mean that the end of the semester is just around the corner!
  • The absolute highlight of the week was having Natalie Bergeron in town for a few days. It was a joy to get to collaborate with her once again and to play while she coached a number of our WBU students. I think the students learned a lot from her and really enjoyed having her around.
  • Since Natalie was in town, I got to spend several evenings with the Browns as well. Who knew four people could laugh so much? It felt like we were in school again (even though we did miss Joe and Jenny!) The four of us enjoyed several meals together and got to attend the world premiere of The Incident at Burro Java here in Plainview. It's really been a great week that reminded me how blessed I am with great friends.
  • As the crazy week wound down, I momentarily forgot how to read a calendar. Thankfully, one commitment was easily rescheduled. Another student gently reminded me of our scheduled rehearsal that I was able to fit into the day......but if he had not mentioned it, I would have completely forgotten about it.
  • I was on my way out the door Friday night when I realized I did not have my keys in my pocket. As I turned to catch the door, a gust of wind blew through. The door slammed shut -- my keys clearly visible through the window. My landlord was not happy to get my call -- he is not a happy man most of the time -- but came over to let me back in despite his disposition.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Too Many Ideas!

Growing up, my mother seemed to constantly tell me that my brain never stops. I have always been imaginative, coming up with new ideas and projects on a regular basis. My creativity is one of the aspects of my personality that I am most proud of. It can also get me into trouble occasionally. As I come up with more and more ideas, it can become challenging to distinguish between what is a thought worthy of pursuing further and a really bad concept that needs to find its way to file thirteen. So I tend to find myself starting lots of projects that remain incomplete -- because I have gotten distracted by another "brilliant" idea along the way.

Since I am fully aware of this blessing/curse that exists in my life, I -- along with other people -- often wonder why I let myself fall into this trap so often. I think the answer is pretty simple. I'm interested in a lot of things and I only want to spend my time on those projects that are most fulfilling. While serving in ministry, I was quickly labeled the "idea guy" of our small leadership team. I was encouraged to dream up new ideas and then we would begin to flesh things out in the safety of a small, non-judgmental group. If we determined that an idea was worth bringing to life, I would be involved in the early stages of development. However, everyone on the team knew that my involvement in most of these projects would fade as we got closer to the execution date -- because I was beginning to dream up new ideas. The dreamer in me was fulfilled; the perfectionist who always wanted to have his fingers on the controls was often frustrated.

Over the years, I have tried repeatedly to get a handle on the reins of my dreaming mind. I would always become frustrated when a great idea fell through the cracks until some wayward comment would ignite the concept again. Occasionally I would find myself hanging onto a single idea in my brain that simply would not go away while trying to develop other projects. I have finally adopted a simple method of handling all of these ideas in a way that keeps my brain clear while ensuring that I don't forget anything I want to revisit later.

I use a simple file folder that is labeled "Ideas." It is essentially a catch-all folder, filled with random scraps of paper, napkins, post-its....whatever is on hand in the moment to jot down an idea. As ideas develop into larger projects, they are expanded into a larger file devoted exclusively to that project. This allows me the flexibility to move between "great ideas" without the fear of forgetting what I have already done and keeps my active projects before my eyes at all times. When I'm ready for a new project or I feel as though the creative juices are dry, I return to my "Ideas" file to see if anything grabs my attention. It has recently been a very positive way of managing my life; a note from several years ago sparked a new idea in one of my current on-going projects.....and now I have new energy to continue the process.

I love personal organization (as you can probably see from this post). How do you personally manage your inspiring ideas? Do you have any secrets for making sure projects are completed in a timely manner without experiencing burnout? I'd love to learn from your personal experiences, so please share your experiences in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When Faith Meets Hollywood

In an effort to maintain my questionable sanity, I've made a point of taking in a movie for the past two weekends. I find myself drawn immediately to the faith-based films that are currently in theaters. Here's my quick review of the films I have seen.

Miracles are from Heaven is a modern-day story about a miraculous healing. A young Texas girl was found to have a horrific disease with little hope of recovery. The illness pervades every aspect of the family's life and shakes the faith of both parents. In desperation, the mother takes her daughter to Boston for an experimental treatment. After many tests and lots of hospital stays, the family is sent home to enjoy what is left of the daughter's brief life. While playing with her older sister one afternoon, the sick girl climbs a tree and ultimately falls nearly 30 feet through the rotten trunk. Amazingly, the youngster sustains no major injuries -- and all signs of her life-threatening illness have disappeared. The young girl says that she encountered God while in the tree trunk and that He assured her everything would be okay. The story is based upon a true account.

I enjoyed this film immensely. I cried with the family as they dealt with the pain of a child. I understood how a person's faith could be tremendously challenged in the face of such difficulties. I laughed with Mom and Dad as they realized that their child was healthy and had been given a normal childhood once again through what could only be described as miraculous. But it wasn't the miracle that was so impressive to me. Jennifer Gardner's portrayal of a grieving, faith-challenged mother was exceptional. I was happy to see that the film addressed feelings of doubt that we have all faced at some point in our life without attaching guilt or judgment to the human condition. This is definitely a film worth seeing.

God's Not Dead 2 is a very different film that addresses issues of free speech and the separation of church and state. Set in my home state of Arkansas, the film follows the legal proceedings surrounding a high school history teacher who responds to a student's inquiry about the similarities between the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi and Jesus Christ. The ACLU takes up the case and begins a campaign to alleviate any mention of Christ or Christianity in the public classroom. I'm not going to tell too much of the plot of this film.....because I really hope you go to see if for yourself! I will say that the leading actors are great; both Jesse Metcalfe and Melissa Joan Hart give outstanding performances that will move you and cause you to think about your own opinions regarding these controversial issues. The final exchange depicted in the trial alone is worth the price of admission.

It's been great to see quality faith-based films making an appearance on the big screen once again. Now I'm really looking forward to seeing the next big film from these production companies -- Ben Hur is set to hit theaters in August, 2016.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hits and Misses (April 3-9)

Here's a look back at the week that was.....


  • This week had more meetings than normal for some reason. Fortunately, they were my favorite kind of meetings -- productive ones! There are some exciting things coming that are going to be very fun to be a part we go!
  • As the week came to a close, I was able to return to my normal reading routine. I had to put the 6th installment of the Harry Potter series down for a while. Things were just too crazy recently and I never felt like I had time to invest in the book. So I'm reading something a little more "academic" at the moment: When Books Went to War by Molly Manning. It's a fascinating look at the movement to supply WWII soldiers with books while they were serving our nation's military. It's definitely a departure from my normal selections, but I'm enjoying learning more about this interesting period of history.
  • It's always rewarding to encounter inquisitive students. Questions have ranged from approaches to playing contemporary praise choruses to my feelings about the compositions of Ned Rorem. These unexpected questions are part of the reason I enjoy teaching so much! The encounters with students also keep me young (or feeling young, at least).

  • It has been another long, busy week. I've done a lot of playing in the past 5 days and my body can definitely tell it. I keep telling myself that the insanity will only last for a few more weeks before I can enjoy the more relaxed pace of summer vacation.
  • Part of the playing this week has involved doing several rehearsals with ensembles that are preparing for upcoming performances. I don't play for these groups most of the time, so I found myself doing some last minute sight reading that demanded some big sounds. I'm not sure that other pianists feel the same way, but I find that these situations are more strenuous than normal performances because I've not had time to fully prepare my body and mind. In an effort to get around as best as I can, I sometimes use less-than-ideal movements.....and that can lead to problems when it happens too often. On Thursday afternoon, I was in my third of these sessions this week when I began to experience pain in my right hand. You can imagine that this stressed me out! Part of the problem was my own fault -- there had been absolutely no time to warm up that day. (I went directly from class to administering exams that ended just before the additional rehearsal.) The other issue was the demands placed on my hands for the past few weeks. There really hasn't been much downtime to allow my hands to rest. As the rehearsal continued, I was massaging the sore area while evaluating the playing that needed to occur for the rest of the day. I survived the day no worse for wear. I finally attributed the pain to a severe muscle cramp, but I still wanted to take it easy for a few days. I was able to cancel much of the playing scheduled for the rest of the week and intentionally planned my weekend away from the piano. I'll be keeping an eye on things in the coming days and will schedule a visit with a doctor if the problems persist.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Here We Go Again

"History has a way of repeating itself." Have you ever heard that phrase? It's part of the reason we encourage students to study history. We hope to make a better future by avoiding yesterday's mistakes.

But what about our personal story? I'm realizing another truth these days...."His story has a way of repeating itself." I'm amazed that things that have caused me pain, hurt, and frustration in the past have a way of rearing their ugly heads just as my heart and spirit are finally beginning to heal. And that just causes more questions to swirl through my head. Is there something about me that attracts this pain? Have I failed to learn an important lesson somehow? Is there something wrong with me?

Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not in desperation. I'm going to be okay. I'm just too soft hearted and can be deeply hurt by insensitive people. (If you are wondering if you've hurt my feelings recently, I assure you the answer is "No." Trust me on that one. I'm confident that the guilty party is not reading my blog posts.) I'm just finding myself experiencing a little deja vu and the old injuries are starting to be painful again.

When I had finally had enough of the pain and betrayal the first time, I promised myself I would never permit anyone to make me feel like this again. The temptation in my current situation is to tuck tail, run, and leave the aggressor behind. At the moment, I think that's too easy of a solution though....and that's the outcome the jerk is hoping for! As much as I hate to accept it, I think this is one of those times where I simply have to stand my ground and let the chips fall where they may. In the end, truth will prevail and the manipulation will be seen for what it is. Besides, there are too many good things in my life now to let the actions of one thoughtless, hurtful person rain on my parade.

So I'm hitching up my pants, straightening my back, and digging in for the long haul. History may be repeating itself, but the difference this time is me. I'm choosing to respond in a different way and trusting that the outcome will ultimately be a good one for me.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hits and Misses (March 27 - April 2)

Here's a look back at the week that was.....

  • Easter Sunday was beautiful! The music portion of the service went really well and Pastor Jason's sermon was encouraging and powerful. The rest of the day was spent resting and reflecting.
  • Since Monday was a school holiday -- another perk of working for a Christian school -- I was able to get to H&R Block to complete my tax returns. I was worried that this would be another year of huge checks going to the IRS. I was pleased to see that when I took into account my refund (!) and the filing fees to HRB, I was down less than $50. With my history, I'll definitely take that outcome without complaint!
  • The week included some beautiful music making. I accompanied 10 students for the Music Achievement Award competition on Tuesday night. The fun continued on Thursday in the first Recital Hour of the semester and ended on Friday morning with a successful recital hearing.
  • Big Weekend has come and gone. I heard several potential students and really enjoyed accompanying a few of the singers.
  • After a long and tough Friday, some of the faculty gathered for dinner. The food, the laughter, and the fun was exactly what the doctor ordered! It was just more proof that I work with an amazing group of people that I genuinely enjoy spending time with. Thanks for the hospitality, Scott.

  • This four-day work week has been exhausting. MAAs, piano proficiency exams, recital hour, Big Weekend auditions, voice master class, and 3 recital hearings on top of the normal stuff led to a very tired Kennith.
  • I missed spending time in the kitchen this week. I've had far too much fast food for my liking.