Standing among Giants

I can’t explain just how it felt–but there were definitely a lot of goosebumps involved and nonstop smiling.  It’s the kind of feeling you get when you’re peering over the edge of the Grand Canyon, or holding a brand new baby, or eating mangoes.  But I wasn’t doing any of those things–I was standing in Carnegie Hall.  On the stage.

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: I was part of a 210 member back-up choir in Carnegie Hall which one buys into and does not have to audition for.  I was not personally performing in Carnegie Hall.  That in no way, however, diminishes the fact that it was awesome, epic, indescribable.  Best. Senior Trip. Ever. 

I was standing in the footprints of giants.

As we entered through stage right, I was walking where the world’s finest musicians have inspired audiences for the past 125 years.  I could imagine Yo-Yo Ma, Jascha Heifetz, Ella Fitzgerald, or Renee Fleming filling this breathtakingly regal dome with sound–the same space that our voices would soon penetrate.

I was standing behind giants.

As we began our sound check for that evening’s sold out concert for Keith and Kristyn Gettys’ concert, An Irish Christmas, we were standing almost close enough to touch these history-makers.  While far from a household name, the Gettys are well-known in protestant churches as resurrect-ers of hymn writing.  They create Biblically-sound, singable, timeless hymns for communal and energetic worship.  The heart of their music pulsates to an eternal beat that makes you want to take part in it.  They do not leave behind them only collections of timeless songs, but a community-focused philosophy of church music that is desperately needed in a world of spotlights and superstars.

But I was not just standing behind giants, nor in their footprints.

I was standing among giants.

I glance around me as the conductor and pianist confer.  Two seats down on my right is the professor of Elementary Music Education at Purdue.  To my left is a high school choir director and composer.  Somewhere behind me is a married couple that have taught private voice and instrument lessons for years.  In the row in front of me is my own college choir director who is also my voice teacher.  While I have met most of these only in the past 24 hours, I know from my teacher that he pours his life into his work.  He has devoted his time and energy since his high school years into studying and teaching music.  I am certain the same could be said for the many others I met.  Singing with these often unseen giants was one of the most musically-formative moments of my life to date.

As a college senior studying music, I hear “So you’re going to teach, right?” a lot.  Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching.  I currently teach a handful of students, and watching them progress and develop as vocalists, violinists, or pianists is incredibly rewarding.  However, a month ago I would have answered that question, “Mmm… maybe part-time.”  I like teaching, but until now I haven’t had the conviction that teaching is what God wants me to be doing.  I’ve never had a “calling,” and that has bothered me at times.

Something happened in NYC, though–walking through the streets of Manhattan after the concert, talking to one music teacher in particular.  He reminded me that because music is a gift of God, Christian musicians are responsible to pass it on; it’s a sort of specialized discipleship.  Listening to him, I observed how intrigued he was by the latest child prodigy, the polychord at the end of one of our pieces, a recent excellent performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria.  He left me with the feeling that he couldn’t not teach music, because he loved it so much–and somehow he passed that bug on to me, too.  I can’t explain the feeling, the burden, the… calling?  The pressing need to teach music, to pass on what I have been given, hit me like a train hits a stalled car that has been sitting on the tracks for months, hoping to be hit by a train (don’t overthink it–every blog post needs at least one really bad metaphor).  The motivation created by this new-found, God-granted purpose has already filled me with so much freedom and direction.  And I know from the teachers I talked to that this God-given purpose keeps them going through the long hours and stubborn students.

These teachers are the link between music’s history and its future.  They pass on the precious gift that they have been given.  If the soloist in Carnegie Hall is the pinnacle of the musical mountain, music teachers are the massive, steadfast base which lift that soloist up.  Music teachers make music history happen.  They turn the listener of music into a creator of music.

We turn the listener into a creator.

I’m excited to join the ranks of music teachers–I’m privileged to share my passion–I’m blessed to have been granted by God the calling to join the giants.