Knowing Your Own Worth

 Money in chestIn His Glory, Not Ours

Continuing with the Love Is series, I want to emphasize how important it is to understand your own worth, your own value, before we move on to the other words in the list.

I grew up living in many different towns and attending many different churches. Some of those churches, if I remember correctly, gave us the impression that all of us in the congregation were “lower than dirt” (as my brother often puts it). It seemed that some people’s take on Christianity is that we are all wretched people.

I understand where their ideals fit into the big picture. I know that, without God’s grace and the sacrifice of His Son, we are indeed all wretched and worthless. But to dwell on that and to never take ownership of the loving gift of life our Heavenly Father paid to set us free from our human nature is, I believe, an insult to God. When our church leadership encourages us to dwell in that darkness, it robs us of the power of love that God gave us through Jesus.

When we were baptized, we went beneath the water and died to ourselves. The person who arose from the baptism came up as a cleansed man/woman, ready to walk now in His will, in His glory, in His person. In 1 John 4:16 it says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” When we walk in His love, sharing that love with the people He puts in our lives, we are no longer the wretched creatures that live in darkness. When we are cleansed by His love, we become a member of the body of the bride of Christ.

That is where we source our worth. And what a marvelous worth it is! Psalm 139:13 says,
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

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Why I Write by Eric Rath

Music SketchKenneth Baird shared this link with me and I thought it was a good idea to share it here on my blog.

Rath makes some valid and interesting points. I agree with his sentiments about us being creators. And I agree that this is a very important part of the composition process…is the creation aspect. We create because we are made in God’s image and He is THE Creator.

However, what I would like to say in response is that creating just for the sake of creating does not appeal to me. I am not saying that I disagree with Rath in any way. But for me to take ownership of the ideals he expressed, I would have to clarify that I do not create just to create. I do not compose for it’s on sake.

I have written on this topic in the past, most recently on a post on this blog that you can read here. I also wrote an article for Jazz Houston several years ago that you can read here.

Once again, I am not disagreeing with Eric Rath. I am simply clarifying what my life experiences have taught me. I cannot create for its own sake and remain sincere in my communication to others.

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Wholesome Musical Priorities: Faith/Religion First

Do you practice your beliefs? Do you live the way that your faith says you should live? Does your musical life also conform to that belief?

 OrganistDifficult to Call It Religion

As the ideas for this list of Wholesome Musical Priorities began to develop in my mind, as a teacher, it was difficult for me to call the first priority “religion.” To me, “religion” had always been a bad word. As a christian, the word “religion” and how it is used today represents in my mind all of the bad stuff associated with religion and none of the good. But I had to remind myself that not all of my students are going to be Christians. So what do I call it if not “religion”?

I believe that people should live according to their beliefs. Your religion should not just be another club where you pay your membership dues. It shouldn’t just be a cultural identity nor a social association. Your beliefs, your faith, should be your moral compass. It should be a way of life for you.

Music As Part of Your Morality

And when you approach your musical studies, you should know before you start where YOUR music fits in the context of that faith. I emphasize the word YOUR because I am not insinuating that everything you do in music is of a religious nature. There are plenty of non-religious reasons to learn an instrument, but that doesn’t mean that music is something altogether separate from your religion.

This is a very important point, probably the most important point I’ll be making in this post. You don’t have to be a church musician to submit your musical studies to the morality of your religious beliefs. For example, if your religion teaches you to put others first, then this should dictate the way you behave in secular performance situations. Someone who puts others first will not aggressively seek attention or applause for himself.

When you practice what I call the “Wholesome Musical Priorities”, the way you approach your music should be governed by the moral standards of your religious belief. I cannot speak for other religions, but I know that it is common for us as Christians to behave as if our religion doesn’t apply to certain areas of our lives. A very common example of this is people who feel like their faith has nothing to do with the way the conduct their business lives or their sex lives. The truth is that your religious beliefs should apply to every area of your life, and that includes your music.

God First In All Things

In the context of your musical priorities, putting God first is more than just using church as an excuse not to practice. Each day we are confronted with dozens of decisions. When we make a commitment to live our lives in accordance with our religious and moral dictates, then those values are what make it easy for us to make the right choice at each branch in our daily paths.

Our musical lives do not, or should not, fall outside of our moral compasses. Nothing should! Beginning with the initial decision to learn and instrument in the first place, everything about our musical lives should be consistent with our religious beliefs.

I had an adult student, years ago, who told me he was going to leave his wife because she was not as understanding about his music as he wanted her to be. I think it was this student who prompted me to begin teaching about these musical priorities. When he told me he was thinking about divorce, because of his music, I explained to him that he had it all backwards. Then I told him that he was officially fired as my student and that he could call me again for lessons when he had worked things out with his wife. I took it all very seriously.

As a Christian, divorce doesn’t only hurt your spouse and your family, it also offends God. My student’s was an extreme case of putting music before religion. Anything we do to put music first, before God, is not only bad for us and the people in our lives, but also bad for our music…the very thing we think we love so much.

Music Is An Expression of Who We Are

It’s very important to understand that music is an expression of who we are. When we put music first in our lives, before our faith, before our religion, before God, we put ourselves in a position where our music becomes meaningless. The man or woman who makes music first above all other things in life is someone who has no life worth expressing.

I like to look at this from a programming perspective. A musicians who behaves as if music is his religion is like a recursive function that loops on itself. For those of you who are not into computer programming, a “recursive function” is a section of code that calls itself from within itself. If music is an expression of who we are, but music is also our religion, we establish an unhealthy loop. In programming, a recursive function quickly steals resources, eventually to a point where the entire computer crashes. In our musical life, this kind of musical theism renders our music and our lives completely irrelevant, eventually leading to the same kind of crash.

We have to live life before we can tell the world about it. I believe that the better we live our lives, the more meaningful thoughts and ideas we can share with our audiences, the better our music will be. I believe that living according to your faith is the most important step towards living that kind of life.

Music In The Church

I don’t believe you have to be a church musician for your music to be submitted to your religious beliefs. However, being part of a praise team or church orchestra is your opportunity to present your music to God as a offering. When you play music at church, it becomes a lot more than just your ability to express yourself. You become part of a corporate expression of praise and worship. As part of the music ministry at your church, you become part of the spiritual leadership in that church.

Yes, I do believe you are still expressing yourself in church. The difference is the audience. In a secular performance, we are expressing ourselves to the people in the audience. In church, praising God, we are expressing ourselves, as part of the congregation, to God.

This changes everything. When we express ourselves to God, I don’t believe it can be about entertaining Him. In other words, what sounds entertaining to us in the congregation should have nothing to do with how we approach praise and worship. I would even go as far as to say that if you objective when you “perform” is to entertain (or impress) the audience, then you are probably not praising God in that moment.

That said, praising God is not about how well you play your instrument. It’s not about how well you play in tune or anything like that. If your objective is to praise God through your music, then you should want to give him your very best. And that means that you should never stop growing as a musician. You should always continue to make progress because THAT is your best. But you must know that none of us are “good enough” to impress God with our musical talents.

This also means that you will never be good enough to criticize someone else’s musical abilities in the context of praising God. We all fall short of the glory of God. It is not our abilities that make the difference in praising Him. Instead, it is the love in our hearts. We should want to give God our very best, but when other people don’t live up to our standards, we must always remember that even our own “very best” is not enough to impress our Creator. We are all in the same boat.


Music should never be the most important thing in our lives. Whatever your religion is, make a serious effort to live according to that morality. When you do that first, your music will change. When you put God first, you will have a life worth expressing.

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Busy but Successful Week Last Week

Photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography

Photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography

Hello everyone,

I’m just popping in while I sit at a coffee place waiting to meet with some students at HSPVA and decided to spend a little time talking about my week last week. I was very busy but it was wonderful to get so much done and to play so much good music.


The week began with a trip to HSPVA where I am working with the Jazz combo as part of an educational program funded by the Monk Institute. Today will be my last session with the kids for that program. I am working with the students on higher performance ideals simply because I feel it would be a waste of time talking to them about their personal performance. They are all on the right track as individuals and the time we spend talking about scales, licks and stuff like that would be a waste of a good opportunity.

So I’ve been talking to them about inside playing vs. outside playing, about the seven compositional textures, about structure vs. freedom and how to implement a variety of different levels of structure. It has been going very well. What I enjoy most about doing that kind of work with the students is that they tend to perform better immediately. These are not concepts that take time to “work out” and we see results right there in the classroom.

Midland with Jacqui Sutton

Later in the week I did a gig in Midland with Jacqui Sutton. I feel like the gig went very well. I am becoming more comfortable with the eclectic mix of instruments and styles that she has assembled for her Frontier Jazz Orchestra.

We had two sets where we played standards without Jacqui. It was fun to play standards with Paul Chester again. The two of us have what I feel to be complimentary improv styles. So that was nice. Also in the band was Anthony Sapp, who I work often with in David Caceres’ band. Then there was Ilya Janos on hand percussion (which I really like as an alternative to drum set) , and Patrick Moore on cello.

The last two sets of the evening were with Jacqui, performing tunes from her wonderful recordings. Even though we were officially background music for the event, the crowd expressed great appreciation for the music.

Christ by South East

Back in Houston over the weekend I had the opportunity to work with my band at a Christian music festival. Ha! I wasn’t sure how well we would be received when I heard the band before us, which was more of a heavy metal Christian group. They were a very tight band, and I enjoyed listening to them, but I questioned if people would enjoy our music after hearing such intensity.

Well, they loved it!

CXSEFor this performance we had Anibal Ambert on bass and Henry Darragh on keys. We did a few of my original tunes and then some arrangements I’ve written of popular Christian music. It was all very well received.

After the festival, I had a wedding in the woodlands with The Grooves, a band from Austin that I’ve been working with for several years now.

Best of Texas Festival

To close the weekend I played a festival with three Houston music legends, Archie Bell, Roy Head and Johnny Lee. This was part of a fund raising benefit for the Champions Kids Camp, a camp for traumatized kids who have either experienced physical trauma themselves or have had family members die. Here is a picture with me, Johnny Gonzales on sax, Bill Nash, A. V. Middlestedt, Sharon Smith and Archie Bell.

Best In Texas FestivalEven though being this busy during the weeks leading up to our trip to South Africa was a bit of a challenge, it was a wonderful week of music. It’s nice to be able to serve people the way I do.

What’s Ahead?

I’m looking forward to my gigs this week with Dena Blue and David Caceres. One of the Caceres gigs is a wedding for Ed Lowe’s daughter, so I am very much looking forward to that.

Okay, that’s all for now. I have been writing other posts, but there isn’t much time to finish and proof them. So it may be a while before I get some of those up.

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Expanded Wholesome Musical Priorities

Sun and Clouds

Why Begin A New Series Now?

On the one hand, starting a new series now, when I am in the middle of three other series, is probably bad timing. My writing has already slowed to a stagger and the Love Is series, the Life Builders series and the Musician’s Survival Guide series have all been neglected. Why add another one to the list now, when I obviously can’t handle what I’ve already started?

The answer…

Because this one is important for my current students. Remember that this blog is my attempt to avoid (or cure?) what I call virtual schizophrenia (to read about my virtual schizophrenia click here). The readership is divided over several different focus areas. This is supposed to be the one site to rule them all (my Tolkienian reference, he he he…). My students are my highest professional priority and therefore a very important area of emphasis on this blog.

Wholesome Musical Priorities was one of my earliest blog posts. You can read that post by clicking here. It is one of the most important concepts that I teach my students. It helps us to visualize where music should fit into our lives. What I want to do for my students, through this series, is to expand on that concept and create a separate post for each point on the list.

Review the Musical Priority List

The following is the priority list as I explain it to my students:

1) Your Religion
2) Your Health
3) Your Family
4) Your Job or School
5) Your Music

The foundation for this priority list is my belief that music is supposed to be an expression of our lives and who we are. If we place our music too high on the list of our priorities, then we live a life with nothing to express. We have to live life first before we can express anything about that life. When music is our first priority in life, above all else, then we become selfishly pathetic nobodies, irrelevant to the world we live in, and all of our efforts as musicians become meaningless.

About the Series

I’ve been teaching these priorities for a few years now. I have gained new insights into each level of the priorities that I feel are important for me to share. I don’t know how long it will take to get to all five of the posts, but I feel it is important for me to get it started now.

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