Thoughts from a Musician's Heart
A KERNEL OF WHEAT by Heaven Fan
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”- Matthew 16:24
"’Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’" - John 12:24
As a performing artist in music, I often wonder how we musicians can create memorable, impactful, and inspirational performances. We are storytellers of sound, telling musical dramas created by composers to our listeners. The performance and the preparation behind the scenes often remind me of these two verses in the Bible when Jesus made the prediction of his crucifixion on the cross.
To be honest, we all have experienced some failure in our performances, some secretly if not miserably. For myself, I finally figured out that whenever my mind was not one hundred percent on my music before and during the performance, I would fail miserably.
To me, preparing for a successful performance is like going through a sanctification process. Like a gold refining process, it is a total cleansing of my inner self.
Psychologically, in preparation for upcoming concerts, I realized I was asking myself much more often, "Why am I doing this?" "What story do I want to tell?" "What kind of impact do I want to make on the listeners?" "How can I achieve the end result through my playing?"… etc.
Sometimes there was a voice of self-doubt creeping in, but ultimately God's Word kept me going. His calling and encouragement helped me in my darkest hours. His Word gave me the sense of direction and I tried to follow His light in life's tunnel. The Holy Spirit granted me peace and joy when I rose above the accusations of the enemy.
I found inspiration from the Bible for my own struggles. In Jesus' life He has shown us His dedication to His mission, which through His death is the salvation for all humanity. From the biblical record His life was purpose-driven, and He was single-minded on finishing the task God the Father had commissioned him to accomplish.
All the preparation before the performance is like the cross we musicians have to carry: learning all the notes and expressions, refining our techniques, memorization, and mental practice…etc. It is a huge task and countless hours of practice in solitude. There are times we do not want to practice. There are times we do not like stress. We do not like the competitions, either from real music competitions, or secretly comparing our own success to that of our colleagues. There are many obstacles and down times before the real deal. But God calls us to deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow Him.
Jesus is that "pioneer and perfecter" (Hebrews 12:2) for us to follow even in our endeavor of music. Not only is Matthew 16:24 good guidance for our preparation of performance, I find that John 12:24 is also a perfect depiction of the performing arts. We are that kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it can produce many seeds. When we are on stage, we have to die to ourselves. We have to disappear, not letting our own desires replace the composers'. We need to get behind the scenes so that the spirit of the music can come alive. In other words, just as "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14), we also have to become the piece we are playing. It is that kind of self-denial, dedication, and focus that will open the eyes and hearts of our audience. We have to recognize that we are only vessels. We evaporate so our art can suspire.
Jesus carried the cross and died for us so we who accept Him as our Lord and Savior can have eternal life. "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33) May God make us His faithful servants to reflect His glory in our art and lives.
Heaven Fan, DM, MM, BM, Artist Diploma
Professor of Harp | University of Notre Dame
Artistic Faculty | MasterWorks Festival
Board Member | USA International Harp Competition