I had the rare treat of having dinner with my friend Nick last week. Nick & I are the same age & we grew up together in church. I’ve known him for twenty years ever since I was a bespectacled nerd/tomboy who loved playing soccer & he was a chubby kid who liked to draw dinosaurs. One of my earliest memories with him was when he made a catapult out of ice cream sticks & craft glue & shot a little wooden arrow at me & I cried. Bully.
My fondest memories of friendship however, were the times when we travelled to Yangon for a mission trip when we were twelve & then to Sydney for Hillsong Conference a few years later where I think we both truly encountered God for the first time. We played a lot of music & wrote really bad original songs together with our friend Luki, talked about things like Naruto & the English Premier League (!), got on each other’s nerves, ate a lot of late night suppers, talked about our dreams & served in church together. Though our paths have diverged considerably, I respect him a lot because I feel like we have reached a certain level in our friendship where we can talk about things that are difficult to talk about & call each other out on certain things. He is my cell group leader & #1 antagoniser & a pretty amazing musician & it was nice to finally have a decent conversation him after the crazy 2016 we both had. Here are some snippets of our conversation that day.
Stacy: I took art history when I was in Sweden.
S: Yeah. I loved it so much because I always love going to museums when I travel.
N: Is it? I cannot do museums. Like I can look at a painting & I have no idea what I’m looking at. The only museum I kinda enjoyed myself in was the Louvre.
S: Yeah? How was it?
N: I mean, it was okay because I had the audio guide to kinda explain things to me. But I remember being SO disappointed by the Mona Lisa. I was walking down the corridor & the place was getting crowded slowly & I thought, oh, this is it, it’s coming & I saw that huge crowd of people & I was so excited & tried to get to the front & when I finally made it I thought… That’s it?!
S: It’s pretty bad isn’t it?
N: It was so ugly. In my opinion, there were so many other nicer paintings. But that being said, I feel like I have no context for judging art. I just don’t know what I’m looking at.
S: I totally get what you’re saying. Which was why my art history class gave me so much context to what was going on. I found out that if you laid out the different “creative” spheres such as art, music, literature, fashion, film, etc, side by side & looked at them at different time periods, there are so many similarities. They just had different names. Like if you looked at the 1920s, they call it the “jazz age” right?
S: It’s cause jazz & big band music was starting to become huge in America. This was accompanied by flamboyant literature from “The Lost Generation”, surrealist & expressionist movements in art, flapper girls & androgynous dressing in fashion & so on. These were all tied together by the same values – liberation, extravagance, boldness – even though they all had different names.
S: Same can be said of music in the baroque period, the romantic period, whatever… all of the periods run parallel to other artistic spheres. Art influences all art. & for someone who only knew a little about books & a little about music her whole life, it was cool to finally get perspective on creativity as a whole.
[On Hearing God’s Voice]
N: Sometimes do you wonder, what does “God’s Will” even mean?
S: Yeah. It’s so vague.
N: Right? Like for me, I feel like there’s this music thing that I really want to do, but I’m just not sure if I’m just being selfish & pursuing it instead of God’s will. & it’s even harder for me because I never ever hear God’s voice audibly, although I’m sure that there are people who do. I never really hear Him telling me to do something.
S: Maybe God’s Will manifests in the doors that opened & closed to you in that moment. Maybe those are the signs… but of course, you MUST be walking with God closely to know that these opened doors are from Him.
S: Also, I think God’s voice gains more clarity while you’re having a sabbatical, or right after. It’s like a period of “quieting your soul”.
N: Definitely. After I came back from Spain after exchange, man, was I on fire… I was so sure I was finally going to get it right this time – pray, read the bible, spend more time with God like how I did when I was in Spain. I was so sure that I wouldn’t let the busyness of Singapore get to me. But well… look at what happened.
S: Tell me about it. I’m horrible at it too.
N: But I know what’s right. I know what I should be doing – meeting up with people, sharing lives, knowing God. & I’m going to try to do it.
N: Words always fly right past me. I don’t know why, but they have the tendency to. Which is why I love instrumental music. I think sometimes it says things you can’t really express. Do you ever get that feeling, like right here *puts hand on chest, tightens fist* when you hear a piece of music & it just “hits”?
S: All the time.
N: Yeah, but it isn’t the case for me. I mean, there are exceptions, like recently there was this song by… 2Pac.
S: Tupac?! Shakur?! Since when did you listen to rap music?
N: Eh no, I know it sounds lame but I’m not kidding. I think the title had the word “mama” in it or something. You should definitely go check it out, it’s like a spoken word. The message was fantastic.
S: Okay, I’ll definitely check it out afterwards… (the song is called Dear Mama by the way, & yes, it is pretty good)
N: Yeah but you see, that’s a one-off. Usually it’s jazz, particularly instrumental jazz, that does it for me. Think about it, there are only twelve notes & yet there are so many combinations. You just have to hone your craft till you get to the stage that your expression isn’t limited by your instrument, & I feel like I’m not at that stage yet.
S: You mean like when the instrument becomes an extension of your body?
N: Exactly. & you just have the freedom to create on the spot. & when you get really into it, especially when you play in a band & everyone is just going together, you get that feeling…
S: The Perfect Moment.
N: The Perfect Moment. & it’s not just about the notes or the combinations or technique. There are so many factors that matter when it comes to playing music. Two people can play something simple like a C major chord, just three notes, & they sound totally different – one does so without any feeling & the other does so with…
S: Conviction. Yes, there are so many things that contributes to a person’s playing. To have a signature “touch” sounds vague, but I know what it means. It’s a combination of playing with intention & joy & awareness & so many other things.
N: Yeah, like there was this duo that I saw at Java Jazz a few years ago. Brad Mehldau & Mark Guliana. Wow, I’ll never forget that. I remember seeing them & it just inspired me because there was something special in the way they were playing, so filled with passion… I felt it. You know what I mean?
S: Yes, when I was in Sweden, I discovered this band Volcano Choir. The textures were amazing & kinda reflective of the landscape of the place I was in… but again, you see, it was the lyrics that really reeled me in. So maybe The Perfect Moment isn’t limited to instrumentals because each of us has things that we connect to at such a deep level, whether it is art, or literature, or food, or whatever…
N: Yes, yes, I don’t doubt that.
S: … & we need to respect everyone’s unique, deep connections. No one’s connection is better or more sophisticated than the other. Yours is instrumental music, mine is through words. They’re all just different routes to arrive at the same Perfect Moment. Remember we were talking about hearing God’s voice earlier?
S: Maybe it’s about learning to recognise God in those rare, Perfect Moments. I know you sometimes see pursuing music & pursuing God’s will as two very separate things because you connect the former with satisfying your own wants, but think about it this way – if you could just submit your entire being to Him & steward the gift of creativity rightly, the first thing you should feel when you arrive at that Perfect Moment wouldn’t be guilt, but peace. It’s because it comes from a very different place. Everything seems to make sense. & everyone can get to that place.
N: Yes. Maybe. Maybe.