LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, June 30, 2008

Franky Schaeffer's Addicted to Mediocrity

This week I'm reading Franky Schaeffer's Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts. Schaeffer makes a strong case against "Christian art", which is mired in mediocrity. I'm only about halfway through the book but I've come across many passages I wanted to share with you. Here are just a few:

"Any group that willingly or unconsciously side-steps creativity and human expression gives up their effective role in the society in which they live. In Christian terms, their ability to be the salt of that society is greatly diminished" (24).

"Christians must free themselves from the misconception of more than a century that everything must be measured in terms of its usefulness to the cause of Christianity" (40).

"Creativity, human worth, the arts, cultural endeavor, the media, communication, enjoyment of beauty, creativity in others, enjoyment of our own creativity, enjoyment of God's creativity--all of these need no justification. They are good and gracious gifts from the Heavenly Father above" (39).

"There is no Christian world, no secular world; these are just words. There is only one world--the world God made" (47).

Coming soon: a follow-up with Timothy Michael Powell about the world premiere of his Wedding Mass at Carnegie Hall earlier this month; interviews with a photographer, a painter and gallery owner, and more

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Virginia Pike, Part 2: From Office Temp to Broadway

Today I'm continuing my interview with Virginia Hart Pike a composer, piano teacher, and musical director living in New York City. She is cofounder and artistic director of music for Skylight Dance Theatre  She has written two musicals, many choral works, and many more art songs, which have been heard at various venues throughout New York City and beyond. She has also worked as a musical director and piano/keyboards player on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in regional theater. For three years she also held the title of Choir Director at St. George's Episcopal Church. She holds an M.F.A. from NYU and a B.S. from Duke University.

LeAnne: What was it like to take Skylight from your vision of what it could be through to its debut production?

Virginia: It was very exciting to see the whole thing come together, one step at a time, from watching the money come in, to hiring the dancers, assembling the choir and hiring the musicians. It was all a little surreal, because there was always a part of me that wasn't sure it would really happen. It was also disappointing that the show was over so quickly (it only ran for one weekend) because we spent months and months pouring ourselves into it and then poof--it was gone in a moment. It felt like we'd been through all the labor pains but didn't have the baby. It made us that much more determined to do the show again.

LM: You've worked as a musician on Broadway. What were some of the highlights of that experience?

VP: I played the keyboards for James Joyce's The Dead. It was very exciting. The moment that sticks out in my memory is the day my friend, Deborah Abramson, the Associate Musical Director for the show, called me and asked, "What are you doing the next few months?" We had graduated from NYU just a few months prior, and I had pretty much spent the summer doing office temp work. My answer to her question was "Nothing at all. Why might you ask?" She asked if I could come to rehearsal that day, and in one day I went from thinking I might be a temp for the rest of my life to working in a room with Christopher Walken, Stephen Spinella, and Marni Nixon. I was beside myself. It was a gift from God, truly. I had just handed my life over to God a few weeks prior, and I basically said to Him, "Even if you want me to be an office temp the rest of my life, I'll trust you and let You have Your way." In fact, that was when I became a Christian. I truly didn't expect the Lord to give me a Broadway show. 

Another moment that sticks out was when I got to rehearse with Faith Prince to help her learn her music when she was taking over the lead role. Truth be told, I didn't even do a very good job, because the night before I found out that one of my best friends (my Christian friend who helped lead me to Christ) was leaving New York City. I was up almost the whole night crying. Then when I got to rehearsal I found that the score Deborah had left me was incomplete and not always in the right key. Deborah usually just played by ear and assumed I could do the same, which I couldn't. Although that was a little embarrassing, Faith Prince was so sweet. From the time she saw me, she could tell something was wrong and tried to comfort me when I told her about my friend.

The cast on the whole was one of the most brilliant ensembles I've ever seen together on stage. Just getting to watch them together so many times was truly a privilege.

LM: What are you working on now?

VP: Now Amanda and I are working on two pieces for Skylight that are linked together by the theme of sacrificial love. One is an abstract dance piece about three couples, each of which is in a different stage of their relationship and each of which must undergo some sort of sacrifice in order for the relationship to move forward. The other piece is really a musical but with dance playing a prominent role in the storytelling. It is about a married couple in which the husband is a soldier in the war in Iraq and about the effect his deployment has on their marriage.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Virginia Pike: Composing with Prayer

Virginia Hart Pike is a composer, piano teacher, and musical director living in New York City. She is cofounder and Artistic Director of Music for Skylight Dance Theatre. She has written two musicals, many choral works, and many more art songs, which have been heard at various venues throughout New York City and beyond. She has also worked as a musical director and piano/keyboards player on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in regional theatre. For three years she has held the title of Choir Director at St. George's Episcopal Church. She holds an M.F.A. from NYU and a B. S. from Duke University.

What role did music play in your childhood? When did you start composing?

Virginia: I actually didn't come from a musical family, and I started taking piano lessons at the age of 7, just because I was into trying everything when I was a kid. I stuck with piano probably for two reasons: 1) I was afraid of my piano teacher, and 2) I liked to show off. In junior high school I was addicted to Billy Joel and learned to play every Billy Joel song I could get my hands on, and for some strange reason would often get up in front of my math class and sing a Billy Joel song (at the request of my teacher!?!), even though I couldn't sing very well. When I was in high school I switched to a new piano teacher who opened my ears and my heart to the beauty of classical music. I was kind of a depressed a lot as a teenager, and so it was a breakthrough for me when I discovered Brahms, because his music has this deep longing that I found I could relate to. Before that, I didn't know other people felt those things.

LM: What is your composing process like?

VP: Well, it always starts with prayer. In fact, the process is similar to praying, because I start out trying to listen to God's still, small voice. From there it depends on what stage of the process I'm at. If I'm just starting a piece, I first have to decide what I'm writing exactly and what I'm trying to convey through each movement, or section.

For instance, in the song cycle I wrote entitled First and Fairest, I knew the overall work was about the journey of a woman who had just come off of a painful rejection by the man she loved, and finds herself in the arms of God by the end. It was told through a setting of six poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, set for women's choir. Each movement was a different stage of the woman's healing process. So in beginning writing for a particular movement, once I'd established what the movement's role was in the overall piece, then I'd start out by exploring different sounds on the piano, accompaniment patterns, musical phrases, etc. that might convey the particular emotion I'm after at the start of the movement. Or I might start out by finding a melody first (which is always easier when there are words to set - I prefer writing music for voice for this reason), which I generally do by saying the words out loud to myself and listening to their cadence. This gives me an idea of the shape of the lyric, or poem in this case. 'll often find a part of the poem where I feel like the whole song kind of lands or leads up to, and I'll shape the rest of the melody around that moment.

From there I'll establish a form for the piece - deciding where the music should be repeated, where it should change, and about how often I want the harmony to change. Then I'll start putting together melody and accompaniment patterns and harmonic colors and do a section at a time. In the case of First and Fairest, some movements took a couple of months, and others took a couple of weeks.

LM: You are the Artistic Director of Music for Skylight Dance Theatre. Why did you and Amanda Brewster, Artistic Director of Dance, start Skylight? Where did the name come from?

I never thought I'd start a dance company, my background being in musical theater. It came about because for several years I had been mulling over ideas for a piece I wanted to write that would incorporate some Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems I had discovered. I didn't know if the piece should be an artsy musical, or a song cycle, or what. Then I saw a piece at Lincoln Center that inspired me. It was a telling of Orpheus and Euridice using poetry, set for soprano, clarinet and piano, and also for modern dancers who integrated the musicians into the choreography. Seeing that production made me realize that I was limiting myself by thinking the piece had to fit into a form that was more established, and I was finally able to see that the piece swimming around in my brain wanted to be a song cycle for women's choir and set to dance.

Amanda and I had met at St. George's Church, where I was musical director, and Amanda was in the choir. She had choreographed and danced a beautiful piece to a reading of St. Mark's passion on Palm Sunday, and it was the first time I remember really being moved by dance. Soon after I saw the Orpheus piece, Amanda and I were at a retreat together, and she was giving a talk, and as I was watching and listening to her it dawned on me that we needed to do this piece together. When I proposed the idea to her, she nearly jumped on me she was so excited. I suggested we find people to produce it for us, and she said that she always wanted to start a dance company. So I figured, what the heck, let's do it.

Amanda suggested the name Sklight, and I knew it was right because my image of the company name was like light coming from a window in the sky.

More from Virginia Pike on Thursday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Replay--Nicora Gangi: The Artist's Calling

This week I'm revisiting an interview I did in April 2007 with painter Nicora Gangi, who has some insightful things to say to artists in any field. I hope you enjoy it.

Next week, I'm posting a new feature with composer Virginia Pike.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Replay--Nicora Gangi: For Such a Time As This

This week, I'm replaying an interview I did with artist Nicora Gangi in April 2007 because I thought she had such excellent insights. Enjoy.

Coming soon: I'm working on new features with a photographer, an actor, a composer, and a painter and gallery owner.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Luci Shaw on Art and Beauty

In the book, The Christian Imagination, poet, essayist, and teacher Luci Shaw writes about beauty in her essay Beauty and the Creative Impulse. Here's a snippet from that essay:

"Art is what we say, what we sing, what we show about the beauty that is bubbling up within us like a pot on the boil. It cries out for recognition and response. Because it is so significant, so full of wonder to us--this upwelling from our creative imaginations--we want to show and share it with kindred spirits. And so we have poetry readings and art galleries and concerts and square dances and films and fashion shows and coffee table books."

How do you show and share this upwelling from your creative imagination? Leave a comment and let me know.

Coming soon: an actor, a photographer, a painter and gallery owner

Monday, June 09, 2008

Worship: The Work of Art

I don't often talk about art in the context of worship because that subject is already covered pretty well. But I am interested in the role that art plays in worship, particularly individual worship versus corporate worship. The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote on this topic that first appeared in The Lookout, September 15, 2002:

In his book, Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity (IVP, 2002) Michael Card writes, "God is beautiful. His beauty demands a response that is shaped by beauty. And that is art."

Art can lead us to express worship to God. Both an artist creating a work and a person experiencing a work of art can be moved to deep and meaningful communion with our Lord.

"That is what true worship is--a response," writes Card. "Because it is a response, it does not originate with me. He speaks. He moves. He is beautiful. We respond. We create. We worship...The call to creativity is the call to worship."

When have you been moved to worship God the Creator because of a work of art, whether your own or someone else's? Leave a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

On Beauty

I’m posting a day early because I’ll be away from the office tomorrow enjoying summertime. Many of you know that I love to write about beauty (check out my blog about it) and I keep my eyes open for it wherever I go. Here are some quotations that might inspire you to do the same:

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleepfull of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing." -- John Keats

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting--a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, and creeds follow one another like the withered leaves of Autumn; but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons and a possession for all eternity." -- Oscar Wilde

"Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old." -- Franz Kafka

Coming soon: a photographer, an actor, a composer, a painter and gallery owner

Monday, June 02, 2008

In Art and in Life

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. Samuel Johnson

The danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. Michelangelo

Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. Francis of Assisi

What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything. Laurence Sterne

Coming soon: an actor, a photographer, a composer

Home | About | Articles | Speaking | Links | Contact | FAQ
Blogs: Christians in the Arts | Beauty and the Beholder

Copyright 2007 LeAnne Martin. Site designed by ChurchGraphics.org