Monday, August 22, 2005

My Grand Ambitions

When I was growing up, my parents would often take me to visit my maternal grandparents in St. Louis, on Lawn Avenue, just south of Forest Park and the Planetarium. They lived in the parsonage provided by Barnes Hospital, where my grandfather, George Bowles, served as the Methodist chaplain. It's been many years since I set foot in that house , but I have warm memories from the times I spent there.

My grandmother had a spinet piano in her living room. One day, when I was about nine years old, I sat down at the piano and began to improvise. I'm pretty sure that it sounded horrendous, since I'd had no training at all, but what it lacked in terms of melody and harmony, it made up for in terms of passion! Upon hearing me, my mother decided that it was time to get me enrolled in piano lessons. The following Christmas, I awoke to find a new Story & Clark console piano in the living room. Shortly thereafter, my parents found an elderly, chain-smoking classical piano teacher named Mrs. T.A. Baker, and I began taking lessons with her. (I didn't much care for her smoking habit, but she amply compensated for that deficiency by nurturing my musical potential.) Those first music lessons involved the most incredibly rudimentary melodies one could possibly imagine, but by the time I ended my lessons with her approximately seven years later, I had acquired a great deal of proficiency as a classical piano player. (Later, I studied classical piano, in college, with a Cuban pianist named Luis Rojas, who had performed at Carnegie Hall.)

However, I did not aspire to be a professional classical pianist, even though I loved classical music. My musical aspirations were shaped by other experiences in my life. Specifically, when I was 13 years old, I accepted Christ as my personal Savior. I'd been raised in the Methodist church, but I came to a point in my life where I realized that that wasn't enough. There was a spiritual vacuum in my life, in spite of my efforts to be a good kid, and it had become painfully obvious that I needed divine help. While becoming a Christian wasn't an instant panacea which solved all of my problems, it did help to reverse the downward spiral of my life at that time.

I started high school in 1970. During my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I became a part of what became known as the "Jesus movement". I started attending a storefront Christian coffeehouse downtown. Initially, it was known as The Encounter, and about the only person there, other than myself, was the proprietor, who was a student from a local Bible college. Then the place changed hands and changed its name to the New Wine Coffeehouse, and before long, it was the hip place to be on Friday and Saturday nights if you were a young Christian living in or near Springfield, Missouri.

During that time, I began to hear a number of Christian folk-rock singers and groups, and even a rock band or two. Larry Norman, who was to Christian rock what Elvis Presley was to secular rock, performed at the New Wine Coffeehouse. I became a huge fan of his. I also loved it when the E Band, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, came to town. (Greg Volz, the band's lead singer, later spent a number of years as the lead singer for a better-known band named Petra.) During those early years, other seminal contemporary Christian musicians who came to town included Love Song, the Children of the Day, and Andrae Crouch and the Disciples.

As an extension of my passion for my new faith (which also found expression in numerous hours of "street witnessing"), I started writing my own Christian pop songs, during my sophomore year in high school, and I performed on occasions at the New Wine Coffeehouse. I gradually became convinced, on the basis of public reaction to my performances, that this was what I wanted to do for a living once I graduated from high school. I thought that was entirely feasible; after all, others were showing that it was possible to make a living in such a manner.

Little did I know how difficult such a path would prove to be. Many years have passed since that time. I'm now 49 years old, and I still have not even come close to being able to earn a living as a musician, despite commendations from a number of highly respected musicians, both Christian and secular. Yet, I still persist in believing that God has great plans for my music. I would be lying if I said that it had not been extremely frustrating at times. My faith has been severely tried (and, in some cases, found wanting). Yet, I still have a passion for music, and for the God who gave me my musical talents. For some years now, I have focused primarily on instrumental music, particularly music which is influenced by my love for jazz, blues and Latin music, and by my classical music background (although it has been many years since I played real classical music). At present, I am practicing the piano, on a semi-regular basis, at a local church, which has a beautiful Boston grand piano. (Hence the title of this blog entry.) During the past year, I have written several new pieces of instrumental music, which I hope to record soon.

Therefore, I solicit your prayers, if you're reading this entry, and if you believe, as I do, that the world needs more music which promotes truth and beauty, and which is founded on a Biblical worldview. Please pray that I will find the resources I need, both monetary and otherwise, to make my "grand ambitions" a reality.

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