I finally blasted out of my hometown in Pennsylvania and landed at a college in California (after dropping out to start a tie-dye business in my grandmother’s basement). I found my way to my dorm and looked up at the music building that was just a few dozen yards away.
“Music is a Gift of God and Must Be Used Unto His Glory” was inscribed above the doorways in letters six feet high. I saw those words pretty much every day for the next two years. They drilled into my soft brain in a big way. And I’ve been thinking about them ever since. That’d be twenty-some years ago for anyone who’s counting.
If you were a literal type (I’m definitely not) you might think something like this is straight out of the Bible and all about making music as a form of worship. Hey, cool enough if that’s your bag. But I tend to go a little deeper when the message is ambiguous. Or when it’s not. As far as I’m concerned there is always a deeper meaning if we look for it.
So, after a couple of decades, I’ve come up with this… Music is definitely a gift.
Anyone who has listened to a song and been blown into another world knows this is true. Anyone who has danced to a love song with someone they love, knows this is true. Anyone who finds solace in music when they are alone and hurting knows this is true. I know it. And so do you.
That’s cool and that’s big, but that’s only part of it. As a musician or songwriter, it’s a whole other story. We create that music. It bubbles through our brains, into our finger tips or vocal chords and makes contact with an instrument. And if you know what you’re doing, you express. Something that you feel turns to soundwaves. And from there, anybody with ears can hear it. And experience it.
If you’re a musician, you know that after all of the practice and struggle, if we’re lucky, we hit that space once in awhile. The space where the music flows through us in ways that the rest of the world can never really understand.
It’s like something opens up in us, through us. If there’s a microphone or an audience then it can be transmitted. But for the musician or the singer, these elusive moments are indefinable. Like touching truth. Connecting to something extraordinary. Or having sex on the moon.
I’d call that a gift of God, or the Universe, or whatever you like to call it. If you’ve ever felt it this deeply— as a creator or listener, you know what I’m talking about.
Okay, cool. So we’ve got the first part sussed out. What about this ‘and Must Be Used Unto His Glory’ business?
I teach my songwriting students many things. But perhaps the biggest lesson I try to share with them is this— if your music is not true to you, if it is not deeply authentic, if you don’t care about every single note, if you don’t pry open your heart, your song will never be as good as it could be.
I don’t care if it’s your swooning love song. Or your punk rock anthem to flip off the Man. Or an all night party classic. Or an electro rocker about aliens. If you don’t breathe it and love it, or sweat with it, or wanna smash something with it, it will not be infused with your essence. And listeners on the other side will not feel you, your message, your thunder soul.
And that, SuperStars, is what I believe the inscription means. As a songwriter or author or anything else in this human world, if you do it with truth, vulnerability and authenticity, it is used unto the glory of the Universe. And that’s just f*ing right on.
I’m glad they welded it into the concrete back in college. It might have been the most important thing I learned there.
In what was do you agree or disagree with this philosophy?
How is your music a gift?