The Tumult of Opinions

In an era of social media and in the midst of another election year, people have never been so free to speak their minds, nor have felt so obligated to do so. In this war of words and tumult of opinions, perhaps we seek to strike a curiosity in others, but among those who are loudest and most presumptuous, opinion bears the fruits of discomfort and bitterness.

Those who are young are taught the difference between fact and opinion, yet those who have grown too often blur these lines. Opinion may be based on fact, but in contrast to fact, opinion cannot be proven true nor false. Thus how can argument be intensified to achieve greater effectiveness? Through appeals to emotion and twists of logic? Through vicious attacks and spitefulness? In the tumult of opinions, the deeper meaning behind the issue is lost, and while the argument is to settle who is right and wrong, there are enough voices to bring each other down, and the opportunity obtain wisdom and learning is circumvented.

Seeing other voice their opinions is admirable. It makes us want to raise our voices and cry our beliefs to the world. But have these beliefs been nourished through honest and sincere study? How would it be that the same generation who felt the need to be heard online had been fed those opinions by a quick Google search or video bite? It is said by some that those who do not hold to their own opinions are controlled by their peers to conform to society. All the same, those who feel such may form opinions solely for the purposes of forming them, and the ground on which they stand cannot truly be firm (not without the voice of Susan Bennett).

While observing the fighting that appears fruitless, we may point our motive to the words of James Madison, who highlighted the importance of the fight. However I believe that those who take this as rationalization to fight simply for the sake of argument have failed to understand that, while men are not angels, how much better a world could be for one to at least make an effort act like one.

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? … A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Experience has taught mankind a similar lesson outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

What greater aspiration does the natural man have than to hold dominion over another person? Would that not be the effective way to bring about change, to take away another’s agency and fully exercise one’s own? We all see things so differently, why is anything worth saying at all if it is not without guile? Pure knowledge and love unfeigned as a primary motive for our uttered remarks would be so ideal if put into practice.

I do not see a better way to bring about real change in the hearts of the people, including ourselves, than this simple inspired instruction. No, men are not angels. We need each other. Ambition must be counteracted, but let not your own ambition be empty and cold. No, not all men are angels, but I would expect that at least one life be made better were we to move toward a society where angels among men were not disappearing, but rather the converse. One life, if we tried for one day to be better.

Formulating the Proposal for Music Accessibility

What is so appealing about the great composers? Great artists and producers? It seems to me that we can educate about music history, music theory even. We can explain the revolutionary minds of great composers. We can discuss the profundity of selected masterpieces. We can do all of this, and students will continue on believing what they want about music, dismissing music that seems all too distant from the everyday world. There is no use in delivering blame, as they know as much as I do whether or not a situation would arise in their futures requiring them to enjoy music of a certain flavor. The principle is not similar to being bombarded with mathematical principles and only choosing certain ones to memorize, because eventually all of those skills will come to some use, in application or in theory. But perhaps a musician, or anyone else for that matter, is presented with a musical concept or a piece of historical knowledge. He (or she) can choose to remain in the comfort zone, and even if he is asked to perform a work by a certain composer, he can continue on living afterward with his opinion. The requirement to learn anything is moot.

By accessibility of music, it is not the necessity for more understandable music to which I refer, but rather the need for works currently deemed as inaccessible to public comprehensibility to be introduced and taught in an engaging manner. Proposals for music school reform are plentiful, though in many schools where Music Appreciation classes are provided to non-musicians, the question often awkwardly becomes one of whether or not teaching such classes can be truly relevant to students. Music Appreciation as a class seems to be most effective when simply having students share music that they love with each other.1 While I believe this to be a crucial element in education in music, the question again arises whether or not art music should be studied, and perhaps more importantly, whether or not a medium so transient as music can reasonably be analyzed.

Music cannot be analyzed in the same way as other art. Sure, there is music that attempts to express extra-musical elements, but those elements are never precisely clear unless it is that certain sound that is being referenced. For example, the sound of cannons in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” is obviously representational of, you guessed it, cannons firing. Before the 20th century, the attempt to construct abstract musical expression was not a feature of the visual arts, but even in the movement toward abstraction, even in seeing the shapes in Kandinsky’s “Composition VII,” what we see with our eyes on the canvas can always be at least somewhat relatable to real life subjects, while music at best can be seen as an attempt to give order to sound, but without the real-life subjects upon which to model.

So how can we get people invested in music who are not already invested in it? Music is a common interest in so many people’s lives. For many, it is a daily habit to immerse oneself into a playlist of endless songs, either to pass the time or to serve as the background moodsetter. Music is an abstract language, and simply speaking beyond the simplicity of the “happy major” and the “sad minor,” it is difficult for people to understand music without its association with words sung to it or the film which it accompanies.

And perhaps music is meant to be such. Millennia have passed and we still have yet to determine the logic behind our indulgence in such a strange pastime. Music is language that we do not wish to explicitly define, as we have with our verbal languages, otherwise we would not need words to communicate that which music can. Listening to spoken languages other than our own is perhaps then a music to us, and even poetry can have that same effect. But again, those words are assigned values that can then be translated into a language which we understand. Is this so with music? (Un)fortunately not.

Perhaps we can begin with describing form. It is music that follows specified form that can then be broken into further smaller pieces. But what does form communicate to the average Joe? Perhaps the music can then allude to another piece of the same form, but otherwise I do not see how the layman’s understanding of form brings further insight into their lives. Copland expressed that he would rather the listener be “sensitive to the musical tone than to know the number of vibrations that produce the tone. Information of that kind is of limited value even to the composer himself. What he desires above all is to encourage you to become as completely conscious and wide awake a listener as can possibly be developed. There lies the kernel of the problem of understanding music.”2 It is true then that the greatest need for the listener to understand music is for him to actually listen, wholeheartedly, to it. While I agree with this statement, there is still a part of me that wants, more than to share the mysteries of world masterpieces, to have those answers for myself. This is another great strand of faith onto which I hold. There is an analysis of music apart from that which “mutilate[s] the spirit of a work” that can leave behind greater wisdom in reality and brings the veneration from the artist to his art.3 This is the experiment upon which we embark.


  1. Silverman, Marissa. “Rethinking Music ‘Appreciation'”
  2. Copland, Aaron. What to Listen for in Music, xxxvi
  3. Varèse, Edgard. “Jerom s’en va-t’en guerre.” The Sackbut, 4. The full quote is: “By its very definition analysis is sterile. To explain by means of it is to decompose, to mutilate the spirit of a work.”

That Time I Auditioned for Vocal Point

I was visiting my sister one week ago when the topic of discussion moved to a mutual friend that we both had. It was a cool thing because I think this guy has met every member of my family independently. He had been a member of BYU’s popular male a cappella group Vocal Point and she was telling me how talented this guy was. I had recently found out that auditions for the group were this week. “You should audition!” she said. “Then we would have to go to concerts!”

Being familiar with the audition process from the dozens in which I had before participated, I knew that signing up for an audition three days before it actually happens is never a good idea unless you are already sufficiently prepared, which was certainly not the case with me. But the thought was appealing, if only for the reason that it’s good experience to have, even though I knew that the chances of admission were diminutive. So I signed up.

I had done choir in high school, and on one occasion one of the soloists of a Rent medley we were singing became drunk on the day of a concert. He wasn’t permitted to come and perform, so I was asked to learn the part quickly to fill in (it was only one verse). It wasn’t very much, but when it came time to perform, I was nervous enough to switch some of the words around, but hey I’d only learned them that day. If I could do that, maybe I could be a little more optimistic about this opportunity. I was fully aware that forgetting lines shows less than minimal preparation for an audition.

Apart from only ever having sung solo that one time for one short verse, I also don’t listen to pop music. I recognize a few tunes, but I certainly never listen to any of them enough times to learn any of the lyrics. I have been listening to Chinese pop music actually, but the auditioners didn’t want songs they weren’t familiar with. Broadway was also ruled out, as well as vibrato (basically my art song and opera music), so I had to look for something to sing. The other recommendation was that the song show off my range. The only pop songs I ever heard wouldn’t show off anyone’s range (I’m certain that’s not true, there’s just none I could think of). I don’t know how I found it, but I stumbled randomly upon “Not a Bad Thing” by Justin Timberlake. His voice hits a pretty wide range in it, plus it’s by a super famous popstar so it’s along the lines a group like Vocal Point could sing. So I decided to learn the first verse and chorus, simple enough.

I felt pretty confident going in on Wednesday that I could remember the words and hit all of the notes. At the same time I kept asking myself Why am I doing this? and then, not having a real answer, reminding myself it was just for the experience. Because I’m not a very experienced singer, I wasn’t accustomed to any techniques or warm-up I could do. I was nervous, knowing that I had not prepared sufficiently (but I had known that from the beginning…) so I talked with people sitting outside the audition room, trying to put off thinking about the outcome. We typed up answers to some questions about ourselves, such as “Why do you want to join Vocal Point” and “What are your top three favorite artists/bands?” My answers were similar to “Because honestly it would be fun, and a lot of hard work” and “Beyoncé, Jamie Cullum, and Steely Dan”. I honestly don’t know too much Beyoncé but I couldn’t put down Marc-André Hamelin. I am actually a big fan of Jamie Cullum, but I was afraid that not everyone would recognize songs sung by him.

When we were called in, we began with sight singing. I am actually quite good at sight singing, but we were asked to sing “Let the Holy Spirit Guide” straight from the LDS hymnal, probably the most popular hymn of early morning seminary for its shortness. So there wasn’t really a chance to stand out there. Then, I was asked to perform my song first.

First, darn it. I wasn’t preparing right before, like I would be cramming for a test (which I don’t recommend), so I kind of wished I could take a few seconds to pull myself together right then. But I didn’t have that, so I started singing.

I remembered the first line. Subsequent lines became less and less clear, and I made sure to pause at the end of each phrase because I couldn’t think of how the following line went. I saw the members of Vocal Point dancing along to the beat which I kept interrupting because I couldn’t keep remembering the words in time. I was cut short, then the group leader asked me to sing the chorus, starting at his desired pitch. Two lines in, I stopped, saying “I don’t remember how it goes.” One member sang the next line for me and I sang it back until I was stopped again, and they moved onto the guy next to me.

“I’m going to sing Hallelujah,” he said.

“That’s a good one,” said one member.

Hey, I knew that song. Maybe I could have performed that.

The following guy said next, “I’m going to be singing Let it Be by the Beatles.”

“Great song!” they responded.

Hey, I’m really familiar with that song too! Maybe I could have sung that one.

I don’t remember what the fourth guy sang, but he was powerful. We left after that and congratulated him. He got called back, of course.

Well, I thought as I left, that was it. Haha. It actually went worse than I anticipated. But I wasn’t hurt, I knew I had asked for that.

The next day I attended a concert by another a cappella group, Beyond Measure. As I came in, one guy stopped me. “Josh, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks for coming in yesterday. It went well!”

“I know, but I’m aware that it was actually pretty bad,” I said with a smile.

“You’ve got something there though. I just want to tell you not to give up. We definitely want to see you back next year.”

I told him that I didn’t have much singing experience and that this was just for fun. I had only started preparing for it the week of. He told me it would be a good idea to prepare throughout the year.

I’m mostly just impressed that, in spite of my audition being objectively bad (like I said, you don’t forget lines for an audition), he still stopped to talk to me. I mean, if I were in the group and had witnessed such a disaster from just one of dozens of fabulously talented auditions, there’s a good chance I would have just ignored me. It’s always good to remember names, but this one crappy kid? That’s pretty impressive. But maybe this is the attitude I should adopt with everyone as well. I hope that when I am in that position (any kind of position where I search for somebody) that I don’t just shrug off the people who don’t even show promise. But it’s a good thing to start being aware of.

The second thing I take from this is that I’m glad to have tried out for something I didn’t really expect to be a part of. For example, I find it hard to be motivated to write up applications for jobs and programs or audition for groups without actually believing that I’ll make it. It just makes everything less convincing. I feel like I really did try my hardest with the minimal time and resources I was given here, but I also was fully aware of a realistic outcome. It really is a strange principle, but it applies to much more than this experience. At one point, we are probably going to break that reality, and by doing out best, we will achieve unexpected things.

The Price of Honesty

I know plagiarism when I see it. I had that concept drilled into me over and over in high school English — how to detect it and how to avoid it. It is a crime, a form of intellectual theft, and it made perfect sense to me. The rules were so clearly laid out to me that I immediately recognized it, after reading a set of essays which a student had turned in for extra credit. More than half of the content had clearly been copied and pasted from at least three third-party sources which I found online, and perhaps even worse, it wasn’t coherent — one part quoting an un-introduced bystander, another speaking of future discussions which clearly were not present in that paper. I quickly assigned it a zero, already knowing the consequence of such actions: a class fail and a report to the honor code office. I mentioned to the professor what I had seen, and he spoke exactly what I had thought, that it isn’t fair to anyone, especially others students, that one person get ahead by cheating. Even though I had asked this student to meet with me after class that day to allow her to present her case, we couldn’t think of any way that something of this nature could be disproved.

She came to me after class, having discovered the topic about which I wished to speak, telling me that she had erroneously submitted a rough draft of the essays and that she had meant to submit a different, more accurate set. My skeptic mind asked, “Really? Can you show that to me?”

“Yes,” she said, “but I have to go to work now.”

“Can you send it when you’re done?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, great, I was worried that we’d have to take more action!”

It wasn’t until several hours later that I sat there regretting my decision for her to be allowed to attend to her job immediately. It’s not that I didn’t believe that she had to go work, but frankly speaking the evidence which I could clearly have gotten ahold of was now invalid because it no longer proved that she was prepared. I sent her an email tell her to contact the professor, as I now lacked the evidence that I needed to make an informed decision. My message was stern in that email because I didn’t know her, all I knew was her actions, and I must treat every student the same. She replied almost instantaneously with her revision attached, stating she had just gotten off of work and how stressful everything that had been going on was. I read over her revised document and found it to be worthy of a high grade. After informing the professor, he replied back to me that we should let it pass. I was a little surprised considering the discussion we had had earlier, but I was almost feeling sympathy for this student, who otherwise was doing extremely well in the class. She will continue to do well, but I imagine the shock I must have given her this last week of classes, after so much work and study had been completed, to be failed by law and perhaps have the mark of a cheater written on her transcript forever.

Naturally my thoughts turned toward myself, as I had all the power to fail this student, and I knew without a doubt that she should. I wondered whether I truly deserved to exercise that authority — perhaps I am like the man from the parable of the talents, who wished to justly punish a man for his inability to pay back a debt, but which was only a fraction of the debt he himself owed. I honestly had not before considered plagiarism to be a possibility in math and science, whereas in writing it was all too obvious. Perhaps the reason is that plagiarism is stealing ideas and passing them off as one’s own, where when learning mathematical concepts or physics those ideas are already credited to their discoverers and are taught to be done in a very precise manner. Then I remembered when I first changed my major to ME and struggled for that entire semester. I had no idea how the other students were faring so well, and I just kept up hope that my depression would fade and I would eventually become like them, always on top of their work and their grades. As a music major I never cared for grades. I knew that if I worked hard and always progressed, I would do well. I never had to go ask for help, it just seemed right for me to independently study and improve. That’s why toward the end of that first semester, after struggling day after day spending hours on individual problems, I visited the TA labs for the first time. I told them I had only begun coming to these labs, to which a TA said, “Well that was a mistake.”

I never did this as a musician. It didn’t feel right. I sat there and watched how TAs sat with students and solved each problem step-by-step. Problems were solved on the board as students searched through their work to find out how to solve their homework problems. It made my life so much easier. But it still wasn’t enough. The following semester I retook a calculus class in order to get a better grade, though I knew every concept back to front. Through the semester I aced every problem I came across. In that time I discovered other students using a website which contains worked out solutions to a number of math textbooks. It seemed to me to be an invaluable resource, particularly because I already knew how to solve the problems, but using this site I could do very thorough checks of my answers. Thus this site became my daily companion. I felt like I could teach this class with all the knowledge I had gained. This semester I attacked two of my classes with both a solution manual and Slader at my side as I worked through my homework each day. I thought nothing of it, I commonly saw other students using these tools and I completed more homework than I had ever done.

I think that’s where the gray area ends. I stopped talking to TAs even when they were present in the lab because I had a resource that taught me at a level and speed accustomed to me, I learned the concepts at a much faster rate, and my grades have been much better than before. But I don’t deserve them. Pondering this topic has changed my opinion dramatically on how work must be done. Even until now, I still haven’t completely learned what it means to be a good student. I thought of turning myself in and receiving those same consequences which I was to administer to that girl. After all, I knew now exactly that I had been committing plagiarism this entire semester. The consequences were clear to me — I would delay my graduation yet another year, failing and retaking these two classes along with others I may not have fully deserved, and worst of all being marked as a cheater on my transcript for good, minimizing more than ever my chances of graduate study. It was the only right thing to do.

I first emailed my academic counselor, who, incidentally being the Mechanical Engineering counselor has helped me immensely to prepare for graduation, also holds a music degree. I explained to her my transformation, not dissimilar to the girl’s whose essays I graded, as her essays turned in every few weeks showed evidence of more and more plagiarism until it was so obvious it was undeniable. Mine was a slower process, but I look back and see the error of my actions and require only justice. How can I be seeker of truth, one who searches for all the knowledge available to man, and not even be true to myself? As with any bad habit, there is no true repentance unless all possible restitution is made. One cannot simply stop gambling, having adulterous relations, smoking tobacco, or even producing excessive carbon without suffering its natural consequences. What’s passed is past, but can we try to undo our own carbon footprints or confess promiscuous relationships to a spouse? Why would it be okay that after discovering the truth, I keep the lies of my past hidden? It was perhaps the environmental situation given Jean Valjean that caused him to commit even respectable crimes, but after realizing the man that these crimes had transformed into and with a blessing from the bishop, his transformation not only impacted him but improved the lives of many in his city of mayorship. Still a man had to be convicted of his crimes, and he could not hide himself while another man suffered the terrible pains he remembered, so after revealing himself in court he fled, already having committed himself to a higher duty.

I’m still waiting for a reply to that confession, but I’m hoping that it comes soon and that as a result I will discover greater integrity in myself. Regardless of what happens, the thing that I wish most not to forget is that though I deserve to respect myself, the respect I receive from others should be based on the person that they see in me, rather than simply the person that they see.

Happy New Year. 2016.

Let’s just say I feel more broken than I did last year, but in a much different way, a way I didn’t know was possible. I’ve continued life with the philosophy that I can’t rule out possibilities for my life, for truth, that I haven’t tried personally. At some point I realized that all of my closest friends were moving on in their lives, be it to marriage, business, or excessive schoolwork, but as my reaching out seemed to wear itself thin, I found myself moving in that same direction. And I don’t mean progress as much as I mean alienation. I don’t know who would still be glad to see me, to no fault of their own.

Perhaps one of the reasons that even these old songs aren’t speaking to me is that I can hardly remember what that love that they always speak of feels like. They say that friends come and go in your life, but your family will always be there for you. I could say that I never took advantage of the large family of which I am a part my entire life, and now that I have family living out here, I have them. But I’m still not entirely sure what’s there. It’s territory that still feels alien to me.

I’m grateful not to have failed any classes, though when the difference is less than two percent, there is hardly a difference in my eyes. But one thing I know, I did not give up. Even though I had convinced myself that I had many, many times, I know that I didn’t. A student in my music history class had similar experiences to me, but when the difference was between passing and failing, s/he only saw her grade in the class and lost hope, giving up when the chance was its lowest at the final exam. For me in three of my classes, my grade shocked me as each day progressed in the semester. I have never failed a paper in my life, and seeing two classes below the 50 up until the end… at that point I accepted that failure was imminent, in not just one, but three major classes, but somehow I managed to get through.

I express that though such situations have made me rethink absolutely every aspect of my life to a pulp, I came to a conclusion that I had neither expected nor found appealing – that utter, miserable failure is a necessary part of my growth. I didn’t find it reasonable. I still don’t understand it. In fact looking at these words now, they look so blatantly simple and obvious my brain doesn’t admit they do it justice. But as the repercussions of my decisions continue to flurry into my face, I think I do accept that I contain at least a smidgen of tenacity. I’m not strong, and for the first New Year’s Eve that I’ve passed, I don’t feel a rush of renewed energy. But I have a prayer. I don’t even feel up to my big plans. But somewhere, something inside of my knows something – that happiness, love, future relationships are still possible. They still exist and can not only be real but also strong. And even though our brains trick us to no end, I know that in my past, times like this were always eventually followed by some amount of triumph. I am finding it hard to trust my own words, yet here they are, floating around looking for entrance into my heart.

I bid you a happy New Year, because we don’t just deserve it. It’s necessary encouragement, and by it are we made better. Life’s going to keep throwing snowballs that we are unprepared for. I think we are unfit to see our own progress or regression if it may be. I think life really is going to get better. And if you had to have as many glasses as I have had tonight, I’d say just go with it.

Your Best Reality

Did you know Wang Leehom and Wong Fu made a video? I didn’t, until just now, after finishing up finals and getting ready to leave with the band to the bowl game, and then after taking a long nap, when I was aimlessly wandering YouTube and stumbled across this gem.

Wong Fu loves to leave me things to ponder but I found this one particularly meaningful. What if this international singer were just another street performer, like we think we are?

“Do you want to be famous?” the girl asks.

“Perhaps the version of me in an alternate universe can be famous, but not in this one,” he responds.

He seems to enjoy what he does after all, making music in the middle of Times Square, singing anything but the Chinese music that would make him renowned. But her dream is to become a reporter: she has something to share and won’t let some alternate version of her have all the fun. It is unclear whether time lapses, or we just switch to our reality, where she becomes that reporter, and Wang Leehom indeed becomes famous, as they continue their interview and he ponders whether it was fate that brought him here, or perhaps something else.

“Why not make everything in life become the way you want it to be?” I feel her questions are wise, in that they imply that we are creators of some sort and each have our own purpose. In this course of thought, I really believe that we can take the resources in life we now already have to design whatever future we desire. Everyone can create, whether it is music, art, beautiful experiences, or the joy of others. I know that I at times forget this principle, even making myself busy to the point of forgetting what really brings happiness. I hope that I can start now in opening up some of my time, allowing more time for chasing dreams. This time of year allows us to reflect on life’s important things and renew our goals. I’ve only learned recently that we can’t do everything at once, but we still must make time for the important things, and if that means chasing your dreams, then that should be a part of your goals.

『為什麼不讓現在的一切都改變到想要的樣子?為什麼不自己去創造你的命運呢?』我覺得她所問的問題很有智慧的,意味者我們都是創造者並有自己的目的。如果這樣想,我真的相信我們可以運用現在已經擁有的資源來設計任何能夠想要的未來。每個人都能創造,無論是音樂,藝術,美好的經驗,或者別人的快樂。我知道我有時候會忘記這個原則而且會讓自己忙到我忘記生活最能夠帶來快樂的東西。我希望能夠現在開始把時間安排得比較輕鬆一點,讓我有夠時間去追我的夢想。每年的這個時候可以讓我們考慮生活中最重要的些東西並更新目標。我最近才學到了,我們不能馬上做一切的事,但也必須抽出時間做最重要的事情,如果這意味著追逐夢想,那這就應該是目標的一部分。

『選擇並活出唯一一個屬於自己的人生吧。』

Knowledge

Throughout the semester my physics professor has shared spiritual thoughts each class, which may strike some as odd, but I’ve always found them to be immediately relevant and thoughtful. Today he shared his last thought, entitled “What Science Has Taught Me About Religion”. He began that science has not taught him very much about religion. However, it has taught, over and over again, that we really don’t know anything. This is one thing that I wish I understood more clearly. Because there’s something about it that makes learning become interesting.

If I don’t eventually end up living with an observatory in my home, I at least will need a house overlooking the sea. Or at least be nearby, where I can always be reminded of the sheer vastness of the unknown. Too often have I read through a book, thinking afterward that I finally knew what that book was about. Reading every line in a book won’t reveal what is between those lines, even if the Internet claims to. Or taught a class, thinking that my knowledge of that subject would be comprehensive. I wouldn’t dare teach something that I didn’t think I thoroughly understood myself. We’ve simplified physics down to countless laws that explain how the world works, but they do so imperfectly – there have always been missing pieces, new things to be discovered, that may completely change the way about which we see things.

What of our imperfect system of music? These laws that have been figured out, that ultimately tell us very little. Our beautiful artificial system built on irrationally-numbered frequencies, eventually carrying us to one of a dozen dominant-tonic relationships. Perhaps I could learn that after filling the gaps of my previously unknown music history that I may not have wanted to discover, I can still listen to music as I once did, as I learned to understand each piece and they in turn grew to impact me. Perhaps I may also learn that because I have so much to learn, I don’t need to know everything at once.

It is perplexing to my mind what range of thought is trapped in this tiny physical brain or ours. The way we think, we could fit within it an ocean, deep in thought and infinite in complexity. I want to be in harmony with all the sciences and arts, wisdom and knowledge. But even if learning were simply consuming any of this information as one does with water, information will not process into wisdom without intense effort. Just how slowly this process must be, and how great a mind must be to know anything of himself. Even if I feel that only by some higher being absolute truth can be revealed, how much truth can that even entail? It can either flow as a river, or be distilled as dew. I wish I could know just how much I don’t know. I wish even this statement made sense to me, because at once I think I understand it, while I know that isn’t entirely the case.

This is the way the mind flows, deeper and deeper into the unknown.

As my Sister Returns from the Mission Field

My sister comes home from her mission tomorrow from Sydney, Australia. I haven’t seen her since I left for mine on July 5, 2012. We’ve exchanged many emails, several photos, and seven short phone calls. One of those calls was the day she had flown into the Sydney airport, where she ran into my mission president and his wife, and they connected her to me. I could not have been more excited for her; twenty-one months into my mission, I wish I could tell her what lay ahead in her future. At the same time, I tried not to be aware of what was in mine.

The day I flew home from my mission, I prayed that I would never ever forget those marvelous experiences that I had as a missionary. I could never forget the amazing people that I had grown to love. I couldn’t forget anything. How could such a time and place have completely changed who I was? These were just everyday people, living their lives; how could something so simple as a setting apart uttered with hands laid upon my head have put me on the path to desiring nothing but their happiness? I had never felt so torn apart as I realized that in no time at all, I would be released from once having been set apart to represent the Lord Jesus Christ.

As much as I feel I have done countless wonderful things since coming home – and many things have happened – God continues to grant me that final wish, that I not forget who I truly am – a Sydney RM, a revelatory missionary forever. One who knows the words revealed to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail as D&C 121. I can’t say I’ve been more faithful than previously, in fact if anything I have gone through much toil and confusion and to be honest the longing for that other world could not have tormented me more than it had at those times. But I’m grateful to, despite my difficulty in learning and adjusting, have gone through what I have. These are never the trials that I would have wanted! But what had I expected? Trials wouldn’t be trials if they were easy. And yet they are so minute in the scheme of things.

I hope the people of Australia who knew that I once knew them could know that I still remember them clear as day. I’m so grateful for the increased memory I was given for that time and for that specific purpose. You’re still in my heart. I remember that I taught you; that I befriended you on the street though you continually denied interest in lessons; I remember that I stood there with you into the waters of baptism as you accepted the greatest joy you could then receive. Some of you have disappeared and returned to your home country, some of you have found yourselves lost and once again in search of truth, and some remain, continuing your progress toward eternity. I wish that I could still reach you, though no longer missionary, still a friend. Still someone who cares deeply about you, to see you thriving in something so powerful as the Atonement of Christ. But even if you can never hear my voice again, I know our Father in heaven continually hears my prayers for you, and is watching over you in every step you take. I wish you could know that He can never truly forsake you – for the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but “my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”

When Sister Howes sent me this recording shortly after I performed the song in Hyde Park YSA Ward Easter fireside, she mentioned that she didn’t know if I would share it or even if I would want to listen to it, but it was moving to her. I gave it a listen and immediately found my intonation, among other things, revolting. And truthfully I still do. But as I lose contact with more people that I knew as a missionary, my memories are slowly failing me with time. This song is a small piece of the love that I knew and felt in those last months in Australia and further evidence of the truth. Can I forget something so beautiful? Never. The gospel is true, regardless of what we do. I will never forget it.

Two Piano Preludes

These pieces have actually been available for months, but I’ve realized that the only thing stopping me from getting back in blogger shape is myself. During this time I’ve had a stupor of though about the fate of this blog, seeing as my train of thought which had been running a clear direction three years ago suddenly took a very large turn. Whatever the case, I will never give up composition as a hobby, but my output will be more limited in terms of variety. Because I probably will not study the orchestral arranging and directing in the near future, I aim to steer in the direction of writing for small ensembles, if not simply for solo piano. The piano has enough grandeur to give me as a performer suitable happiness because of its already immense capacity as a solo instrument.

Well here I finally present to you two pieces that I hope can give you a sense of hope as you play. I also hope that one day one of my pianist friends will be able to record these for me without all the mistakes that I make in doing so so that these sounds would be enjoyable to listen to as well.

Download score: Prelude No. 1

I haven’t much to say about anything that I write, except that the subtitle for this piece is indeed taken from the nursery rhyme about the demise of an egg, but additionally and more accurately alludes to a specific story in the Book of Mormon.

Download score: Prelude No. 2

I find the nearly ternary simplicity in the form of this piece quite pleasing. But alas, it can’t always be this way.

It is difficult to classify this music in terms of form and I really don’t feel qualified in giving names to my creations, so at this time these will be known as preludes. But as always, I leave the rest up to imagination.

Finding True Beauty

I feel I must ask again with President Spencer W. Kimball, where is that Beethoven and Brahms among us? Anyone, irrespective of religion, race, or time, who has such mastery of their musical language as to produce truly sublime works of art?

I believe I am beginning to see more clearly the purpose behind all of this. I used to believe in a key, a secret if you will, that the great masters could use to create beautiful music. That somehow upon my search I would be able to unlock what they had. But I had all the music that I wanted in front of me, and I couldn’t figure it out. It has to be in the chords, or the chromaticism, or the colors, or perhaps a combination. But even with all of that laid in front of my face, there really wasn’t a reason why the end result should be beautiful. I looked at the music, and it looked like any other old piece of music.

As I continue my search for the purpose of music, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the ultimate goal of music is indeed to be beautiful. Beautiful; this is not to be confused with pretty, or cool, or relaxing. These other descriptions fall under subjective aesthetic judgment, suggesting that this beauty can change with time or perspective. I speak here of true beauty. This is beauty on a whole different level, that withstands the test of all time and people.

But how can there possibly be true beauty?

It’s hard to say. True beauty is rare, extremely rare. This skill cannot be taught by anyone in this world. I would venture to say that of all those composers whom we know that wrote enjoyable music, only a small handful of those pieces they wrote are truly beautiful. To the hearer, this music cannot grow old, but neither did its beauty have to be forced; that kind of beauty is relative. True beauty can be recognized by any, the educated and the uneducated, the poor and the rich, and will remain so no matter how much a person studies and learns the techniques and materials of music, only because this beauty has no human explanation. Read through the score you will, analyze the form you will, the harmony, the counterpoint, and thoughts pouring through the performers’ minds as this music is played. The answers still won’t be there.

But yet it can be recognized! There is great power that lies in the “simplice e bella” Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. There is something truly moving about Sergei Rachmaninoff’s or Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. These pieces are not pretty. They are profoundly beautiful, in the same way beauty in a person is not found in a Tinder photo, but in the living, breathing miracle of that person. The lives of these pieces are immortal.

I am not asking for perfectionism. I am asking for truth. I want the composers of today to have hope. This world is lacking in truly beautiful music. There is plenty of good-sounding music, a skill which can be taught and copied by anyone. You can go and create this music and still make the world a better place. But true beauty; I believe it can yet be made, by truly seeking what is good and sharing it, changing people’s lives forever.