True Confessions: I Dislike “Euphonium”

Just a brief post for this week, and a couple of days early. Unlike many of my trombone-playing colleagues, I am not attending the American Trombone Workshop (formerly the Eastern Trombone Workshop) this week. As a “switch-hitter” with professional interests in both the trombone and tuba-euphonium worlds, I divide my time between activities related to both, and am almost never able to attend every conference and gathering that I would like. In just under twelve hours I’ll be taking thirteen students from Ole Miss to the South Central Regional Tuba-Euphonium Conference, held this year at the University of Central Arkansas. The UM Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble will be performing on Friday afternoon, and then I will give a brief solo recital on Saturday morning. To my knowledge, this will be the first event of this kind for all of these students, and I am looking forward to seeing their understanding of the possibilities of their instruments being broadened through attending concerts, clinics, and lectures. In fact, I am looking forward to this almost more than to our performances!

Given my planned activities for the remainder of this week, perhaps my chosen topic is surprising. Before you call me a hypocrite (or worse), though, please read my title carefully. I did not say I dislike playing the euphonium, that beautiful-sounding tenor member of the tuba family with its rich, velvety tone and smooth slurring. Adding this instrument to my performance activities has been wonderful for my musical life, the euphonium’s strengths and weaknesses almost perfectly counterbalancing those of the trombones. I would be a lesser musician if I did not play it, and possibly an unemployed one, as most of my teaching positions have required that I play and teach at least one valved low brass instrument in addition to the trombones.

No, my dislike is simply for the term “euphonium.” Derived from a Greek term meaning “good sounding” or, more loosely, “pretty sounding,” the term strikes me as a remnant of over-the-top nineteenth-century marketing. I can imagine some inventor saying “Hmm. I have a new instrument here that I would really like to sell and have become part of bands everywhere. I know—I’ll call it the ‘pretty-sound,’ but in Greek so it sounds artsy.”

Not only is the word a little too much, but the name gives the general listening public no clue as to what the actual instrument is. American school band directors often erroneously call the instrument the “baritone” or “baritone horn,” so the public is slightly more familiar with those terms, but only slightly. While these instruments are related to the euphonium, they differ in bore and bell size, physical dimensions (euphonium is larger), bore profile (euphonium is conical while baritone is cylindrical), and sound (the euphonium is more tuba-like while the baritone is more trombone-like). If you would like to see comparison photos or read more about the differences between the two, see this helpful article by retired United States Coast Guard band euphoniumist David Werden.

While I have great sympathy with the desire to eschew the over-the-top term (and sometimes I think people think I’m being snarky when I continue using it), I can’t bring myself to use the word “baritone” because, well, I know what a baritone is and it has a different appearance and sound than the euphonium. No, if we’re going to get away from the term “euphonium” an entire change in nomenclature is needed.

I see two possible solutions. First, we could jettison the word “euphonium” and refer to the instrument instead as the “tenor tuba.” This idea has a great deal of merit. The instrument is already labeled tenor tuba on the rare occasions that it is employed in the symphony orchestra, and it is essentially the tenor member of the tuba family (though some would argue that there is a slight difference between the euphonium and tenor tuba). Non-musicians seem to be able to imagine what the instrument is and what it sounds like when I describe it this way, and as a trombonist playing the euphonium as a secondary instrument I find that envisioning a more tuba-like sound helps me to achieve the desired result.

Another solution would be to shift to more of a German-type nomenclature for valved low brass instruments rather than the British or hybrid-American ones. In British brass band instrumentation (where the euphonium plays a central soloistic role along with the cornet), the E-flat cylindrical mid-range instrument is called the “tenor horn.” There are two or three of these, along with two baritone horns and two euphoniums (yes, baritone and euphonium as two different instruments, playing different parts.) This nomenclature for baritones and euphoniums is typically followed by professional players in the United States (though often conflated by others as stated above), but the E-flat instrument (rarely used today outside of British-style brass bands) has normally been called the “alto horn.”

In German-speaking lands, though, a nomenclature for some similar instruments to the ones I am describing used “althorn” for the E-flat instrument, “tenorhorn” for the smaller and brighter B-flat instrument, and “bariton” for the larger and darker B-flat instrument (though “euphonium” is now used to describe more British-type models). If we could just all call the E-flat instrument the alto horn, the cylindrical B-flat instrument the tenor horn, and the conical B-flat instrument the baritone horn, we could get rid of the word “euphonium” altogether, the general public would be less confused, and the entire American concert band movement would suddenly be calling the instrument by its proper name. Everyone wins!

Of course, none of this will ever happen, and in case any readers are upset by my thoughts here let me assure you that my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek even as I write. I love playing the euphonium and will continue calling it that, and with as little snarkiness as possible. Still one can dream…. :)

Posted in Euphonium, Music, Nomenclature

Addressing the Valsalva Maneuver in Brass Players

Earlier this week a very prominent (and much better than me!) brass player asked in an online forum if the Valsalva maneuver was still a problem seen with brass players, as he had not heard much about it recently. As I and several others replied, it is still very much a “thing,” one that can be rather challenging to address with students. The Valsalva maneuver is a bodily function in which the airway is closed and a forced exhalation against that closed airway is attempted, often as a means of gathering strength for heavy lifting, defecation, or childbirth. While this is not necessarily harmful in those instances, performing this action during brass playing has a deleterious effect upon one’s music making, causing delayed attacks, a telltale “grunt” upon articulation and sometimes even when slurring, and an overall tense approach to the instrument. In extreme cases, use of the Valsalva maneuver while playing can contribute to the development of disorders such as focal dystonia.

Happily, the process of eliminating use of the Valsalva maneuver is simple to describe and, in theory, to execute. The challenge lies in the difficulty of changing one’s fundamental approach to the instrument, the necessity of unwinding sometimes a great deal of unnecessary tension, and the long-term repetition of these steps required to make the new approach the one which the player employs instinctively. The steps I will describe below can be undertaken immediately, and yet must be performed repeatedly over a long period of time in order to realize lasting success.

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the problem.

Often students who enter my studio using the Valsalva maneuver when playing are not even aware that they are doing so. They might be vaguely aware of tension or inefficiencies in their playing, but do not hear the “grunt” or feel the tension in their throats—after doing it this way for so long, the sometimes painful feeling of throat tension is perceived as normal by these students. Recording students so that the tension can be observed and the grunt heard (microphone placement is important here) can help, though often it is only after experiencing relaxed playing even briefly that students realize that there is another, better way.

  1. Understand that using the Valsalva maneuver is a manifestation of a larger timing problem.

I suppose there is a bit of a “chicken or egg” question here. Do students use the Valsalva maneuver because their coordination of breath and attack is ill-timed, or is that coordination ill-timed because of the Valsalva maneuver? I tend to think it is the latter, but in either case defining this as largely—even primarily—a timing issue is an important part of eliminating the problem. Emphasize the importance of inhaling and then buzzing in time, with no hold or pause between the inhalation and the beginning of the note. In other words, the process should be “breathe-play” not “breathe-set-play” and much less “breathe-hold-set-play.” Brass embouchures are relatively simple phenomena, and the formation of the lips should occur simultaneously with the attack and the beginning of the buzz. There should be no need to “set the embouchure.” Simply breathe and play, and use the metronome to ensure steady time. (Note: Students who use the Valsalva maneuver are often averse to practicing with the metronome…because the metronome reveals the timing problem! Metronome practice is absolutely necessary to ensure the correct timing of breath and attack, perhaps especially when playing long tone exercises and other slower materials. In fact, practicing with the metronome 100% of the time for a while is advisable for these students.)

  1. Practice breathing and blowing without the instrument.

Moving on to more concrete steps, have the students breathe and blow through their exercises and pieces without the instrument. Everything else should be the same: use the metronome, emphasize inhaling and exhaling without pause, and even insist on blowing the amount of air that would be used when playing the passage. Move the valves or slide as would be done with the instrument, and articulate normally, but with no instrument (“air trombone!”). The vast majority of students will not continue to use Valsalva apart from the instrument (I have only had one who did), so this is a good way to help the student become acclimated to the feeling of freedom in the throat and of breathing and blowing without pause.

  1. Practice breathing and blowing (but not buzzing) with the instrument.

Next, repeat the above step with the instrument, but still without actually buzzing (in other words, “air play”). The object here is to repeat the feeling of good timing and freely blowing achieved in the previous step, but this time while holding and manipulating the instrument normally, sans buzz. Some students might begin to display Valsalva symptoms in this step, but it is much more noticeable to them when there is no sound coming out of the instrument. Starting again and perhaps repeating the previous step is necessary when this occurs.

  1. Play the passage, maintaining the feeling of the above steps.

Finally, have the student play the exercise or piece, still with the metronome, and trying to maintain the freedom of breathing and blowing achieved in the previous two steps. Chances are this will only last a couple of bars at first before the old habits begin to reassert themselves, but with persistence occurrences of the Valsalva maneuver will become more rare over time.

The Breathing Book by David Vining

The Breathing Book by David Vining

Again, regular repetition of these steps over an extended period will be necessary in order to eliminate the problem, as well as to address “flare-ups” that might occur throughout a person’s career. Like so many poor playing habits, use of the Valsalva maneuver can recur if one does not mindfully and deliberately take steps each day to reinforce correct playing habits. Use of a thorough daily fundamentals routine is a helpful part of establishing, building, and reinforcing good habits because this provides an opportunity to focus upon playing correctly without devoting mental energy to processing and executing the music in front of you. Those prone to Valsalva and other types of excessively tense playing might find regular use of The Breathing Book by David Vining to be helpful, as well.

Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Breathing, Daily Routine, Euphonium, Low Brass Resources, Music, Music Education, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba, Valsalva Maneuver

Should I Have Been a Pastor?

Regular readers of this blog have by now figured out that I harbor more than a passing interest in the study of theology. Although I first professed Christ as a young child and have always been an active church member, my interest in theological study did not begin until I developed a greater interest in reading generally after my first year as a university student. By my mid-twenties I had begun taking in some fairly heavy works, and just before my thirtieth birthday I began a certificate program in systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary via distance learning, which I completed in less than two years. At present my theological library rivals those that I have seen in some pastors’ studies, and I have written and published small theological and devotional articles and reviews not only on this blog but in a few magazines and journals. With this evident interest and aptitude, a few years ago I began to seriously question whether I should abandon my present career and enroll as a full-time seminary student, and then seek to become a pastor.

There were some definite benefits of pastoral ministry that appealed to me. As a university professor in the performing arts, being a conservative Calvinist puts me in a very different place philosophically, politically, and socially than many of my colleagues and students. Conversely, my fellow church members do not always understand exactly what it is that I do for a living and why it matters. The idea of ceasing the straddling of two worlds that I sometimes felt and still feel was appealing. Also contributing to my consideration was the impact of state budget cuts at the regional university where I was teaching at the time. A part of me seriously began to wonder whether our Lord would use the elimination of my teaching position to push me into the seminary.

<i>Called to the Ministry</i> by Edmund P. Clowney

Called to the Ministry by Edmund P. Clowney

I read—and re-read—a little book entitled Called to the Ministry by Edmund P. Clowney, a volume intended for men evaluating whether or not they may be called of God to enter the pastorate. Clowney does not mince words, stating that “The call of the Word of God to the gospel ministry comes to ALL those who have the gifts for such a ministry.” (79) Examining my own self, and knowing myself to be possessed of at least some aptitude in theological matters, I continued to wonder whether Clowney’s challenge was indeed applicable to me. I even began to inquire into the possibility of transferring the eighteen credits I had earned at PRTS to the Jackson campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, which is near my hometown.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Still, seeking further counsel, I contacted Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the professor for the courses I had taken in systematics. He kindly agreed to speak with me via telephone, and in that conversation confirmed that he believed, based upon my academic work at the seminary, that I had the necessary theological aptitude for seminary work and perhaps the pastorate. But, he asked me another question: Could I do something else? Could I stay out of the pastorate and still be content with life as a Christian layman, pursuing my secular profession for the glory of God? If the answer was yes, his counsel was that I continue my current career rather than abandon everything and enter the seminary. Dr. Beeke reminded me of how often Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), that great British preacher, so often invoked the Apostle Paul’s statement “woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16) If I could not say the same, if I could sleep at night without immediately setting out to become a pastor, then full-time ministry was likely not for me.

I was taken aback by Dr. Beeke’s counsel, but appreciated his honesty. After all, had I left the secular academy to study for the pastorate and attended PRTS the institution he headed would gain several thousand dollars in tuition. Still, I think his counsel was wise and correct. Enjoying the study of theology does not alone make a pastor. Those men entrusted with the care of souls must also be able and prepared to bring that theology to bear upon the lives of real people, in their preaching, prayers, and counsel. People with real problems, real challenges, real fears, real conflicts, and real sins. It is a high and difficult task to which the pastor is called, not a life of ease and leisure as some folks sometimes think. Sure, the work is not physically draining most of the time, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually it is a daunting task, not at all for the faint of heart, or those not called by God to it. I found the prospect of time in the pastor’s study very appealing, but was I ready for the real work of ministry? Perhaps not.

Should I have been a pastor? I’m certainly thankful that I did not enter the seminary just out of the university at age 22 (nor had I even thought about it at that time). Having been blessed with several pastors in my life that were either second-career men or bivocational, I can say from my own observations that those men who enter the pastorate after some time in the “real world” bring a maturity and perspective to their work that the younger men sometimes (though certainly not always) lack. After experiencing a great deal of blessing on my work as a musician and teacher in the four years since my serious consideration of pastoral ministry, I am confident that remaining in my current vocation was the correct decision, though I remain ready to serve the church in whatever capacity I might be called. And I still enjoy sitting behind my keyboard and sharing my ruminations with the tens of people that read my writings on theological topics. (Seriously, statistically the articles about music receive many times the number of views that the ones about theological topics do.)

And yet, that nascent desire for the pastorate lurks in the back of my mind, and sometimes comes out for a bit of fresh air. I have every intention of remaining in my current vocation until I retire; it is a challenging and fulfilling one, to be sure. But, who knows, besides the Lord Himself?

Posted in Bible, Career Choices, Pastoral Ministry, Providence, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Reading and Study, Theological Education, Theology

Missed Partials are “Real” Missed Notes

Brass players have a peculiar challenge that many other instrumentalists do not share in that in that brass instruments have multiple notes available for each fingering or slide position. This means that the player must not only depress the correct finger(s) and/or find the correct slide position but that he must also vibrate the correct pitch with the embouchure in order to play accurately. While most students are rather conscientious about correcting fingering errors, often those same students will excuse missed partials (i.e. where the player buzzes the wrong pitch despite using the correct fingering or slide position) in the practice room and even in performance. While a small amount of inaccuracy is to be expected even in the best players (we are, after all, only human), excusing these inaccuracies too easily will lead to unnecessarily sloppy playing. Here are seven suggestions for improvement in this regard.

  1. Resolve to Not Excuse Missed Partials.

The first step is a simple one: decide that missed partials are, in fact, “real” mistakes that are to be eliminated. That seems obvious, but for many students it’s not. For that matter, even those of us that play professionally will sometimes let a “fracked note” or other partial error go by in the practice room, tacitly assuring ourselves that it won’t happen again. Successful performances do not come from dismissing minor errors; they come from eliminating them. Demand perfection from yourselves.

Learn How Your Music “Goes.”

As I mentioned in another post about a year ago, successful playing requires that the player know the sound for which he is striving before he attempts to produce it. This is true for any instrumentalist, but is especially true for the brass player, whose process of tone production is more akin to singing than those of other instrumentalists—the vibration is simply moved from the vocal folds to the embouchure. While the natural tendencies of the instrument provide some help, ultimately the player is responsible for hearing the pitches and producing vibrations in the mouthpiece. If you don’t know how the pieces you are working on are supposed to sound, you’re reduced to “putting the slide (or fingers) in the right place and hoping for the best.” This is not a recipe for success.

  1. Develop Your Ear.

On a related note, develop your ear, that is, the ability to know what a piece should sound like simply by looking at it. While the above suggestion about learning “how it goes” is great for pieces that one prepares over time, it is not entirely adequate for situations in which one is sight reading. And yet, sometimes in the “real world” sight reading the gig is the order of the day. Develop your reading, listening, singing, and solfège skills so that you become increasingly adept at knowing “how it goes” simply by looking at it.

  1. Correct Your Physical Approach to the Instrument.
<i>The Breathing Book</i> by David Vining

The Breathing Book by David Vining

While problems with audiation are often a big factor in missing partials, errors in how one plays the instrument can lead to poor performance no matter how good your ear is. Poor posture, unnecessary tension, faulty understandings of breathing, and related problems often lead to inaccuracies in tone production, and can be present even in very advanced players. I recommend that every brass player purchase, read, and regularly complete the exercises in The Breathing Book by David Vining. This short book, with editions for all of the common brass instruments, provides a systematic overview of correct usage of the body, an approach centered upon breathing but ultimately affecting all aspects of playing. If we are honest, all of us have inefficiencies whether great or small that creep into our playing from time to time. This book is one useful tool for detecting, diagnosing, and remedying such inefficiencies.

  1. Develop Good Timing.

Sometimes missed partials are not the result of problems with the breathing apparatus or embouchure, but rather of problems with the player’s coordination of these things. Players without good time (i.e. the ability to feel a musical pulse internally; this is different than the perception of rhythm) will often introduce one or more “hiccups” between inhalation, exhalation, embouchure formation, and buzzing in a way that disrupts the creation of sound and often leads to missed partials in particular. Practicing breathing and buzzing in time, without pausing between inhalation and exhalation, is vital here, as is the use of a metronome or even a backbeat of some kind generated from a computer or other device.

  1. Buzz Your Mouthpiece.

I often tell students that mouthpiece buzzing is helpful because it is intolerant of inefficiencies in one’s use of the body, particularly the embouchure, when playing. Buzzing helps with ear training, efficient use of the embouchure, and particularly with cultivating the sound and feeling of constant buzz, particularly in slurred passages (which should be buzzed as glissandi). While excessive amounts of mouthpiece buzzing can be harmful, a small amount each day is vital to accurate and successful brass playing.

  1. Practice Until You Get It Right…Repeatedly!

The suggestion that one practice a lot should go without saying, but don’t just practice a lot—practice correctly, and repeatedly. Whether you are dealing with missed partials or some other type of error, don’t stop practicing a passage when you get it right once—if you play something incorrectly multiple times and correctly only once, which one have you practiced more? In that case the same errors will almost certainly reemerge during the next practice session. Practice your materials—and particularly problematic passages—until you play them perfectly several times in a row. In other words, don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t get it wrong!

Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Breathing, David Vining, Ergonomics, Euphonium, Mouthpieces, Music, Performing, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, The Breathing Book, Trombone, Tuba

Spring Concerts and Activities Preview

This post is a bit late in coming, I suppose (particularly since one of the events I will mention has already passed), but I think it is a good practice to use an occasional blog post to mention some important upcoming performances and events. With a normal teaching load this semester (rather than an overload), my book recently published, and my long-awaited CD project finally nearing completion, my work life presently consists of teaching, practicing, and performing, with few additional time-consuming responsibilities. This leaves more time for reading, time with family, relaxing, and church activities, which is a nice change of pace compared to recent months.

In my solo performances this spring I am focusing upon the music of younger composers, defined as those born post-1970. While to my students calling someone aged 45 “young” might be a stretch, compared to the popular image of composers as “dead white men” it is a youthful age indeed. Besides, as age 40 looms closer and closer for me 45 doesn’t seem old at all!

January 16-18: Big 12 Trombone Conference



Just before the spring semester commenced at Ole Miss I traveled to Texas Tech University for the twelfth annual Big 12 Trombone Conference. This was my third appearance at this event, having also served as a clinician or performer at the 2007 and 2011 events. My teaching and performing responsibilities were packed into a two-hour span on Saturday afternoon, beginning with a clinic on low brass doubling (also a means of promoting my new book on the subject), and then a performance of 1.14 by Steven Verhelst (b. 1981), which was well-received. Otherwise I got to hear some great music and teaching as well as make and renew acquaintances with colleagues. I was especially glad to get to visit with Alex Iles, a very fine trombonist in the L.A. area (you might not know who he is, but you’ve heard him if you watch television or movies), and Douglas Yeo, retired Boston Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist who now teaches at Arizona State University.

March 19-21: South Central Regional Tuba-Euphonium Conference



One of my favorite things about the International Tuba-Euphonium Association (and something I wish its sister organization for trombonists would emulate) is its practice of having a big international conference every other year, with regional events in the intervening years. This allows more people to have an opportunity to present and perform, and makes travel to a major event possible for more people, as attending the international conferences can sometimes be prohibitively expensive depending on the location. This year I will be performing solo works by Frank Gulino (b. 1987), Nathan Daughtrey (b. 1975), and Roland Szentpáli (b. 1977), and conducting a performance by the University of Mississippi Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble at the South Central Regional Tuba-Euphonium Conference to be held at the University of Central Arkansas. I am especially excited about this opportunity for my students, most of whom have never attended a conference like this before. Even more important than their performance is the chance they will have to hear their colleagues from other schools, in addition to performances and lectures from some of the best tuba and euphonium players in the country.

April 20: Faculty Recital Series: “Music for Low Brass by Young Composers”



My “young composers” emphasis for this spring will culminate in a recital presenting works for alto, tenor, and bass trombones, and euphonium, by composers born in 1970 or later. The program I have planned at present includes works by the Gulino, Daughtrey, Szentpáli, and Verhelst (all mentioned previously), in addition to pieces by David Herring (b. 1970) and Boston Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist James Markey. It’s a good thing I have time to practice this semester, because this is a lot of great (and difficult) material!

April 24: University of Mississippi Low Brass Ensembles



The spring concert for the UM trombone ensemble and tuba-euphonium ensemble will include a number of original works and transcriptions for our instruments. Highlights of the program will be Celestial Suite for tuba-euphonium ensemble by Stephen Bulla (b. 1953) and How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place from the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), arranged by Elwood Williams. I hope to close this program with my own arrangement of Rolling Thunder by Henry Fillmore (1881-1956) for ten-part mixed low brass ensemble.

In addition to these there will be freelancing, regular performances with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, and hopefully additional engagements with the Great River Trombone Quartet. Visits to local schools and community colleges as a soloist and with the Mississippi Brass Quintet are also being planned. Another semester filled with great music. I am blessed to do what I do for a living.

Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Conferences, Education, Euphonium, Higher Education, Performances, Professional Organizations, Repertoire, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba, Tuba-Euphonium Ensembles


One unhappy yet universal trait of our race is that human beings are fallible. The Christian accepts this as axiomatic to his worldview; only God is perfect and man even in his pre-Fall state was not. After the introduction of sin we have become only more prone to err. While the non-Christian does not accept those reasons for man’s fallibility he must nevertheless acknowledge this same imperfection, and particularly his own propensity to error. For the one who dares to put his thoughts in writing and submit them to the public, the likelihood of error and of the need to offer correction or retraction increases the more one writes.

This post is the 94th here at The Reforming Trombonist, and I am to some degree relieved that I see the need to offer only two retractions, both of articles which, upon further reflection, were misguided and unhelpful. The first is of a post dated September 20, 2013, entitled “On Multitasking While Practicing (Or, How to Spend Hours on Fundamentals without Getting Bored).” In this article I reiterated my frequent admonition to spend a large percentage of one’s practice time on playing fundamentals (which I am not retracting!), and suggested that the potential for boredom when spending hours on repetitive exercises could be ameliorated by reading books, magazines, or online articles while playing these exercises. Since I never seem to have enough time to practice as much as I would like or to read as much as I like, I have tried at various times to make more time for both by reading while playing these exercises. While I offered caveats by referencing potential dangers of practicing in this way, upon further reflection and practice I have decided that the possibilities of imperfect practice and even of pain and injury are too great to continue practicing in this way or suggesting that others do so. Besides, I never seemed to remember much of what I read when practicing.

Speaking of reading, the second retraction is of an article dated June 14, 2013, entitled “Websites I Check Regularly.” In this case my problem is not so much with any of the websites I listed, but with the tremendous time commitment needed to refer to them on a regular basis. In the past couple of years I have greatly reduced the amount of time I spend reading online articles (in part because I’m no longer reading while practicing!).   Much of the news and commentary I once sought in online articles can now be found in podcasts, which are convenient because they can be listened to while driving, exercising, doing housework, etc., all more appropriate forms of multitasking than reading while practicing. (Note to self: an article about podcasts might be a useful future blog post.) Additionally, because most of the authors and sites I listed have social media presences, the more important articles on each usually find their way into my news feed on Facebook while the less necessary ones do not. Most of all, I have found that most of the online reading I once found so necessary is hardly missed, and the time is much better spent doing other things.

While I’m sure that these aren’t the only retractions I’ll want to offer during my career as a writer/blogger, this is all I have for now. At least I’m in good company—Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the greatest theologians the church has produced, published a volume of Retractions (sometimes translated Revisions) not long before his death. If a man as brilliant as Augustine found it necessary to correct himself, how could I expect not to? Maybe I should reread my old posts and make sure that there really are only two articles that should be withdrawn!

Posted in Christian Worldview, Daily Routine, Micah Everett, Music, Playing Fundamentals, Practical Christianity, Practicing, Reading and Study, Teaching Low Brass

Book Review: Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt

As a music professor, a performing trombonist, and a Christian, I continually seek books that address fulfilling or considering my vocation in a God-glorifying manner. Books about “Christian music” are common, but often limited to discussing corporate worship, rarely inviting broader application. Other than the “Christian worldview” thinkers of the past century or so, authors in the Reformed tradition have infrequently addressed music in any significant way. Thus, finding a volume consonant with that tradition that is relevant to my work is gratifying.

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything is not about music specifically, but rather develops a theology of beauty more broadly. Christians working in the creative and performing arts will find useful food for thought here, but author Steve DeWitt has not written expressly for arts professionals. Rather, he describes his own growing awareness of beauty and its importance in a semi-autobiographical fashion, and in a way that invites consideration by all believers.

DeWitt wastes no time in getting to his main point. In the Introduction, he explains the fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying nature of created beauty with the words of Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (7). The author thus begins by sharing his conclusion: Christians are to consider beautiful things not as ends in themselves, but as reflections of the beauty of the Creator.

The major content of the book begins with a discussion of the wonder with which people view creation, and yet our inability to move beyond the beauties perceived by our senses to “the source and standard of all beauty” (15). Our understanding of beauty is both sensory and subjective; we have difficulty considering that the invisible God is objectively and essentially beautiful, and why this is so. DeWitt considers God’s perfection and His infinity, but focuses upon God’s Trinitarian nature as particularly beautiful. He locates this beauty in the love between the three Persons, and particularly in the Son’s willingness to humble himself and endure the cross for the sins of his people. “The cross is real beauty. Everything else is reflection” (40). After such a strong statement, though, DeWitt moves beyond the cross to the resurrected and glorified Christ. Writing in anticipation of the eternal state, he says “We will see the Son in his resplendent glory. That blessed and beautiful vision is what our souls crave” (51).

The next four chapters flesh out the ideas expressed thus far. DeWitt discusses more fully the idea of creation as an expression of the beauty and character of the Creator, and how, as God’s image-bearers, our creativity is a reflection of his. The consideration of beauty will lead us to wonder, and then to worship, yet mankind is prone to misdirect that worship. The result? “Emptiness is what image-bearers feel when they worship beauty for its own sake” (93). Reminding us that observing even the most beautiful things in the created world is insufficient to bring us to a saving knowledge of the Creator, DeWitt notes that a right apprehension of beauty will lead us to consider our most beautiful Savior.

The next three chapters are the most practical in their applications to those that wish to enjoy or produce beautiful things in a God-glorifying way. Most helpful is DeWitt’s essential denial of the concept of “Christian art,” where the only artistic expressions deemed legitimate are those with overtly Christian themes. In contrast to this, he invites us to consider beauty in the arts more broadly: “Beautiful art will reflect the excellence, goodness, harmonies, virtue, and redemptive glory of God” (143). DeWitt does not limit goodness or even beauty to that which is “pretty;” even those expressions deemed dark or negative can be legitimate, provided that these are not idealized. As we consider artistic expressions, the question is not so much whether they are expressly Christian or even positive, but whether they present the world truly, and where negatively, in a way that does not glorify sin but rather looks forward to the ultimate redemption of all things.

DeWitt returns in the final chapter to the ultimate end of all of our consideration and creation of beauty. Again looking forward to the eternal state, he writes, “Eternal beauty will remind us of this world’s wonders and pleasures, but only faintly. We won’t miss them or long for them” (177). In that Day we will be with Christ, and our enjoyment of the beauty and glory of our Lord will never end. Indeed, that is our chief end, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

In his endorsement of Eyes Wide Open, Leland Ryken wrote, “As a starting point for why and how Christians should value beauty, this book is the gold standard” (front cover). That is a fair assessment. Readers familiar with other Christian works on beauty, art, and culture might find DeWitt’s book to be a bit elementary, but will still find it both sound and edifying. For those just beginning to think seriously about these things, this book is a good place to begin.

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