New Work: Duet for Clarinet and Piano

I am pleased to announce my latest composition, a Duet for Clarinet and Piano in E-Flat Major, Op. 46. This piece is dedicated to my recently discovered biological family.

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Happy Birthday Ludwig!

A majority of the population woke up this morning and the first thing they thought of was getting a cup of coffee, or hitting up the bathroom, or complaining that they had to get up at all — or all of the above!

My first thought this morning when I awoke was: it’s Beethoven’s birthday. Now why would that be the first thing I would think of? Well it’s quite simple really, Beethoven is probably one of the greatest influences in my life after God. As a composer myself, I have come to love many composers: Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Haydn. But only one composer has grabbed my attention and fascination, that would be Herr Beethoven. Only one composer has eight books on my book shelf, piles of scores in my closet, a marble bust in my living room along with a casting of the 1812 life mask. I am a collector of all things Beethoven. But how did I come to love this man and his works?

On a cold October afternoon in 1987 I walked into a mall and to the record shop there. This was back before compact discs and iTunes existed, this was the era of vinyl and cassette tapes, albeit the end of that era. I was looking for a record of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You see I had been listening to some very bad music at the time and at the behest of my psychologist, I needed to find other music to listen to. I had been playing piano since the age of 7 and decided I would embrace classical music, since it was really the only thing I appreciated. But in those days I didn’t know the difference between a symphony and a concerto. So when my eyes caught sight of something number 5 by Beethoven, I took it and bought it. When I got home and played it, it was not Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, but rather his Piano Concerto No. 5. Because of that mistake, I became enraptured by Beethoven’s music and yes, even the man himself.

Today is Beethoven’s 245th birthday and I cannot help but hold onto this incredible admiration for him. His father was an alcoholic, he wanted Beethoven to be like Mozart and paraded him around Europe, but Beethoven was no Mozart. He made plenty of mistakes, broke the quills on harpsichords and his father punished him brutally for not being a wunderkind — beating him to within an inch of his life every time Ludwig made a mistake of any kind. When Beethoven was in his late twenties his hearing began to fail. Because of this, Beethoven contemplated suicide. After all, how could a composer craft his art without hearing? After writing an enormous document called the Heiligenstadt Testament, which expresses his most heartfelt emotions about losing his ability to hear, Beethoven made a choice. He chose to live, to persevere and overcome his condition. Shortly after making this decision he went on to write some of his most incredible compositions. He chose to seize fate by the throat and be its master. By 1822 Beethoven, now completely deaf, began working on what would become one of the greatest compositions ever written: his 9th Symphony. Now in his early 50’s, Beethoven was suffering from many ailments and despite them he pushed forward and on May 7, 1824 the 9th Symphony was performed for the very first time. It seemed like all of Vienna turned out for the concert and during the last movement, Beethoven himself walked up on stage and began observing the performance with his back to the audience. When the last movement ended, the Theater an der Wien exploded in applause and cheering. But poor Beethoven was still standing there with his back to them, in his mind the symphony was still going. The conductor, Michael Umlauf, walked over and gently placed his hands on Beethoven’s shoulders and turned the composer to face his adoring public. Beethoven saw all the people cheering and clapping with great vigor and bowed to them, with tears in his eyes. It would be the last great performance by the maestro. Three years later, on March 26, 1827, Beethoven breathed his last and passed from this world to become immortalized for all time as one of this world’s greatest composers. As you can see, I have studied Beethoven’s life a great deal, I have read his letters which have survived. That is the impact Beethoven has had on me. I strive in my life to overcome the challenges and trials thrown in my path, just as Beethoven did – because Beethoven did.

So while you enjoy your cup of coffee today, let’s give thanks to God for bringing such an incredible soul into this world, 245 years ago today.

Warm Winter Bad

There are a lot of people right now who are probably rejoicing that winter has been extremely mild, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s in November and December. Unfortunately I am not one of them. That’s because I suffer from RSAD (Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder). In the summer time when most people are happy and have a general sense of well being, I am miserable and depressed. When it is bitter cold with snow outside, with the long dark days of winter, there are some people who become depressed and miserable, I am the complete opposite.

This year, temperatures have been way above average for Fall. The strongest El Niño ever recorded is in place in the Pacific and it is causing nothing but really warm days here on the east coast. That spells disaster for me. I need the cold weather as well as the shorter days to recover from the summer blues. It’s not just some personal preference, it’s a serious medical and psychological condition. People like me suffer depression in the summer, and if we cannot get relief in the winter it can lead to thoughts of suicide as well as causing severe emotional distress. It all has to do with levels of serotonin in the body and the body’s own circadian rhythms.

People laugh when I tell them how much I love winter, how much I love sleeping with the windows open at night even if it’s 22 degrees outside. How much I love the snow and those shortened days with increased periods of darkness. Little do they realize that from a survival standpoint and a standpoint of mental health, I need that! And yes, I really love the cold – it doesn’t impact me like other people. I don’t feel its effects as quickly as other people.

So the next time you are cheering the weather man on over a forecast of 72 degrees in December, keep in mind there are people out there who are suffering as a result.

I am one of them.

Here’s a good article that explains this disorder in more detail: Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder

God > All

For the majority of my life I have held onto the belief that there is a God, that He cares for us and orchestrates everything that happens in our lives. A lot of people have given up on God because they cannot see Him, cannot hear Him or He hasn’t answered their prayers. People die in horrible accidents, of painful diseases, some of these are children. So you wonder how could there be a God, how could He allow these things to happen? God has plans for everyone, and sometimes those plans involve leaving this earth sooner than we might want. In our grief we are often blinded by the reasons for these things happening. In 2005 my sister was hit by a drunk driver and suffered severe brain trauma. She would lay in a nursing home, in a vegetative state, for almost six years before passing away of a kidney infection. That event, coupled with my Dad’s cancer coming out of remission the same year, was devastating to my parents and me. But I handed it off to God, I said to myself, “I have a life to live, I can’t be burdened by these things – I have no control over this, I leave it in God’s hands.” I prayed my sister would recover, but she never did. It’s at times like this that people get angry and say, “How could God let this happen? Why isn’t He answering my prayers?” and just quit on God, saying He doesn’t exist. But it is in these times that having a relationship with God is incredibly important, because that helped me through the loss of my sister, the loss of my father to prostate cancer and the loss of my mother to a massive stroke. All in a two year period. Most people would have just been crushed by that kind of loss. If it hadn’t been for my relationship with God, regardless of how unstable it was at times, I doubt I could have handled it. God does answer prayers, but not always in the way or for the things we want. This year I found my biological family. We found one another through a DNA site called 23andMe. This past October, I traveled to Kansas City and met my Mom and two sisters for the very first time. God knew I was reeling from not having a family, He graced me with a family that is my own flesh and blood. I praise Him for that blessing – my biological mother, sisters, and family are awesome!

In March I was suffering from deep depression because I had been unemployed for a time and my savings were nearly gone. In January I started praying to find a job. But God wanted to see if my faith would hold on, so he took me to the brink of losing everything. When I held onto that faith he then blessed me with a job beyond my wildest dreams. I am Lead Designer for a company called Omnilert, I am a salary employee, I get to work from home, I get health insurance, a 401k plan and all the other perks that come with a job. Yes, God didn’t answer my prayer right away, He wanted to see if I would lose faith and just walk away. I didn’t.

Just a week and a half ago my biological uncle, whom I got to meet during the family reunion, was rushed to the hospital with a 12″ tear in his aorta. My elder sister texted me about it as soon as she heard the news. He was given less than a 10% chance to survive the 12 hour surgery. I was feeling very sad and worried that I would never get to see him at next year’s reunion. I posted a prayer request to our church’s singles ministry Facebook group, and also texted a guy I know in the campus ministry to ask them to start praying. Pretty soon an email went out from the leader of our singles ministry, to people who may not have been on the Facebook group. I was praying like never before, I even broke out my song book and sang a hymn for my uncle. I stayed up almost all night waiting to hear the news. Around 3:30 AM, I got a text that he was out of surgery and they wouldn’t know for another 24 hours if he would be on the road to recovery or would have complications. But he beat the 95-98% mortality rate! Prayers were being answered! Within a couple days it became clearer and clearer that my uncle was going to recover and be on his way back home. Yesterday I got the news he had been moved from the ICU and into his own room, and that he may be going home as soon as the end of the week. Again, God came through in amazing fashion, in this case.

But what if my uncle didn’t survive? What if our prayers weren’t answered? What would have been the result? The thought of him dying was very prevalent on my mind after getting the news that he was in emergency surgery. I knew in my heart that everything that was happening was in God’s hands, there was nothing I could do except pray. If he died I would have to accept that as God’s will and deal with the emotions. If he died, my faith might be shaken, but not lost. I know that people have these things happen and they don’t survive. The prayers that go out, don’t get answered. The reason is God has a plan, he is orchestrating everything and one person’s death could be the catalyst to bring one person, two people, many people, to him. Everything God does has a purpose. So if my uncle had died, I would fly out to the funeral, I would be in a state of mourning for him, and I would be there for the family. But I would also acknowledge that this was God’s will and that my faith must not be shaken by it. If anything I should hold all the more onto my faith to get me through the loss. If I hadn’t had a relationship with God when I lost my sister, my father and my mother – I can tell you with all honesty, I would not be here right now writing this. My volatile nature would have exploded in a shower of grief, depression and ultimately suicide. But that faith in God kept the cork in the bottle, and told me: Yes, I am the lone survivor of this tragedy – which means I must survive and flourish. I must do what my parents would want me to do, to succeed and be happy, living everyday to the fullest. I must be here because God needs me here. I may have only a short time, I may have a long time, but in that time I must worship God, live everyday as a disciple of Christ and survive, succeed and prosper.

So the next time you wonder if there is a God, because you can’t see Him or hear Him, or your prayers go unanswered, think about what I have just written. Yes, you can’t see Him. The only physical proof He exists is the bible, and for some that’s not enough. But He does hear your prayers, He knows what is on your heart. He will answer you when He feels the time is right. One analogy I like to use for prayer is this: A five year old girl tells her parents she would like horse riding lessons for Christmas. Now her parents know this would be a bad idea. Because they want to make sure their daughter is safe and doesn’t come to harm – they don’t give the little girl the horse riding lessons. Clearly the little girl is deeply disappointed, because she doesn’t understand that riding a horse is out of the question for a five year old. Many years later she gets a horse and learns to ride, becoming one of the greatest horse riders the world has seen. She got her wish, but much later than expected. God is our Father, and like any good parent He wants us to be right with Him. Sometimes granting a prayer could result in someone falling away from Him. Sometimes we just aren’t ready for what we’re praying for. Or, sometimes, God is orchestrating something awesome out of tragedy. The question you must ask yourself is, what would happen if this prayer was answered? Would it result in something good for God, or something good for you? Because while we may glorify God and thank Him for an answered prayer, as time goes on we lose sight of that moment. We go back to the daily grind, back to our sinful natures, and God is forgotten – only to be remembered when something bad happens again. Make God a part of your life even when times are good so that He can be part of your life when times are bad – and get you through the storm.