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Hello again!
   I’ve referenced a “super-secret project” that I’ve been working on lately a couple of times. I’m finally ready to tell you what it is! Everybody ready? Here it is: I’m starting a Lutheran Asian musical group! Woohoo!
  Here’s some more information: The name of the group will be Zànměi, which is a Chinese word meaning either “praise” or “praise God,” depending on where you look it up. The purpose of Zànměi will be to “praise God and share His love.” The music could help add variety to any regular worship service, but I’d especially like to use it to encourage mission work and personal evangelism, and also to encourage international adoption by Christians. (I have written some adoption hymns that could be used in a worship service encouraging adoption or at a benefit for a Christian family that will be adopting.)
  When we play, some of us will be dressing in traditional clothing from various Asian countries. In the future, we may also incorporate artwork and/or Asian dance. For now, here are some of the instruments we’re planning to include:
dizi (Chinese flute)
sáo (Vietnamese flute)
húlúsī (Chinese gourd flute)
sênh tiền (Vietnamese percussion instrument)
cello
trumpet
guzheng (Chinese harp)
Japanese drum
janggu (Korean drum)
violin
pipa
modified yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer)
kimbala (Indonesian thumb piano)
  As you may know, my goal in life is to use the musical abilities God has given me to praise him and tell others about him. I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy helping other Christians—such as Mike Westendorf, Joey Schumann, and various church praise teams—carry out their music ministries, but I also would like to help get the gospel message out by starting an additional one. Toward that end I took a trip to Nashville this summer to meet with producers/consultants in the Christian music ministry and I also attended a camp to get more training in Christian songwriting from some wonderful artists heard frequently on Christian radio stations. I learned a lot and began taking many steps to follow their advice, but I kept wondering which direction to take: Christian contemporary? Christian folk? Etc.
  Then in early September I was playing Irish music at a church service with Joey Schumann’s Lutheran Ceili Orchestra (a group you should try to hear sometime, if you haven’t already). After the service my mom said to me, “We have so many Asian instruments in our home. What would you think of starting a Lutheran Asian orchestra?” I loved the idea. We asked Joey if he would mind if I did this, and not only was he supportive—he said he played an Asian instrument and would be happy to join!
  I became so excited about the idea that I’ve spent the past four months researching Asian music from various countries, writing music the group could play, writing a worship service using that music, preparing videos and power points for the service, and doing many other things to get ready. With the help of my musical siblings and parents, I’ve been trying out the arrangements and making revisions. Now that our group has gotten together and had an amazing first rehearsal, I think it’s time to unveil this group to the public.
  Here’s a link to a video from Zànměi’s first rehearsal:
  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3c_x-7YLzE
  I’ll keep you guys posted as our group continues to grow and share God’s love!
  God bless your day!
  Alicia Michelle
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Checklist

            Let’s see, what’ve I gotten done recently? It sure seems like a lot, but I must be missing something.
1. Finish first semester of college? Check.
2. Have fun playing at multiple gigs? Check.
3. Spend months writing, arranging, practicing, and recording tons and tons of music for the super-secret project that’s almost ready to get started into full swing? Check.
4. Write weekly blog? FAIL!
            I knew I was forgetting something…

            Hello there, everyone. I’m so close to getting this musical project done that I can hardly wait! Unfortunately, after switching my focus from photography to the music project, I totally left the rest of you guys in the dust. I figured I should write another blog so you folks wouldn’t forget about me or think that I’d given up on the whole music ministry thing (which I am absolutely NOT giving up on!).
            I’ve been thinking about how crazy-cold it’s been around here lately and sometimes wondering if it’s God’s way of telling us, “Slow down! Stay inside the house and take a break for once! Take time to smell the flowers!” (“Smell the flowers,” of course, being a figurative term. It’s much too cold outside for flowers.)
            But think about it: We are a society obsessed with work. Everyone is almost always busy. Just look afile8301245763269t the highway sometime and try to count how many cars pass by in a minute. I bet you’ll lose count. Schedules are crammed, people are stressed, and we really don’t feel responsible unless we’re constantly working on something–to say nothing of the Christmas season we’ve just whizzed through in what felt like thirty seconds, not thirty days.
            I’m definitely not saying that work itself is a bad thing. God gave Adam work as a blessing and a joy, even before the fall into sin (Genesis 2:15). But too much of anything is not good and can often turn dangerous. I believe that lately the devil’s been trying to use the time I’ve spent starting up a music ministry to turn me away from Bible study and time alone with God. I’m sure it’s happened to you many times: “Oh, I haven’t done Bible study yet today! But I’ve got this project I’ve got to finish before tomorrow, and so many other things that need doing…I’ll save Bible study for later.” And later turns into…almost never. (It seems kind of like what happened to me whenever I thought of writing this blog, too.)
            This is more than just procrastination. It’s exchanging one task for another, believing that there’s no time for both. It’s placing something else above Bible study. It’s breaking the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, NIV). In other words, it’s saying that some other project you have to do is more important than God.
            I think that’s why he sent us into the wintery blast of unheard-of wind chills. I think he’s saying to us (me especially), “Look, you don’t have to go to school today. It’s too cold to run errands. Almost everything’s closed down. Why don’t you close down, too? Spend a little time with me once. I miss hearing from you.”
            I once heard our current connection status with God explained in this way: Suppose you say to your spouse, “I am super busy. I have a huge list of important stuff that needs to get done. So I’ll carve out some time for you for an hour on Sunday, for thirty seconds before each meal, and maybe a minute or so before bed. All of the rest of the time, I won’t be able to talk to you. But I think we’ll stay close enough, don’t you?” Your relationship with your spouse would not last long at all.
            Yes, work is important for our survival on this earth and for maintaining relationships with other family members and coworkers. But so is time with our Savior. Our connection with God is not just a religion, or a belief, or a commitment. It’s a relationship that needs to be fostered and cared for often, more than once a day.
            We make time for the things we want to make time for. Spending time with God is a choice, not something controlled by chance. How about we find the balance between work and our precious Savior? And let’s do it today, before later turns into almost never.
            God bless your day!
            Alicia Michelle
            “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him (Psalm 62:5, NIV).

Musty Air

Hi, everybody! I’m back! You’re probably wondering why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth for so long. I was able to start my school year at college, and I’ve been crazy busy working on photography homework assignments and projects. But I’m finally getting used to the college life now, and things are starting to calm down, so I’m ready to return my focus to music.

Despite the fact that I now have more time to devote to my music, I still have those times when I try to write a song, and everything just goes blank. That drives me absolutely nuts.smiling-light-bulb-md

Wouldn’t it be great to have a light switch on the wall that we could flick on every time we need an idea? We could just flip the switch up and jot our ideas down on a sheet of paper, and we would end up with an immediate hit song. Ta-da!

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.

Trust me, I’m very thankful for the musical gifts that God has given me, and I definitely want to use them for his glory. But sometimes I just get frustrated when I want to work on my music, and it seems I can’t get anywhere with it. Even when I’m physically, emotionally, and spiritually motivated, I can run out of ideas. My mind feels like there’s some sort of dust scattered throughout the atmosphere, and it’s so musty that my creative side can’t breathe. It looks like I need to spend a lot more time in prayer.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, NIV).

If God wants me to write a piece that will glorify him, he’ll give me the ideas, opportunity, and ability to do it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I should just sit around surfing the Internet all day while I wait for “inspiration” from on high. I don’t want to test my God; I want to work hard to praise God in all I do. So, perseverance isn’t really much of an issue right now. But I still get stuck.

What do you do when you don’t have any ideas, but you have the unmistakable urge to write a song? Clear your head: read the Bible, take a walk, listen to music (if it won’t botch up your own songwriting process), have a snack, or read a book. Then write something, anything down on a sheet of paper, and then go back and fix it up so it doesn’t sound stupid. Or, if you feel like being super analytical, you can figure out which metaphors, form, and rhyme scheme you want to include, and then carefully choose words that fit into the categories you’ve selected. I suppose both ways work, depending on the person.

I’ve tried and failed using the analytical approach before, so I think my style is more creatively-based. I’ll go just write something totally weird and off-the-wall and see where it takes me. Who knows what good my God will make out of my messed-up, flawed work? The God who turned water into wine can most certainly change my scribbling into a masterpiece that touches the lives of whoever hears.

God bless your day!

Alicia Michelle

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).

Red Herrings

I’m one of those people who will drop everything if I think of something I believe needs to get done right away. For example, let’s say I hear a squirrel scurrying around outside. The sudden urge to watch it and study its movements will immediately take precedence over the string orchestra piece I’m in the middle of composing. I love composing and interlacing the different instrumental voices in interesting ways, but I often have a very short attention span, and I get distracted easily. So all of the sudden I switch my focus from the music to the squirrel. Sometime after the squirrel is gone and the day is done, I get frustrated because I realize that the tisquirrel-on-tree_w725_h544me I had available to composition was sucked up by watching that little squirrel run around—not that watching squirrels isn’t fun, but I could’ve been a lot more productive with my time if I hadn’t let myself get distracted.
If you’ve ever read mystery novels or tried to solve a mystery yourself, you may have heard of or run into a few red herrings. Red herrings are false, misleading clues that you follow, but they really don’t have anything to do with the mystery and they stop you from making progress on the case. When working on something in everyday life, distractions can be called red herrings as well: they’re things you let yourself focus on, but they don’t help you get your original job done.
This topic may seem similar to my previous blog, Tangled in Cobwebs, but it’s really a different cause for the same problem. Both of these blogs, Tangled in Cobwebs and Red Herrings, focus mainly on what prevents us from getting our work done. However, Tangled in Cobwebs focuses on bodily or emotional reluctance (being too tired to get the job done), while this blog looks at what happens when both body and soul are ready to get the job done, but our eye catches something else and we switch our focus from what needs to get done to a red herring. Reluctance, more often than distraction, is a conscious decision to avoid work, while we may get distracted without even noticing until it’s too late.
So how do we keep ourselves from following red herrings? I finally figured out what works for me: a schedule I force myself to stick to and a quiet room without any interruptions (or Internet, which has the magical ability to absorb all my time if I let it). Your red herring-free zone may be different from mine, but for me, I’ve found it’s hard to work when there’s a room with a whole bunch of other people all saying and doing different things. Try a few different locations and background noises and see what works best for you.
If you already know what works for you, then make sure you stick to it! For me, I can be totally isolated, but it still takes a lot of willpower to keep from turning on the Internet. Maybe you’re in a distraction-free room, but you’re still finding something else that is able to distract you. Whatever it is, remove the temptation so that you can focus on what you want to get done. Artists, if you’re able to get more work done in a shorter amount of time without distractions, just think how much more of your art will be able to be released to the public! The more art you get out there, the more you can glorify God in what you do! After all, that’s really the biggest reason we’re artists. Spreading the good news of eternal life with Jesus is definitely more important than watching a squirrel.
God bless your day!
Alicia Michelle

Tangled in Cobwebs

Yesterday, I had the privilege of helping Joey Schumann, a Christian artist who does Celtic music, to record violin parts for one of his upcoming CDs. It was a lot of fun and a great experience, and I’m grateful for any such opportunity I can get. The hard part was keeping my shoulders and neck from tensing up after about three or four hours of recording.100_1930 edited
Mostly, I played each melody line about five times through. Once I’d finished with that, I listened to what I had just played and simultaneously recorded a harmony part underneath it—five times. Then I did the same thing with a different harmony line—five times. After those parts were finished, I’d go back and re-record some parts that hadn’t gone well or fit with the song. And then we’d move on to the next song and repeat the whole process. This method of recording works great for getting multiple tracks and striving toward perfection on every piece, but it was taking a toll on my muscles. It didn’t matter that my mind and soul were enjoying the music and wanted to keep going; my body wanted to quit.
I’m willing to bet that almost every artist—in fact, almost everybody—runs into this roadblock sooner or later. Perhaps for you, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41b, NIV). In other words, you have a job that you know you need to get done and you look forward to doing, but your body is so tired that you don’t know if you’ll be able to do the job. Or maybe it’s the reverse: your body is plenty rested and healthy, but just thinking about the job you need to do makes you groan. Perhaps you have to fill out paperwork or have a difficult conversation with someone. In any case, whether it’s physical or emotional, our reluctance grabs at us like sticky cobwebs, slowing us down and trying to keep us from reaching our goal.
Sometimes it seems like procrastination and perseverance are continually at war inside me. Procrastination stops me from doing my job; perseverance keeps me going once I start. I have to stop procrastinating and start my job before perseverance can begin to take effect.
For me in the recording studio, I was able to forget about my sore muscles for the most part and concentrate on completing the recording session. (This was easier after a few quick stretches, a couple of massages, and lots of encouragement.)
What’s slowing you down? What’s keeping you from going forward? What hesitations have gotten you so tangled up that you think you can’t get out of them? Whatever the case may be, we all need to get past our reluctant selves and focus our eyes on Jesus. After all, he showed the ultimate example of perseverance: first chasing after his people for generations, then placing one foot in front of the other on his way to the cross. Let’s shove off those cobwebs and keep walking until we reach our destination.
God bless your day!
Alicia Michelle
“Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Mark 8:34, NIV).

Hidden Compartments

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of work in the world of musical composition. I’m really hoping to put together a lot more songs that my siblings and I can take on the road. As I’ve been working on this, I’ve also been looking at a few different styles of music for public domain tunes I can borrow. The styles include hymns, Gospel music, Christian contemporary music, and folk tunes. They’re all great fun to listen to and perform—I’ve just been trying to figure out which tunes to focus my attention on. And that got me thinking about myself as an artist. Who exactly am I in the artistic community? What do I do that makes me unique? In short, what style of music defines me?

Now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to specifically answer that question now or any time in the near future. But really, all artists have something that they’re passionate about, whether they share that passion with others or not. Whether it’s music, craftsmanship, photography, painting, drawing, writing, dancing, or acting, artists enjoy their art thoroughly and naturally want to share their joy with others. Unfortunately, our own doubts and fears often manage to creep in and hinder us from revealing our passions to others in the community.

You know the voices I’m talking about. Those are the thoughts that keep whispering, “What if this or that happens? Why should they look at what I’ve done? I’m nobody special.” And when we listen to these voices and allow them to take over, we end up hiding away what we’ve worked so hard on. If hidden well enough, people might not even know about our passion for art. It becomes a hidden compartment in our hearts that we lock away and keep to ourselves.file1761250417171

There are tons of different types of art out there, and millions and millions of other artists. Really, if we hide our passions away, hardly anyone will notice or care. After all, there are plenty of artists out there who are sharing their work, and they’re probably doing stuff similar to what you’re doing. But then, what’s the point of pouring your heart and time into your art if no one else gets to enjoy it but yourself?

When Jesus walked the earth, he was definitely unique. After all, he had the advantage of living without a sinful nature, and he showed that he was the Son of God through his teachings and his miracles. But sometimes we gloss over the fact that Jesus grew up a carpenter’s son. He spent hours and hours carving and shaping wood, often using his own creativity to make just what someone else wanted or needed. I’m sure someone in Nazareth was displeased with the bowl or table or chair that Jesus made for them. But because Jesus wasn’t afraid to share his talent with others, the whole town benefited from what he did.

What’s the worst that will happen if someone out there doesn’t like what you do? I ask that question myself when I have doubts. After all, no one’s going to run me out of town or sue me for writing a song they didn’t like. If people don’t notice or hear about what I do, I shouldn’t assume that I must be a bad artist. Whatever gifts and talents I might have are gifts from God, so why shouldn’t I open them up and use them to spread the news of God’s saving plan of salvation?

As artists, our artwork often defines who we are. Let’s not draw back into the corner, but instead use what we enjoy so much to benefit those around us.

God bless your day!

Alicia Michelle

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, NIV).

Knocking on Walls

I just got back from an awesome Christian contemporary music camp about a week ago. The love and excitement everyone had for Christ was amazing, and the critiques and tips I got for songs I had written really got me thinking enthusiastically about other songs I could write.
One part that felt really important to me was the part of songwriting class where a student could come to the front of the room and play their song for the teachers. I couldn’t wait to go up; I wanted to get as much out of camp as I could, and I wanted an opinion on a particular song I had brought. At least, those are the reasons I focused on when I waved my hand, grabbed a guitar, and hurried up to the front of the room.

I realize now that, while some of my motivations for stepping up were well-founded and disciplined, part of me kept throwing out questions as I played and sang: I hope they like my song. I hope they notice how much symbolism I used in this song. I hope it’s so catchy they start harmonizing. I hope they like me…

Then I hit a section I was less comfortable with, and the next stream of thoughts started running through my head: What iHamster_on_Wheelf they don’t like this section? What if my voice cracks? What if that guitar chord doesn’t sound clearly, and they don’t get what I’m trying to convey? What if they forget the good parts of my song and focus on this weak part? And on and on it went, like a gerbil running around on a wheel and getting nowhere.

Finally, as I began to reach the end of the song, I somehow began to relax and enjoy myself a little. The passion suddenly came pouring out into my refrains, and I focused more on the words instead of my thoughts. Playing those last two refrains was a wonderful feeling, because I’d stopped looking for approval and started focusing on praising God.

When I was done, I did get the approval I’d hoped for. They all liked my song, and I received praise and criticism, both of which I considered carefully. But in the end, was it really worth all of that worrying? I don’t think so.

As artists, our feelings are often very closely tied with our “masterpieces.” When we write, it’s easy to focus on how others will react to hearing or seeing what we hope is the finished product. We knock on the walls of people’s minds, hoping to get some worthwhile praise for ourselves or our work. But if we put others’ opinions as the main focus instead of God’s opinions, the praise we hear from others will resonate hollow in our hearts. It really won’t be worth much of anything if we don’t ask God what he thinks first.

Now, I’m not suggesting you keep your masterpieces to yourself, afraid to get too puffed up on the words of others. It’s good to get constructive criticism and recognition for your hard work. But it’s more important to seek God’s wisdom and focus on glorifying him, not ourselves and our work.

When you need advice, knock on the walls of God’s heart first. You’ll have peace of mind when he approves what you’ve done to glorify him, and you won’t regret it.

God bless your day!

Alicia Michelle

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Breaking the Lock

946937_10151730438230546_789968033_n        This past weekend, I had the privilege of being around several types of Christian music. I performed at a Christian music festival where Christian rock groups are the major performers. I also performed with a group of Christian musicians who play Irish music! I rehearsed with my family playing Christian folk music, and I attended a church service where the music would mostly be described as adult Christian contemporary.100_1777

Many people have the misconception that, as Christian musicians, we need to pick only one style of music and confine ourselves to that genre. Others have a similar viewpoint: that there’s a “right” style of music for worshiping God, and others are “wrong.”

We as Christian musicians need to realize that God has provided us with many different styles of music, all of which can be used to glorify his name. If we pour our heart and soul into praising and serving God through our music, he will bless our efforts and work through us.

It’s time to stop being confined to just one style. It’s time to break the lock.

Let’s take a moment to look at a few different styles of Christian music, weighing both their benefits and weaknesses.
First, there’s the traditional hymnal music. This music is simple. It’s direct. It uses more “old-fashioned” language in a few places, but it has a lot of substance to it. The older language can make it harder to understand easily. And while the hymns may be beautiful and carefully crafted, the younger generation wants more excitement.

Another type of Christian music that’s quite common is the type played on adult Christian radio stations–contemporary music with a beat, but not the fastest, loudest type of music. Often the younger and middle generations like this kind better. Those who grew up learning to praise God only with hymns sometimes have a harder time accepting this new style. The big plus for this genre is that the pieces are easy to understand and sing along with. The purpose of the song is clear to those listening. But some want more substance to the lyrics–a lot of information, rather than one point repeated.

The extreme opposite of hymns would be the crazy-loud rap-and-hard-rock style. The fans get excited–there’s so much action! What better way to praise the Lord than by shouting out and jumping up and down, right? Of course, we need to watch the volume so that we don’t destroy our eardrums. Also, the lyrics can be harder to understand than the afore-mentioned genres, and the tender, quiet moments are lost.

Whether your style is more traditional, acoustic, hard rock, gospel, contemporary, or whatever else may be in your heart, God will use it to his glory. Target your audience, listen to what God has to say about the matter, and choose a style that will best spread God’s Word to others.

God bless your day!

Alicia Michelle

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10, NIV).

The Secret Passageway

Head enhanced brown

Hi, everyone! My name is Alicia Michelle, and I’m super excited to be able to communicate with you through this blog. I’d just like to tell you a little bit about myself so that you can get to know me better.

I’m a 16-year-old girl, second-oldest out of six kids. I’m fresh out of high school (hooray for homeschooling!), and I have aspirations to spread the love of God through a Christian contemporary acoustic music ministry. My main instrument is violin, but I also love to write music of various types and perform instruments such as mandolin, hammered dulcimer, and mountain dulcimer. I also have interests in photography, and I will be going to a technical college this coming year so I can hopefully make photography a back-up career. I’m really looking forward to seeing where God’s going to take me in my life.

Besides telling you a little bit about how my day is going, this blog will also take a look at Christian music performance and composition through the lens of God’s Word. The whole point of doing music isn’t so that we can get famous or get money; it’s so that we can praise God and strengthen the faith of fellow believers. Sometimes, God may use our music to touch the heart of someone who doesn’t yet know Christ.

You may wonder why this blog is called “The Secret Passageway.” I’ve always been fascinated with hidden entrances, mysteries, and the like, and as I was thinking of a title for this blog, I realized that life is sort of like a passageway, too–we need to walk all the way through it before we see God in heaven. Of course, heaven is no secret. We know that God exists because we can see the evidence of it in creation and in his Word. Many people believe that we have to do something to earn God’s favor and eventually the eternal reward of heaven. The “secret” is that God searches for us. He wants us to have a relationship with him. He seeks us out. He wants us to come home to him someday. But he doesn’t want just you to live with him forever–he loves EVERYBODY! Since music touches emotions that words may never reach, I thank God for the ability to combine the message of God’s Word with music.

Thank you for taking the time to read this first blog. I hope you’ll also read my upcoming blogs. God bless your day!

Alicia Michelle

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:1-2, NIV).