A Tale of Two Composers

Two cities

Photo by will_spark and alvincchen / CC BY

Imagine two different 28-year-olds.

One is a New York Broadway lyricist and composer. His first musical on Broadway has just received the prestigious Tony award (the Oscar award for Broadway musicals). His future is bright, full of exciting opportunities.

The other was born in New York, but has lived in Taiwan for the past 20 years. He works at the VOICE Conference, and every year, he writes a musical for the conference attendees to perform. His future is uncertain, with nothing exciting planned.

You can probably guess that the second 28-year-old is me. Several years ago, I remember watching with admiration at a clip of a new, young composer named Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping his acceptance speech upon receiving a Tony Award. In my heart, I thought “When I’m 28, I want to be just as successful.”

Now that I’m the same age, I’m faced with the reality that I haven’t accomplished what I hoped to. I can’t help wondering, does it mean I’m not talented enough? Am I not hard-working enough?

More to the point, am I… a failure?”

Recently, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Psalm 42. The Psalmist is experiencing great, unsatisfied longings within his heart. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul…”


Now, the Psalmist could try to convince himself he wasn’t thirsty. “You know, I actually have a pretty good life. I should be grateful with what I have.” Or what if he tried to solve the problems on his own? “If only I had chosen differently, I wouldn’t be thirsty now. If I work really hard, then everything will be okay.”

The key point is he knows what can truly satisfy. “…So panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” Though a thirsty hart may enjoy grass, hay, and corn, only water will do. And while I would like to be famous and successful, none of those things will satisfy. Only God will do.

So what does the Psalmist do? He acknowledges his desires, and looks to the only one who can satisfy them. “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? and Why are thou disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

The point isn’t whether or not I am a failure. The point is, am I putting my hope in God? Is He MY God?

Unspoken, or Forgotten?

“So, Tim, why are you doing this?”

I was telling my Mom about some of the ideas I had for the short musical contest that I had signed up for, when she turned around to look at me to ask the question. It was a simple enough question, and yet I found it a little irritating. To me, it implied that she thought something was wrong, that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

“Well, on the one hand, I’m following the advice that another composer gave me: I need to write more often, give myself more deadlines. Also, doing this will give me experience writing a short musical in Chinese, and I’ll be able to get in contact with other people in Taiwan who are interested in musicals, so more people can find out about my work. Why are you asking?”

Mom raised her eyebrows and replied, “I just thought that the main purpose should be to glorify God.”

I flushed, slightly embarrassed that I forgot to mention something so important, but I quickly defended myself, “Oh, of course that’s the main reason! I just took it for granted that you would know it’s the unspoken reason for why I’m writing this musical, so I didn’t even bother mentioning it.”

As I turned back to work on the musical, the question continued to gnaw away at me. Was I really doing it for the glory of God? Or had I become completely focused on writing this musical for my own potential gain and benefit?

Soli Deo Gloria, S.D.G. written by Georg Friedrich Händel

A few hundred years ago, the term “Soli Deo gloria” was written by composers such as Bach and Handel on many of their music compositions. It is the Latin phrase meaning “Glory to God alone.” It was a reminder for themselves – and everyone in the future who would read their manuscripts – that the purpose of their music was to bring glory to God. I’m also discovering the importance of constantly reminding myself that the purpose of my work should be to glorify God.

Practically speaking, what does it look like when a musical is written with the purpose of glorifying God? I’m still learning, but one thing I know: often I am focused on just the final product, when God should be glorified throughout the entire process. That means constantly reminding myself and everyone I’m working with WHY we’re doing what we’re doing.

Most importantly, God should be glorified not only through the musical, but in EVERYTHING that I do.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
I Corinthians 10:31

Mission Possible: Musical Deadline

At each post VOICE staff discussion time, I can count on someone giving me the same criticism that I receive every year. Each time, I nod my head wearily in agreement, and try to keep from rolling my eyes in frustration.

“Next year, you need to finish the musical BEFORE VOICE starts.”

Writing last year’s musical while on an outing

Yes, I could imagine the great advantages of finishing the musical before VOICE started, and no one knew better than me how brutal the process of scrambling to finish the musical is on my mind and body. During VOICE last year, I only slept an average of 2 to 4 hours in order to get everything finished in time for rehearsal each day.

At the same time, no one understood how impossible it is to write a scene when the ideas aren’t clear in your head. I can’t write blindly, hoping something good will come out. I need to know where the scene takes place, what people are in the scene, who they really are, what needs to happen in the scene, how it fits in with the rest of the musical…

I became resigned to my fate, rationalizing that it was just the way I worked. Besides, wasn’t it always exciting to see how God would work it out so that we would still be able to practice and learn everything on time?

However, after barely managing to survive the pressure cooker of the musical last year, I finally took time to really think through my writing process, and I suddenly had an epiphany: I had never seriously prayed for God to help me finish writing the musical before VOICE started. Why? For some reason, I felt like the task of finishing the musical on time was ultimately my responsibility. If I failed, it wasn’t God’s fault, it was my own. In that case, why should I bother God by praying for something that was my own responsibility?

My writing workspace for this year’s musical

By identifying this underlying attitude, I realized how arrogant I was. Did I really think that the LORD God who created heaven and earth in six days wasn’t able to help me create a musical before VOICE started?

Right now, I’m in the middle of trying to get Act I finished. I currently have about 2.5 scenes out of ten left to write, but since I’m currently stuck on a point, I decided my time could be better spent writing this blog post instead. Even though I don’t know how to write the scene I’m working on, I know that my great Creator knows, and that He is able to work through me to actually finish the musical on time this year.

Pray for me!