The Authentic Musician: Book Review

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Book Review

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As a freshman music major at Michigan State University I played trombone in the Spartan Marching Band and in the Symphonic Band. A sophomore named John Haddix played trumpet in the same two bands. He lived down the hall from me in Mary Mayo Hall, a dorm that attracted a lot music majors, especially men—for us it was the nearest housing to the music buildings, where most of us spent at least half our waking hours. John’s roommate at the time was a grad assistant named Dana who helped run the Marching Band program, among other responsibilities. He lived in the dorm as a grad student for two reasons: proximity to the music department, and the chance to connect with and mentor younger students.

Which is what both he and John did with me—spiritually, that is. They were both followers of Christ, and I was not. I had given up on Christianity, in fact, having tried it and found it unsatisfying or even impossible to live. John and Dana showed me it was possible to be an authentic Christian and to enjoy life in Christ. They also helped me understand its message was true. And so it was that on a Sunday evening in January 1975, in their dorm room, I committed my life to Christ.

That began a lifelong friendship especially with John. We roomed together the next two and a half years in college. We stood up in each other’s weddings. He lives near Indianapolis now, while I live in southeast Virginia, but we still keep in touch. One thing I know about John Haddix from all these years of friendship: if he speaks about what it means to be an authentic musician, he does so with credibility and authority.

And that’s exactly what he’s done, with the publication last week of The Authentic Musician: Discovering Your Purpose As An Artist. Why would a book like this be significant? Well, have you ever spent time around musicians? We (I still do some music, though less than before) are a strange lot: on the one hand devoted to the highest of arts (in my humble opinion), and yet often subject to the pettiest ways of living life. We can be extremely competitive—no, make that cutthroat. Often we think we’re special. If we’re successful, then lots of other people tell us we’re special, too, and of course we love to hear it. And we know we’re different from non-artists, ordinary people, the hoi polloi. We make the most of that difference, so we can feel even more special. One chapter of The Authentic Musician is titled “Sanity.” If you know musicians you know why that’s relevant.

I’m not speaking of every musician. Some, like John, know what it means to cultivate an authentic heart, one that gives God his place of pre-eminence, that recognizes the high value of art but does not over-magnify it, that understands that like every other endeavor, art is to be an expression of love and service not for oneself but for others.

The Authentic Musician speaks its best and most important message when speaking of the heart. Matters of skill and excellence are not overlooked; to be an authentic musician, after all, one must be a musician. But what John shares about “Discovering and Guarding Your Heart” is well-spoken and highly significant:

The amount of energy it takes to create a large work is incredible…. Sometimes it takes great vigilance to keep your work from becoming an unhealthy compulsion.

Very true. It applies to writing too.

Displaying one’s art requires vulnerability. It often takes great courage for an artist to share her work with even the most non-condemning audience, let alone other artists and critics! And if an artists is seeking to find her significance through others’ affirmation or applause, she is set up for fear, disappointment, disillusionment, and hurt.

I have seen the most talented of soloists break down in tears over feeling inadequate. The cure for that isn’t becoming an even better artist. That’s an ever-receding goal, a false hope and a false promise. The solution lies in becoming a more whole person, a more authentic artist. John has a lot to share on that.

Also valuable is the chapter, “Me? Impact People Through Music?” John evaluates various perspectives on music’s purpose, especially whether it’s appropriate to think of using it to persuade. He distinguishes most helpfully between persuasion and manipulation. Now with the mission/arts group Artists in Christian Testimony, John previously served many years with Keynote, the music (and more) ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. I may be biased on this, since I too was a part of Keynote for ten years, yet I believe no other music ministry understands how to communicate a coherent message the way they do. That special competence comes through in this chapter of John’s book.

Speaking of bias, there’s no use pretending I’m free of prior opinion regarding this book or its author. There are places where I as a writer would have liked an opportunity to tweak some words and sentences. Still I’m certain this book would have been extremely helpful during my college years and beyond, when I was dealing with the competitiveness, the temptation to fake being something I wasn’t, sometimes even the challenge to my sanity. Thankfully its author was there and knew something even then to help me along. I heartily recommend The Authentic Musician to any musician. The book is for real, and can help you be authentic, too.

The Authentic Musician: Discovering Your Purpose As An Artist by John Haddix. Westfield, IL: Earthwhile Publishing, 2010. In print or downloadable from Lulu.com.