1. The combination of musical notes as to produce a pleasing effect 2. Agreement of feeling or sentiment
Whether it’s through singing in chapel or in the shower, or listening to a song on your phone, music plays an important role in many of our lives. Living in a fast-paced digital society, sometimes it’s easy for us to forget to pay attention to more than what we see, but also what we hear. Creating a piece of music can be a very intimate — even spiritual — experience. After the Wheaton Record interviewed three soloist musicians and composers on campus it became clear that for senior Ian Kilpatrick, junior Joni Graves and senior Brendan Jones, music is more than a pastime, but creates a medium for connection — with friends, audiences and God.
For Kilpatrick, songwriting began in the bubble bath as a toddler, where he created his own song called “Tell Me a Story.” His parents made sure to write down and save the lyrics to that song, which Kilpatrick still sings to this day. Though practicing often felt tedious, listening to him play the violin in Chapel makes it evident that his hard work has paid off. Kilpatrick has participated in worship bands before — he grew up playing violin for his family worship band during high school. Around this time, he started to realize how he could share his gift with other people.
I was fortunate to be one of those people, as Kilpatrick played a simple two string Bach melody that filled the room. The Bach tune brilliantly transitioned into a song called “Evergreen” that he played with his friend Galen on tour in China. His violin seemed to become an extension of his arm as the drawn-out notes picked up in pace. Though he clearly played with confidence, he told me that, “God has taught me to never take myself too seriously.” While playing the violin he could even be heard talking to God, and I listened to the ardor expressed through the instrument.
Junior Joni Graves soon joined us, singing an improvised song on the spot while Kilpatrick accompanied her on the violin. “Could you play by ear, if I play chords?” she asked Kilpatrick, who accepted the challenge. Graves has known Kilpatrick since freshman year when the two played together on the worship team at Wheaton. Strumming her guitar, she sang a beautiful original song entitled, “But for now we’ll write letters.” Kilpatrick matched her voice and guitar on the violin, harmonizing up and down the scale.
Graves’ inspiration for the song traces back to Oregon, where she made a close friend at a Young Life camp. Separated from her friend for nearly two years, she still kept in touch by writing letters. The song arose from both the frustration and anticipation involved in communicating through the medium of letters.
After playing, Graves concluded, “Improv creates some of the best music, playing off each other.” “[And] some of the worst,” Kilpatrick laughed. Improv is worth the risk of embarrassment, according to Graves — “You have got to start songwriting somewhere.” It helps that the two have known each other several years, their playing both fostering and strengthening their bond. “This creativity, comfortability came as a result of almost four years of friendship that gave the room to be goofy, so that when we hit a pitchy note to not be bothered by it,” she explained.
Graves knows a thing or two about pitch — she grew up singing and learned vocal techniques from her time in the Choir for Young Naperville singers around middle school. She’s now minoring in music while she studies Biblical & Theological Studies. Music “has allowed me to put a scene to God’s glory,” she said. She attributes the inspiration of her songs to “wondering and marvelling at God’s creation, and from stories and experiences of life lived or the life to come.”
At the same time, she noted that her inspiration “cannot be pinned down,” but results from an overflow of worship. Worship holds special significance for Graves; it means to “come as we are and delighting in the goodness of God,” she explained. Kilpatrick echoed her enthusiasm: “There are places in my relationship with God that only music can take me to. And it’s just fun!”
You may already be familiar with Jones’ music — or as he refers to his songs, “journal entries” — from his talent show performance this past fall. Yet his talent for music traces back to growing up in a church where he sang a lot of hymns. During high school he started journaling to process a lot of his emotions, and also used his musical talent to turn these entries into simple songs.
At Wheaton, Jones joined the percussion ensemble freshman year, which he considers “the most challenging musical thing ever.” Percussion ensemble stretched him to break out of the popular time signatures like 4/4 or 3/4. Despite enjoying the experience, Jones said he missed spending his free time singing and playing guitar. This led him to audition his senior year for the talent show, when he played “Picture Frames,” which he wrote at the very beginning of his sophomore year reflecting on events since the start of college.
Jones tends to write his songs composed in moments of angst, he told me. Honesty is an important characteristic in his music. He explained that being able to cry through his music and learning to “feel deeper emotion whether it is sadness, joy, hope, anger, and peace,” music acts a conduit for his feelings. “I want to be able to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice.” Those feelings show through his songs, which are moving and reflective.
Connection is found, for these musicians, through music. Whether through worshipping, journaling or hosting an improv session with friends, music has the special ability to translate thoughts and feelings inside us — better than words. The effect travels farther than themselves, even bringing that musical meaning into the ears of us, the listeners.