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Jason Gray Interview

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on May 19, 2017 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

While I was interning for Crown of Beauty Magazine, I had the incredible privilege of interviewing Christian Music Artist Jason Gray. Since Crown of Beauty has made the decision to stop releasing magazine issues, including the issues we had already started piecing together, our team determined not to let any of the material go to waste


I know this interview was both encouraging and inspiring to me. My belief is that anyone else who reads it will gain something of the same. I'm grateful to Jason for taking the time to answer my questions, and I hope all of you take the time to enjoy reading his insightful responses. God bless!





When did you start writing music?


My mom was in a band when I was growing up, so I was always around music. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to make music and I remember making up songs on my way home from school when I was a 3rd grader. I don't know how much that counts! It was later in high school where I really dug in and started trying to write my first songs. They were all brooding, teenage angsty songs about pain and injustice and love :-)


But God was always a part of the picture, even from a very young age. I didn't grow up in the church, so there wasn’t anybody telling me to listen for the voice of God, and yet I still heard it. I had a very difficult childhood, and my first memory of hearing God speak to me was through Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The lyric goes: "like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down...." When I heard that song, it was like God whispered in my heart, "psssssttt... this is how I feel about you. I want to be your bridge over troubled water."


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There was no one in my life to tell me that God loved me, or that he wanted to speak to me, or that I could interpret songs like that in a spiritual way, so there was no reason for me to think that way... and yet, that's how I heard it. Which tells me that it had to be the Holy Spirit, right? Anyway, all of that to say that since then I've always associated music with the voice of God. And I was only ever interested in writing music that I hoped might help people hear the God who wants to speak to them.


Was music the path you always expected to take in life?


Frederick Buechner says that the place that God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger intersect. I've always felt very fortunate that I knew where this place was in my life since a very young age. I know that not everybody figures that out so young, so I feel very fortunate that I always knew that music was the place of my deep gladness and the world's deep hunger.


What does the song writing process look like for you?


It's so terrifying! And it doesn't get easier, it gets harder! But it's also fun and really life giving. I'm a slow writer and the battle for me is to not write from my mind, but to write from my heart. It comes naturally for me to write ideas that might make people think, but as Bono of U2 says, “a feeling is stronger than a thought.” So while I work hard to write lyrics that I hope will provoke deeper thinking, I also hope it makes the listener feel something. That’s always the question for me, “does this line, does this melody make me feel something?”


Aside from that, song writing is a lot like prayer. It requires a lot of silence, reflecting, and listening. I always have a sense that I’m more of a song discoverer than a song writer—that the song already exists and is entrusted to me… and if I listen really well, I can receive the song that is waiting to be born through me.


Who were your favorite music artists growing up?


As I mentioned earlier, I first heard the voice of God through a Paul Simon song, so his music has been and continues to be a major influence in my life. I believe he is the greatest living American songwriter. Peter Gabriel and U2 were bit influences. Later on it would be Rich Mullins and Coldplay. These days I learn a lot from OneRepublic and Jon Bellion. Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman has also been a consistent influence.


Where do you draw inspiration for your music from?


I listen to my own life and try to write the songs that I need to hear, trusting that if I need it, maybe someone else does, too. Generally, I feel like the biggest part of my work is listening: listening for what the Holy Spirit is speaking to and therefore through my life.


Which song that you've written do you consider to be the most pure representation of yourself? Why?


Oh gosh, what a great question! Maybe “Nothing Is Wasted” or “Remind Me Who I Am’—though the song I’m the proudest of is a song called “I Will Find A Way.” Why? Because I believe that hell’s greatest weapons against our hearts are fear (anxiety) and shame (that deep sense of unworthiness).


“Nothing Is Wasted” is my best effort at speaking peace to anxious hearts. “Remind Me Who I Am” has proven to be my most effective song to remind people of their essential belovedness. And “I Will Find A Way” is about the beauty of the way Jesus enters the world (and even our lives) to disarm both our fear and shame.

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What do you want to accomplish with your work?


In the movie “Shadowlands” about the life of C.S. Lewis, a character says, “we read to know we’re not alone.” I think that’s why we listen to music, too. It reminds us that we’re not alone… and that helps.


Music can be so medicinal. It can help us feel feelings that are locked inside of us but for some reason we can’t let out—maybe grief, anger, gratitude, or even joy. Music unlocks hearts.


In my own life the Holy Spirit has used music to help me understand my own life, to give me courage, to pour healing into broken places, to lead me into forgiveness, worship, and compassion; it makes me want to play and dance for joy. It’s just such wonderful medicine. If my music can be any of those things for someone else, then I will feel like I’ve done something worthwhile.


What advice would you give people struggling to find faith for their futures?


Do not be afraid. Do not be anxious about the timing of things. It’s in the times of waiting that God prepares our hearts to be able to hold the next thing he will give us. Take one step at a time. You won’t know tomorrow’s step until you take today’s step—it’s today’s step that will reveal and give clarity to what step to take tomorrow.


Dwelling on the past leads to depression. Speculating about the future leads to anxiety. So be present to the holy now—this moment is when the voice of the Spirit can be heard. If you spend too much time speculating about the future you will end up only talking with yourself. Seek the Lord now—today—and that is where his voice can be heard. You only need to take the very next step. Sometimes you need to wait.


Do you have any new plans or ideas in the works?


I think maybe the Lord is directing me to begin writing a book. I don’t know exactly what that is supposed to be yet, but I think I need to begin writing and trust that what it’s supposed to be will be revealed as I move forward with faith. Today’s step will reveal tomorrow’s :-)


And finally, because we ask this question of everyone we talk to with Crown of Beauty, who is your favorite Disney Princess?


Princess Leia of course.

The Myth of Originality

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 29, 2015 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

C.S. Lewis, author of the famous “Chronicles of Narnia,” once said that “even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be an original: whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

I've picked three themes out of this quote: public impressions, originality, and truth. All three work together, but are worth thinking about separately. Sometimes it is easier to think of something as a whole after it's been examined piece by piece.

“You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making.” For some, standing on their own two feet is simple, for others, it is far easier to follow others. Those who are strong and confident have an admirable and enviable stability about them. They cannot be shaken by the public impression of them because they do not care what it is, not are they defined by it. They are the culture shapers. They know what is right for them to do, and they do it.

On the other hand, those seeking to make a good impression on people by seeking their favor, approval and good opinions do not become their own person, they just become another face in the crowd. They don't make an impression, they just make themselves society's slave.

You should be strong in who you are. In your ideas, thoughts, and plans. You shouldn't be afraid to fail, and you certainly shouldn't be afraid to change things. Make an impression. But if you are to make an impression, make it a good one.

“No man who bothers about originality will ever be original.” The thing is, originality is a myth. There is nothing new under the sun. Artists are constantly trying to avoid cliches, to create something new, something never created before. Artists and their art can awaken old, buried ideas; alert people to higher beauty; show people what true art is. But no one can be truly original. One can seem original by breaking through boundaries, the boundaries of public impression, as previously mentioned, and by believing in and telling the truth.

“If you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” Truth and true beauty never get old. The sunset has always been beautiful. The stars have always been spectacular. Truth is constant while society moves and changes and fights to become new, to become original. The originality of truth is that it is the one thing that stands firm. It cannot be defined by mankind, no matter how hard society tries to redefine truth to match its temporal desires.

In conclusion, originality is a myth. Living free of worries about the impression you make is healthy, admirable, and helps you accomplish more in life. Believing in and teaching the truth, in a sense, makes you original as truth tellers are a rarity these days.

To finish the Lewis quote, “the principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.” My hope for each of my readers is that they will embrace truth and have the courage to live it out every day.

The Lost Art of Service

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 29, 2015 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

My nine year old sister Aubrey and I take on many adventures together, whether it's writing and performing a play, building a clubhouse, learning a new song, or hunting for every last stone statue in town and memorizing its location. Our latest adventure has been joining our dear friend, Ulla Kesler, and serving tea at her bed and breakfast and tearoom, Tipping Teapot Farm.

Ulla has truly mastered the art of hospitality. Bringing lost culture and ways of life back to center stage, her tea room is the perfect place to step back and slow down for a few hours. Ulla treats each guest with personal service and to a delicious three course meal. You sit, we serve.

Serving with Ulla has been tons of fun for me and my sister, but it has also been an incredible learning experience. We have the best mentor. She truly cares and has a sincere heart for serving others. Tipping Teapot Farm is the one place we never have time to stop and think about ourselves. Our focus is on everyone else in the room. We are servants, and Ulla teaches how to serve best. In our rushed, self centered culture today, even being the one serving in such an environment is a refreshing change of pace. Peace, calm, and class are all intangibles that are felt in the aura of the place.

Ulla dreamed of opening a tea room for many years, and now her dream is coming true. She is blessing the lives of others, if only for a few hours at a time, while they enjoy tea and treats in her home. I'm the lucky one who gets to keep coming back to watch and work alongside her.

Truly, Ulla's goal every time she has guests is to bless them with a quiet peaceful place to sit back, stop rushing, and start enjoying.

Everyone could benefit from a visit to Tipping Teapot Farm, as a server and as a guest. But as a server I have learned a few things we can all put into better practice to make life a little sweeter wherever we may be.

First, presentation matters. At Tipping Teapot Farm the people serving the meal are like actors, putting on a show for the pleasure of our audience. The famous quote of Shakespeare, “all the world's a stage,” fits the situation perfectly.

One way Ulla shows she values her guests is her attention to detail. With flowers and candles gracing the tables and each plate emaculate in it's appearance, Ulla is saying to her guests “you are worth it.” From mint leaves decorating the side of a plate, to salad toppings cut into the shape of hearts, Ulla suprises me with her creative flair and attention to details. Some of my personal favorites have been mint leaves, which make anything look a little more beautiful, and salad toppers cut out in the shapes of hearts. Ulla continutes to surprise me with her creativite attention to detail.

Second, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I have such a 'git-er-done attitude that I tend to rush and I can be so goal oriented that people can feel my tension in the air. Getting things done and meeting goals is fine, but creating stress and a stressful environment is not the goal of Tipping Teapot Farm. As a server, it is my job to keep my cool, stay calm, and carry on. If I am peaceful, things go smoothly and more efficiently, resulting in quicker service and a better overall experience for everyone.

Which leads me to the third thing I have learned. Even though as a server I take a back seat to the atmosphere and the food, how I look and behave creates so much of the mood and overall atmosphere. Servers should be as appealing as the food and the environment. Dressing formally in black and white and paying attention to the details of how our hair is done and how we carry ourselves matters. Smiling, no matter what, not stressing, speaking with kindness and humility, and seeking to serve as much as possible all makes a contribution to the success of the tea.

Have you ever been to a restaurant where the food tastes great, but the people serving it have sour attitudes? Somehow, it makes the whole experiences less enjoyable.

Lastly, and most importantly, I've learned that it's never about me. No matter how I feel, how people are treating me, or what happens in the course of a tea, it's not about me. If I am serving a grateful customer or one who can only remember to speak up when they notice a problem, and they notice them all, it's not about me. I might go right back to being self-serving when I get home, but while I'm with Ulla, I have no choice but to put myself aside, lock it in the closet, and serve others. Ulla is helping redeem the art of serving others in me.

Amazingly, Ulla always has a cheerful attitude of service. Serving tea is still real life. Sometimes the scones won't bake in time or we may forget to set out spoons, but if anyone ever notices, they don't care, because they know that they've been loved and valued in Ulla's presence. People may not remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel, and people come away from Tipping Teapot Farm feeling special. For Ulla this is not just an act, she believes each person walking through her door is special, and it's her genuine heart that makes her service and example such an inspirational one.

The Selflessness of Taking Center Stage

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 29, 2015 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)



Two years ago, I was the girl too shy to even think about auditioning for a play. In The Sound of Music I, as Liesl, had to sing, dance, and cry onstage as if it was natural to me. And I loved it.

What has changed? Why did I, in the course of two years, evolve from being unwilling to audition to actually loving to perform? It's not because I have any special knack, talent, or skill. It doesn't come naturally, at least not to me. It's hard work. But it is progressively getting easier. How?

Inside the performing arts, there are many more branches of art. Some on the larger branches include things like theater, dance, music, etc. But these branches have smaller branches of their own that, when mastered, will add up collectively as an accomplishment in the overarching branch, as well. The two smaller branches of art I have found to be the most helpful are the art of imitation and the art of overcoming yourself.

One of the best ways to learn something new is to imitate someone who has more experience than you do in the area and who has already mastered it, or at least has made major accomplishments in certain skill sets. Every actor should have a role model.

By role model, I do not mean your best friend who enjoys performing in a play every now and then for fun or someone you think looks cute. If you want to grow your skills, your role model should be someone who takes their job seriously, has had quite a bit more experience than you, and either often plays the same type of roles as you wish to play or stretches themselves to many completely different types of roles.

My role model, who you will see a lot of quotes from today, is Tom Hiddleston. Everyone who watches Marvel movies appreciates the skill he brings to playing Loki. It's amazing to me that he can play a character so opposite of himself with such skill. Then he plays other roles, like Captain Nicholls in War Horse and his upcoming role as Hank Williams in I Saw the Light. I admire that he is determined to stretch himself to grow and not become type casted. Everyone should aspire to attain that kind of growth in some area of their lives. As for me and choosing him as my role model, with almost any role I play, I'll be able to pull some inspiration from one of Hiddleston's characters because of the variety of characters he has portrayed.

Overcoming self is something all of humanity struggles with. For some it means fighting shyness and for others it mean toning down arrogance, but both ends of the spectrum have the same root—too much focus on self.

Humans are selfish. Acting is selfless. Or maybe I should say, the best acting is selfless. Our job when we are onstage is to entertain the audience. If we're too self conscious to truly perform or too haughty to share the limelight and work with other people, the audience is going to know it. Don't be self absorbed, because when you are on the stage it's never about you.

Something that has especially helped me as an introvert, but also is key to any actor's performance, is understanding the fact that when you're onstage, it isn't really you. I've been Liesl Von Trapp, the Big Bad Wolf, and Helena from A Midsummer Night's dream, but never Bethanny Lawson. I can let go and do things I'd never do in real life because of the character I'm playing. The goal is to make the character authentic, which means “our job is to represent the truth of human nature, whether you're playing a tender love story that's set in a coffee shop or whether you're in 'The Avengers,' which is set in a Manhattan which is exploding.” (Tom Hiddleston)

People love characters they can relate to. When you as a performer can spark emotions in the audience, you're doing your job. To truly capture the hearts of an audience, though, they have to be caught up in your character, what they are thinking, feeling, dreaming—which means you have to be completely wrapped up in the character you are playing as well. When you are onstage, you are living another person's life, which is pretty exhilarating hard work.

In order to live another person's life, Tom Hiddleston tells us what he does. “The one thing that I do every time is immersion. I completely immerse myself in the world of the play, the film, the story, the character and plaster the walls of my own imagination with extra knowledge and images and music and trivia.”

Practice is the work we do to make performance more fun and believable. Practice may be hard and time consuming, but it's worth it in the end. It's more fun to do something perfect than to do it flawed, right?

There was one thing Hiddleston has said that has been my goal ever since I found it throughout the hectic tech week. “For me, acting is about recreating the circumstances that would make me feel how my character is feeling. In the dressing room, I practice recreating those circumstances in my head and try not to get in the way of myself.”

The only thing that can hold us back as performers is self-absorption. It was my problem two years ago. Today, when my younger sisters dance around the kitchen teasing, “you're in love with Rolf! Rolf made you cry!” instead of getting self conscious because I hate crying onstage, I respond with “No, Liesl adores Rolf, so of course his betrayal made her cry.”

Offstage, I'm comfortable with who I am. Onstage, I'm comfortable with who my character is. I'm by no means finished growing, but two years has changed so much for me.

Competitions Grow Character

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 2, 2015 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Competition. Every one of us will engage in some kind of competition in our lives; many of us engage in competition daily or weekly. Beauty pageants, 4H fair projects, sports, political campaigns, job interviews, theater auditions, and simple disagreements with friends or coworkers are all examples of competition in life. Lawyers in the courtroom compete to see who can prove their points most persuasively. T-ball players compete to see who gets to play first base.

 

The question is not IF we will compete, but HOW we will compete. And how we will allow competition to affect us. Do we determine the outcome?

 

Competitions predictably end in one of two ways. You win or you lose. But also, either the competitors come out with new respect for each other or they come out hating each other. Sometimes it doesn't matter how good you are, you lose. So my focus is how to determine the other outcomes. Will you leave a competition defeated and bitter or stronger and wiser?

 

Before a competition ever starts it is imperative to have the right mindset. During a competition we should make good choices and take wise actions. After a competition we need to really watch our attitude and treatment of ourselves and others. Everyone likes to win, but winning is not synonymous with success. Everyone can leave a competition with success.

 

Some competitions are unwittingly flung upon us and find us unprepared, but the majority of competitions we sign up for ourselves so we should enter them prepared. Setting your mind to the right attitude will make a world of difference in whether you succeed or fail.

 

Experience has taught me that coming to a contest with a humble spirit is not only wise, but necessary. By seeking out the best in people and looking for things to learn from them, you allow others to build you up. Coming to a competition believing you are the best or the only one who is right sets you up for a hefty and painful fall.

 

Staying humble also helps you to respect your competitors as fellow human beings. Being friendly with the competitors before, during, and after a game or contest is a good way to build others up. Your competitors are generally not your enemies; they are just other people who also have feelings and lives beyond the scope of that moment. If the room must fill up with haughty snobs, don't let yourself be one of them.

 

In the heat of the moment it can get tough to keep your cool. And really, it's okay to get passionate at times. Passion is what gives us success. However, keep in mind that you are competing against a skill set, a strategy, or an argument to help you from making or taking things personal and distracting yourself or showing a lack of character.

 

After a competition, keep your emotions in check. It is easy to get too high or too low from a win or a loss. Don't let a win or loss affect your character in a negative way. If you win, remember what it is like to lose, and treat people the way you would want to be treated. Don't give empty compliments; find something kind to say and make it real. If you lose, learn from it. Accept the results and look for ways to improve next time. It's always a good idea to ask any judges, coaches, or other leaders for their commentary and advice, regardless of what place you earned. Don't judge the other competitors. Congratulate them and learn from what they did well. People who have beaten you before can eventually become valuable friends if you have proper respect for one another.

 

In the end it's who we are that matters. My experiences in various competitions still affect me today, not because of how many times I won or lost, but because of how each experience grew my character. I have learned how to be a part of a team, how to lose gracefully, how to get back on my feet after disappointment, how to learn from my mistakes and so much more. Everyone of us will continue to engage in competitions in their various forms, won't you join me in focusing on the art of competition and the growth in character that comes with embracing it with the right attitude? I sure still have a lot to learn!

Would You Hire Amelia Bedelia?

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 2, 2015 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Do you believe words have meaning? If they don't or didn't have specific meaning, what would the effects of that be? For example, if a judge were able to define justice as “whatever I say it is” would he actually be able to administer justice? Would justice even exist?

As an author, deconstructionism of language is one of my biggest pet peeves. Not only is it annoying, but it is something that I know cannot be let go. Words mean something. They are intended to mean specific things, and those meanings simply cannot be allowed to be altered by personal taste or preference.

What is deconstructionism, anyway? The Free Dictionary puts it well. Deconstructionism is “a philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings.”

Have you ever played any word association games? Where someone says a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head when you hear that word? My mom and I played that game today. Some words we used were red, beautiful, and gentleman. What do those words bring to your mind?

The thing is, different things will come to different people's minds when they hear the same word. For example, what did you think of when you heard the world “gentleman?” I bet it was different than my answer. But does that mean the word is defined differently for each of us? Not at all. Unfortunately, people have started to make it that way, and the word gentleman is one that has been soiled.

What makes a gentleman? Most people will respond that a gentleman is someone chivalrous, kind, polite, possessing good manners. However, this is not what the word “gentleman” has always meant. A gentleman used to be someone with a coat of arms and some landed property, as C.S. Lewis explains in “Mere Christianity.” He states that “when you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman.

Lewis goes on to explain that now the word “gentleman” cannot be used for any useful purpose because it does not give any true information about a person. It is a term of praise, rather than a term of description, and thus only tells us the speaker's attitude or opinion towards whoever they choose to call “a gentleman.” The word has effectively been stripped of any useful meaning at all.

Some words have been soiled. Gentleman is one of them. Red, on the other hand, we still agree on. In most definitions these days though, people disagree. For example, most people believe art cannot be defined. I say it can be. At the very least we can define what is good art and what is bad art. There must be truth in the arts. If we say we cannot define what is good and bad art, we provide a perfect place to feed people lies. When all is good and truthful, there is no possibility for evil and dishonesty. These days art is left far too open to personal interpretation, including literary art, or the art of using words efficiently, effectively, artfully.

The problem in interpreting any literature comes when the reader stops asking what the text means and begins to ask instead what it means to them personally. To help us apply that principle to truth and meaning in language, another example is appropriate.

Some of my favorite books as a child were the Amelia Bedelia books. If you've heard of Amelia Bedelia, you probably either find her antics entertaining or downright irritating. If you tell Amelia to make a sponge cake, she puts in real sponges; ask her to change the towels, and she cuts them into new shapes. Amelia's problem is not only that she takes things too literally most of the time, but also that she is focused on her own interpretation of the words in the instructions that are given. Amelia could fix the problem simply by asking herself what the person giving the instructions intended, what did their words mean to them?

When art is something to be determined by the individual, all art becomes of equal value. However, imagine a very young child with no training banging on piano keys compared to the great composers of the past. I believe it is fairly easy to say that the truth of the matter is that the great composers created and performed beautiful works of art, but the child banging the keys is not creating or performing anything of artistic value.

People do try to take true meaning out of art, especially the art of language. Generally, they mean well. However, the result is more often confusion and the ruination of language for any useful purposes.

Art is a means of communication. Without clarity in communication everything becomes chaos. If anyone tries to use the word “gentleman” in its original sense today, they must explain themselves. We cannot allow the same thing to happen to all of our language.

While Amelia Bedelia may be an entertaining book to read to 1st graders, I doubt you would hire her to clean your house or watch your children. And a world, where the definition of the word justice (or of words in general) can be determined by individual preferences, quickly becomes a dangerous place to live.

Music is Dangerous

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 2, 2015 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Music is not “nice.” Music is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used for good, to enhance brain development. But, just like Loki's scepter in the Avengers, anything that can be used as a powerful tool for good can also be used for evil. Thus, in this article, I will be discussing why music is not neutral. When it is consumed without thought and discernment, music can be dangerous.

Music affects the neurological growth and function of the brain. It can also feed and fuel human emotions. Both intellect and emotions control human behavior and decision making. If music influences your behavior and decision making, wouldn't you want to know about it?

To say that music is neutral is to choose the easy path. In our ever-growing secular humanist culture, people don't want to hear that anything is wrong with their personal preferences, certainly not their music preferences. Most people will confess that song lyrics can be bad, but that's where the general consensus ends. The musical elements of beat, harmony, and rhythm all remain pleasantly neutral and open to personal taste. But how many people have done followup research on the opinion that music is neutral? Being a musician is an important part of who I am, so I have done a little of that research ghgh. I have found evidence supporting that certain kinds of music can negatively affect people physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

Physicist Harvey Bird and neurobiologist Gervasia Schreckenberg conducted experiments to see if music could be used to physically alter the brain development of a mouse. He used three groups of mice. The first group of mice listened to Strauss waltzes, the second group listened to silence. Neither group showed significant difference from normal mice and progressively ran their mazes faster and faster. The third group listened to dis-harmonic, non-rhythmic voodoo drums. These mice became hyperactive, aggressive, disoriented, and eventually failed to be able to complete the mazes at all. Upon further investigation, Bird and Schreckenberg found abnormal growth patterns in the hippocamus region of the brain and shrinking in the frontal lobe. There were far fewer neurological connections being made in this third group of mice and their brains had been irreversibly altered.

High school student David Merrell, conducted a similar experiment, substituting hard-rock for the voodoo drums and Mozart for the waltzes. He had to cut the experiment short and start over because the hard-rock mice had all killed each other.

Frances Rauscher spent some time of her own with mice and music. Once again, three groups of mice were exposed to three different types of sound, then were run through mazes. One group listened to white noise, similar to the static sound that used to be on your old fashioned television screen when there was no more programming on after a certain hour at night. There wasn't much to say about that group. Another group listened to Mozart and memorized the mazes, making their way through very quickly. The third group listened to Phillip Glass, the most repetitive and non-dimensional music she could find. The Phillip Glass mice could not navigate the mazes at all. They were hopelessly lost. There was no complexity to the music, no variation, only predictability. The rodents were effectively dumbed-down by exposure to this music.

Can music affect our emotions? Common sense says of course it can.

For musicians, often the best part of a movie is the soundtrack. It helps set the mood, adds to the drama, builds tension. It helps guide things in the way they are supposed to go. As an experiment, the next time you watch a movie, try to imagine it without the soundtrack. In many cases, without the music, some scenes will look pretty dumb. Musicians intentionally lead emotions in certain directions, and sometimes the emotion of a movie can depend entirely on the quality of the background music.

The next time you attend a sporting event, listen to the pre-game and half-time music closely. Is it possible that the choice of music is motivated by the need to whip up adrenaline in the players? Do you think it works?

The primary focus in the majority of research on negative emotional effects of music has been on teens. The results are all the same; heavy rock and rap create feelings of tension, hostility, and rebellion, along with causing people to view negative actions as positive.

Like Loki's scepter, music is a powerful tool that can be used for many glorious purposes. There is danger in thinking and teaching that music is neutral. Music is not neutral. Music is not “nice.” Music is an incredibly powerful tool with the ability to cause great harm or good to those who are exposed to it. Music should be treated with respect, thoughtfulness, and yes, even caution. Choose your music wisely, it is affecting more than you realize in you and in your children.

Shakespeare in the Park

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 1, 2015 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Thor:“You have no idea what you're dealing with.”

Iron Man: “Uh, Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”

     Did you understand that reference? It's one of my favorite lines from The Avengers, partly because it's a really good line, and partly because it's tied to a bit of personal experience.

     My first experience with Shakespeare in the park was a few years ago when the Stone Soup Shakespeare company came to my town and performed “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Once a year they come and perform a Shakespeare play at Twin Lakes Park. This year they performed the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.” It seemed like a great excuse to write about Shakespeare.

     Stone Soup Shakespeare always puts on an energizing and engaging performance, so it's still a surprise to me that the audience is relatively small. Why is that? My guess is that people don't understand, appreciate, or particularly enjoy Shakespeare. Of course it is difficult to enjoy something you don't understand. William Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words, compared to the average American's working vocabulary of a mere 3,000 words. Watching a Shakespeare performance for many people may be similar to watching a movie in French and they don't speak French.

     However, once you do understand the language, it's a thrill to watch. The wit and humor of Shakespeare mingled with his grasp on real life problems transcends the barriers of time and the deterioration of our common language. There are ways to learn to truly appreciate Shakespeare and understand the value of his work. Keep in mind that Shakespeare is not something only to be enjoyed by people of a certain status or education. Shakespeare did not write for the elite. He wrote for everyone, from royalty to the lowly, poorest masses.

     You may wonder why you should care about Shakespeare. Is it worth the effort? There are several reasons you should open your mind to Shakespeare even if you are not a love-at-first sight kind of fan. After all, I wasn't.

     Shakespeare dealt with real, timeless issues. Love, friendship, and vengeance are running themes throughout his works, along with more weighty issues such as racism and domestic violence in Othello and justice and mercy in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare never shied away from controversy or favored being politically correct. In our day and age he may seem crude and disrespectful in certain aspects, especially in his practical jokes, but truth still rings from his words.

     Mrzine.monthlyreview.org comments, “Like everything else in the globalized 21st century, [Shakespeare} has been made 'safe for consumption' when nothing could be further from the truth. Shakespeare's plays are full of [off color humor], brutal violence, and political intrigue that would make Scooter Libby blush.”

     But isn't that the real world? Life isn't about sunshine and butterflies all the time, and Shakespeare isn't afraid to address the real world, although at the same time he points us to the beauty that does exist in our world.

     Tying into his ability to deal with such issues, Shakespeare's characters are fallible and real. They're not all that different from us. They're easy to relate to and root for or against. Even kings are depicted truthfully as having flaws and weaknesses. The characters deal with death, betrayal, jealousy, and hatred. Sometimes the audience is even tempted to justify the wrong actions of a character. Shakespeare takes people to the core of sensitive issues with characters whose shoes we can easily step into.

     Shakespeare also gave voice to a marginalized society. In a time when women weren't even allowed to perform on stage, Shakespeare refused to keep his female characters on the sidelines. They were often a critical part of the plot, going so far as to out-wit and trick the men to their own delight and the good of all. Take for example Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, who fooled everyone into thinking she was a man to save the life of her husband's best friend, a feat the men could not do without her help. Shakespeare was a very forward thinker who gave everyone a voice in his works.

     Shakespeare's works are extremely satisfying. He possessed a brilliant command of humor and wit and could use it subtly as well as by obvious means.

Gratiano: “Can no prayers pierce thee?”

Shylock: “No, none that thou hast wit enough to make.”

(The Merchant of Venice)

     Comebacks slide off the tongue with a pleasing tartness that easily silences people, and Shakespeare always completes his plays with final lines that tie up loose ends in a complete package.

Puck: “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended—that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.”

(A Midsummer Night's Dream)

     He summarizes things in such a lavish and accurate way that we cannot help but be left with a feeling of deep satisfaction.

     If you're ready to give Shakespeare a second chance, “Much Ado About Nothing” would be a great place to start. It's a lighthearted comedy about two pairs of lovers: one pair who seem to hate each other and claim love can never be for them; the other is a happy couple destined for the altar. There is also a trouble maker who meddles with the affairs of the others and confuses the truth.

     Tom Hiddleston, famous for his role as Loki in Thor and The Avengers, claims “Much Ado About Nothing” is his favorite Shakespeare play because “it's the most beautiful, warm, redemptive, compassionate play that he ever wrote... it just leaves people with a very, very happy feeling in their heart.” That is the beauty of Shakespeare's comedies. We get a good laugh while being given a hopeful message about love and second chances. Maybe love where you least expect it. Shakespeare's work is human, relatable, and enjoyable. Shakespeare can also delve deeply into the darkness of this world, but not in this play. “Much Ado About Nothing” is perhaps Shakespeare's most lighthearted work.

     I hope I have left you without excuse. Why not give Shakespeare a try? Perhaps you can warm up to it like Tony Stark was able to appreciate Thor after he got past first impressions.