Solo Zone: When Opportunity Knocks
- 2010 28 Sep
EDITOR'S NOTE: Each month in "Solo Zone" we will meet believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God's glory.
Have you ever just wanted to leave it all behind and take off for Europe? Does your career hold extra promise if you study your specialty abroad? When somebody says they graduated from Cambridge, do you automatically picture a private boy's school in Connecticut, or are you immediately impressed that they attended one of the world's oldest universities?
OK, so maybe nobody can just take off and leave everything behind. At least, not and still be considered a responsible person. And not every career traces its lineage back to Europe like historically-relevant church music does. Engineers, for example, can study their profession regardless of geographical touchstones, but when you're a choir director and organist, you can't beat the Old Country for real-world immersion in the classicist aesthetic.
Enter a prospective post-graduate Cambridge student named J. Marty Cope, who has decided to add another masters degree to his curriculum vitae (that's "resume," to us Yanks). He's already earned a music degree from Minnesota's renowned St. Olaf College, and masters' from Indiana University. Currently serving on the worship staff at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, Cope will be traveling to Cambridge, England this October to pursue a Master of Music in Choral Studies, Cambridge's first offering of this degree.
Of course, for many evangelicals, the first question might be "why classical music in this day and age?" And indeed, as the Boomer generation has drenched modern churches with contemporary tunes, the traditional fixtures of choirs and pipe organs can seem anachronistic to some. But liturgy and ceremony haven't been lost on younger crowds of worshippers, many of whom have become increasingly intrigued by the more classical forms of corporate worship their parents shunned.
"We see tremendous energy with Gen X'ers as they express their interest in the beauty, mystery, and transcendence of worship," explains Cope, describing his experience at Park Cities Presbyterian. This PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) congregation's Sunday worship services incorporate a range of historically-relevant repertoire sung to acoustic instruments, including a majestic pipe organ, which he often plays himself. "It takes root in a very incarnational view of worship. Worship isn't merely pragmatic … it is extravagantly beautiful."
He's been playing the pipe organ since before graduating from high school, and conducting choirs almost as long, yet Cope brushes aside ascriptions of child prodigy. His preppy wardrobe suggests he's a generic Dallasite, yet he owns a motorcycle—and it's not a Harley. What drives such a passion for classical corporate worship when many of his peers are rocking away on drum traps and electric keyboards?
"I guess I've always been attracted to the beauty and ceremony of God-directed worship … the ‘otherness ethos' of worship," Cope reflects. "I don't believe that we, as the created, should primarily decide how we worship our Creator. Our primary aim is to please God. How does he want us to bring our sacrifice?" he asks.
"Music isn't neutral in its ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, and emotions. What is the music saying and does it fit the text, the occasion, the ethos?
"Ultimately, we people, the congregation, are the engine of worship. Worship is a verb; our offering to God. It's not adequate, and he must come and fill us to make it happen."
Forget for a moment everything you've become accustomed to in church music. If you've heard a gifted musician on a grand organ, or been led in corporate worship by a well-honed singing ensemble, can you see how such elements fit into the structure of a glorious worship service?
If worship is vertical instead of horizontal, what we present to God won't be ordinary or convenient. Yet some claim the lack of extravagance in contemporary worship also translates into affordability, which even in the most earnest of Christ-centric congregations can be a major factor. So, what if your church budget simply won't allow for what have always been luxuries, even when traditional worship was, well, contemporary?
That's why Cope wants to study at Cambridge. Sometimes what's old can become new again.
As an already expertly-educated musician, he anticipates benefiting from Cambridge's extensive musical resources and venues for sharing ideas. Cope hopes to broaden his technical dialog for using the mechanics of music as well as he can wherever his career takes him. If that sounds like gilding the lily, then how much less does God deserve?
For example, "congregational music in worship should be done in a way that encourages them to sing. I believe this has tremendous biblical connections," enthuses Cope, moving away from form to function. "Does the pulpit/platform/stage encourage the people to sing, or does it do it for them? We should structure our music so that if the people leave the room, the music essentially stops," Cope explains. "This has implications for the melodies we sing: are they easily singable, does the text aesthetically and practically ‘fit', and does the accompaniment encourage them?"
Not that he's earned the right to attend Cambridge, but that God has blessed him with this opportunity to go.
"I do this with the desire to grow as a person, as a Christian, as a musician … as a worshipper myself," says Cope as he considers his stewardship of the talents God has given him, "to maximize my God-given potential."
Relishing His Season of Singlehood
And how does his marital status fit into all of this?
"Each season of life is a gift," acknowledges the never-married thirtysomething. "Therefore, I look to enjoy each season I'm in. I don't want to look back on singleness and be frustrated for not relishing in its goodness … and given the temporary nature of this life, if I were to be a lifelong single, it would be far from life's gravest concern."
Did the relative ease of going to Cambridge as a single student—rather than as a husband and father—factor into his decision? Cope says not so much.
"I saw the time window and in it, the reality that I am still single. Doing it now would be easier than doing it later. Although I'd like to still believe that I'd do it no matter if family were in tow.
"I've had many opportunities that might not have been possible if I was married. But that's my story. Someone else will find God's provision to be just the opposite."
Indeed, while Cope knows his story isn't exactly typical—even without the pipe organ and choir aspects of it—he's remarkably conciliatory, at least regarding his contentment with God's provision of his marital status.
"I don't like to concentrate on my singleness, and I look to embrace other identifiers to describe my place in life. For those that might find themselves in an extended period of singleness, enjoy these days!
"God's sovereignty is viewed best from the rearview mirror," muses Cope. "We look back and realize there really wasn't any other option: God's hand was at work, directing and confirming His will."
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
**This article first published on September 28, 2010.