Excellence on Display

    There is so much evidence of cultural decline in American art and music that the committed Christian could spend all of his time pointing out what is wrong. This is important, but not enough. Christians also need to offer alternatives -- alternatives that show the goodness, truth, and beauty of the God we worship. One such example takes place every summer alongside a lake in Indiana: the MasterWorks Festival. MasterWorks is sponsored by the Christian Performing Artists' Fellowship, which is headed by Patrick Kavanaugh. The group's membership is drawn from opera companies, music schools, and orchestras all across the country. Admission to the MasterWorks camp, as at other summer music camps, is competitive-and getting more so every year. As Jay Nordlinger wrote in a recent issue of the National Review, Kavanaugh "can afford to be picky." This is gratifying because it means that there are more and more talented young Christians going into the performing arts. And those who do get in find themselves associating with Christians who are among the elite of the musical world. The instruction isn't limited to music. Participants are taught how to more completely integrate their faith with their talent and their aspirations. They discuss topics like "egomania vs. humility," "handling criticism and critics," "competitiveness," and "Is your art your god?" Once again, this is in contrast to the rest of the music world where dog-eat-dog is the rule. As one violinist told Nordlinger, at MasterWorks, "we're all taking pleasure in each other's talent." Perhaps the most exciting thing that the participants take away from MasterWorks is the sense that they aren't alone in trying to combine artistic excellence with their Christian faith. As Nordlinger puts it, MasterWorks is the place where "some of the most notable performers and teachers in the world" "out" themselves as committed Christians. Among those "outing" themselves is Stephen Clapp, the dean of Julliard, the most prestigious music school in the world. MasterWorks festivals have featured performances by artists like the violinist Midori, Steve Rooks, who is a dancer with the Martha Graham Company, and Broadway star George Merritt. One artist who has become a regular at MasterWorks is conductor Jahja Ling. When he's not leading the festival orchestra, Ling can be found conducting some of the world's greatest orchestras like the Cleveland Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. But his contributions aren't only musical. Ling, who is vice-president of a Chinese evangelistic ministry, has also spoken to participants about the experience of Chinese Christians on the mainland. As a result of the presence of people like Maestro Ling, participants come away reassured that it's possible to be both a committed Christian and a world-class artist. As Kavanaugh reminds them, the trick is to remember for whom you're doing it. He echoes the words of Johan Sebastian Bach -- words he used to sign his music -- Soli Deo Gloria: to God alone be the glory. So three cheers for MasterWorks -- not only for helping to train a new generation of Christian artists, but also for reminding the Church and the culture that faith and artistic excellence should, and do, go hand-in-hand. For further information: The BreakPoint "Christians in the Arts" kit includes two books to equip artists, and those interested in the arts, with ideas and inspiration for influencing the culture: It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books, 2000) by Ed Bustard (editor) and others, and Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (InterVarsity, 2001) by Steve Turner. Learn more about MasterWorks. BreakPoint has also put together information on different groups in various branches of the arts. Jay Nordlinger, "Soli Deo Gloria," National Review, 2 September 2002 (available in hardcopy only).  


Chuck Colson


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