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Confessions of a Lord's Musician

My name is Jonathan Brickman, and I am one of the Lord's many musicians. I play piano and keyboards on Sunday mornings with the rest of the praise teams, and we have a great time, the Lord gives wonderful input to all of us. He has also put together another band, outside of the church, which is likewise a joy enormous.

It is a curious thing, being made His musician and living both the process and the truth. It began long, long before I knew of They who are One who is God.

I was originally born a Hebrew, of an entirely Jewish family and known ancestry, and for all of my early life I was very much devoted to the paths they laid before me. I remember in the children's services, at Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, New York in the early 1970's, there was a series on the prophets: who they were, what they were, what they did and why. And I remember thinking with joy, wouldn't it be just wonderful to live like that. Yes, no toilet paper, no cars, no chainsaws, no record players - but God with us in Person, delivering His very thoughts and desires to us, and us having joy in the doing of them and the very conversation itself. I was quite sad and even somewhat resentful, when at the end of the series, we were all told that, for unknown reasons, all of that was long gone.

Before the above, at about three years of age, my father gave me my very first piano lessons. We also visited some neighbors a few times, the Dirfees (not sure of the spelling, I may never have known it), who had a home organ, which I found mysteriously attractive. I took classical piano lessons until sixteen, most of them from a certain wonderfully patient and understanding woman named Myrna Lyons, who, with my mother, trained my fingers carefully and indefatigably, gently helping a sometimes resistant boy gain some most valuable ability to use his digits. At sixteen, though, a peculiar inner stress grew unbearable. I could not find my music, the music I needed to play; and when I played what I had, the stutter of my lips manifested in my fingers.

I have always had a speech impediment, a stutter, and it got bad in my teens. Occasionally I would sing here and there, and I would not stutter when I sang. But at this time, I could not find the music I needed to play on the piano, and the music I did have, came out with the same jerky, awful, horrible stutter. I could not play smoothly. The beauty was marred, the joy became misery. My parents tried very hard to find help, I went through a series of speech therapists - but if you ever want to see a deer-in-the-headlights look, tell a speech therapist that your stutter has manifested in your fingers ☺

And I knew I needed to play something, but I could not find it. My teacher worked a whole lot, in that last year and a half or so, working with me to try to find my next music. Eventually my frustration overrode my patience, and I had to cease. I even tried a different teacher, which did not help at all.

Four strange years went by. In that time, I found that I had a mystical ability to know of the presence and location of any piano within 100 feet or so, no matter where I went. And I found that regardless of my own volition, if a piano was unlocked that I was near, I would sneak up to it, open the keyboard, play one or at most two chords, feel a satisfaction of a task accomplished, and then close it up again and move on.

By this time I had begun my stay in college, in which I learned principally that I was not in good conscience going to be able to do anything of the things for which I could see degrees within reach ☺ That is another story! But another thing I learned, at least as important, came from a friend, a certain Stephanie Robertson (possibly but not certainly of different surname long since), who after observing me for a couple of months, explained to me that I had "an artistic temperament with no outlet". She also explained that if I didn't do something about it, I was going to be in increasingly big trouble.

So, thought I, she's obviously right, but that doesn't help at all, what am I going to do about it? Nothing at all, was the only answer I had...until two weeks later. I was taking a shower first thing in the morning, and to my great shock, I heard inside my own most private thinking-space, a melody which I had never heard before, anywhere. Not only that, but it was a melody which carried an impetus, a vital necessity and motivation, it was to be played and joy was to be taken in it, regardless of what I otherwise felt like doing. By then I was well aware (involuntarily) of all of the freely available pianos on campus, so I went to one of them as soon as was practical, an hour or two later, and I played...that one melody, about ten million variations of it, for the next six months, whenever practical!

After the six months, I was getting really sick and tired of playing just variations on the one melody, but I had had lots of time to think about what was going on. One of the few things very clear, was this melody was not mine. It did not belong to me. It was not my invention, there was and is no aspect of my human self that had produced, designed, invented, or constructed that melody. I had produced designed, invented, and constructed a few small creativities in wood, metal, clay, electronics, and the spoken and written word, so I knew the difference. The music wasn't even boiling out of some mysterious cauldron in me, or near me! It did not exist upon command!!! So I hypothesized, OK, this is one of those odd events recorded over the human millennia, involving an inhuman Somebody delivering creative thought to a semi-prepared human being; perhaps it might help, if I asked for another. The very moment that this last thought formed, a second melody was placed. I played them both for the next six months, and did not ask for more yet, mostly because the very thought of such a thing was a bit more than mildly terrifying. But I played, because one of the other few things which were clear, was that it was essential that I do.

The next several years were not fun. I learned a lot about what I was not made to do, and not much about what I was made to do. I kept playing the music whenever possible. And I gradually got used to a relationship with the giver of the music. It is placed it in me and I play it, and as a direct consequence, the giver and I are happy with each other, and there is no other good option. Every once in a while in many circumstances, I have wondered if more music will come, but every time I do, more does. Sometimes it is sent at a time in which I cannot possibly play it, just to remind me that it is our relationship that is truly most important, and that it shall not be abandoned by either side.

There were many transitions. I was brought geographically far from the places of my early times, and the giver of the music revealed a lot more about Himself to me. He has caused me to remain aware of His never-ending, never-weakening presence, at all times, everywhere, with absolutely no exceptions whatsoever. He tells me, to encourage you and everyone, to ask Him for this, because if we ask Him and we want to know, to perceive, to metaphorically taste, of His very presence and desire at any time, all we have to do is ask. He is the One called Lord in both Old and New Testaments.

And He motivated my sweet Lori to marry me, in '96. Don't know how He did that. When we met, I was not aware of His presence, but I was aware of some words in my thinking-zone that would not be diminished, drowned out, or altered in any way by anything I tried to do with them; they simply said, "You will see her again." If I resisted, sometimes I saw those words written in large transparent letters on top of everything else my eyes took in. I got used to those thoughts, in part because sweet Lori is most easy to love. It is very much like breathing.

Another thing that occurred not very long after Sweet Lori and I were married in 1996, was entry into a church. The giver of the music loves to plant seeds in souls, and a number of them were growing, and drew me (and us) to Second Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, then pastored by Arnold Fitzgerald. This was as far afield of my past experiences as I had ever gone – Sweet Lori and I were, more or less, two grains of salt in a very well-agitated pepper-shaker – but we met people of most profound devotion to and faith in the Lord Jesus and the things He has caused to be written. Suddenly we had several new mothers and sisters and brothers who cared about us, and took profoundly good care of us. There were an enormous number of lessons here, but one of the more important for this narrative, was something called Attitude. The A is given a long stretch, though it’s pronounced the same, AAAAttitude. Two of my new mother/sisters, upon observing me for a while, concocted a small conspiracy together (with me standing nearby and listening while my fate was decided), in which I was going to sing lead in a certain song called “Catch On Fire”, backed up by the young adult choir and the musicians. Those musicians had far more than I; they play in a real, improvisational, very profound jazz and blues style, which I have never seen or heard outside of a few churches around here. All I can say now is, thank you ever so much!, to them and to our Lord who gave.

One of the curious aspects of many years before and since, was a search for a sound. For no reason I could understand, countless times in many places, I found myself playing and listening to keyboardy things of many kinds, with a question-mark invisible over my head, wondering why I wasn't hearing whatever it was that I didn't understand that I was looking for. I learned what a “Moog Synthesizer” was rather early...and the very first computer I ever owned, I found myself investigating as a possible sound synthesis platform, though that was 1993 and consumer machines weren’t anywhere near up to it yet. And by 2010 I was vastly amused at myself for having spent all sorts of hours upon hours not succeeding in building anything, just building and tearing down and rebuilding and re-re-building, seeking after certain sounds. I figured I was "building a boat in the basement," keeping my hands out of trouble, and not much more than that.

But despite the figuring, the boat-builder in me knew that we were after what we might call a pipe-organ sound, but in some curious way "more so" than anything I had ever heard. I had even had the privilege of playing a real live huge pipe-organ at one church, in which sweet Lori and I were the only active music team. This shocked me, threw me far back in my own head if you will, into a question for my own inner well-being, when even this four-hundred-horsepower monster did not have the tone for which I had been looking for so long. Along the way another tone-search arose, often called simply "Strings" in a number of different keyboards; but the depth and power of this too, that I sought, could not be found in any factory-built instrument that I could find.

Eventually, I learned that the Lord had been more than slightly involved. Over the ensuing years, there had been what I thought were a few idle curiosities of mine, here and there, in books, museums, and readings online; and I had picked up a very few fundamental rudiments of how a pipe-organ really works. And one day in 2011, not long after I had asked the Lord to please not make me too foolish and wasteful in my boat-building, a few of those rudimentary thoughts traveled towards each other in the dark misty caverns my mind, kissed each other, put arms around each others' shoulders, and looked up at me, smiling and expectant. It turns out that in a pipe organ, some pipes are not simply huge single-note flutes, but instead have metal reeds, as if they were huge single-note harmonicas...or like huge single-note clarinets, but made mostly of metal. And I had witnessed some extraordinarily excellent computer audio synthesizer design, done by truly brilliant friends, in the production of a clarinet sound, using the very systems infrastructure in which I was boat-building, ten years before. I knew just where to find that code, and I was still a member of that group, though not very active anymore.

So I looked down at the thoughts, and they looked back up smiling at me, and we all realized that I was going to tear it all down and rebuild it all over again. I took my time, building it carefully for those particular thoughts. After it was working and ready to try, I was a bit nervous. I pressed a key or two. And lo and behold, there it was, the sound of no return, for which some part of me had been searching for, all of those years, all the way back to the day I first heard the word "synthesizer" in a musical sense, about thirty years before.

So I wrote down the essence of what had worked. It was about 80% there right then, and I got the first refinement or two done...and I took it to the church, hooked it up tremblingly to the church keyboard, and in the before-church tuneup, tried it.

I tried just a few notes. And immediately I experienced something most unusual: a waking vision, in which my fleshly eyes were temporarily nonfunctional, but my mind's eye turned on. I saw everything in the room, with an overlay: a beam of what looked like white light going out from my hand on the keyboard, out towards two or three people who were waiting for the service to start. I was not permitted to turn my head to see who the people were: it was essential for me to simply accept the visual input and thus be encouraged to understand that good was to be done in this way. And then the vision ended.

I was very surprised. That prototype of what is now sometimes called the Box of No Return was somewhat rough in spots, and improvement has occurred; but from the very beginning people were asking where the pipe organ was, or just generally expressed congratulations and really surprising encouragement. There were people who I had never seen smile in the church before, who I never saw not smiling in the church since. Today there are two of them, which are still somewhat jury-rig in nature; they are enough off the beaten track to make them quite the challenge for me to fit their capability into their just slightly odd collections of standard computer parts.

At first, the memories and the miracle of the Box were quite overwhelming emotionally. It was difficult for me to play it at all, let alone talk about it. It is still a great challenge to approach, but I am used to the prayers now, and the direct response the Holy One gives of strength for preparation. Of course it is all to be done, and the effort is always matched by greater joy, another response of the Lord! But He wishes me to have joy and peace, so He has grown me into being more suitable for its use, over time. And most happily, I have been gradually finding myself remembering more and more of the lessons from my teacher and my mom and others, and playing piano-tone and the Box's tones together and separately, in ways that reportedly do quite nicely with the rest of us!

God bless you, and have a wonderful day!!!

Jonathan Brickman
Please do email me!

© 2020 Jonathan Brickman

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