Please forgive me for a simplistic analogy I have often thought of throughout my career. Years ago, I became familiar with a television commercial geared to children which advertised Tootsie Rolls, a small chewy chocolate-like candy. The refrain echoes, “Whatever it is I think I see, becomes a tootsie roll to me.” It has been my experience that whatever it is I think I see is in truth and serious reality a reflection of the true and living God and His Son, Jesus Christ. In countless ways, I see His hand in my life, and feel the truthfulness of His gospel. All things testify of Him. I leave my testimony here from the perspective of my role as an artist and musician.
The constant struggle for perfection fills the halls of music schools everywhere in the form of scales and endless melodic repetitions. We are quick to tell our students and ourselves that perfection is a process. Yet we yearn for it. We sacrifice our time, talents, and all that we would otherwise be to the pursuit of a moment of creative genius. It is the stuff of movies. In my own struggles, there were many times when I wanted to choose an easier path, though I wonder now if there is such a thing. Music was for me the most honest of all pursuits. In an academic world where a 92% was an “A”, 92% of the right notes wasn’t even passing. One can’t fake Mozart. I often mused at how impossible perfection was—for even if you play all written indications correctly, as the new computer programs could do, there would be something missing. How like my life. It was only with a proper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I began to understand the nature of perfection.
It was my dream to be a fine oboist in the role of a music professor. As there are fewer than 350 full-time oboe professorships in the United States, I also knew that the odds were not in my favor. One day, as an undergraduate, I walked from a class on the far side of campus to the music building. In the preceding class, I had found myself contemplating the many forms of pride. I was deeply troubled by the music world, and my place in it. Too many performers were satisfied not by being good but by being better than others. The constant comparisons were at the heart of music education. I knew as well as anyone that the desire only to be one’s “best self” rang hollow if that “best self” wasn’t good enough to beat the others for a job. What kind of life could that be for a seeker of truth and goodness? As I pondered these questions, an informal cry escaped my mind to the God of the Universe, “If only we musicians knew that we could all play!” In that moment I received a critical answer that has stayed with me throughout my schooling and career. As well as I know anything, I know that, somehow, everyone will have a chance to play. I know that each of us has something to contribute to the artistic world. Our job is to find our own voice and become creators.
The doctrine of agency is one of the most beautiful and essential aspects of reality for an artist to understand. The divinely appointed gift of agency is central to the Creator’s great plan of happiness for his children. As a part of this plan, we are free to act. We have an opportunity to determine good from evil. As we exercise this gift in the choices of our lives, we hope, as all good people of the earth do, to choose well. We strive for the perfection of our choices. We strive to choose always good over evil. We then strive to choose better over good, and then best over better. At various points here and in the eternities we will have rejected evil and all lesser goods. We then have opportunities to exercise our agency to choose between equally good choices based on our preference. To choose between many good things is to choose a color or to choose a pitch, rather than to choose right from wrong. The result is that we choose from a rainbow of beautiful options according to our own vision. In the eternities, the culmination of agency is creation, and creation is art. To be creators in the likeness of our Father should be the goal of every artist.
We few who have chosen the arts as our mortal life’s work are bound by obligations more serious and profound than our all too common struggles for “perfection.” It is our happy obligation to act as a shadow of the great Creator. It is our role to bring about beauty through the exercise of agency.
I testify to the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which fullness can be found in His church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The doctrines therein are not the doctrines of men, but the doctrines of the Creator of heaven and earth. We are made in his image and, as artists, we strive to be like him.
Elizabeth Young Rennick, assistant professor of double reeds, joined the faculty of Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), where she is also coordinator of chamber music studies, in 2005. Previous to this appointment, she held positions at Snow College (Ephraim, Utah) and Coe College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). She holds degrees from Brigham Young University (BM and MM) and the University of Iowa (DMA), and considers herself lucky to have studied with Geralyn Giovanetti and Mark Weiger.
Elizabeth is a founding member of Dolce Veloce, an actively touring flute-oboe-piano trio, with flutist Sonja Giles and pianist May Tsao-Lim. Dolce Veloce has had performances in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Minnesota. She has served in the Cedar Rapids and Dubuque Symphony Orchestras (Iowa) and the Lexington Philharmonic (Kentucky). She was pleased to play at the International Double Reed Society Conference in 2005 (Austin), 2008 (Provo), and 2010 (Norman), and has been selected as a performer in the upcoming 2011 (Tempe) conference. She performs with numerous small ensembles, including the Madison Winds, the resident faculty quintet at EKU, and is especially fond of playing with the Lexington Bach Choir and promoting chamber music in the Lexington area.
An enthusiastic educator, Dr. Rennick frequently works with the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra and is a resident faculty member of the Stephen Foster Music Camps, the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, and Wyoming’s Music, Arts and Technology Festival. Elizabeth enjoys making reeds and looks forward to the publication of her research on oboe reed-making pedagogy in an upcoming volume of The Double Reed. She resides with her husband and daughter in Richmond, Kentucky.
Posted March 2011