A conversation with Eric M. Pazdziora
Our talk continues right where it left off—exploring the fusion of faith, the arts, and the fairytale.
ERIC PAZDZIORA: Up until quite recently, if you seriously wanted to be an artist, the best possible gig you could get was to work in a church. Look at the entire history of Western art, the great masterpieces of visual art, of sculpture, of music, the exhaustive majority of it is specifically Christian, specifically designed to be used in worship, as devotional aids—church architecture, or devotional music in masses, or motets—even well up through the Renaissance and Classical periods in music. It wasn’t until the Romantic period there began to be the shift.
As I mentioned, when I was younger, I thought there was either good music or church music. The good music of course was the classical music and the church music were these repetitious worship choruses that were to G-d’s glory, because they had these special religious words. Then I visited a church where they actually put together an orchestra and played the music of Vaughan Williams. And I thought, oh dear, that just destroyed my nice little categories here, because it’s good music that’s being played in church! Then I realized, why aren’t we doing this in the rest of our church services rather than just this one special service?
I believe the church should be a place where artists can come and can feel welcome to find their artistic expression that they can use to edify other people. And I believe church should be a place where that’s very welcome, not just for artists but for whatever your particular gift happens to be. I personally have the gift of writing songs, and I can use those to encourage people. But everybody ought to be able to use their gift. And use them at a very high skill level, not giving us sloppy seconds—not demanding artistic perfection, but welcoming everyone where they’re at, and welcoming everyone as people. I would enthusiastically welcome any change that brought that about in the church or in society as a whole.
PARADOXES: In your fusion of good music and church music, if you will, with faith and the arts, do you see yourself as reconnecting to a neglected tradition, or do you see yourself as starting something new?
Yes. The answer is both. Really, that’s what all art is, first of all, finding your place in the tradition, because nobody creates art in a vacuum. The person whose art is the most derivative is the person who’s trying hardest to be original. When that person cuts themselves off from what’s gone before, and says, ‘I’m going to do this self-expression, and it’s going to be all about me’, then they’re just picking off influences from the culture around them, and clichés, other things that they’re just getting from other people, who in turn have got it from that previous tradition. This results in making extremely unauthentic and derivative art. So that’s the first thing to do—especially in music, because a lot of what you’re doing owes itself to the classical tradition, which goes back five hundred years at least, and then by extension much further.
Finding your place in that tradition is noticing how the things that you take for granted as an artist are part of that tradition. The theory and composition of music was worked out for us long before we were around, even though we may get it naturally, because we listen to music that was developed in that tradition. But, once you find that historicity, if you say, ‘Okay I’m going to write music exactly the Mozart wrote music three hundred years ago’— we already had a Mozart. We don’t need another one. Well, if another came along I wouldn’t say no to him! But then, we’re not going to have another one.
Our purpose is to be something that’s original and new, but something that is original and new within the context of what’s come before. I think that’s simply a definition of what art is, rather than an either/or dichotomy.
I often don’t think about where I fall in the grand scheme of things. When I’m doing art I’m just doing something I enjoy doing and want to do more of. If you had to pin me down to it, I’d say, I’m doing something that has been before, but it hasn’t been done before this way. Put it another way, I heard a story once about a little boy whose grandmother bought him a pogo stick for Christmas. He had never heard of a pogo stick before. After he played with it for a while, he’s bouncing all around the house, and he says, ‘Grandma, this is just what I always wanted, and I didn’t even know it!’
To a large extent, that’s the reaction I’m trying to evoke in people through my art. Something that says, ‘This is familiar, but I’ve never heard it before. This is new, but I feel like I’ve heard it all my life.’
Let’s zero on music and writing—specifically, for my interest, fantasy and fairytales. In your experience, what similarities and dissimilarities have found between the two art forms?
I find there is a lot of similarity between the two. I mentioned earlier the wide variety of religious music, but generally speaking, especially in the classical tradition again, if something isn’t based on religious thought, it’s based on mythology, from which our fairytales come. And then when you read the myths or the fairytales, you see music comes up quite often as a motif—the story of Orpheus, or in George MacDonald’s stories the characters are always breaking into poems or in Tolkien’s stories, the characters always breaking into song—recognizing the power, the unique power, that music has, and using that as a motif. They’re feeding off each other in those traditions.
G. K. Chesterton talked about tales of the astonishing. He used the illustration of stories that tell us that an apple is made of gold. And why is it so wonderful to us that an apple is made of gold? Because it reminds us of the moment when we first realized that an apple is green. Originally for us, when we were innocent, when we were first born, the world was an astonishing place. Gradually, as we grew older, the world became mundane. Fantasy stories and fairytales exist to remind us of that original sense of astonishment. Chesterton would say we like love stories because we have an instinct for romance. In the same way, we like astonishing stories because we have an instinct that wants to be astonished.
Music is much the same thing. When you look at it, there’s no explanation for why music should be able to do what it does. Here’s a sequence of sounds that relate to each other, in pitch or in rhythm. Somehow, by playing this sequence of sounds, I’m able to reach the very depth of your emotional being, and cause you to respond in an extremely fundamental, elemental way as a human being. What is it about the sounds? We don’t know. All the explanations seem convincing for a minute, and then you find half a dozen examples that prove them completely fatuous. There’s just something about music that can’t even be explained. As Glenn Gould said, ‘The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.’
I think the purpose of music, as well as the purpose of fairytales, is finding that original wonder, finding that original peace, that original innocence and delight, that is a part of us, that we want to be a part of us, even though everything else around us is telling us that, no, this is mundane, this is boring. But then we have the fact of the story. We have the fact of the melody that’s coming to us and saying, ‘This is something you should be astonished at, this is something you should wonder about.’
To read the rest of the conversation:
Eric Pazdziora has worked as a composer, a writer, a pianist, a singer, a copyeditor, a worship leader, an accompanist, an arranger, an orchestrator, a conductor, a tutor, a blogger, a software tester, an audio engineer, a voice actor, a street preacher, and a circus clown. In his spare time, he reads a lot and makes really bad puns. His wife is much better looking.