Here’s a fun recording I made for my third Ear Training book, which contains tritone substitutions. The assignment for the student is to transcribe the chord progression, and then compose, notate and perform a melody that fits along with the track.
For the last three months, I’ve spent almost every Tuesday morning volunteering at the Salvation Army near downtown St. Paul, preparing and serving breakfast for the homeless and working poor. This has been a wonderful experience that at times has been fun or challenging, and discouraging or inspiring.
It has been wonderful to be involved in handing a plate of food to an average of 300 people every Tuesday. Yet it has been a challenge to see so many people who are in great need, especially those who come in with small children…
As we hand these people a plate, wish them a good morning and ask about how they are doing, we get a variety of responses, ranging from:
“I’m going great, it’s a beautiful day. Thank you so much for serving, and God bless you,” to, “About the same as yesterday,” to, ”You don’t want to know.” But much more often than not, those who receive food show deep and authentic gratitude for the service and kindness that is being extended to them. I’ve been told, “God bless you” at the Salvation Army this summer countless times.
While the format of these breakfasts makes it hard to have prolonged conversations with the guests, I have had a number of meaningful, sometimes deeply spiritual, conversations with a few individuals as we are cleaning up. I remember one man who admitted that he had been a thief his whole life, but that day, he had found a wallet at the Dorothy Day Center (an overnight homeless facility) that had 30 credit cards and $3000 in cash. Instead of pocketing it, he turned it in to the security officer there. While he recognized that that money would have taken care of him for several weeks, he felt compelled to do the right thing. He told me this after talking about his broken nose and broken jaw that he received through two separate fights on the street…
There was another man who was telling me about how violent living on the street is. But, with tears flowing freely from his eyes and down his face, he quoted Bible verse after Bible verse about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” and how God is protecting him, giving him the strength to make it through each day.
Or there was the authentically joyful reunion I had with a man who I used to play chess with when I volunteered at the Listening House. This man had a severe stroke several years ago that left him with limited mobility and even greater difficulty speaking. But he is an excellent chess player, and a jazz music connoisseur. When we re-met, he told me how much he appreciated my music and wanted to know when the next album is coming out.
The crew of staff and volunteers are a wonderfully eclectic group of people. There is a man there who volunteers every day since retiring several months ago, who prides himself in being the designated soup-server. There is the man who has worked there for 10 years and also runs a suicide prevention organization. There is the man who has come in twice a week for years, despite a busy work schedule. There is the staff worker who quietly does the tasks that no one else is particularly eager to do (especially washing the dishes). And there is the 60-ish year old woman, who is about 4 foot, 10 inches, maybe 100 lbs, English is her second language, and who wears two hearing aids…but the guests there have the utmost respect for her. She has been there for at least 10 years, serving every day. She gives devotionals during the morning, and the entire room of 300 guests—many of whom give the appearance that they wouldn’t listen to any authority figure—listen in rapt attention to her message. You could hear a pin drop. And they almost always applaud when she is done. Additionally, just yesterday a fight started to break out between two men. There was a lot of shouting and pushing, and the situation was rapidly escalating. This woman rushed to the scene, shouted, “Not in MY house!” grabbed one of the men by the back of his shirt and pulled him out of the room. This was a scene I will never forget.
I mostly write this so that I can reminisce about my experiences there, but also to close this season of my time there. With fall classes started soon, it no longer works in my schedule to volunteer here—it’s awfully challenging to be in two places at once! But I do have some reflections about the implications of what I’ve seen this summer:
The level of influence we have is not dictated by our physical stature, education level or the amount of money we make. Thinking specifically about the 60-year old woman made me realize how we can do incredible things if we let God work through us. She did not have an imposing physique and did not give the appearance of being affluent, yet she is drastically improving the lives of hundreds of people every day. She has very clearly submitted herself to God, who has in turn given her great authority, the ability to speak authentically and persuasively, and has kept her safe through what likely has been many dangerous situations. Philippians 2:13 reads, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
Secondly, I’d encourage everyone to find something they are passionate about and go volunteer! It admittedly was a challenge to get up early every Tuesday to serve, but I’m so glad that I did. I met people who have inspired me, witnessed situations that have challenged me, become more aware of the plight of those with mental illness, and experienced and learned about what it is like to work in a commercial kitchen. And perhaps most importantly, I have always felt closest to God when I’m volunteering regularly.
Thank you Salvation Army, for the work that you are doing to help those that lack basic necessities, and my prayer is for continued blessing over your ministry.
Thank you for those who have read this, and now go out, recognizing the impact God wants you to have on those around you. He will equip you, motivate you, and increase your influence if you open up to Him and allow him to work in your life. Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This last year I’ve created three Ear Training textbooks for use at McNally Smith College of Music. After running several sections of classes that used my books, I’ve revisited and updated the material into a 2nd edition. These books are designed for classroom use and come with audio recordings for student projects. If your school might be interested in using these books, please reach out to me through the “Contact” section of this website. I’ll be posting examples from the textbook over the next few days.
As of February 24th, 2015, I am now Dr. Dan Musselman! I completed my Ph.D. in music composition at the University of Minnesota. Special thanks to Alex Lubet, my advisor, for all his guidance and friendship.
I’m in the final stages of finishing up my Christmas album, and I can’t wait to share it with you! Look for details soon!
I was recently commissioned to write a piece for Spark and Echo–an extremely cool organization who is working toward creating art that reflects on every single verse of the Bible.
I elected to compose a piece around John 3:11:
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” – See more at: http://www.sparkandecho.org/do-the-same_dan-musselman/#sthash.9liDL2Km.dpuf
After a little over a year, I finished reading the Bible this morning. I am in awe of the beauty and power of the message that is in this holy book, and I’d like to share with you some of what I found to be profoundly meaningful, as well as the journey that I experienced in this time. Please try to make it through the end, where I express my personal story in the context of what I have learned while doing this reading.
***I’d like to start by saying that there is a lot in the Bible that I didn’t understand. I’m no theologian (although I am the son of one), and there are passages about which there is a lot of disagreement as to how it should be interpreted. So, I’m going to stick to what I know.
For me, I found there to be two particularly poignant aspects of the Bible. The first is Jesus’ story, the biography about the Son of God who demonstrated what it means to have deep love for humanity that is rooted in God’s righteousness. This love is a transformative power that we can receive through the Holy Spirit—a power that has completely changed the lives of those who have experienced Him. It changed the disciples from a group of argumentative, blundering group of guys who abandoned Jesus when facing persecution, to the apostles who fearlessly proclaimed their faith in the Resurrection, who performed miraculous things in the name of God, who willingly accepted martyrdom as a consequence for their conviction in the Truth. Paul went from being a murderer of Christians to perhaps the greatest evangelist the Church has ever known. Jesus transformed the lives of the “worst” sinners—those who were desperately lost—and gave them forgiveness and a new opportunity to live a life that is symbiotic with God, a forgiveness and a life that is still available two millennium later to all of us, as can be evidenced by the 2.18 BILLION people today who identify as Christians.
Jesus lived a life that exemplified profound compassion for society’s lowest; He showed us how to live a life that is righteous and be in communion with God and His will. He willingly sacrificed Himself—despite being blameless in all ways—to carry out God’s plan, which has an eternal redemptive power for each of us. Simply put, the New Testament is about Jesus, about true love, and it provides a handbook for how to live a Christian life that is characterized by inner peace, profound meaning, and effusive joy, all of which is rooted in God’s Truth.
The second part that has me absolutely amazed is the execution of God’s plan—something that I’ll discuss below in relation to my journey in this time of reading. With very few exceptions, pretty much every person in the Bible failed to uphold the Law of the Old Testament and were flawed individuals. Yet, God used them despite their imperfections to carry out His plan. In reading the Old Testament, it was amazing to see how God upholds his promises on both a micro and macro level. On a micro level, He carries through on promises made to individuals, such as promising Abraham a son despite the very advanced age of he and his wife. On a macro level, God promised a Messiah to all, and He sent Jesus—descendant of Abraham—as the fulfillment of prophecy in a way that I find to be extraordinarily poetic on the grand stage of human history. God started all of existence and set forth into motion this unfathomably complex plan that began with the gift of free will, which resulted in sin, which is codified by the Law, which culminated in the possibility of salvation through Jesus, and will end with the defeat of sin and evil at the end of times. God has a plan that transcends our understanding, yet He uses us all as a small part of that grand plan. It’s amazing to me that God’s plan encompasses the entirety of human history, yet also is carried out in our individual existence.
This idea of God’s plan made me reflect on my own life, particularly in the face of a turbulent year. In this last year while reading the Bible, I have gone through some extraordinary life events. Shortly after starting this reading plan, I released my album Devotion—a jazz album based off the Bible—which was the culmination of a year and a half of hard work. I was on a spiritual high as I combined my joy of music with a deep faith. It was truly an amazing experience and process.
And then divorce hit.
In the months that followed, I experienced life lessons that I don’t think I would have learned if I had not gone through such a challenging time. I learned what it means to be empathetic and compassionate, as I came to appreciate the extraordinary value of having people to lean on—or even be carried by—when faced with tribulation. Family and friends came to my support in a tangible way that taught me what it means to truly help someone in need.
As that turbulence subsided, I vowed to be a source of compassion for those around me. This has particularly led to a greater interest in the lives of my students and to the plight of those who are in poverty. I’ve been volunteering weekly at a homeless shelter in St. Paul, and I’ve received as much love and meaning out of the experience as what I have contributed. This lesson of compassion—one that I learned the hard way—is one that I will truly never forget.
I also learned what it means to be completely dependent on God. For the longest time, I relied on my own strength and abilities, as I had never really found myself in a situation where I couldn’t handle things on my own. Going through that experience made me realize how I can be complete through God; He is the source of true peace, strength, and joy. My new favorite passage is Isaiah 40:31:
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Now I can honestly say that through God, I have never been better. My faith and conviction in God’s Truth is deeper than I knew was possible. I feel as though I’m starting to make the impact in the lives of those around me that God wants me to accomplish. I’m in a new—and amazing—relationship with a Godly woman with whom I have found an incredible connection. I’m in the best shape of my life (so far!). I’m just a few weeks away from completing my coursework for my Ph.D. I’ve begun work on my dissertation—a Christmas album that will be the culmination of my faith and musical training, and 100% of the sales of the album will go to charity. I’m reconnecting with my family in a way that is long overdue.
It’s been quite the eventful year, and I see God’s fingerprint on it all. This journey of reading God’s word and the life events that coincided has been an absolutely beautiful experience. There has been much learning, joy, pain, hope, healing, faith, conviction, action, and peace. It’s been a wild roller coaster ride at times, but I wouldn’t go back and change any of it.
The completion of this reading closes a chapter in my life, and I cannot express how excited I am for what God has in store for me next. His plan for me is far greater than one I can create for myself, and I trust that He will lead me where I am meant to go.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you have found some meaning here. I pray that you find the strength and joy that is available through Jesus and His story in the Bible.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
The Dan Musselman trio will have a performance at the Fridley Community Center on Wednesday, April 16th from 6:30 – 9 PM. Tickets are $18 and include a dessert during intermission! More information and tickets are available here:
Merry Christmas! Hope you are doing well during this wonderful time of year. Two things to share with you. 1st, we are up to over 6500 meals provided through Feed My Starving Children by donating half of the sales of Devotion. Thanks for your support!
Secondly, I did the music for the end of the year video from President Kaler at the University of MInnesota. I also did some acting for it! Check it out here: