BY PETER KIM
Music is a nigh-universal phenomenon in human culture. It intersects the boroughs of personal life, family, work, peer groups, and fellowship. This organizational system of ordering subdivisions of pitch and time against manipulations of volume and timbre connects disparate cultures, land masses, people groups, and time periods. It has an uncanny, ever-present ability to impact our emotions.
Music is often described as a language, and this depiction is more than just a cliche or empty esotericism. Jazz musicians build familiarity and community via jam sessions in which they exchange and express ideas – elements one would normally attribute to a conversation. This conversation takes the form of a groove, a key, a tempo, a chord progression – idiomatic qualities that constitute a dialect. In both music and language, “idiom” even carries identical connotations – it is the manner of speaking. During a jam, musicians take turns speaking via their solos over the rhythmic and harmonic canvas, in a topical way that addresses the subject while simultaneously conveying the speaker’s own point of view.
My experience with thriving in music has primarily been through the DC-Maryland-Virginia video game music (DMV VGM) subculture, and very recently, through the church. There is a well-established community of artists whose modus operandi is the adaptation of video game music with respect to live performance, jamming, distribution, and consumption. Just as no person is an island, no musician thrives in isolation. Thriving is almost always the result of collaborative effort. When musicians come together to achieve a common goal, whether that goal is performing live, producing an album, or making efforts to cultivate greater technical facility – hopefully in a bid to encourage and build up those around them – that is when they flourish. When I’m not performing, facilitating this sense of thriving community gives me the most fulfillment.
MAGFest, a festival uniquely focused on video game music, embodies this dynamic. Regularly drawing, over four days, in excess of 30,000 attendees, who flood the Gaylord and any hotels in the vicinity of National Harbor, it is easily the premier event of the VGM scene. On the one hand, MAGFest is a celebration of video game music and the community that has formed around it. At any given time, you can find a string quartet performing in an enormous atrium; headlining artists performing in massive showrooms repurposed for live music; and impromptu performances given by musicians who are literally meeting for the first time in the Gaylord’s densely populated hubs. On the other hand, MAGFest is teeming with people who desperately need to hear the Gospel. Conventions in this vein, for at least a few reasons, seem to attract those fatigued from society, who have a desire to escape from the pressures of life or the discomfort of an uncertain life trajectory. The yearning for a sense of community and inclusivity is palpable. The Lord is waiting for them to open their hearts to His embrace, to meet them in their hurt and to satisfy their desire to belong.
I believe that witnessing in such an environment requires authentically living out my faith and living consistently with Christ’s directive in Matthew 5:13-16 to be salt and light. The Scriptures, such as Jesus’ assessment of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 and His rebuke of the Pharisees in Mark 2:17, frame my self-understanding and the depths of His mercy for me. The grace described in Romans 8:1, which covers my sin, enables and impels me to be the same person at home, at church, and at work. From this distinct place, I can share the gospel message, not as a celebrated evangelist to the masses, but as one whose life is encompassed by His finished work on the cross.
Kevin Lin, my fellow brother in Christ, a dear friend, and jazz musician, was someone I met at MAGFest. Kevin has visited ODPC and I have visited Chinese Bible Church of Maryland (CBCM). ODPC afforded us the opportunity last summer to witness through music, demonstrating how He can use even rarefied interests like videogame jazz music to bring about fellowship. Café for a Cause was also the bridge that connected me with our KC brothers and sisters, such as Yonghak Lee and Eddie Paik.
There is something wondrously beautiful and reflective in God’s design of the universe, in how compositions like Amazing Grace, The Well-Tuned Clavier, and Ode to Joy can elicit such similar emotional responses across cultures. There is majesty in music’s ability to capture the breadth and depth of human emotion. In the final analysis, it is all by and to His glory, providing us with a glimpse into the Gospel: the life-changing, saving power of Christ’s blood, shed on the cross for our sins; the perfect love with which our Heavenly Father loves us; and His redemptive grace, by which we live and thrive.
Peter Kim is a member of ODPC’s Praise and Worship team.