Today, we welcome some very special guests to the Write Integrity blog. Best-selling author Elizabeth Noyes interviews accomplished musician J. Mark Perry to get his thoughts on music and writing. Enjoy!
On Music and Writing
by Elizabeth Noyes
“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
History tells us about the Nine Muses of ancient Greek mythology, those fabled daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory) who were believed to be the inspiration for all forms of literature, science, and the arts. The muses include Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (love poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy). It is easy to see from their areas of devotion how creative threads overlap.
Today, the term “muse” is a general reference to any person or idea that inspires an artist, writer, or musician. I recently spoke with an accomplished musician to gain his perspective of some of the commonalities of music and writing.
J. Mark Perry grew up in Cartersville and Marietta, Georgia, the son of a pastor and youngest of three siblings. His family’s passion for Jesus and their deep-seated love of music led Mark to trust in Jesus as his Savior at the tender age of six and one-half, and also influenced his decision to make music his future.
He earned a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music Education from the University of Georgia and, while there, served as Drum Major for the UGA Redcoat Band. That’s where he met his future wife, Suzanne, who was also a member of the band.
Today, Mark serves as Pastor of Worship Music at Sunrise Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia (www.SunriseBaptist.com). He and Suzanne have two sons, Alex and Andrew, a daughter-in-law, Mary, and a new grandson, Gibson.
Elizabeth Noyes: Mark, thank you for sharing a glimpse of your life with our readers. You’re an accomplished musician with a passion for the Christian ministry. You’re also a husband, father, new grandfather, pastor, speaker, teacher, musician, performer, mentor, and counselor -- all in the course of a normal day. Would you share a tip with our readers on how you manage all the demands on your time?
Mark Perry: Managing time is by far the greatest challenge of my life. In the "big picture" I try to keep things prioritized and, as cliché as this sounds, it truly is effective for me. The Lord Jesus comes first followed closely by my relationship with my wife, and then with my family. Church-related ministry comes next, but I’m also careful to guard calendar time for my personal interests and hobbies.
I adopted this "priority concept" several years ago. If you picture your life as a wagon wheel with God as the center hub, the surrounding spokes that reach out to the rim of the wheel represent established priorities. At any given time, those spokes bear the weight of the whole wheel and represent the changing priority of our focus. I am blessed to have an understanding family that realizes my ministry sometimes forces me to put the needs of others first, but it’s my responsibility to ensure my loved ones regain their proper priority in my life in due season.
EN: You come from a musical family background. At what point did you know with certainty music was your future? Did you ever consider another vocation?
MP: I knew I would choose music as a career during my junior year of high school. I had given the idea serious thought for several years prior, particularly when visiting my older brother while he was in college and was a member of the University of Georgia Redcoat Band. I remember thinking the Redcoats were one of the coolest groups I’d ever been around. I still do! After completing my education, I taught high school band for a few years before entering church music ministry fulltime.
EN: As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. I’ve watched and listened to your creativity as Pastor of Music Worship for Sunrise Baptist Church for several years, so let me pose a similar question to you. Where do you find inspiration?
MP: It’s difficult to pinpoint only a few places of inspiration. I’m curious by nature. I enjoy people-watching, observing social situations, watching performances, and studying various forms of art, but I have to confess that most of my ideas come from Scripture. I think when you pay attention to the world around you inspiration can come from almost any environment or circumstance.
EN: I’ve often said writing is like music. It has a rhythm, tone, and flow that must mesh to create a state of mind where the reader forgets they are reading words and are not actually part of the story. Walk us through the steps you follow when customizing a piece of music for your choirs and orchestra.
MP: I believe the language of music crosses all cultures. When I first begin work on a particular piece of music, I have to consider the style (or culture) the music was created in. I use five simple characteristics to determine how to present a piece of music that is authentic to its style. Every style of music is unique in nuances, pronunciation of lyrics (for vocal music obviously), rhythmic groove or pulse, tonal quality, and vibrato style. Once you get past the musical stylings of a composition, you also have to move past what I call the "musical encumbrances" of music, such as rhythms, melodic line, harmonies, etc. This will allow the performers to internalize the music to the best of their abilities. Once this happens, it gives the performers the ability to communicate and connect with their audience. And once you connect with the audience, you move past simply hearing a musical composition to a musical experience.
EN: You had the distinct and elite honor of performing as drum major for the University of Georgia Redcoat Band during your college years. Now, you lead the UGA Alumni Redcoat Band. You must have a multitude of quirky stories from these experiences. Please share one poignant memory—good or bad, funny or perhaps not so funny.
MP: I had the awesome opportunity of performing as drum major for the very first night game in Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia. It occurred on Labor Day, a Monday night, in 1982, and pitted the UGA Bulldogs against the Clemson Tigers. Of course the Dawgs won, which made it even more special.
EN: I know you’ve also performed as an orchestra member with the Sons of Jubal. How many instruments do you play and, as a performer, do you prefer singing or playing and why?
MP: I can make a decent tone on most every instrument and play the trumpet and piano reasonably well, but the French horn was my principal instrument as a college music major. My favorite thing to do as a musical performer is to conduct rather than play or sing. I enjoy bringing many musical elements together.
EN: It’s easy to see that you have a heart for Christ and a passion for music. If you could condense your wealth of experience into one “do” and one “don’t” for writers/musicians/artists, what advice would you give?
MP: You can probably tell from my previous answers (and my wife would totally agree) that I don't do a very good job of condensing things down to "one anything." I guess the best I could come up with for one “do” and one “don't” would be two sides of the same coin. Do be as genuine and as authentic as you can. Don't try to fake your way through your musical expression. People can sense a fake a mile away, but are drawn to someone who is genuine and authentic.
WIP: Thank you both for an insightful interview. May God continue to use you both to touch hearts and change lives.
About Elizabeth Noyes:
Elizabeth Noyes—professional writer, aspiring author, dedicated dreamer—lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with her husband and best friend, Paul, who listens tirelessly while she regales him with all the tales in her head of damaged, but very human characters clamoring to be heard.
A native of the Deep South, she claims to still “speak the language,” even after traveling around the world for most of her adult life. Recently retired from a career as a professional business writer and editor, she now fills her days editing, critiquing, reading, playing with the grandkids, learning more about Social Media than she ever wanted, and putting her stories into words to share with others.
Her second book, Imperfect Trust, released this summer, and is the second book in the romantic suspense Imperfect Series. Book One, the award winning Imperfect Wings, was released August 2014. She also co-authored two multi-author novellas, A Dozen Apologies and The Love Boat Bachelor.