I Lived for Music
MY EARLIEST memories of music go back to my grandmother. Every Sunday the whole family would come together at her house for dinner. Music was playing throughout the day. There were Irish folk songs, light opera, the music of Broadway plays, and other music.
When I was about eight years old, I took guitar lessons. But because I lacked interest, the lessons soon stopped. Yet, during those times, when I heard a neighborhood band practicing, it sent tingles through me.
In the next few years, I began to take an interest in pop music, along with rock. As with others of my generation, the radio was always on. Then I began to take guitar lessons again and was soon playing in local bands. We began playing regularly at dances in the local parish. Meanwhile, I had switched over to bass guitar and was soon buying all the equipment that goes along with it.
During that same time, something else developed in me. I began to see the hypocrisy in the church, as we were dealing with the local parish priest who hired us for the dances. Little did I know that this would later deeply affect my life.
During those years of playing rock ’n’ roll, we traveled quite a bit. Many bars and dance halls in and out of the New York City area kept us busy for quite a few years, but the environment was not healthful. There was much immorality, a free flow of drugs, and a very depressing atmosphere.
We had developed a small following made up of junkies and acidheads (heroin addicts and LSD users). It didn’t matter to us what they were. They liked our music and we liked their support. I remember one night when a particular fellow ran out of the club yelling his head off. He had been tripping on LSD and was watching us get totally involved, mentally and physically, with our music. It all proved to be too much for him!
Although we were getting recognition and were starting to do concerts, I began to get sick of the whole thing. I became very dissatisfied with the musicianship. And the bad habits I was surrounded by began to affect me, leading to my taking drugs. Because of all of this, my life became increasingly sad and depressing. So I began searching for what I felt would be a better type of music. That’s when I discovered classical music.
Pursuing a Music Career
As I began listening to classical music, I discovered a different world. In the past, we had always had the greatest respect for a jazz musician who could improvise well, but here, with classical music, was someone who could also put his improvisations down on paper. At the same time, he coordinated it with a symphony orchestra. That was a real musician!
Now I wanted to pursue this kind of music. So I entered a state college and began to study music. My instrument was the double bass. I was learning to sight-sing, sing in a chorus, study harmony, and develop basic piano techniques. I felt that I was finally starting to learn something. For the next few years, I continued this routine.
Then I made another decision. I was making progress, true, but I felt that I could do better. So I decided to try to enter a conservatory. But I was very aware that much was lacking in my musical background. I had started late. In this field of music, those who make a career of it are generally “spoon-fed” on it from childhood. So I increased my practice time to four hours a day.
I auditioned and was accepted into the Manhattan School of Music in New York. I felt that now I could truly develop as a musician. I increased my practice time to six hours a day. It was routine for the night watchman to come around and tell me to pack things up because he was locking up for the night. Then came the subway ride home, and the next day the whole routine started again.
As the year progressed, I felt that I was learning much. But I decided to transfer from the Manhattan School of Music to Juilliard School, also in New York City. This was a more prestigious school, although the atmosphere there was more competitive. So the following summer I auditioned and was accepted. But about this time something else happened in another sphere of my life.
You see, during all those years, I was taking drugs. However, the problem was that the drug trips became less and less satisfying. It got to the point where the only thing that had true meaning in my life was my music.
I had also become a loner and would literally only eat, sleep, and go to school. And I was worrying more and more. Old friends would come over to the house, and I couldn’t even communicate with them. I could no longer relate to people.
What could I do? I was pursuing what I had wanted, but deep inside I felt that something was lacking. I began to investigate Eastern religions for direction and peace of mind. I was searching for what I called truth, but there was so much hypocrisy, and so many people didn’t care one bit about truth. So I didn’t want to have anything to do with them or anyone else.
My life became increasingly melancholy. Then one night, after staying up half the night to practice, I felt that I was on the verge of a breakdown. That is when I prayed to God, whoever or wherever he might be, asking him to help me.
Finding What I Really Wanted
Some time previously, two friends of mine had come in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. My friends began speaking to me about what they were learning, but I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it! When I met one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he talked to me about the Bible and showed me literature explaining the Bible. But I looked down on it, as if it were not worth reading.
One evening, a few weeks after I had prayed for God’s help, I was returning home from school at about eleven, and Tom, the Witness who had been talking to me, picked me up in his taxicab. He again started to talk to me about the Bible, but I bitterly resisted him. Yet, inside I knew that what he was saying was true! I asked many difficult questions, but he calmly and accurately answered me. For five hours we drove around and continued to talk!
As we talked, the turmoil that I had experienced the past few years began to leave me. I really began to understand what Tom had been trying to tell me all those months. Now, that may sound like a very emotional experience, but it wasn’t really. It was simply a matter of understanding truth for what it was. What Tom had said made real sense. For example, I recognized, as he pointed out, that mankind has failed in every way to solve its basic problems. No political, economic, or religious system of this world has led to the peace, happiness, health, and life that mankind so desperately needs. Only the government that Jesus taught about could do this.—Jeremiah 10:23; Matthew 6:9, 10.
Also, the Bible’s view of how God deals with humans was very uplifting. He does not look at what a person is on the outside and he does not favor one nationality above another. What counts is what is in a person’s mind and heart.—Acts 10:34, 35.
The dignity that I began to find in the Witnesses also impressed me very much. So I started to attend the meetings at one of their Kingdom Halls. There, everyone was clean-cut and polite. I quickly saw the need to clean up my life and stop taking drugs. I was only too glad to do this, as my former way of life had proved to be so unsatisfactory!
Music No Longer ‘Number One’
After the summer-vacation period, I returned to school for another semester. But I felt very differently about things now. The desire to develop as a musician was not as strong as it had once been. I now knew that there was much more to life and that music could no longer be ‘number one.’
One day at the Kingdom Hall, I saw Tom with an application form in his hand. It was for entering the full-time ministry. His joy helped me to know what I really wanted in my life. I, too, wanted to serve Jehovah full time, telling others the marvelous things I had learned about his purpose to bring this unsatisfactory world to an end and to replace it with a paradisaic new system.—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; Luke 23:43.
I also remember clearly my father’s reaction to my decision. He pounded on the table and sternly told me that I would be put out of the house if I left school. But leave I did. Two months later I was baptized to symbolize my dedication to God, and soon thereafter I entered the full-time ministry. Eventually, after a few years, my father lovingly invited me to return home, seeing that I was not going to waver in my determination to serve Jehovah.
Then a new privilege opened up to me. In 1979 I applied and was accepted to serve at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, called Bethel (“house of God”). That was truly one of the happiest experiences of my life. I had admired those faithful men and women, several thousand of them, who worked there. Now I was privileged to serve alongside them. Many of them could have chosen well-paying careers in this world but had decided instead to stay in the full-time service of the Creator.
Oh, by no means is Bethel service an easy life! But I never expected it to be. A considerable degree of self-sacrifice is involved. There is much important work to be done, and we need to apply ourselves diligently.
Bethel service has taught me that true happiness doesn’t come from fulfilling personal desires. It comes from serving the Creator, who knows exactly what we need in order to have true happiness. I still practice my music but only for a small fraction of the time I previously devoted to it. Also, at times I play for friends and even have the privilege of playing with a Witness orchestra. This keeps me in touch with music all I want.
Keeping Music in Its Place
What advice can I give to a young person who loves music? Well, remember that music is a very jealous Muse (one of the imagined daughters of the pagan god Zeus). A career in it demands exclusive devotion. In this it competes with our Creator and the doing of his will. Music can be almost like a disease. It is very easy to become overly involved in it. I have seen musicians who began studying the Bible but gave it up because it infringed on their music. What a foolish trade-off, when serving God can bring not only peace and contentment now but eternal life on a paradise earth in the near future!
Frankly, I’ve come to look upon musical institutions as modern-day temples of worship that require people to devote their entire lives to music. But that is making a god out of it, and surely this does not have the Creator’s approval. True, music is a gift from Jehovah, but it must be kept in its place.
Also, keep in mind that the kind of music we play or listen to does affect us, for good or for bad. So we have to be very discriminating. Music should be wholesome and upbuilding, but today much of it debases, both by its spirit and by its words. If you want to learn the fundamentals of music, you can do no better than use the songbook published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. That contains fine music and has all the basics and essentials of harmony.
God has given us a marvelous gift in music. The inner joy that one can receive from performing a work well and having an audience respond appreciatively is rewarding. But to be enjoyed properly, it must be kept in its place—behind the worship of our Grand Creator, Jehovah.—As told by William Mullane.
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I began searching for what I felt would be a better type of music
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Old friends would come over to the house, and I couldn’t even communicate with them
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The dignity that I began to find in the Witnesses also impressed me very much
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I still enjoy playing for my friends and at times have the privilege of playing with a Witness orchestra