Dr. Micah Everett is a doubling master who specializes in low brass. While his day gig consists of teaching trombone, tuba, and euphonium at University of Mississippi, he is also a well published scholar and blogger. His website provides great information concerning low brass pedagogy, historical information pertaining to low brass and Christianity, as well as philosophical musings that hit right at home. I am incredibly grateful and excited that Dr. Everett has agreed to be the inaugural interviewee of this series.
Being a prior student of David Vining, my introduction to Dr. Everett was through his incredible book The Low Brass Player’s Guide to Doubling. Although I myself am no doubling master, this book has been a tremendous help for establishing success concerning my own doubling needs. Between this and his open Christian beliefs, Dr. Everett stood out to me on a personal level, and I hope you find his insight as encouraging as I have.
- When and how did you become a Christian?
I was raised in the Southern Baptist denomination, and first professed faith in Christ at age eight. Although I remember that day fairly well, I had no dramatic conversion experience where there was a tremendous night-and-day difference in my life. (I was, after all, eight.) The lack of a dramatic conversion story was a cause of doubt and uncertainty for me for a long time–not doubt in Christianity or the promises of Christ–but doubt in the sincerity of my own belief. Coming to the Reformed faith has been extremely helpful for me, not only because I believe this is more consonant with what the Scripture teaches, but because its emphasis is not on the strength of one’s faith or even the timing of one’s conversion, but upon the object of that faith. As the famous Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) said, “for every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” That is helpful and soul-comforting advice.
To answer this question more briefly, I am a Christian because I was raised to be one, and by God’s grace I embraced that faith for myself and continue to do so.
- What is your favorite Bible Verse?
It’s hard to name a single favorite verse or passage, but I guess 1 John 4:9-10.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Not only do we have a succinct statement of the Gospel there, but the priority of God’s love for us is emphasized. He doesn’t love us because we believe in Him or love Him or serve Him or do anything for Him. God loved us first and that love was totally unmerited. That brings to mind another passage, Deuteronomy 7:7-8.
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
If one were to summarize that passage, it would be to say “God loves you because he loves you,” and certainly God is the only being for whom “because I said so”–or, more accurately, “because I AM”–is a sufficient answer.
- What is your favorite hymn?
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Chisholm/Runyan). Honestly, the music is a little sappy for my taste, but the text is bursting with Biblical truth. It is saturated with Scripture from Lamentations 3 and elsewhere that I have often found comforting, particularly in times of difficulty.
- What are some hardships you have faced as a Christian in music?
Honestly, I faced little hardship establishing a career in music, at least as a performer and teacher of performance. Because so much of my work was and is dependent upon my ability to play well and teach others to do the same, the question of my religious or social or political views did not become relevant the way it might have in some other areas of academia, or even other areas of music. As I will note in my answer to a later question, when I was first starting, I was only vaguely aware that my views in these areas might be somehow problematic or unusual. I am more aware of those things now, but even still the difficulties I experience are mostly internal, having mostly to do with working out my own philosophy of what it means to be a Christian musician, and to a lesser extent how to build a politically conservative case for the importance of the arts.
- What are some projects you are working on?
I have several ongoing projects in varying degrees of completion. I have written part of a new textbook for an undergraduate brass methods course, as I have been generally dissatisfied with the options currently available. That project has moved in fits and starts over a couple of years, and would move considerably faster if I were to find an interested publisher.
I also hope to record a second volume of Stepping Stones for Bass Trombone, to follow up on my 2015 album. I have applied for funding for this project from the university more than once, and hope that persistence will pay off. Sadly, without a grant or subsidy of some kind recording an album is not feasible. The current business model ensures that there is no money to be made in it.
Those are the big projects. I am usually working on an arranging project of some kind, and have published two arrangements for low brass per year on average for over a decade now, mostly with Cimarron Music Press. I try to publish one article a year or so in The Instrumentalist or some similar publication. I also continue to blog regularly, but not at the weekly schedule that I once kept. My studio is bigger and my son older than was the case when I started The Reforming Trombonist over eight years ago, both factors that take away time that I once had to write. The real energy in online publishing seems to be in podcasts these days, anyway, and I’m not sure I have the voice, the time, or the charisma to go that route. I have had a position on the editorial staff of the ITA Journal for 17 years, and hope to make it to 20 before handing that position off to someone else.
- How do you seek to serve God and the church through music? Other areas of service?
For a long time, I honestly tried to make music a very small part of what I did at church. I felt—and still feel—that I had contributions to make in other ways and did not want to be pigeonholed as a “music guy.” I am a competent Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader, and enjoy opportunities to serve in those ways when called upon to do so. I have also been a member of The Gideons International for fifteen years, and participate in distributing Bibles and raising funds for Scripture distribution by speaking in churches. I am generally happy to contribute to the life and ministry of the church in any way that I can, and I do think that it is important that we musicians be “real” church members in this way.
Still, I have come to realize that my musical abilities are an important part of the contribution I can make to the church, largely because our God values not only truth but also beauty (cf. Philippians 4:8), and because a beautiful presentation can serve to make the truth more compelling. I play preludes and offertories in worship from time to time, in addition to participating in the church choir. I occasionally serve as an itinerant church musician for holiday events and such, though I stay in my own church most of the time. In a previous church I spent a great deal of time typesetting contemporary tunes for printing in the bulletins, believing “words on a screen” to be insufficient. While perhaps few in the congregation can actually read the music, most seem to appreciate the effort to help them to keep up with newer tunes.
- Who is your favorite Biblical character?
Daniel, I think. He managed to spend a lifetime faithfully serving pagan governments while never wavering in his faith in or commitment to the one true God. And yet, when he was finally forced to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the secular authorities, he willingly went to the lions. We often forget that the Daniel who entered the lions’ den was a very old man, not the young man sometimes depicted in Sunday School illustrations. At that point he had spent a lifetime living faithfully as a believer in exile. In that way, I think he is a model for Christians who find themselves no longer occupying the place of cultural dominance that their parents and grandparents once enjoyed and want to know how to live faithfully and responsibly as exiles of a sort. Daniel—as well as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—show us what it is like to be faithful in this way, quietly serving God and man in the situations in which they found themselves yet in the end refusing to worship anything but Yahweh when forced to choose between the two.
- What piece of advice would you give to young Christians looking to pursue a career in music?
I think everyone considering a career in music should be aware of the difficulty of establishing such a career. Happily, the vast majority of students where I teach are music education students, and we have remained very successful in placing them in good, stable jobs. Much of the rest of the music business is part of the so-called “gig economy,” which has been devastated by the recent pandemic-related lockdowns. Everyone going into music should know that the dynamics of our careers are rapidly changing, and some degree of creativity and entrepreneurship will be needed to make a successful go of it.
For Christians—at least for theologically and culturally conservative ones—an added challenge is found in knowing that your views in pretty much every area of life besides music itself will be very different than those of most of your colleagues. As I mentioned before, as a student I seldom realized just how distinct my views were, as I was very focused on practicing and studying, but after entering the professional world I have come to see myself very much as an outlier in this way. Be prepared to have colleagues who don’t know your positions speak very dismissively of your views, assuming that everyone in the room is a person of the political and cultural Left, and know when to engage and when to “let it go.” (Hint: one must frequently take the latter course.) Establishing friendly and collegial relationships with those with whom you work is extremely important, as is making sure that you speak intelligently and perform with excellence. Remember that a common stereotype of those on the Right is that of the intellectual and cultural rube. Showing that you are not those things might not get your views a hearing but will at least help to dispel the stereotype. A less serious difficulty is deciding when material for a certain performance is too risqué for the Christian to perform in good conscience. This may be a more pressing matter for vocalists and actors than for instrumentalists.
If your professional colleagues do not understand your religious, social, and cultural views, so those with whom you attend church will likely not completely understand your profession. This can contribute to a certain loneliness for the Christian musician, who finds himself in one way or another isolated from both his work colleagues and from his fellow worshippers. Nevertheless, the connection to the church is vitally important; resist the urge to be an itinerant church musician every week. Find a congregation and participate in it meaningfully, even in areas outside of music. Find friends there who will support you and pray for you, and you for them. You need this. Every Christian needs this. And if you can find one that “gets” music, so much the better. My family and I are part of such a congregation now, and it is a blessing to be there.
All of that probably sounds very discouraging, but there’s no getting around it. Being a musician is hard, and being a Christian musician can be particularly challenging. Nevertheless, we need to have real, believing Christians in the music business, and in every part of the culture-making industries. For far too long conservatives both in and out of the church have ceded the making of substantial cultural products to those of other persuasions, forgetting that right information or right doctrine is not enough—people simply are not moved by truth bereft of beauty. The world needs real, believing Christians out there making great art, not just in or for the church, but out there in the marketplace, demonstrating in practice that there is a God who made a beautiful universe for us to enjoy, and who delights in and is glorified by our imitating Him by creating beauty ourselves.
- What piece of advice would you give to someone juggling a music career and a family?
If your upbringing was, like mine, a stereotypical American suburban, middle-class upbringing, where the parents had 9-to-5 jobs and the schedules and lifestyle that accompany that, you will find yourself very miserable very quickly if you try to precisely recreate that life for your own family while maintaining a music career. Granted, since the majority of my work is in teaching I have a semi-regular schedule, but it is nevertheless punctuated with periods of large amounts of night and weekend work, besides the practicing, writing, etc. I do at home after hours. Even though I do in many ways lead a “normal middle class life,” I have been much happier since accepting that our careers in the arts (my wife is a music teacher also) introduce certain unavoidable “weirdnesses” into our family’s life and schedules. Our hours are strange, our spending priorities are different than those of our neighbors, and sometimes we lack the time to engage in some activities that those around us enjoy, even when the money is available.
That said, we do strive to have as normal a family life as possible. Our son participates in team sports and violin lessons, and we make sure he has plenty of time to spend with his friends both playing outside and in online games. We eat dinner as a family at least a few nights a week, and have family devotions most nights. Most importantly, we make church attendance and participation a priority. While we are not strict Sabbatarians, we very rarely allow commitments that will interfere with Sunday worship. I will sometimes perform in worship at another church, but no more than 3-4 times a year, and will speak somewhere on behalf of the Gideons about as many times. Still, the Sunday where we are not in church somewhere is a very rare occurrence, likewise Wednesday evenings and other church activities.
Decide that family will be a priority, and build your schedule that way, starting with involvement in church. Being a musician means that your schedule will likely look very different than those of others around you, but that doesn’t mean that family has to somehow take a backseat to career.
- In what ways does your faith influence your approach to music, both philosophically and pedagogically?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
From Philippians 4:8 we derive the philosophical standard sometimes summarized as “the good, the true, and the beautiful.” I might add “order” to that list, perhaps as a subcategory of truth. As I’ve already mentioned, the scriptures reveal God not only as Creator but as one who delights in the goodness and beauty of what He has made. As musicians, we act most rightly as his image-bearers when we produce and perform music that is imbued with beauty, order, and excellence.
This does not mean that we pursue or perform only that music which is superficially pretty or immediately accessible to listeners. The music of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), for example, is often difficult for listeners new to his work but in time one begins to see that he was not pursuing untraditional sounds in some sort of rebellion against the past, nor was he writing intentionally ugly or disordered music for the shock value of it, as I would argue some twentieth-century composers did. Rather, he was pursuing beauty, order, and symmetry using a somewhat different tonal language that, once understood, is compelling. Similarly, the texts and scripts of songs and dramatic works need not always be positive and pleasant. Sometimes rightly lamenting that which is wrong with the world is a way of expressing truth in the arts, even when this is unpleasant and, in some cases, perhaps even mildly vulgar on the surface.
The New Testament in particular calls Christians to communication that is edifying (cf. Ephesians 4:29), and by extension I think that our calling as Christian musicians is to prioritize the building up of others–whether listeners, students, congregants, or fellow musicians–through our work. This means that even as we pursue excellence by way of technical prowess and expressive maturity, we do so with an aim that is primarily others-centered and ultimately God-centered, not self-centered. This might mean programming recitals and other performances in such a way that more difficult-to-comprehend works are interspersed among those that are easier to grasp, and helping the audience to enjoy and appreciate some of the more challenging works by way of program notes, speaking between selections, etc. But even without that, people can intuitively tell the difference between a performance centered upon the musician’s self-aggrandizement, and one designed to serve the listener. The former type of performance leaves one perhaps challenged, but also intellectually and emotionally drained, while the latter leaves the listener refreshed and encouraged in some difficult-to-explain way. That is what I believe we should pursue.
Pedagogically, this philosophy affects repertoire selection and musical interpretation in obvious ways. The approach to technique is affected as well, as we will want to find ways of using the body that leave us free to pursue musical expression unencumbered by excessive effort. In a way, this reflects the commitment to truth, as we want to use the body as it really is, not as we might wish or imagine it to be. (Your teacher, David Vining, is particularly helpful here.) The commitment to truth also necessitates being honest with students about their capabilities and potential, on the one hand encouraging them to pursue music study and performance with excellence, while also directing them to career paths and other pursuits that are realistic relative to the student’s abilities, the state of the job market, and the availability of other opportunities. In practice, this sometimes leads me to be too sparing in my praise and encouragement, and that is a fault in the opposite direction. After all, truth is truth, and a false pessimism is no less false than a false optimism.
Interestingly, I think this commitment to goodness, truth, and beauty often ends up being an area of common ground with fellow musicians and teachers who might disagree significantly with how I got there philosophically, but in practice are pursuing the same ends: great music, played well, by well-prepared and appropriately trained students. That’s okay; I disagree with how they got there, as well, and even think that one has to “borrow” significantly from the Christian worldview to establish anything approaching objective standards of beauty and excellence in music. But at least that common ground is enough to be able to work together, creating beautiful sounds and teaching others to do the same, all the while–and whether all acknowledge this or not–glorifying God and edifying others in the process.