A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore– 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over– 
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

~Langston Hughes

As a little girl, I had massive dreams of becoming some sort of superstar or entertainment mogul. I didn’t care if it was through singing, playing instruments, dancing, acting, directing or songwriting – I was going to be the next “big thing”. You know that scene in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America at the club? There was the girl who wanted to do EVERYTHING? “I want to sing because everyone always tells me I’m a great singer, but I also want to dance and write and produce and make movies and then I’m going to star in my own movies and direct my own movies….” Yeah….that was me. Oh the dreams I dreamt as a little girl! But what happens when those dreams are put on hold? Deferred? Seen with reluctance? I believe things are not always what they are cracked up to be. As a little girl I looked at the entertainment industry through rose-colored glasses and everything seemed so spectacular that I wouldn’t know what to do with my life if I could not be a part of it!

My freshman year in college, I came in with high hopes and decided to major in music performance with an emphasis in piano and possibly take on a minor in business. I envisioned myself perfecting my craft, joining some sort of band, writing songs throughout college, getting summer internships with major record labels in New York City or Los Angeles and believing that someone would soon “discover” my talent and sign me with a multi-million dollar deal. I didn’t finish my first semester before realizing that something was off. My love for music was deteriorating. Practicing, studying and performing was no longer something that I wanted to do, but rather, something that I had to do. I didn’t have time to play the songs that I wanted to play. I didn’t have time to write the things I wanted to write – I didn’t have the motivation to write at all; a complete turn around from all the writing that took place in high school! On top of my demanding major, the music that I once loved was taking a turn. Many of the artists I loved were trying new sounds and new writing techniques – many of which I felt lacked emotion, realness, creativity and authenticity. It simply wasn’t genuine. Not all music, but much of what I used to listened to was starting to lose its substance.

There’s always been some questionable artists out there but in college, it seemed like whether I looked left or right, to country or hip hop – and everything in between – the music I used to love just did not reflect who I was as a person. The music lacked a message of any significance. The lyrics became more and more raunchy, the videos lacked creativity and class, and the repetitive choruses were too addictive, yet lacked any type of powerful meaning. I didn’t want catchiness or the hottest dance craze – I wanted art.

Now I know you cannot always put a price on art and “to each his own” – beauty is in the eye (or ears) of the beholder, but lyrics containing a nonchalant attitude towards life unless it involves money, the vulgarity and put down of your millions of haters, degradation and objectification of women, bad choices that are premeditated every Friday night because last Friday night was epic, catchiness about meeting some random guy and asking him to call you (maybe), and basically premarital sex written in the key of G-flat had caused me to say “enough”! Where is the art? Where is the substance? Where is the music that will change lives for the better?

I had little spurts of hope in mainstream media throughout college, but nothing had lasting effects. By the middle of my junior year I was finally surrendering all I had to Christ and found myself “cleaning” out my iTunes. Nothing but “Jesus Music” playing in my ears. And while that may have been necessary for the time, I still felt a void. I missed my jazz, classical, romantic era, blues, rock, bebop, pop, soul, R&B, hip hop and everything in between. Listening to a saxophone cover of “Here I Am To Worship” just wasn’t the same type of jazz as John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington ,but they weren’t producing “Christian music”. Am I wrong to want more? I recently came across a blog by Theo Culture about not needing more “Christian music” but how there is a need for more Christians in music. Initially I thought, “What? Hold up, wait! So, no more Israel Houghton or Hillsong?!” Definitely NOT what this article was about. I’m glad I pushed through my skepticism to actually read the entire article.

Why do I have to listen exclusively to “Christian” music to be a Christian?

Have you ever seen the “Atheist Rock” category in iTunes? Of course not. Why do Christians need to mark the distinction? We don’t do this elsewhere.

I’ve never been to a restaurant with a fellow believer who asked,

“Hey, do you know if the chef here loves Jesus? I’m not eating steak prepared by a Scientologist.”

Or how about sports, the ultimate sacred cow.

“I only cheer for southern teams because they’re closer to the Bible belt. Go Bama!” 

I know the rebuttal. Music is different. If you look at the works of people like Bob Dylan, it is clear that music can influence an entire generation. Therefore, people should be careful what they expose themselves to. I agree. For instance, I love Hip Hop, always have, but unfortunately I have to avoid most of it due to explicit content.

But isn’t this true? I don’t think about the teams I root for (Go Pittsburgh Steelers!) or the foods I eat, the hotels I stay at, the car I drive etc. and wonder if they were produced by Christians, but for some reason when it comes down to media, my expectations go up – If you’re not talking about Jesus explicitly, I’m not with you!

But then I am still caught wanting more. I’m greedy when it comes to art – I want to experience it all! I listen to the music of Kina Grannis, Jennah Bell and Emeli Sandé (just to name a few!) and though their music is not explicitly “Christian” it’s still genuine, about real experiences, and empowering. The message is still the same. The artistry is amazing. And I do not find myself wanting to compromise or needing to question my faith. On the other hand, I listen to explicit Christian artists whose artistry is out of this world! Propaganda. Leah Smith. Christon Gray. Reach Records (again, just to name a few). I’m still trying to find that balance though – the balance between the Great Commission and having a musical taste that is spread out all over the board. Some days I want to sit at the piano and play classical and romantic music. Other days I want to blast Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong and dance around my apartment with my imaginary partner. Other days I’m getting hype to Lecrae and then I let my thoughts wander as I listen to Read All About It by Emeli Sandé. I’m all over the place, but I love it!

The focus of my dream deferred – or attempting to actually take it off the back burner – has tried to find my voice through all of this change. Going back to my days as a little girl, I tried so hard to sound like Whitney Houston (so did not work lol) or Mariah Carey (another fail) or TLC. Now I find myself at times taking on Emeli, Alicia Keys or Lauryn Hill, but struggling to find my voice – my unique voice. What is it exactly about the music I create (whether vocally or instrumentally) that says “That’s LySaundra”? How am I to uniquely and creatively spread the message of the gospel through the outlet that I’ve loved since birth? The fame and glamour of my old dream has long passed away, but the rhythms, melodies and harmonies wrapped up in the love of Christ that are trapped inside are just itching to come alive – to be revealed.

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