Musical Notes with Lyle Stutzman (an interview)

Lyle Stutzman. To some, this name is only just another composer found at the top of their sheet music. So it was for me until just five years ago. For it was in 2014 that I sang bass in the EBI choir, which happened to be conducted by this award-winning musician. When I joined the staff at EBI two years later, I had the privilege of working with Lyle and participating in many more of his choirs. And now to me, the name Lyle Stutzman brings to mind a host of fond memories of this inspiring and patient director, the singer who can switch from opera to CCM on a whim, the basketball and board game player, the loving family man who opened his house to us every “First Friday,” the passionate Christian, and the wonderful friend.

It was my privilege to interview Lyle about his new website as well as a topic that we are both passionate about—music.

How did you become interested in music?

I’ve always enjoyed music. I suppose it started by listening to recordings that my parents played in our home. We listened to lots of choral music including the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Rosedale Chorale, and Hartville Singers, to name a few.

I understand that after you received your undergraduate degree from a community college, you decided to further your musical education at Concordia College in Minnesota. Why Concordia?

Very simple—Dr. Clausen and the Concordia Choir. The best way to learn about choir is to sing in a choir, and I wanted to sing in a really good choir with a really good conductor so I could learn as much as possible.

What are your goals in the area of music?

This isn’t a specific goal, but it is an aspiration. I want to improve at making excellence in musical composition and performance (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) a radical expression of devotion to God. I know lots of reasons why singing in a choir is a good and lovely thing to do, but I want it to be more than that for me and for others.

So, recently the name Lyle Stutzman has been connected to the term “Blue Sky Music.” What exactly is Blue Sky Music?

Blue Sky Music is my business name. I use it for self-publishing music, running a website, giving music lessons and so forth, but the primary way people recognize the name is as my online business where I sell choral sheet music.

I started the website because I wanted a better way to make my music available to people. It’s really convenient for people to be able to see and hear the music, order it, and get access to a master copy right away without waiting for me to reply to an email. The website also gives me a place to make other resources and content available to people who are interested in choral music.

I would like for Blue Sky Music to have something for everyone—sheet music (print and digital), mp3s of all kinds of great music (and maybe CDs if they’re still in use), articles and other resources for music teachers, downloadable resources, instructional and inspirational videos, and other practical and inspirational products to encourage and equip people to sing and to help others learn to sing. It’s a slow process, but I’m working on it.

Let’s talk about music in general. Why is music such a big deal? (Or maybe it isn’t.)

Asking why music is such a big deal is kind of like asking why tone of voice is such a big deal. Tone of voice is a big deal, but we don’t necessarily think about it. We just respond to it naturally. Does it matter how we say something, or does it only matter what we say? In a courtroom, you could be held in contempt of court for saying the right thing the wrong way because tone of voice matters immensely. It’s a big deal. Relationships can be damaged by saying the right thing the wrong way. It’s a big deal. Tone of voice always colors and sometimes overpowers the content of the words we say. It is central to nonverbal communication.

Why am I saying all of this about tone of voice? Because it is incredibly powerful and influential in our communication, and because it shapes our communication whether we think about it or not. Music is the same way. When combined with words, it colors and empowers or overpowers the content of the words. If words and music get in an argument, the music always wins.

Furthermore, music always creates an atmosphere, so if we’re not aware of the atmosphere created by the music we listen to, we may be allowing and even welcoming an unhealthy atmosphere in our lives. Atmosphere can’t force us to do anything, but it can make it easier for us to think, speak, and act in ways that are consistent with that atmosphere. Atmosphere is a big influencer, but it exerts influence slowly over time, so it can be difficult to see its short-term effects. Compare a child who grows up in a tense atmosphere to a child who grows up in a relaxed atmosphere, and you’ll see big differences. But swapping atmospheres for a day won’t affect the child much. Swapping atmospheres for five years will. The same is true with music. What we listen to for one day might not be a big deal, but what we listen to year after year is a big deal.

How do you see music affecting the current generation?

I don’t have a lot of specific data on this question. My hunch is that a lot of young people are consuming music the same way they consume other kinds of media. Consuming lots of media produces short-term pleasure rather than long-term fulfillment and can affect us negatively in many ways. We’ve all heard the sermons about the negative effects of media, so I won’t go into that. Those negative effects are real and are impacting the current generation. 

On the encouraging side, I’ve seen plenty of young people loving to participate in making beautiful music, music that has depth and substance. They still have the ability to love participating in high quality music, something I hope they never lose in an iPod world.

Any other final comments on music, culture, Mennonites, worship, etc.?

Hey, thanks for narrowing that down to a few small options. I’ll throw a little something at each one.

Music: Be a participant, not a spectator.

Culture: Don’t blame a culture; create a culture.

Mennonites: Mennonites have treasures. Experience those treasures before looking for others.

Worship: The deepest, truest worship wrecks us for anything other than God Himself.

Etc.: I could go on and on, but I’ll stop.

 

Troy Troy Stauffer’s home lies just north of Hershey, PA (the sweetest place on earth). A member of the class of 2011 at Faith Mennonite High School, he has now returned to his alma mater as Mr. Stauffer and teaches some math, science, and phys ed classes. When not grading papers or doing lesson prep, he enjoys sports, videography, strategy games, spending time with friends, singing, and playing piano.

 

For more tips from Lyle on singing and conducting, as well as a complete selection of his music, you can visit Lyle’s website at https://blueskymusic.net or follow him on Facebook. (His latest article is a discussion about whether certain kinds of foods can actually be a hindrance to your voice.)

3 thoughts on “Musical Notes with Lyle Stutzman (an interview)

  1. I really appreciate Lyle’s comparison here between music and atmosphere. So many young people ask if music is a moral issue, and I don’t believe that it’s such a black and white answer, but what Lyle says here about atmosphere and tone of voice helps to put that into perspective.

    Like

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