Art and Service–Some Thoughts After a Sax Concert by Chet Baughman

Last Friday night my husband and I went to a concerto concert at the University of Puget Sound.  The group performing was the University’s Wind Ensemble, and the performance featured two talented music students, both saxophone soloists, who had won a competition.  One of the sax players was Chet Baughman, whom Rory and I know from church.  Chet played Ingolf Dahl’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Orchestra.  The program notes said that because of the extremely high range of the sax part in places, very few performers could actually play the piece, and the composer revised it to make it more manageable.  When I read this, I assumed that Chet would be playing the revised version.  But no—he played the original.  I sat amazed as he executed this exciting and very difficult piece beautifully and expressively.  The incredibly high-soaring notes did not sound like anything I had ever heard from an alto sax, but neither did they sound strained.  I would guess that to play them so well must have required something like Olympic training.  I have to marvel at Chet’s commitment.

Chet is part of a musically gifted family, but not a wealthy one nor even a traditionally American one.  He grew up in France, the son of missionaries working with Muslims.  He is bilingual and in addition to studying music is also studying French literature.  He plans to go on to graduate school next year, studying music.  But faith and service are as much a part of Chet as music is.

Two days after his concerto performance, I saw him at church.  The guest speaker that morning was a man from International Justice Mission, an organization which seeks to stop human trafficking and help its victims.  After the service the man was handing out literature about this painful topic and about his organization.  Rory and I saw Chet next to the IJM information table, and we congratulated him on his sax performance.  When I asked him what was next for him, he said graduate school.  And after that?  That is less certain.  Gesturing with the International Justice Mission literature in his hands, he told me, “But I also want to do something like this.”

Some people seem to have a dual calling:  beautiful success in difficult artistic work, yet also a yearning for something that comes from a different and very deep place in the heart.  Chet’s two divergent passions make me think of a girl from my high school graduating class.  An extremely talented pianist, she studied music in college and won huge respect and admiration from the whole music department.  Then she married a pastor.  Her life took on a ministry focus, much less performance-oriented than the possibilities that could have opened up for her.  From what I heard, a number of musicians who knew her considered this choice to be a waste of her musical gift. 

I see it differently.  Ministry takes an enormous amount of love, faith and stamina, whether the work is here among a church congregation or in India among abused prostitutes.  In ministry there aren’t many rewards to the ego.  You don’t get standing ovations.  Often the price of success in dealing with broken people is . . . more broken people to deal with.  I believe the heart strength necessary for this kind of work is a gift as precious as great musical talent.  This kind of gifting shouldn’t be wasted, either.  When artists like my high school friend and like Chet have what it takes to commit to the work of ministry, I can only offer my gratitude and respect. 

And thanks, Chet, for a beautiful concert!

 

 

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