A Brief Response to Las Vegas

By Stephen Marshall-Ward

There is so much pain in the world right now.

It’s  hard to watch the news lately because it is so troubling.  Every time I turn on the news for the last few days all I hear is a machine gun firing.  Over and over and over again.  I screamed out last night when the news came on and they ran that tape again from Las Vegas where you hear gunfire and people screaming – I just screamed out, “I can’t take hearing that anymore!”.  I can’t imagine living through that situation and how horrific it is for the people who have experienced it.  It’s hard enough for me to watch it, I can’t imagine living through it.  Feeling the pain and the turmoil experienced by the people there, I sat there in my bed and cried.  I felt so badly for them when I realized how their lives would never be the same again… if they were fortunate enough to live through it.

At such moments, I’m pulled back to what in my life gives me the greatest solace.  I think it is music, specifically singing.  Which is why I find so much good when people get together to sing.

Our culture needs more healing music.

We need music that makes a difference in our culture, how we think about and see each other, and how we think about ourselves.  That is why I am very excited about the Greater Seattle Choral Consortium’s biennial Choral Festival, October 12-14 at First Baptist Church in Seattle.  Over 30 greater-Seattle choirs will come together to share music over a three-day festival where the public can come in and just listen.  It reminds me of what joy I get personally from bringing people together to make music through singing.   It’s a great gift -- individually and culturally.  And, especially now, I am glad to be part of an experience that feeds our souls.  

A Requiem for the Church: From Death to New Life


   It all started back when I took a group of students from Trinity Lutheran College to Germany in 2015.  Everywhere we visited they were getting ready for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  When we came back from our trip we talked to people at the college, including Michael Miller and Dr. Norma Aamodt-Nelson, and we decided we should do something big that year.  Both Michael and I felt something big was going to happen in spite of us.  It just kept coming up.  It came back to us even though we weren't looking for it.  We felt very much called to it.  As if it was something we were supposed to do.   Michael Miller and I committed to creating a major musical work.  Norma Aamodt-Nelson invited us to present it at Trinity Lutheran Church, where she serves as Minister of Music and Organist, as a way to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

   This work is modeled somewhat after Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which were originally posted on the church door at Wittenberg October 31, 1517.  His posting was a list of 95 theses including indictments against the Church and the Pope.  These included him writing primarily against indulgences, their use to fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, and that the pope has no power over purgatory.  Martin Luther said the Word of God needs to be accessible to everyone and that having the liturgy and the scriptures all in Latin is significantly limiting that access.  Rev. Luther believed the scriptures should be available to everyone.  In response, the church basically taught, “no, the common person doesn't know what to do with the scriptures so they shouldn't be allowed to have it.  Only the professionals should be able to communicate what the scriptures say.”  

   What was it that bothered Martin Luther so much about all of this?  I’ve concluded that, to a great extent, this had to do with access to God.  The church was saying, “You [the people] can only have access to God in these controlled ways that we control.”  So I asked the question, what are ways that the church is still doing this today?  What are ways that the church is limiting access to God?

I feel like those of us who are open to learn, who have gained some understanding, and who struggle with these questions bear some responsibility to do something about it.

   Controlling people and how they are expected to live is something the Church has continued to do and is still attempting to do today.  What is interesting in our time is that the people, the masses, have been rejecting the church’s self-appointed role in growing numbers.  These people are saying, “Enough is enough and we just don’t need that”.  For this and other reasons, the church as we know it is dying.  Years ago, this death was something we all saw coming -- a slow death many warned us was imminent. But now it's really happening.  In many cases, it is barely on life support.

Because of this we have decided to write a Requiem for the Church.  

   This setting of the Requiem texts takes the traditional mass in Latin (intentionally in this case) and couples it with our vernacular, English, for recitatives that are indictments against the Church.

   The premise, and one of the distinctives, of this entire project is that we are always reforming – which infers that we are always learning.  We have never arrived at all truth. That is one of our indictments against the Church: the Church believes it has arrived.  We believe there is a better way.  It might include the following:  for the Church to accomplish its mission it must be constantly learning and changing.  Such a position would be a complete turn-around from the traditional Church, especially in America.

   My hope is that the indictments in this work will challenge people to enter into the conversation and enter into the process of learning for themselves.  It wouldn't make any sense for people to look at this project and think, “Oh, yeah, I believe that. I’m going to join that group because they are really great. Let’s start a new church!”  That’s not the point.  That wasn’t the intention of Martin Luther and that is certainly not our intention.  We simply want to ask the questions and enter into the discussion, which is exactly what Martin Luther desired.   He invited people into the discussion.

   Every 500 years the Church has gone through a major shift.  We are here now, in the middle of the next major shift.  This shift has been happening and percolating for some time.  People are talking about this shift from all different sectors, across denominational lines, and even across faith lines.  It has taken time for all of this to coalesce and it is where we find ourselves.

   Although the Requiem is the center of this concert experience, what the concert is really focusing on is the Reformation.  The concert is broken up into three parts.  First, Reformation Past: centered around the history of Martin Luther’s Reformation and the 500th Anniversary of his 95 Theses being posted.  Then, Reformation Present: the Requiem, which is focused on the current struggle and the indictments against the current Church.  The third section focuses on Reformation Future: although we can’t yet pretend to know what that will be, there are certain issues that continually come up in  the conversations that are already happening.  We are presenting those.  

We invite you to join the discussion:

   This work will be presented on Sunday, October 29th, 2017 at 7:00 PM at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, WA. You can find out more about this event here.

The Architecture of Family & the Art of Self-Discovery

The Architecture of Family

& The Art of Self-Discovery


by Stephen Earl Marshall-Ward


Presented May 6 & 7, 13 & 14, 2016 – 7:30 PM

All Pilgrims Christian Church

500 Broadway East, Seattle, WA98102


We all have family – in some way.  Yet, family can often present the greatest challenges we face when trying to discover and free our individual identity.  This project will explore the concepts of oneness and wholeness, freedom and identity, forgiveness, personal and spiritual growth, and family through the microcosm of my life and the people closest to me: my family.  Through a multimedia experience with video and performed music, we will show how families, like buildings, have architecture.  Through individual and family story, we will discover how we can build family that enables, nurtures, strengthens, and frees the individual – returning to strengthen the family.

Through filmed interviews with family, a collective story will be gathered. Highlights of these interviews will present individuality of consciousness, experiences, values, feelings, and judgments.   Reflections of collective experience from differing (and sometimes opposing) perspectives will be selected with the goal to feel, sense, know, and enlighten the collective oneness of our connected existence.  In response to each perspective, I will compose music.  The collection of video and music will be combined to tell our family story – now more complete - honest and truthful.

The end-goal of the production is to create an experience of family structure (architecture) and individual identity (self-discovery) that can be viewed and heard, seen and felt by the observer.  Through music, I will attempt to challenge us all to respond in ways that lead us into living that is open, authentic, and free; with a desire to see, hear, feel, know, and embrace – even to imbue – openness and oneness.  My hope is that this project will greatly encourage openness, understanding, and reconciliation within families. 

Why MY life?

My life – for most of my life – has been subjugated with a pervasive dichotomy:  A strong desire to be spiritually Christian and a seemingly opposing desire to be free in my sexual identity as a gay man.

There are many experiences that I could share. Bullet-points might best facilitate brevity:

·      My family of origin is a conservative Baptist family that places high importance on “being good.”

·      From a very early age, I became increasingly aware of my attraction to men.

·      I therefore lived the extreme dichotomy of being simultaneously a “Good Boy” and an “Evil Sinner” destined for hell.

·      I married a woman I loved and we had two beautiful children, but after coming out, despite efforts to “fix” me and our marriage, I continued to have relationships with men.

·      The dichotomy caused extreme stresses in family life and we ended the marriage after many years of “Christian Counseling.”

·      I discovered a healthy, loving theology about God and gayness.

·      After struggling with anger, guilt, and shame, and not knowing how to be in a “normal” relationship with a man, I met James and we have ultimately forged a good, loving life together.

·      Each person in our family continues to forgive and reconcile our various relationships.

·      We are discerning and becoming our true selves while encouraging each other to be free and celebrating who we are and what we have to offer our world.

Why this project?

·      My struggle to find myself, learn about myself, and ultimately begin to free myself may greatly help others who also struggle in similar ways.

·      My family greatly struggled with and because of my journey.  In the process, in spite of our extreme differences and opposing perspectives, we attempted to find ways to continue loving each other and remaining open to each other.   Today, we enjoy more openness and oneness than ever before.  It would be valuable to know how their journeys and individual perspectives have contributed toward us all arriving where we are together in this journey.

·      Navigating this journey together as family has enriched each of our lives.  We want to help others benefit from what we have learned.


·       Instrumental Musical Prologue

·       Interview 1 – on screen

·       Musical Response 1 – live musicians including chorus and instruments

·       Interview 2 – on screen

·       Musical Response 2 – live musicians including chorus and instruments

·       Interview 3 – on screen

·       Musical Response 3 – live musicians including chorus and instruments

·       Interview 4 – on screen

·       Musical Response 4 – live musicians including chorus and instruments

·       Interview 5 – on screen

·       Musical Response 5 – live musicians including chorus and instruments

·       This process will continue until the story is adequately told, developed and resolved.  The Project content may include an Intermission or may be divided into various Parts, depending on the results of the Interviews.

·       The Final Response will have a FINALE feel and will emerge as a natural response to the progression of Interviews and Responses


There have been times in my life that serve as pivotal moments – moments when I have tapped into the courage that is needed to believe, trust, jump, speak, create, and communicate.  When felt, this courage burns within me to free me from fear, empower me to fight, and overwhelm me with overt action that moves me to a new level of existence. 

Today encapsulates one of those moments.  Last week was emotionally draining for me.  In this current week, there are specific experiences that I must face that have the potential to tax on my emotional state even more.  When I connect to these challenges, I tend to cower – entering a world of self-doubt and fear.  This is where I began my day – wondering through the emotional arid wasteland of misdirected patterns.   Disbelief in self is a dangerous and hateful place to live.  

As I face what I believe will be some of the most important transitions of my life, I must interact with past patterns in order to free myself toward the next level of conscious existence – into the life that I know awaits.  This is what motivated me to write the phrase that lives embedded in the photograph of me on my home page: “Believe in the possibilities… Your world awaits.” 

All my life, I have allowed people to manipulate me (intentionally or unintentionally – it doesn’t matter) into decisions, roles, and patterns that they felt I should embrace.  Whether individuals or institutions, my patterns have been the same:  wanting to please and conversely not wanting to disappoint; wanting to solve other people’s problems and putting my problems on the back burner; wanting to help people succeed with their priorities while my priorities remain unattended.  I understand that the problems have been with me – not anyone else.  I need to change these patterns within me.

It takes courage to face these realities about myself.  It takes even more courage to live differently on a daily basis.  Courage requires believing in myself and being willing to risk whatever is necessary in order to live into my greatest potential.  Until then, I am simply cheating the world, the people around me, and myself. 

There is a great deal in my life experience that has given me reason to fear.  I have had fear about who I might be; fear about how I might fail; fear about what people might think of me; fear about God and spirituality; fear of disappointing the people I love and that love me.  Fear, it seems to me, has something to do with the absence of helpful belief.  Courage, however, is the presence of belief in all things helpful. 

I just finished a conversation with one of my dearest friends and colleagues.  Through this conversation, I was reminded where my belief is:  it is in my connection to the gracious warrior spirit of my paternal grandfather; it is in understanding myself; it is in my connection with my immediate family – the people who know me best of all; and it is in my understanding of my own personal calling to live my life with joy, freedom, and the creative forces that will not let my spirit go. 

In the photograph on my homepage, I stand confidently with my arms outstretched – in hope that many good things will come as I step out with courage to embrace it all.  I hope my realization of these truths in this day will help you as you courageously face what fears might hold you back and, better yet, what your greatest opportunities might be. 

Why Music AND Design?

With my new website, I have decided to bring my “variant” worlds of music and design together into one site.  This is intentional.  Some people have questioned “Why music and design.”  Some assume that I do both because they are both creative disciplines.  Some assume that my apparent A.D.D. has mandated that I can’t stay focused on one thing like most people – and that I, therefore, need to have multiple interests to keep myself from becoming completely bored.

While all of these assumptions may have some truth to them, I would like to open my mental processes – sharing why these two disciplines have grown into my current, seemingly dichotomous life:

Music and Design are one in the same to me – each possessing so many similar traits and principles that I have a difficult time separating them from each other.  For me, one informs the other.  One is the student of the other.  Almost without exception, when I learn something in music, I can immediately apply it to design.  While teaching Advanced Conducting, one of the most important traits that I aim to instill within each student is the skill to develop constant awareness of all things:  awareness of every detail that is happening at any one moment; awareness of the overall impression of the musical phrase; how each musical phrase impacts the next; how rhythm, melodic flow and dominance, harmonic dissonance and consonance, balance, movement through time, intention of direction toward a specific climax or focal point, and ultimate intention of cadence at the moment of resolution and rest – how all these must work together to bring about a musical experience that invites, speaks, moves, and ultimately impacts the listener in some intentional way.  Learning about the importance of constant awareness within music is always teaching me about these very same principles within design. 

Design teaches and informs music, as well:  Because design is “more visual” and music is “more auditory,” one can tend to see colors more readily within the context of design.  But music is also all about color.  Synesthesia is the neurological phenomenon causing a person to see music as color.  Synesthetes involuntarily see music as visual color.  Because I am not innately-gifted in this way (I am not a natural synesthete), I can use the principles of understanding color within design to apply these same principles to the making of music.  Using certain colors creates connection within music.  The study of balance and scale is also a more visual principle for me than an auditory one.  When I create auditory music, I actually visualize the scale of the musical components – one against the other – in the same way that I would design a building or decide the components within a space. 

The study of color, visual elements, balance and scale – among many other principles in design – teach me how design can inform music-making.  The structures of music and design are clearly similar.  One can teach the other and is constantly doing so in my life.

I love having multiple teachers in my daily existence.  I love to learn.  I am a constant student of my surroundings, of space, of time, of the impact one has on the other, and of the overwhelming interest this can create in people – whether or not they have any awareness of its presence around them. 

This is the life of the musician.  This is the life of the designer:  Being aware of the details constantly surrounding us.  This is who I am.

Why Mystical?


As my creative team and I launch my new website, I am excited to commence a new stage of my life and work.  I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful people over many years – within and for many fine institutions.  Today, I begin the process of building a new community – a community of creative people with specific purposes in mind.  We will continue to unfold those purposes over the next months and years. 

Today, I begin this new adventure with my first blog post.  People who view my new website ask me what the four descriptive words on my homepage mean to me.  I will deal with them one at a time:

First, “MYSTICAL.”  There are various definitions of this word – depending on scope and context.  I chose the word because it describes my sense of spirituality.  I see myself as mystical because I am a diligent seeker of all spiritual truth – no matter what the source.  I have a solid foundational history in Biblically-centered Fundamentalist Christianity.  As I have cultivated my spiritual life, I have come to understand that there are countless additional ways of understanding myself as a spiritual person, my relationship to religion, to others, and to God.  A Fundamentalist Christian might choose to embrace dogma as a defining concept.  As a mystical person, however, I choose to embrace learning and change as defining concepts.  I choose to change.  To me, it seems incredibly presumptuous to assume that any person with the dramatically limited perspective each person possesses, could possibly know all things – ever.  For example, to assume that any person knows everything about God is to assume that God can exist solely within the confines of that person’s perspective.  To believe such seems to me to be complete and utter foolishness.  As a result, I choose to learn – everywhere I can and from all perspectives.   Life is less certain this way – but so much more interesting.  By choosing this path, I open myself to risk and to knowledge that is beyond me.  If Cosmology and Astrophysics teach us that the universe is in a state of constant expansion, I believe that knowledge, understanding, and experience do the same.  When contemplating spirituality, why should scope, scale, and trajectory be any different? 

mystical person could be said to have a posture of being:  one that is open to constant and deepening spiritual transformation.   For the mystical person, such transformation recurrently comes from knowledge, understanding, and experience.

We could easily compile a list of mystics, especially Christian Mystics - such as Hildegard of Bingen, St. Bonaventure, Ignatius of Loyola, William Blake, or Joan of Arc (to name a few).  Though a spectacular aspiration, I do not consider myself to be a Mystic – one who has arrived into a state of constant spiritual awakening - often through definitive and even supernatural experience.  I am simply stating that I am a seeker of such things in relation to spiritual knowledge, understanding, and experience – open to whatever I can learn and who I can become.

I could have used the word spiritual to define myself – I believe that mystical is a broader, more open, and more accurate way to describe where I am in my life.  It defines me.  It defines all I do.