Here are some excerpts from an interview with Katie Smith, a pianist in the music school at Mizzou, in which we talked about her thoughts on art, piano, and the interaction of faith and music.
Andy: What is one time that you’ve had an experience with art that has done that to you? That has reached you at a deep level, and what about the art did that?
Katie: There are many times when I will be at a concert and be moved. I was in Atlanta and saw Emanuel Ax play. He played Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto. It was so beautiful. The playing was excellent. Some pianists play as if they attack the piano, as if the piano is something to be mastered. He didn’t pay like that. He played as if he and the piano were old friends and that reached me as a fellow pianist. The second movement is traditionally a slower, more emotional movement, and it was the combination of that and the greatness of his ability… I was touched by the depth of emotion both in the music itself and in his ability to bring that out.
A: How do your faith and your piano playing interact. How are you a different pianist for being a Christian?
K: Ideally as a Christian pianist I would take time to rest like I should, and my identity as a pianist would not be found in the way I play. It would be found in the fact that when I play it is glorifying to god.
A: Why is it glorifying?
K: Because he ultimately gave us music and created it. Instrumental music declares truth. It can declare the goodness and beauty of creation and of God himself, or it can declare the fallenness of us as humans… If we view God as the creator, then we are mini-creators and he has given us gifts to make something beautiful to reflect him.
A: Has your playing piano made you trust the gospel more?
K: Being a musician and studying music in a college environment certainly has. It has made me more aware of what rest is supposed to be. There is a fine line between work and overwork and I cross it all the time. There is a drive in the art world toward perfectionism, and it feels like if you are not working towards perfectionism then you are not working hard enough. Granted, we should always strive for excellence, but we are people. We need to rest. I need to get better at taking intentional rest.
A: That is an ironic thing, because theoretically the music school is creating beauty and music students should be interacting with that more than anyone else. Yet through the drive to perfectionism they face the danger of missing out on it.
A: Think about the relationship between pain and good art. You hear in the art world that one requires the other, that you need pain and despair to make good art. What are your thoughts about that?
K: I think that in the Christian meta-narrative there is a struggle between good and evil and there is this pain that results, and good art reflects that in some way. It either captures the beauty of what is to come after the struggle is over, or what was before the struggle, or the beauty of the deep pain that we are in right now.
A: So you think that is art’s place – to capture that beauty?
A: I love that as a way to look at what is happening every time you sit down at the piano.
A: Is art a powerful thing, if so, what is it’s power?
K: Art takes us out of the everyday, and yet relates to the everyday. That in itself is a very powerful thing. It take you out of the situation you are in and allows you to relate to that situation in a completely different way, and then you go back in to that situation and you are completely different.
A: Those are all my questions. Anything else you want to say?
K: One thing I want to say is that I feel that artists have largely excluded the rest of the population. That is something that as an artist I want to redeem. You sometimes see, for example, funding getting cut for arts programs in schools, I think that is the result of artists putting a privieleged box around art. It is saying, “only these people can understand it and you have to be born with this ability in the first place.” That is crap. Art is an ability that can be developed just as much as sports abilities are. Inherent ability and talent isn’t everything. I’m no mathematician, but I can study math and become better, art and music are no different.