Unfinished

unfinshedWe recently travelled to Paris for an overnight stay. I’ve ventured to some fascinating countries in my time, including Rwanda, India and Mexico – but this city sang out creativity like none I’ve seen before. As we walked through the famous Louvre, viewing wall after wall of stunning expressionism, ceilings adorned, and a building which in itself was fascinating, I felt overwhelmed. How can I take this all in, and give the art significant space it deserves in my finite mind?

I left shattered, and over-awed.

Those images will live with me for a long time. And while I loved the fabulous finish of oil on canvas, the paintings that struck out were those incomplete. Why, in such a ‘go-to’ museum would you want to exhibit pictures in still sketched-and- half-painted format. As I looked at the third unfinished piece, I tried to imagine why it was incomplete. Did the artists die? Was he disillusioned and gave up? Did someone commission him to do another piece and he never finished?

I guess we will never know.

In the studio, recording my second album “Vulnerability” the producer and I regurgitated a familiar saying in studio land “It’s never finished, you just have to choose when to stop.”

Art. Music. Writing. I figure none of these can be completed like a mathematical sum. As a person who enjoys “getting the job done” I find the unfinished and incompleteness of artistry difficult. Listening back to previous recording projects I can list at least ten things I would change about them, yet at the time it was important to press stop, and move on.

As the artist with the pen, paint or plectrum we have the final say on when something is complete. So here are a few questions I like to ask myself, hopefully some of these will help you too.

Can I walk away satisfied I gave my all?

Am I at peace with myself enough that I can walk away from this art?

Do I love the process of art creation, or do I simply love a finished product?

That last question in particular is hard. As I said, I love lists and love completing them with a big tick. Enjoying the process of creation for me has got to be a bigger goal than the final completion.

And this too I believe as a Kingdom person, is how I should live. Enjoying the life God has given to me, because it is a gift. Enjoying the nappy changing part of life as well as the singing crowd.

Worship. Prayer. These too are unfinished acts, that will continue through and beyond our lives. As a worship leader I never feel we can give enough time to sung worship, and that, I believe, is because worship is a continuous act of life. Breathing, singing, sleeping – all acts of worship. And then in Heaven, far more worship. Prayer which is the act of communication with God is another continual. We listen, He speaks. We speak, He hears. Prayer  should be as natural as breathing. And as we pray, so too do we see the greatest art work of the King, as He breathes life into our every situation.

So artist, let me encourage you to pick up your brushes, and breathe, and continue. Whether the piece is left complete or not, be ok with being unfinished.

Pete

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My Songwriting Process

Vulnerability Shoot 12“How do you write? Is it lyrics first or the melody?”

This is the number one question I get asked as a singer songwriter. If I’m feeling impatient and want to get running to the next appointment, my facetious answer is “both.” And the truth is, sometimes the best songwriting moments do hit you head on at once. One legendary rock artists was once quoted saying something along the lines of “I just stick up my antenna and see what I can pick out.”

Songwriting is not that glorious to most. To most of us, it is hard work. So with that in mind, here are three questions I try to ask myself in the writing process.

AM I CREATING OR AM I EDITING?

My biggest early writing mistakes have come when I have approached a writing-from- scratch session with an editor’s mindset. The problem is that I always come away disappointed because I can’t get beyond the second line of verse one. If I’m going to be creative, and begin with nothing, then the parameters must be endless, with wide boundary lines, and frankly who cares – it doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I do just that.

Editing is saved for a later session. “Tomorrow I will edit what is the inspiration of today” I say to myself.  That way, I can be as critical of a piece as I want to be.  It’s less frustrating, and more beneficial in the long run. If I’m honest, whether I’m editing or creating will depend on what mood I’m in. The write frame of mind is key for the creative process.

WHY AM I PLAYING THAT GUITAR PART AGAIN?

No matter how good a musician you might be, it’s tempting to live in the past with our playing. I know I can easily rehash what I know, but to create something new, it needs a new perspective.

As I began writing “Vulnerability” (my second album) I got frustrated with guitar parts, so decided to write on our electric piano. Now, I would never suggest that I’m a pianist. At best I can bash out some chords, with a few right hand melodies. So why did it work so well? “Playing” an instrument that I would not perform on live gave me the space to make mistakes, and as the mistakes flowed, amazingly so too did a few happy accidents. The piano allowed me to create, to make mess and music. It was fun, and the songs came alive. So, whatever you play with ease, perhaps challenge yourself to write form an instrument you know little about.

WHO CAN I TRUST WITH THIS?

Once the first draft of the song has been hashed out, it’s time to decide who I should share it with. In the past I’ve struggled to co-write, perhaps because I was a little too insecure and way too protective of my own ideas. Now, if I have a chorus or a bridge, but the verses are continually a struggle, then I need to go to that guy who writes verses with ease. Perhaps I need the melody man or the girl who writes hooks in her sleep. Each song could require a different voice depending on the feel or the sections missing.

Over the years I’ve tried to get wiser with whom I play the song to first. The wrong person who knocks it, could be the road block to an awesome song. As writers we need somebody who can believe but also critique in equal measures.

Ultimately, if you are a creative, your process will be determined by your personality, your time and your way of thinking. I don’t profess to be an expert in the art of song writing, but I hope that the very least my three questions can create a platform for you to develop your own process.

Write well!

Pete

A Very Good Place to Start

Pete McAllen. Worship pastor, singer songwriter, husband, father. Describing himself as intense, but also loves a good laugh , Pete is obviously someone who is passionate about his art, his family and his faith.

This blog – Artwork of the Soul – is a glimpse into the life, music and musings of Pete and so what better way to start things off than with a bit of an expose. At the start of each month we will be focusing on Pete’s perspective on different areas of life – worship, family, creativity, and faith.

Seated comfortably in the McAllen’s living room, with Lizzie McAllen and their baby girl Lilja sitting next to me, I turned to Pete on the opposite couch and began the interroga – uh, the interview

I think that if you are going to understand Pete’s music, you need to understand where he comes from. Born and bred in Diss, Pete started out leading worship in his mid teens at his local youth group.

Worship was so intense that on Monday mornings I would walk to school with aching legs because of how crazy worship was the night before.” he says remembering fondly. “I felt called to lead worship, though I never really thought I was going to be a worship pastor.”
Pete got most of his initial worship and music experience at a small church plant in North Hertforshire before moving to London and joining Hillsong  where he played guitar on team. Having lived for a number of years as a singer songwriter initially, he says it didn’t go the way he hoped “though there are parts of it I wouldn’t change for anything” – but more on that in another post.

To be honest, I used to think that becoming a worship pastor was a cop out – the lazy route for an artist.” The sheepish grin with this statement could not go unnoticed. “In hindsight, I know different and have the upmost respect for all of those in this field.”

Pete’s been working as Worship Pastor at Cambridge Community Church (C3) for nearly 7 years. In that time he got married, produced his first album, began work on a second album and more recently, become a father. I feel now is a good time to confess that during the interview I was distracted. Sitting next to adorable Lilja, and looking into her piercing blue eyes – when she took them off her parents – I saw the love that the McAllen family share. It was deep, authentic and beautiful. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Pete.

In terms of his leadership, Pete’s drive is connected to his calling. He believes that when you are called, you give your all because you care about it so much. “It comes down to vision really. I have a high expectation of myself. My personal walk with God is key to my work as a Worship Pastor. If I don’t have that right in my life, how can I expect God to work fully through me?  Because yes, I can trust Him, but can He trust me? Of course He loves me, but can He TRUST me? That’s the test. If I’m consistent in that, then I can expect it of my team as well.”

He recalled the times at the start of his leadership, when he wasn’t as gracious to his team, but through the people in his life, especially his wife Lizzie, grace has been shaped in him.

Pete has recently made the decision to step down from his position as Worship Pastor to pursue a career as an artist and song writer. In asking about this I prepared myself for a deep and meaningful response about the love he has for the church, the risk he would be taking in stepping out as an independent artist – but before we could get to that Lilja was sick on herself. I promised Pete I would include this in the article.

What he did say though was that he would be looking forward to experiencing church as a family. That standing next to his wife in worship was something that they had sacrificed (willingly) during his season of leading and so now they are looking forward to being together in church, especially as Lilja gets older.

In the coming months as Pete’s new album, ‘Vulnerability’, is prepared for launch, and he transitions from the position of pastor to participant in church, there will be a lot of change. The result of change is lots of stories to tell … and that’s where this blog comes in!

So, welcome to Artwork of the Soul. The journey of a Creative is never ending, ever winding and always exciting. Thanks for coming along with us.